This question lies at the heart of the common malady of our times: disillusionment. So many of us struggle with the sense that life is a chore, that life will never “get better.”
Contentment is a rare accomplishment, especially in this technological age. Everything about our lives is increasingly fast-paced and automated – no human interaction required! Add to that the way we are inundated by a constant stream of sophisticated data, including an abundance of images of other people living the good life — big pearly smiles, designer clothes, well-toned bodies relaxing on beaches. That’s the good life, right? But it’s not our life!
If we think back for a moment it’s easy to see that, from earliest childhood our focus has been directed toward outer objects outside ourselves. “Look at that cute doggie over there!” And so you look. “You can’t have dessert until you eat your vegetables.” My vegetables? You didn’t even want those peas, so how did they get to be yours? “Say cheese!” and you squeeze out a dutiful smile. So is it any surprise that we believe outer world conditions are what determine our happiness or dissatisfaction?
If you have never met an unhappy rich person, you may be convinced by all the advertising hype. The basic idea is that if you make enough money and buy enough stuff, happiness will instantly follow. As one becomes more worldly wise, however, we realize that, while money and nice things can be very enjoyable, having these things cannot dissolve our emotional wounds and our general confusion.
If you really want to improve your life, begin by cultivating self-knowledge, self-respect and self-love. As you do this, it will become obvious what has been holding you back from feeling and enjoying your natural state of contentment. My contentment, you say? Our contentment may seem to be missing, but it’s definitely there. To connect with it, we only need to turn our focus around and look inside.
7 Ways to Cultivate Self-respect and Self-love
1. Slow down. Notice and then resist the urge to rush through every activity. You don’t resist this urge by tensing and fighting. You “resist” the urge to rush by practicing being aware of your breathing and your bodily sensations. Breathe. Scan through your body and notice how it feels. Develop a sense of respect for the breath and the body.
2. Soften up, and open up. As you practice attending to your breathing and your body, you naturally begin to soften and open up. It feels good to breathe without restriction. And physical relaxation feels good! Develop your awareness of the body/breath/mind connection. This is an important kind of self-knowledge.
3. Feel. Allow your emotions to be as they are. As you develop awareness of your breath and body, you will start to feel more emotions. Don’t worry, nothing is wrong. Practice accepting your emotions with compassion and self-love. They will draw your focus inside, away from the speedy distractions of the outer world. Feeling your emotions and giving them space will allow you to develop even more self-knowledge.
4. Contemplate your real value as a living being –– not the often-brutal value assessment of your “self image.” Self image is nothing more than a package of opinions we have picked up throughout our life. It’s an advertising campaign of socialization that ends up divorcing us from our real selves.
Alan Watts put it very beautifully, “You are all as much an extraordinary phenomena of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of a fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy.” If we stop to turn within for a minute, to really think and really feel for a minute, this is obvious. We are living, organic beings arising from nature like all beings. We are not the fakery of the self image –– it’s only a slew of stuff we have learned to identify with.
5. Question the voices. False self images carry loads of judgment, shame, guilt, regret, and resentment. When self-attacking thoughts arise, ask yourself –– patiently and repeatedly, with respect –– “If I could, would I let this (judgment, shame, guilt, regret, or resentment) go?
6. Be curious and kind toward your self-judging thoughts. Whatever answer they give you, accept that answer and any accompanying emotion with patience and respect. For example, if it is an angry “no” be kindly interested in why this is the response. Write down what comes to mind
7. Consider the alternative. After practicing “If I could, would I. . .?” for a while, and accumulating some written responses, extend the questioning this way: “If I could, would I let this (judgment, shame, guilt, regret, or resentment) go and replace it with a peaceful, joyful state of mind?” Again, write down your responses.
As you cultivate an awareness of your inner being in this way, you will naturally feel moved to make changes to improve your quality of life in a genuine way. Your new aspirations will be based on self-knowledge, self-respect and self-love –– not on a fear of missing out on some shallow picture of a “good life” or whatever’s trending.
If you don’t take the time to discover –– and then live from –– your organic, heartfelt being, you risk creating a seemingly great outer life that is built around a hollow shell. People who do this always find something to be stressed about, and dissatisfied with, no matter how much wealth and comfort surrounds them.
Learning to follow your intuitive guidance and creativity enables you to improve the quality of your life, free of stress and dissatisfaction, from the inside out. Enjoy the exploration! Good luck!