self-love in a hyper individualistic culture
I lay quietly on the floor at dance and hold one hand over my heart and the other over my stomach, breathing and feeling into the loneliness I've been dancing with this morning. My hands are warm, and I gently rub them over these sensitive parts, warming my heart, and feeling into the tenderness and desire that lives there. Really what I want in this moment is for my dance community to come wrap me up physically, for someone to reach out and be present. Then, a familiar gut drop of shame rides in - I shouldn't want for what is outside of me. The seeking is where the pain resides.
Countless times I have heard "you can't love anyone else until you've learned how to love yourself". For years I stood by this sentiment and focused my healing path toward cultivation of self love, care, and internal peace. I have lived alone in order to get closer to the discomfort of being alone. In healing practices such as breathwork, experiences with plant medicines, yoga, and dance to name a few, I have sought to draw my attention inward and feel close to my heart. I have cultivated many practices to know myself better.
Bringing alive the sense of loving myself has been deeply nourishing and healing, and the practice is ongoing, every day. However, it has come with a deep shame for wanting to be loved and cared for by others. There is little clarity around what is "seeking" and what is a more authentic/intentional form of desiring connection, and the qualities of these distinctions seem to belong not to me, but to the culture I live within. It is undoubtedly rooted in my own early experiences of shame for wanting to be loved, yet it is reinforced by a hyper individualistic society that champions independence and self reliance over community care and partnership.
When I reflect on the ways I have grown a meaningful love for myself, I consider how none of that work could have been done outside of community. The breathers beside me in breathwork aiding my motivation to go deep. The movers in dance and yoga pushing me to inwardly and outwardly expand. My sit mates in ceremony pouring their heart love and vulnerability into the space such that I could move further and further into the powerful emergent personal experience.
We do not cultivate "self love" in a vacuum, we cannot do it alone. In fact, loving others and cultivating closeness with them allows us to learn how to better love ourselves. To test and play out our insecurities, needs, strengths, opportunities for joy - at least when those relationships are intentional and seek to be openly communicative about how to swim into deeper or more shallow waters, according to need. We are meant to be in connection, to be in community. Our communities, our lovers, our friends, our family - these are the connections we have who are able to support us in returning to ourselves when we cannot find our hearts.
While loving ourselves is an important part of coming back to our bodies and our hearts, we must remember why we're doing this in the first place. That is, to do less harm to ourselves and to others. To create more resilience, spaciousness, and a sense of self esteem that allows us to more fully and authentically contribute to the communities and causes we care about. The give and take of self love and connection to others is a dance - one that requires us to be more present in every moment to feel more acutely into what we need.
In this moment I hope you can give yourself the permission I've been giving myself more lately, that is, holding desire for connection, care, and love without incurring the shame that seeks to sever us from one another.