Faith Friday: Divine Love or Self-Love?

"When we feed and support our own happiness, we are nourishing our ability to love. That’s why to love means to learn the art of nourishing our happiness." - Thich Nhat Hanh

What if I told you the only thing standing between you and happiness is self-love? "What about love and money?" you ask. Well... yes, they do help us create a fulfilling life but the key to having them is self-love.

What is self-love? 

The term 'self-love' initially made me uncomfortable but perhaps that was a sign that I didn't understand what it means to love myself. I associated self-love with selfishness, conceit, arrogance and complacency, things I strive to avoid and eliminate from my state of being. I used to think self-love was antithetical to Islam and the act of seeking divine love because it's a faith that is characterised by modesty, self-denial and humility, but I realised God said, "But those who committed misdeeds and then repented after them and believed - indeed your Lord, thereafter, is Forgiving and Merciful.... My Mercy encompasses all things" (Surah al-A'raf 153, 156). If God is Merciful towards us, we should be merciful towards ourselves too. We can still be kind to ourselves while being faithful, modest and humble. It's time to understand the differences between humility and self-deprecation and compassion and complacency. It's time we embrace and understand our humanness.

Today, I define self-love as self-compassion - the art of being kind to one self. It's simple but revolutionary because it involves a paradigm shift. 

Being kind to yourself is more than about being nice to yourself. Kindness entails honesty, authenticity, forgiveness, sincerity, gentleness and having good intentions. When someone is compassionate,  thoughtful, wants the best for us, sees the good and value in us and withholds judgment, they're being kind. What if we treated ourselves this way?

Our lack of compassion for ourselves and for others is the reason why the words uttered by Prophet Yunus remain a powerful supplication today: "There is no deity but You. Glory be to You! Verily, I have been among the wrongdoers/oppressors" (Surah Anbiya, 87). We don't have to choose between divine love and self-love because they are interdependent and interconnected. We oppress ourselves and others when we lack self-love. Why are we unkind to ourselves when everything God decrees or allows is out of His Wisdom and Mercy? Even when He allows us to go through hardships He is like a teacher who is giving us the lessons we need to succeed in life or a doctor who prescribes unpleasant tasting medicine for us to consume until we are better. The unpleasantness is only temporary. Who knows what great blessing you will receive in the future because of what you patiently endure today or because of what you've learned from your trials and hardships?

I once explained the concept self-love to a soul sister of mine, Yantie:

“Basically, you don’t hate yourself. You don’t beat yourself up when bad things happen. You make good choices for yourself. You nurture positive relationships with others and you are committed to developing yourself. You take care of your mind, body and soul. You know you’re accountable for your own happiness and well-being. And self-love means not needing validation from others.”

Yantie then broke it down into her own words here.  She and I often have this discussion about self-love because young women (and men) often struggle to have a healthy relationship with themselves. There is an overwhelming amount of social and peer pressure to look, behave and live a certain way. It's good to set goals and standards but we also have to ask ourselves, "Why?" and "Is this working for me? Do I feel inner peace?".

Over the years, I've learned that self-love is a multitude of actions, both conscious and subconscious.

Self-love is... being your own best friend instead of your own worst enemy.
Self-love is... embracing your imperfections and strengths, and acknowledging they make you unique, not less or more than anyone.
Self-love is... only believing in ideas, predictions and thoughts that empower you because you manifest what you believe. Even when you face obstacles, you somehow find a way to overcome them because you had faith to begin with.
Self-love is... allowing positivity and abundance to flow through your mind (thoughts) and body (actions).
Self-love is... fulfilling your responsibilities and needs and honouring your soul's dreams - your underlying dreams for love, safety, security and belonging that shape your larger dreams - and using them as a means of attaining closeness to God. (Here are some ideas on how to get closer to God)
Self-love is... making time in your busy life for 'quiet time' to reflect on your existence and ask yourself and others, "How is your heart doing?".
Self-love is... trusting your inner wisdom. As Rumi said, "Listen to the sound of waves within you."
Self-love is... knowing your worth is not based on material things or possessions or what others think of you.
Self-love is... not comparing or competing with anyone except with the intention of being a better version of yourself, not an imitation of them.
Self-love is... being unafraid to respectfully express yourself.
Self-love is... putting yourself first when you really need to in order to avoid burn-out, anxiety or depression.
Self-love is... seeing mistakes, setbacks, obstacles, hurt and pain as opportunities not punishments.
Self-love is... self-respect.
Self-love is... not judging ourselves (and others).
Self-love is... treating others with concern, compassion and respect despite your differences and having the self-awareness to understand that how we treat people is a reflection of how we perceive and treat ourselves.
Self-love is... always evolving and growing.
Self-love is... having the courage to say 'No'.
Self-love is... having the courage to say 'Yes'.
Self-love is... relative.

Self-love is many things but most of all, it is translated in different ways for different stages or situations in our lives. How do we foster a self-love that is ever blossoming and evolving? We nourish and strengthen the roots, of course.

It helps to have self-awareness and to be honest about who you are, who you want to be and what you want out of life. "Know yourself so that you may know God," wrote Imam al-Ghazzali. If you don't know who you are and your purpose - e.g. what motivates you, excites you, brings you joy, hurts you, calms you, empowers you, makes you feel alive or diminishes you - and feel gratitude for your existence and cherish yourself, how can you appreciate and marvel at the existence of your Creator? Without an understanding and acceptance of who you are, a void will always be in your heart and you'll go from one temporary thing to another to fulfill it.

“Do not travel from one created thing to another, so that you become like a donkey turning a millstone. The place it walks along and the place it is going to, is the place it has just came from. Rather journey from created things to the Creator and “to your Lord is the final destination." - Ibn Ata'illah, al Hikam
"We are ready to love and be loved. It’s very natural. But because we feel empty, we try to find an object of our love. Sometimes we haven’t had the time to understand ourselves, yet we’ve already found the object of our love. When we realize that all our hopes and expectations of course can’t be fulfilled by that person, we continue to feel empty. You want to find something, but you don’t know what to search for. In everyone there’s a continuous desire and expectation; deep inside, you still expect something better to happen." - Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Love  

If you don't love yourself, how can you love another person, let alone God?

It's also important to set and renew intention(s) for your life, especially if you believe God has created you for a purpose and you trust that your task is to not resist the inspiration, gifts and path that you're on or the ones that appear before you once you put in the necessary effort (prayer, work, pro-activeness).

Whoever you are, near or far, I hope I've helped you to find a way to love your self a little more and a little better after reading this post 😊 Be gentle with yourself. It's okay to be vulnerable. It's okay to be scared. But don't stay in that state of mind for too long. Joy, happiness and contentment await you.