One of the many spiritual “truths” folks like to throw around is: “You can’t love others any more than you love yourself.” While there is usually some truth in these kinds of statements I like to hold them up against real life experience and ask: Is that true? Is that always true?
I have seen myself and others extend love- compassion, understanding, non-judgemental assistance- to others, even when we are harsh and judgemental with ourselves. In fact, sometimes, we can learn how to love ourselves by considering or watching what we offer to others who are in need. If I am frightened or in pain I can sometimes move to a place of gentle mercy with myself by considering how I would respond to one of my sons if he were feeling as I am or facing the particular challenge I am at the moment.
So, sometimes, we learn how to love ourselves by seeing how we love others. And this wisdom in turn is honed by our experience of what is needed and helpful when we are in pain, which allows us to love others more fully. It’s not as linear as the platitude above suggests. It’s not like we go off and learn how to love ourselves completely so we can come back and do it “perfectly” with others. It’s more of a spiralling process, circular and ever-deepening, this learning to love, this opening of our hearts. It’s not a project. It’s a process. It’s life.