I’ve been reading Real Love: The art of mindful connection by Sharon Salzberg, an expert in Loving-kindness Meditation. It’s about how we are much more able to have loving-kindness for others if we have accepted ourselves.
Of course this is hardly a new idea. “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” (says Jesus; the implication being that both halves of this command are equally important). “If you truly loved yourself, you’d never harm another.” (The Buddha). But it can be so hard to overcome an innate sense of unworthiness. Salzberg reminds us that it happens slowly, and you can love others while still learning to accept yourself.
I struggle with perfectionism when I write. (These Scrips are partly meant as practice in writing quickly, standing lightly to the work, letting it go). I realise it’s to do with being unable to accept and forgive my own flawed-ness; fearing that the world will see, and judge. Sharon Salzberg says: Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity. It is unforgiving and rife with fear.
Reading such a statement, despite knowing its truth, my knee-jerk response is usually: Hold on a minute, shoddy work isn’t to be encouraged either. Does this person saying ‘stop being perfectionist’ understand the importance of crafting something to a high standard?
Sharon Salzberg does: “….pursuing excellence is not a problem. In fact, focusing on what we most care about, whether it’s our work, our relationships, or collecting butterflies, can be a genuine act of self-love, but only if we’re not fixated on the outcome of our efforts or on perfecting ourselves.”
Only if we’re not fixated on the outcome…” As I’ve written before, Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic is brilliant on this paradox of caring enormously about doing one’s work well while at the same time relaxing about the outcome. (I haven’t learnt how yet!).
Salzberg continues: “…when we relate to ourselves with loving-kindness, perfectionism naturally drops away….we may realise we’ll never sing an aria at the Met, but we can continue to love opera, follow our favourite singers, and perhaps join a local chorus. There’s no frustration, bitterness, or self-criticism in this kind of loving acceptance….whole-hearted acceptance is a basic element of love, and a gateway to joy.
“A gateway to joy.” That is a gateway worth finding.
Salzberg shows that self-acceptance, far from encouraging rampant egotism, actually leads to freedom from the ego’s grip. This is a different slant from a lot of the religious literature I read when young, which held up self-castigation and self-abnegation as the model. Here’s a related piece by Lynn Underwood about “humble self-love,” Trappist monks, Charles Williams, and a contemporary abbot who stresses self-acceptance as part of humility.
Of course reading is one thing: practice another....