We all want to love ourselves. Some of us feel that we already do. We read books on self-love; we take courses and workshops designed to help us love ourselves; we believe that we can't fully love others until we love ourselves and so we become obsessed with the concept and what it means.
The problem with the idea of self-love is the very nature of the association of "love" with "self". Most people don't actually know what either of those mean. What is love? What is self?
How easily can you define what those terms mean to you?
Let's start with the concept of self. We generally perceive ourselves to be an individuated self within a physical body, which means that while we often associate our identities with our bodies, we also recognize we are more than just the body. Who that person is, though, is not fully known to us. We are only conscious of a small fraction of our beliefs and behaviors. What we are conscious of, and our interpretation of that consciousness, is who we consider ourselves to be. The roles we play in life, whether as spouse, child, parent, friend etc play into that core identity.
But if this is true, does who you are change when your role changes? Does who you are change when you change your mind or belief about something? Who is it that is ultimately the "wizard behind the curtain", the final arbiter of your identity?
Basically, is your Self the sum total of your actions and beliefs? Or is your Self the consciousness within which those actions and beliefs exist?
Your beliefs, thoughts, and actions are all contents of your consciousness. The fact that you can be aware of them doesn't mean that they are the awareness itself. Awareness is consciousness. When you find moments of stillness in which you are present with yourself, aware of thoughts or sensations passing through you as if you were a detached observer, only then can you glimpse your true Self.
Most of us think that who we are, our core identity, is the content of consciousness, not consciousness itself. And maybe that is accurate for the level on which we behave most of the time, for believing we are pure consciousness seems to transcend human thought into the realm of the spiritual, in which there is no division of consciousness. But if you want to love yourself, are you trying to convince yourself to love the contents of your consciousness? Or do you love consciousness?
The Self you likely imagine yourself to be is an illusion of separateness. Once you perceive the nature of your true Self, you cease to exist because there is no separation in consciousness.
Once you've come to realize this, then reflect on what you think love is. For most people, it's a combination of warm feeling, acceptance, desire and appreciation. You want those feelings to be triggered by who you think you are, which we have already established is usually the sum of the contents within your consciousness. In a world where our politics and economics are dependent on breeding insecurity and discontent, you must realize that the contents of your consciousness are influenced, often in negative ways, by fear.
You are struggling to love yourself without knowing the extent to which society has conditioned you to feel chronically unfulfilled, so that you behave in ways that will ultimately support industry profit.
This is a trap. At a minimum, don't adopt self-love practices that require you to spend substantial amounts of money on products or services that ultimately feed the illusion that you are not enough as you are. Be discerning about what you consider to be self-love practices.
If you really want to practice self-love, ask yourself, what is love? Is love always feeling good about someone or something? Is it always a state of acceptance and desire? Love is obviously many things and we use that word to describe everything from pizza to soulmates. The word itself is inadequate and yet, in the English language, it might be the best we have. So you have to first stop and consider this: in what ways have you been conditioned to believe that love is anything in particular?
Why do you believe that love is what you think it is? What proof do you have for love being something you have even experienced thus far? These are not easy questions and may not even elicit an answer, but they are meant to bring to your awareness the truth of what love is. It's probably most closely related to freedom, or giving space to something so that it can breathe and grow.
Love is an emptiness of sorts, not empty out of lack, but rather empty of all the things it isn't.
Love is a vastness similar to consciousness. The kind of love that we all seek is open, accepting and compassionate. It is non-judgmental and wise. It is nurturing and wholesome. It is fertile. It consoles just as much as it encourages. It is not just a state of being, but it's a frequency that supports life. In this way, we can see that love and consciousness are related. Love doesn't require an effort to seek it, but as Rumi so eloquently writes, merely the removal of our barriers to it.
Thus, self-love isn't only a redundant phrase, but to pursue it as a goal means to continue the damaging illusion of separateness. Love and self are two sides of the same coin, they are fundamentally related. You don't need to love yourself as if you are a separate entity from Love itself. You are not. You must merely become aware, deeply present, with this truth to move into a place of "self-love".