A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Self Love: The Best Cure For Mental Illness

Yesterday I continued reading Dzigar Kongtrul's book The Intelligent Heart.  He stresses that self-importance is the greatest block to spiritual practice.  He also stresses that altruism is the highest form of spiritual practice.  Self- importance is not self love, it is egotism and it can move in the direction of seeing yourself as either much greater or much smaller than everyone else.  Dzigar Kongtrul teaches that we are all equals.  To see ourselves and all people as equals makes it much easier to reach out to others with unconditional love.  Before we can get to that level of spiritual practice I think we need to acknowledge that we are all essentially good and that goodness is the basis for the depth of our connection to each other.  Egotism blocks us from connecting to ourselves and others with love.

Egotism is mental illness.  Self love is its cure.  Self love is not selfishness or a preoccupation with self that leaves no room for thoughts of others.  Self love is the basis for loving others.  Many people caught in the addiction of codependency think that they are being altruistic when they sacrifice themselves in order to help others.  This is not altruism but just another type of egotism.  Codependency is about rejecting one's responsibility to oneself to love and take care of the self first before attempting to be helpful to others.  The core belief of codependency is that one is not lovable, not essentially good and worthy.  Hence the need to prove oneself, to seek approval outside of oneself.  In contrast, altruism comes from a place of self love, a love that sees self and other as equal, good and lovable.

I have trouble with using the word self-importance to describe egotism.  I view the word literally.  I think what we think of as the self is important.  If we don't value the self, we cannot deeply value others and we become trapped inside ourselves with no way to reach others and find healing.  There is another word that some Buddhist teachers use to describe egotism and that is self-cherishing.  And again, I view the word literally and think, yes, we should cherish ourselves, not as an end in itself, but as a means to connect with others and love life.  I also have trouble with the word altruism because I think many people in the US confuse it with codependency.

Placing others' concerns and problems ahead of our own is not really altruism.  I think it is important to attend to our emotional well being all the time.  Sometimes there are no problems with attending to our well being and others' well being at the same time.  Other times we must withdraw from others' concerns and keep the focus on ourselves and attend to what is unbalanced within us.  If we attend to ourselves as a parent attending to a sick child, we can heal that child and reengage with the world.  Dzigar Kongtrul writes about self-importance as the "rascal" inside of us, but I don't see it that way.  I see our egotism as a symptom of the sickness of the child within.  It is easy to judge and attack a rascal, but not so easy to judge and attack a child.  Judgmental attitudes lead back to egotism, back to being blocked from our spiritual path.

A spiritual path starts with ourselves.  It can start at no other point.  You cannot skip steps and jump right into helping others in a big way when you have been neglecting yourself for years.  First attend to your own wounds.  Find a way to love yourself even if it means detaching from others for a while. Addicts do this when they go into withdrawal.  I believe it is the same process for people who have been practicing self-hatred.  At first, people who have been unconsciously hating themselves need to become aware of what they have been doing to themselves.  Once aware it takes great courage to then ask for help from others rather than trying to always be the one to offer help.  Then it takes great vulnerability to allow yourself to take the help.  The awareness, courage and vulnerability are all important parts of self-love.  Once self-love is established as a daily practice, then one will be able to extend help out to others from what one has learned about oneself.

Many people in our culture do help others as their job or career, but if they don't take care of themselves and love themselves first they will eventually burn out.  Self-love replenishes and balances and all of us need that very badly.  You cannot endlessly give your time and energy to others when you have been neglecting giving time and energy to yourself.  Be a best friend to yourself for you have been with yourself from before birth and will be with yourself till death and beyond.  Helping others is also part of being a good friend to yourself.  Helping others feel good and natural.  When it doesn't feel good and natural, then you need to attend to yourself and find out what is happening inside.  When you acknowledge that your life matters, that you are worthy and good, you have laid the foundation for showing the same to others, that they are worthy and good and deserve love and help, too.  This is stepping into the flow and going with it.

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