Exploring and Encouraging the Practice of Self-Love

A Report from the August 2021 Dialogue Nights

By Mitch Bogen

Responding to a surge in interest among young people over the last year relating to the need for self-love and self-care, the August 13 Ikeda Center Dialogue Nights—called "A Conversation on Self-Love: What We Need Now"—embraced the topic as one worthy of investigation. And as the joyous response from the 38 college students and young professionals from five countries attending on Zoom showed, it is a topic that people find truly inspiring.

Instead of a traditional opening, Ikeda Center program team members Lillian I and Anri Tanabe performed a skit that conversationally introduced some of the ideas that went into creating and planning this Dialogue Nights. In their back and forth they touched on themes such as how it’s easy to feel “great one moment and super down the next” and overcoming the fear of being hurt to engage more with the world—"to care more, love more, and be true to myself.” At one point, Anri offered a Daisaku Ikeda quote that reveals how true self-love requires intention: “Because it is irreplaceable, human life has dignity. But . . . to make that life dignified in the truest and most actual sense requires ceaseless effort. Each human being must bear the responsibility for [their] own dignity.” But this isn’t a solitary task, continued Anri, explaining that “she started reaching out to friends and through our conversations we reminded each other that we’re not alone and that even though we’re going through a really tough time, we’re pretty awesome people.”

After a brief video featuring interviews with young people on the topic of self-love, the evening moved to an opening icebreaker activity, in which participants broke into groups of two or three to discuss: 1) what self-love means to them and 2) what they did for their self-love that day. Here are some representative thoughts from the share-back.

  • “One way of practicing self-love is going into nature to calm down in a way to take care of your body. At the same time, it is an exploration and journey. Knowing how it feels to truly love yourself and have faith in yourself can help you better love and believe in other people’s potential.”
  • “I feel that self-love means truly being aware. It can mean learning the power to say no, especially for those of us that are people pleasers. In that case, self-love means creating that balance. It can also mean having the awareness to be grounded-—going for walks in nature.” 

Anna and Archish: The Practice of Self-Love

Next, Ikeda Center youth committee members Anna Lane and Archish Mittal gave presentations on a self-love project they participated in during the time leading up to Dialogue Nights. Prior to the event, Anna and Archish were invited to read Mr. Ikeda’s writings on love and self-love, journal their daily experiences, and share their findings.

Anna

Anna spoke first, saying that “when I learned about starting this experiment, I was excited, as I’d heard and read about self-love but had many questions about how to actually engage with it.” Most fundamental was how to “accomplish the goals and expectations” she’d set for herself “while practicing self-love.” Her main finding was that the whole enterprise boiled down to “embracing my life.” She then delved into what this meant for her.

For her first task in the experiment, she rated herself on a “self-love scale” of 1 to 10, giving herself a 5, or maybe a 4. The reasons for this modest ranking included feeling considerable “pressure during the day,” especially around responding to messages and emails, which resulted on one occasion in her having a headache. The positive step she took was to not stay up late obsessing about it and then setting a self-care goal in the morning to “drink water, eat well, rest and repeat.” As she proceeded with this, she really felt like she was embracing her life, “remaining in good spirits,” even when she wished to be accomplishing more. At this point, she didn’t really notice a change in her interaction with others, one of the “experience points” they were asked to notice during the project.

Over the next couple days, which were sort of a whirlwind of activities, she felt her self-love “fluctuating.” As she described it: “One moment, I was on a Zoom call with friends, preparing for activities in our spiritual group, laughing and feeling so good, and the next I was in this low head space and engaging in behaviors that I wanted to cut out of my life. At the same time, I continued challenging myself to embrace my life where it was at.” What freed her from this holding pattern was a quote from Daisaku Ikeda that program staff had included in the preparation materials for the project, a quote she had nearly forgotten about.

If you regard your own life to be precious and irreplaceable, then you should grasp the fact that each person must also feel that way; making this realization the basis for how you conduct your life, you should resolve never to act in ways that will cause harm to others... the Buddhist perspective on human rights urges us not to extinguish or suppress our feelings of cherishing ourselves above all else. On the contrary, by extending and opening the love we feel for ourselves to love for others, we can rebraid the tapestry of our lives, restoring the ways in which we connect to others and to society at large.

