Is there any other human relationship that causes more angst and chaos than the one we have with ourselves? Amal Awad talks about why it is so important nonetheless.
A couple of years ago, I was talking to a former colleague who was experiencing a rebirth of sorts. He was in the throes of a new love affair, which he was obviously pleased about, but elsewhere his life was in need of some major repair. Still, it was I who was delivered the lecture, as he explained to me that I was closed off to opportunities in my life, and would fail to attract the ‘right guy’ (and possibly a few other things).
I’m pretty sure he gave me a dozen reasons why such-and-such was (or wasn’t) happening to me, but his ultimate point was: This is why you’re single. (Though, in the interests of fairness, it’s not really a question I put to him in the first place.)
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard someone say this sort of thing – after all, to a person who isn’t Muslim, and whose love life doesn’t come loaded with ‘rules’, it was difficult to understand that the meaning behind my single state went far beyond my feelings about myself.
His sage advice culminated in a book recommendation, namely, The Mastery of Love, by Don Miguel Ruiz.
‘Read it,’ he advised in solemn tones. ‘It will fix you.’
Like everyone else, I’m just a ‘work in progress’
I agreed to take a look, mainly to get him off my case. But I was also somewhat curious, not only because I didn’t think of myself as someone who needed ‘fixing’ – like everyone else, I’m just a ‘work in progress’. Nor did I think that I had to fulfil a particular set of obligations before I’d be rewarded with a love affair to last the ages (or at least a golden anniversary). There are no prerequisites to life events; to suggest otherwise is a lie, even though many people will try to feed it to you in the absence of a better explanation.
Sometimes, things just are – not everything is a lesson, but much of the time, what’s occurring in our lives is for our own well-being, and we’re being delivered opportunities that may have been beyond our reach under other circumstances.
I also relented on the book because I wondered at the title. Intriguing and catchy, yes, but is love really something you’re supposed to master? Isn’t it meant to be a little unsettling, messy, volatile? At times isn’t it like smoke, filling the air, then disappearing into nothingness? Isn’t it the source of all things, and therefore beyond our control, let alone mastery?
I eventually did read it and was pleasantly surprised to find it was something that, for the most part, offered logical, common sense advice. More importantly, while it was about relationships, it began with the most important one of all – the relationship you should nurture with yourself.
The glorious by-product of this self-worthiness is that you attract healthy relationships and events into your life
Its ultimate premise is simple enough: love and take care of yourself so that you’re not burdening others with the task of doing so. After all, to do so will only lead to disappointment, because it’s no one’s job to make you feel good or worthy. You really need to start with yourself. The glorious by-product of this self-worthiness is that you attract healthy relationships and events into your life.
I’m all for the coupling deal, but – and this is important – you need to feel like you’re ‘enough’ without someone in your life.
It’s a subject close to my heart. I inadvertently penned an entire novel around the damage a lack of self-esteem can do to one’s feeling of self-worth (and love life). I’ve read books offering instructions for life, stories that only confirm pain and discontent are universal.
It came to mind as a topic when I was recently prompted to write on the subject of love for this very website’s digital publication. Love, in all its expansive, wondrous ubiquity, won’t be confined to a column, at least not in any meaningful way. Figuring out just what I had to say about it was like being asked to narrow down a favourite book to illustrate why I love stories.
I’d intended to write about love of oneself after some brief consideration. Because if there’s a sub-genre of love that never seems to run out of steam, it’s the new age-driven, affirmative-thinking self-love deal. The piece would practically write itself.
Still, best intentions notwithstanding, as I plunged wholeheartedly into the piece, I found myself waxing lyrical about the demented world of love we inhabit – lost, found, always searching.
I turned to Rumi’s urgent contemplations:
Love comes with a knife, not some shy question,
and not with fears for its reputation…
I considered the different types of love that exist and frame our existences.
I wondered about the madness and wonder that is romance and longing.
I dug up quotes by famous writers, who only confirmed that love is an epic lifelong battle – often their biggest ones were with themselves.
We can’t make others love us; nor should we attempt to
I still came out with one essential conclusion: despite the trauma of it all – the heartbreak of a lost love, the joy of connection – the love we reserve for ourselves is still the most difficult kind to master.
It seems odd, then, that it’s the only type of love over which we have any control. We can’t make others love us; nor should we attempt to. We have no say in who enters our lives; we only have the power to decide whether we accept them into it. It’s really the only love I see sense in attempting to master, because it’s in our capability to do so, and because you’re kind of stuck with you, you really should be good to yourself.
So often we blame others for the problems and gaps in our lives. We suffered a stifling childhood, so our relationships with parents are strained. We attract people who, rather than offer sincere friendship, haunt us with negative vibes, only bringing us down. There are so many things in our lives that feel wrong, that cause us pain or heartbreak, but it all begins with us.
It begins with us because we surrender our personal power to others. We submit to their judgments and opinions, feeling unnerved, incomplete, unloved without their acceptance. Perhaps you’ve been a people-pleaser your whole life, always putting others ahead of you, placing another’s happiness above yours. Or maybe you haven’t met with the success you dream of in a particular area of your life, and feelings of unworthiness weigh down on you.
It’s something you can not only work on, but also overcome – but it’s hard work. Part of coming to love (or even just really like) yourself is the excavation period, where you uncover the best and worst parts of yourself, only to embrace them all as being the essence of who you are.
It’s an empowering, painful, glorious journey – and one that isn’t beyond any of us.