Last week, one of my students asked me, “Why do I not choose to love myself?” I found myself laughing in response. After affirming to her that I was not laughing at her, rather I was laughing at myself with her, I slowly responded to her question.
“Shaneeka, I ask that question to myself every day.”
Shaneeka gasped in response to my answer. Her eyes looked as if they were filled with horror. “What?” She responded frantically. “I thought you were the Love Professor. How can you ask yourself this question everyday when you teach us everyday about how to love ourselves?”
Giggling more, I replied. “Self-love is a journey of moment-to-moment choices. That is why we practice meditation and the conscious choice-making model.”
Shaneeka’s eyes began to soften and the muscles on her face relaxed as we began to engage in a conversation where she had shared with me that she noticed the more that she practiced mindfulness breathing, the more she realized that her reaction time to what people would say and do was slowing.
“Exactly,” I excitedly responded startling Shaneeka from her reflective sharing of her discovery. “Exactly,” I responded once more toning down my voice as to not startle her again.
I went onto explain that the mindfulness breathing that we are practicing every morning and every night acts in a way that appears to expand the length of time from the initial moment we hear, see, or think something to the moment in time that we respond to it with another thought, word, or action. In that space that appears to be created is the space where we can reflect. By tapping into our source power during our mindfulness breathing exercises, we are tapping into an innate intelligence that is pure love, pure potentiality as Deepak Chopra calls it.
The innate intelligence or the source power of love allows us to practice choosing a conscious choice in the reflection space, rather than reacting out of our past conditioning, which at least for me, is predominately not conscious and not love. My non-conscious thinking is based mostly in fear and self-preservation, not on the pure potentiality of recognizing the inter-connectedness of all beings. My non-conscious thinking is not based on love.
Shaneeka stared at me for a while longer and then asked again. “Well, then why do I not choose to love myself?”
I smiled again and replied, “How do you know you are not choosing to love yourself?”
“Because,” she replied with anxious energy, “I check in with myself after I make decisions as you taught us to do. I check into see how the decision feels after I make them and today so far, all of the choices have felt – in my gut space – like I didn’t choose to love myself.”
“Excellent practice, Shaneeka.” Shaneeka looked at me as my students often do when I say something unexpected to them. She looked at me like I was crazy. I smiled at her and continued.
“You are aware of what your choices feel like after you make them. Good on you! And do you know which of the choices you have made specifically that leave you feeling like you didn’t choose to love yourself?” I inquired to Shaneeka.
She nodded hesitantly and slowly.
“Excellent. That is great, Shaneeka.” She looked at me again as if I had lost my mind. “That is the practice of conscious choice-making.”
“But Dr. B, aren’t I supposed to be aware of this before I make the choices, not after?” The way Shaneeka had scrunched her forehead so intensely when she spoke made me smile again.
“The words ‘supposed to’ has got nothin’ to do with loving yourself, beautiful one. When I use words like I was ‘supposed to’ or I ‘should have’, all I am doing is judging myself for making a choice I thought I should have made in a moment that is past. When I do that, I judge myself. As such, I continue to NOT love myself and that serves no one. Rather, celebrate that you realize after each choice whether it was a loving one for you to make. Reflectively and non-judgmentally, observe the choice you made and how you made it, practice inquiry into it to determine whether you are identifying a non-conscious choice-making pattern around certain topics or events. If it is a past choice that you want to rectify with a new choice in the current moment, then choose again. One moment at a time, simply and lovingly practice moving that post-choice reflection time to before the time and space that occurs before the choice is made.”
Shaneeka looked unsatisfied with my reply to her question. ‘You make it sound easy, Dr. B.’ She shrugged with even more dissatisfaction.
I laughed again. “It is my dharma (life’s purpose) to teach this stuff so if I make it look easy. That is why. However, I can assure you that in many moments within every day, I fail miserably in the practice. And sometimes I judge myself harshly for it and other times, I let it go. For me, the difference between the harsh judgment moments and the ones where I don’t judge myself have a whole lot to do with how well I have prioritized caring for the body that is toting around this consciousness called Marilee. And it also has a lot to do with how much I am checking in with my own support network of friends who also practice conscious choice making. I seek encouragement from them in my practice.”
Shaneeka seemed to smile a little more. “I can do this starting right now.” She said with renewed encouragement.
I smiled in response to her announcement and replied, “You just did.”
With that, she beamed a renewed light of joy and love. We embraced each other and I had the privilege of doing what I love to do most, which was encouraging her into a space to feel more empowered to love herself.
As I watched her walk out of my office, I laughed to myself and reminded myself how many times earlier that week I had called a friend to seek encouragement and permission to love myself, to take care of myself before caring for another. And I was glad that I found it funny, in this moment, how much each of us could benefit another if we each gave each other permission to love ourselves.
Do the world a great service today. Give yourself permission first and then give just one other person permission to love themselves in every moment of today.
Marilee J. Bresciani, Ph.D., is a professor of higher education and the Founder of Rushing to Yoga Foundation. Her now more than 24 years of professional work has been committed to changing the way that America talks about quality of higher education. In order to keep from going crazy about trying to get the American public to care about what students are actually learning and how they are developing, rather than other indicators that have nothing to do with that, she has engaged in yoga, meditation, and self-referral. Marilee’s mantra is “I teach what I need to learn.”