Hearing that we needn’t feel compelled to extinguish “our feelings of really wanting to love ourselves” was liberatory and empowering for Anna, unlocking the whole process. From this foundation, she felt better able “to extend this love to others.” In the days that followed, she shared from her heart on Instagram, something she normally feels very insecure about doing, and responded to someone who had contacted her, “talking openly with my friend,” even though she had sort of been “feeling like crap.” In conclusion she said that “the truth is, I felt so happy after doing these seemingly small but significant tasks,” and “I felt proud of myself for doing this, and that to me really felt like self-love.”

Archish

Archish opened his remarks with another Ikeda quote: “I am convinced that the only way to regenerate love in our world is for people to come to understand the meaning of their own lives, of the life of the universe, and of the relation between the two kinds of life,” said Ikeda in his book Choose Life. “This is true because it is possible to show understanding of the lives of other beings only when one has an understanding of one’s own life.” Archish said that he would read this each morning during the activity for inspiration. Still he found that his self-love score would fluctuate between 4 and 8.

Given this fluctuation, he was eager to dig into the part of the project focused on identifying barriers and challenges to practicing self-love. In the process he identified three “main barriers.”

  1. Comparing himself with others. This was a “huge hinderance,” he said. And it was “shocking” to realize the low self-esteem he felt when comparing himself against the achievements and successes of all manner of others.
  2. Beating himself up for mistakes made in the past. Quite simply, this led him to “feel inferior” and to excessively question himself, hindering him from “being present in the moment.”
  3. Too much worrying about the future. This is the flip side of the previous, creating a “barrier for me to love myself fully.”

Reflecting on these realizations, Archish said that it was the sense of always thinking about what “I should be doing” that hindered his sense of self-love. The way out of this trap, he determined, would be to do “what my heart says.” Which doesn’t mean “I should sleep all day, watch Netflix, and eat what I want.” Rather, when it comes to serious things like his career trajectory, “I want to follow my instinct. I think following one’s heart in anything you choose to do is the basis of self-love.”

To conclude, Archish said that during the course of the weeklong experiment, he developed a more nuanced understanding of self-love. If, at first, he felt it mostly meant “taking time off, relaxing, no screen time,” he soon discovered he felt most “fully” himself when he was engaged with life, not just doing fun things, but, for example, “engaged in the problems and worries of my young cousins, or friends I’ve had since I was a child. Just listening to them and trying to understand what they are going through, it made me feel so good.”

Raising Our Self-Love Scores

After the presentations all the participants broke into small groups to discuss their individual self-love scores; the ways that each practices self-love, including challenges they face; and the relationship between how they treat themselves and how they treat others. Following these discussions, representatives from the groups shared some of their highlights. Ideas included: the value of “disconnecting from technology” and making space for “mindful” practices; learning that “self-love is not always inherent” or necessarily something we learn at school or even at home, so it takes intention and practice; taking “comfort in realizing that a lot of other people feel this way and we are working together on this journey to really believe in ourselves.”

As always, Program and Office Assistant Preandra Noel led the takeaway activity. First, she asked everyone to use the online platform Mentimeter to chart how their self-love scores might have changed over the course of the evening. Many reported solid improvement, for example from 5 to 7, or 6 to 8, while one actually moved from 1.75 to 7. While one person reported that they were still at a 5, they pledged to working toward becoming a 10! Then, Preandra asked people to share action steps they might take in their practice of self-love. Here are a few:

  • Set a reminder each day to practice self-love!
  • Believe in myself! Take action even when I don’t feel 100% ready!
  • Be patient and kind with myself. Celebrate the good things more!
  • Be courageous to uphold my life condition and also help other friends do the same.
  • Follow my heart!

Finally, in keeping with Dialogue Nights tradition, Preandra led an “open mic” session to get people’s spontaneous concluding thoughts. Among the many great insights, one really seemed to capture the spirit of the Ikeda quotes that animated the evening’s discussions. “We owe it to people to show that there is hope out there by sparking hope in ourselves.”

 

Thanks to Lillian I for her contributions to this article.

 

 

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