We don’t often link Self-Love to evolution. And yet the two dance together—without one, you can’t have the other. What makes that so? To understand that, one has to know the meaning of Self-Love. Is Self-Love about saying nice things to yourself in the mirror and making time to go to the spa? No—it is far more profound than that. To know it at a deeper level, you have to ask yourself these two questions:
- What is Self?
- What is Love?
When you can answer these questions, then will you know Self-Love as the highest, grandest expression of being human that we can reach. Therein lies our capacity for evolution.
The meaning of Self
The great saints said that self-knowledge is the key to leading a happy and successful existence. And no one can give the answer to you. And it cannot be understood intellectually. Like swimming in the ocean for the first time or seeing the vast starry night sky, it is experiential. Each person has the choice to go into their own journey of ‘Who am I’? For those who do, there arises the experience of a Self that exists beyond the body, personality, emotions and mind. And when that happens, an inner freedom awakens.
What does this mean practically? Many things. It means to be freed from self-imposed limitations. Limitations imposed by a small self that cannot conceive that our real Self is so much more than we can ever imagine. And so fear of the opinion of others as a source of self-worth loses its power over us. Striving for external accolades to feel worthy feels like the empty chase that it is. Hiding our insecurities under coverings of designer clothes and handbags feels ridiculous. And comparing ourselves to others is shown up as illogically as it would be for the apple tree to behave so with the rose bush.
Because just think of it. What if it were true? This ancient Vedantic sloka which purports to describe our real nature: This Self that cannot be cut, nor dried, nor wetted nor burnt but is immortal, eternal, and immovable? Can you imagine the possibilities? As human beings, ours seems like such an unenviable predicament. For unlike any other species, we are born with the knowledge of the impermanence of both ourselves and our loved ones. Ignore it as we might try does not change the predicament. And so we are left to make sense of the perceived ‘in between’ of our lives, trapped in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Trying ever so hard to maintain self-preservation on mental, emotional and physical levels. Except that our whole understanding of ‘self’ might be flawed. As the great ancient saints across time alluded to. So you have to find the answer for yourself.
But choice is one thing and capacity another. We have the power of both choice and capacity but there is a difference. Choice can be exercised at any time, but capacity has to be nurtured, like the plant that gives birth to the flower. The more we nurture our growth and our openness to exploring diverse perspectives along with purity of heart, the greater becomes our capacity. A narrow mind, constricted by egotism, cannot hold much. So in a way, capacity too, is a choice. Which brings us to the definition of Love.
Many definitions have peppered us through the ages. The expansive nature of love in this writer’s view, is best captured by Scott M Peck, author of The Road Less Travelled and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. Scott defined love as:
the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or
another’s spiritual growth
Fromm’s definition, taken from his timeless book The Art of Loving, is:
an attitude or orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not towards one object of love
Well that just changes the game. And suddenly we might see love in a whole different way. From being a tribalistic concept that applies only to one’s perceived ‘own’ such as family members and countrymen, love in its true meaning stands that much higher. And when we test this definition against the great ones that stood for love, like Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Jesus, Buddha, Sri Ramana Maharshi and so on, it fits. A small understanding of ‘self’ cannot give forth this kind of love. Case in point would be those we associate with the opposite of love such as Hitler and Idi Amin and many unfortunate contemporary examples. These individuals were very narrow in their capacities, driving ego fulfilment rather than extending themselves for the good of the world. Which is why an understanding of both ‘Self’ and ‘Love’ must go hand in hand. Which brings us to evolution.
Self-Love and Evolution
What is the true purpose of our lives? Is it not to learn and to grow and to contribute toward the betterment of humanity by doing so? If evolution is about bringing in a higher order through a change from one form to a better one, then Self-Love, in its true sense, is the key to this process. It is the catalyst that fires up our will and gives us the courage that making the effort and sacrifice will take, to embark on the journey of evolving ourselves, and in so doing, lift humanity.
This article is based on the book Self-Love: The Authentic Path to Conscious Leadership by Nerisha Maharaj.