Embodied Transformation & Evolution

The Down & Dirty Truth about Self Love ~ the medicine we need is strong & simple

Posted by on Oct 24, 2017 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 8 comments

The Down & Dirty Truth about Self Love ~ the medicine we need is strong & simple

I’m not one of those spiritual people who thinks that self-love is a distraction because there is ultimately no separate self. I used to be like that, and I now understand this attitude to be a form of violence against the self, related to the multiple forms of violence now expressing themselves so relentlessly on our planet.

Far from being a distraction, a basic warm and friendly relationship with ourselves is the very foundation of our human life, the ground we need to stand on. Without this, a great deal of what we do in life is simply a way to counteract or compensate for a deep inner chasm, a gnawing need for recognition, and a feeling of inadequacy that does not let us rest. Quite often this basic sense of deficiency is not even conscious—it simply drives us from a dark and hidden place inside.

There is a myriad of reasons why we are not really able to love and respect ourselves, stemming from our family systems, our lineages, and our collective traumas. I think it’s important to have some cognitive clarity about the systemic nature of this terrible dilemma. For one thing, it helps us to take our own painful experience much less personally—it gives us a much wider space in which to work gently and patiently with our lack of self-love.

The tragic thing about a lack of basic self-love and self-respect is that it tends to collapse us inwards. We feel small, flawed and unworthy, and so we want to hide. This impulse to hide locks up our capacity to participate fully in life. It also limits our power to reach out for help and support and to discover, through intimate connection, that many many other people also struggle with a basic sense of being deficient, unworthy—not ever really belonging.

In my many years of working with people of all ages, from many different walks of life, I have noticed, often with a lot of grief and frustration, how ineffective most self-love programs or practices are. I feel sadness welling up in my heart as I write this; I wish it was different. And I’d like to offer some simple but strong medicine as an antidote to this enormous problem.

The intention, the longing, the desire to love myself, is a healthy one. So is the impulse to engage in some kind of practice or program that will support me in learning how to do this. But if we look a little more closely, we’ll see that it’s also pretty abstract. Why? Because I cannot easily find the self I am trying to love. This self is not a solid and separate thing, like a chair or a table. Who I am is a flowing river of experience, created in each moment in the field of my consciousness, energy, and perception. When I am feeling bright, happy and optimistic, my sense of self is radically different than when I am deflated, depressed and exhausted. Not only are my thoughts and feelings different, my core sense of who I am, and how that self lives in the body, is not the same. Sometimes my sense of who I am changes hour to hour.

So which of my many selves am I supposed to love? Surely not all of them! Most of us carry subliminal imprints of selves we would very much like to avoid. These parts ourselves feel regressive, destructive and often dangerous. Are we supposed to love those selves too? And if we don’t love them and don’t even want to love them, then what? The whole thing can become quite complicated and hard to engage in, moment to moment.

My approach to loving the self is quite different. I’ve discovered a simple and radical way to enter the doorway of self-love: through learning to love and respect my feelings.

There’s nothing complicated about learning to respect our feelings, and it’s not easy. Loving and respecting our feelings can make us feel like a lonely salmon, swimming upstream in the raging river of a culture devoted to denying, denigrating and avoiding most human feelings. The good news is that this dissociation from feeling is slowly changing. There are groups of people everywhere learning how to feel, to ground their feelings in the body, and respect the intelligence that lives in every single feeling.

When I first started to do this, I felt a bit like a gay person coming out. I was practicing sharing all of the messy, uncomfortable, deeply vulnerable feelings that were arising in me, and it felt counter-intuitive to do so. Not only that, but I wasn’t very good at it, so I would share a feeling, and it turned out not to be a feeling at all, but a thought about a feeling. Our feelings live in the body, so in order to feel them, we have to learn how to inhabit our body. That’s a challenge–we left the body in the first place to escape from all of the feelings that live there.

Luckily, I had a whole community that was practicing this together, so we could all stumble around and make mistakes and offer compassion and clarity to each other. I could never have done it alone, and I do not believe that you can either. We need each other for this. Feelings are meant to be shared–they are a beautiful and vivid form of communication. This need for others to practice, heal and grow with does not create dependency; it actually empowers us profoundly. And as we become more adept at integrating our feelings, we do reach a stage where we can do more of this alone, which is good when we can’t find support. But otherwise, why do it alone? Learning to live an embodied life, learning to love and respect our feelings and share them with others—this is an essential part of our human adventure. Why would I want to do this alone?


He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,

every one of us is ancient,
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find a way to live with fear.

It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.

~Roger Keyes

with love,



Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Leo Sofer

    That’s really beautiful Shayla, thank you so much for this reminder.

  2. Leo Sofer

    That’s really beautiful Shayla, thank you so much for this reminder….

  3. Betsy

    Thank you for your thoughts and the suggested practice … at a perfect time in my life

  4. Melissa P.

    Hi Shayla! Your words continue to inspire & uplift me when I need them most. I can’t tell you the number of times that I have been in some personal struggle only to receive one of your lifelines that softens my heart & lets me hear what I need to hear most. It amazes me how we are all so connected. Thank you for sharing your gifts of sensitive insight & caring.

  5. Ross Steed

    hey Shay – that s a good bit of writing. indeed the ever flowing river of feelings is a current to regard with open curiosity, the thoughts ‘about,’ not so useful anymore. In daily and nighlty searing pain I have a front row seat to the impulse to dis embody – who wouldn’t? what s amazing is that one can, and does, as a measure of self care and self love be this much in or this much out of pain. And it doesn’t really matter that much until it is totally de stabilizing. I go on often simply astonished at how much I can take. not engaging in complaint helps a lot.
    self love as you say is a slippery slope, for who is this self am to love? underneath or perhaps beside there remains the one who somehow manages to laugh with the whole absurdity of getting somewhere better, somewhere sometime when my self is loved enough!!
    and then I get up, or down, and do what needs doing best I can and carry on watching it unfold and wink to myself as I step into another day of theater as ‘me’ myself and I – hahahaha……

  6. Jonathan Taylor

    Thank you, Shayla, for beautifully reminding us of the possibility in this psycho-technology of self love. An essential component of the passage into true elderhood, with practice, we can welcome self acceptance with humbleness and humour, without toxic shame and cringe-worthy regrets.

  7. Charon

    I am a little hesitant to give a quote delivered toady in the White Rock online news but the irony and wit is just plain beautiful and precious. Is it relevant to your letter one might ask … maybe; maybe not; but the mystery of living true with myself just exposed many harbingers of ignorance and suffering AND a great belly laugh; the likes of Dalai Lama. May you also be so blessed.
    ””’ What happens when you die? Everything … you’re just not involved””’

  8. Sue Bland

    I always gain insight from your writing. The photograph also spoke to me. I swim regularly and after doing lengths, I like to simply float for a time, to remind myself that I am supported and loved even when I don’t do anything.

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