When I first heard this admonition directed at me from a person whose wisdom was so far over my head I couldn't even detect it at all, I thought she was more or less out of her mind, in some kind of feel good fairyland, far detached from the real world. I, on the other hand, was dealing with the real world. And I didn't even like myself, let alone love the person I had imperceptibly become. Full of inner conflicts I preferred to keep subconscious, I patted myself on the back all the time for my stoic attitude, suffering through life's seemingly endless adversities and meaningless punishments, and placing suitable blame on the circumstances around me and on other people who were obviously the ones at fault. In other words, I thought I was present and accounted for in life, manning my battle station with focused attention, dedicated to my responsibilities with the best of attitudes, while in reality I was completely out to lunch. In fact out to lunch falls short of a good description, I was out to all possible meals at once, and so oblivious I imagined I really understood the workings of life and the world better than most.
I can hardly believe the patience others have had with me, as I ever so slowly began to learn, at a pace that would have seen a snail racing past me like a bullet train, how far from the mark my imagined understanding really was. Take the issue of loving one's self. The wise woman I mentioned above explained, not condescendingly but with humble respect, that it was not the kind of love I was thinking. Years later when she was physically gone, I would actually begin to grasp the deep meaning of her words. She was not speaking of the kind of infatuation that can come and go without warning, but of an active intentional gift we give to others without their needing to deserve or earn it. It's also called unconditional love, because there is nothing you can do to get it, it comes to you as a gift from the sender who sincerely wishes you well for the sake of the beauty and of the love itself, not wanting anything back. Wise people of indigenous tribes around the world have often used the Sun as a symbol of this kind of love, shining on all the creatures of the world and giving warmth and life without judgment. We all have the ability, if we decide to remember, to give this kind of love to a friend, to our family members, to those we work with, to those that wish us harm, to humanity as a whole. It does not negate the need for self-defense in situations where that is called for, it just requires a different inner state that most have totally lost touch with and replaced with less focused, and more fear-based emotions. That decision that we make every moment, to fall into some form of fear or other connected negativity, can be reversed any time we decide we want to experience something better. That's the love we can give to ourselves. It's not dependent on actions, it's a gift without strings, it can even be given in silence with focused attention, and it has magical effects on the receiver. Sometimes, like in my case, it takes time to break through into conscious awareness and understanding, but it always does eventually.
So having been through this evolution of realizing what it all means, I would definitely suggest if you want a more conscious and powerful life, if you have things you really want to accomplish and perhaps you would like to make your unique contribution to the world while you are here, decide to love yourself as step one, then do it continuously and watch what happens. Give the unconditional gift of understanding and kindness to your body, mind, emotions and spirit. Take care of your body like you would a small child who will ask for what it really needs, but also for what it craves that may be harmful, and learn to hear the difference in the requests from your own mind. Forget self-punishment which only leads to despair and harm, and try unconditional love instead. The child you care for does not want you to feed it candy as a substitute for good meals, it hopes you are wise enough to give it what will make it feel good in the long run. It needs to trust you. The various levels of yourself are much the same. Teach yourself good habits. Drop the junk food, drink and smoke, etc., it's really an insulting proposition, offering you a moment of taste in exchange for deteriorating energy, addiction and bad health, so don't fall for it. Get the exercise, sleep and sunlight you need. Avoid drugs that offer relief for the moment but just mask the deeper problem and leave you feeling a lot worse than before. Learn to take back control and direction of the thoughts and emotions you carry around, they are what you are eating on the soul level, and make you what you are. Pay close and continuous attention to your own moment-to-moment thoughts and emotions, become sharply aware of them. The secret is, they are all voluntary. No matter what goes on around you, it is entirely in your hands how you feel and think in response. Realize this and you begin to invite great power and exhilaration into your life. All these things and more are loving yourself, and they are not crazy new age nonsense. They do not mean you get infatuated with yourself or your actions or qualities. They mean you give yourself the gift of truth and right guidance to reach who you really are inside when you drop all the games, blaming of others, and self-deception. You are incredibly brilliant and beautiful, and you have long-forgotten abilities that have never really gone away, but are just waiting for you to remember.
These are some of the things I learned the hard way, by being an incredible fool in more ways than I could ever put down on paper. The wise woman who told them to me, whom I ignored for so many years is no longer with me physically, but is my constant companion and love on another level now. I share with you what she gave to me, knowing that many who read this will brush it off without interest or consideration, but you might be the one person who hears what I am trying to say, catches the energy in it like a wave in the surf, and rides it into shore. Love yourself first, do it now and never stop. Then you can begin to love others, not as a changeable reaction to how they look to you in a moment of time (subject to change and a lot of distress when it changes), but as a gift that you give them just to give it. Your power to change the world for the better, back toward its normal harmonious state, will accelerate exponentially, and no one will even realize what you are doing (unless they are doing it too). The game of life becomes a lot more interesting, with an energy that no drug high of any kind can ever touch. It's yours whenever you decide you want it. Get high, my friend, and stay there, quietly, unknown to others, but riding the love inside of you. I have hardly described what it is really like. But it is waiting for you to experience it for yourself, and then you will know.