I’ve been thinking a lot about love and relationships. I guess I’m always thinking about these things, but they’ve been especially salient recently, now that I am in a new(ish) relationship, trying to learn (again) how to love.
I keep thinking about a sign I saw at Mt Tabor, months ago, that said, “You can only truly love someone else once you have learned to love yourself first.” I stared at the sign for a while. I even took a picture of it, with the intention of posting about it on social media. Of course, I had heard some version of this statement so many times - but to see it painted on a sign, so bold, so certain… It gave me pause. But probably not in the way the author intended.
To be honest, I hate this phrase. So many people said it to me when I was single, that I started to tune it out. Because whenever they said it, I couldn’t help but feel like they were trying so hard to say something helpful, but instead ended up implying that I didn’t actually love myself - that I may have thought I loved myself, but that they could tell that I had a lot of work to do before I could possibly love someone else.
The truth is, I have been working on loving myself for a long time. And in that time, I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I don’t always like the choices I make, nor am I always proud of the things I do, but I have learned to care for myself with more kindness and patience, to forgive myself more quickly, and to celebrate my successes and joys. And guess how I learned to do most of those things? Not from spending all my time meditating and turning inward, but from my relationships. From actively loving and receiving love from others.
Yes, there are things we can do to cultivate self-love in our own presence. And yes, we can learn things about ourselves in solitude that we cannot learn in the presence of loved ones. But to say that we cannot love anyone without loving ourselves first implies that loving ourselves is a state to achieve, not an evolving journey. We cannot learn to set boundaries when there is no one there to test them. We cannot learn to forgive ourselves for hurting another if there is no one there to hurt. And we cannot learn to communicate our needs with kindness and compassion if there is no one there to hear. As each relationship grows and evolves, so do our ways of loving.
At the end of our Sutra study session this week, Bhavani posed a question to the class:
If you had to choose between being in a transcendent state, or true intimacy, which would you choose?
For me, the answer is obvious: Intimacy. Because what is transcendence without your loved ones there to share it?
Maybe my answer simply confirms that I am nowhere near enlightenment. That’s fine with me. Right now, in this life, I care about relationships. I care about intimacy and connection. I am not here on this earth to love myself in isolation, or to learn to love myself first so that I can create meaningful relationships later. I am here to create, co-create, and bask in togetherness and solitude alike.