Do you love yourself? That is how my teacher, Satya Simran, recently started her yoga class. That question, in that moment, hit me very hard and has since then been haunting my mind.
Never before had anyone asked me that question. In fact: I have never wondered if I truly loved myself. The question left me in despair because I could not feel that love for myself. Which, on its turn, raised even more questions: How can I feel and give love to others? And am I even really open in living others?
I did not grow up in a harmonious environment. My parents had an unhappy marriage and I think that, because of that, they were unable to give love to their children. From my infant years I remember that there were fierce quarrels at home every week at home. In short, I grew up in a family with little love, where I felt unsafe and with the feeling that I was an unwanted child.
From my adolescence on, I had trouble with developing intimacy and relationships. Only when I met Trea, my wife, I really did learn to feel what love was. For those same reasons did it take a long time before I even dared to think about having children. I was very insecure about whether or not I would be a good father to my children. But in the end we got 2 beautiful sons, Sjoerd and Jesse (our youngest son who passed away at a very early age).
After that class with the question “Do I love myself” I had a beautiful talk with Trea about my childhood and the lack of love, I experienced. I shared my doubts with her about whether I was able to give and show enough love to her and my son Sjoerd when I was unable to feel the love for myself,
I also shared my struggle about loving myself with my teacher Satya Simran. She told me that she knew there was a lot of love in me. But even though I found it very admirable that she said that, I could not feel that love in myself. However, I did understand that love is deep within me and that it is my deepest desire to have less trouble giving love, receiving love and feeling that love within myself.
Satya Simran then encouraged me to tap into my creativity and write stories and thereby manifest myself, peel myself off layer by layer, unfold myself and open myself up to that love. Through yoga we learn to observe, wonder, accept, let go, see and this brings us to ourselves.
I understood that this was the path that would lead me to the answer to my doubts and I started working on it. For example by applying ‘Within me is love’ as Sankalpa (intention) when meditating.
Step by step I started to feel and see that there is love in me. That, not only, could I feel love for Trea, Sjoerd and Jesse but that it is also possible for me to be loving towards others.
But the real love for myself was still something intangible to me that I could not feel.
Until I got a revelation. I remembered something I had learned from Jet, whom I had met during a previous yoga & meditation retreat. She too had had little love from her mother as a child. When she had a hard time with that later on, she took the child Jet with her in her thoughts. She comforted the little Jet and was kind to her.
I applied this myself a few times and it comforted me. I decided to apply this once again, but now with the focus to also be able to feel love for myself.
In my mind during meditation, I visited the little Willem as a toddler, a pre-schooler and as a boy in primary school. I took the little Willem on my lap, I hugged him, I took him to sleep, read him before going to bed, gave him a kiss and said goodnight to that little insecure boy. And when little Willem slept, I felt love for him, with a lump in my throat I ended the meditation.
But if I could give love to little Willem and feel compassion for him, then I should also be able to feel love for myself as well, right?
I felt that I was on the right track, deep within me there was love that I could feel for others. But the real love for myself – for the grown-up Willem – still laid too deep. Maybe I had to dig even deeper, maybe I had to be more patient or accept it and be content with what there is.
When I wrote this, while on the hippie beach of Tenerife, the words flowed spontaneously from my pen. I was in Tenerife for a yoga & meditation retreat and the peace and meditation gave me the opportunity to search even deeper within myself. I noticed that it felt safe to share my story and my doubts with others, here in this peaceful environment and that, above all, it helped me to hear myself say it aloud and open myself up further.
On the third morning we had a meditation which focused on the heart chakra. The heart chakra stands for love. Love for yourself and love for your environment.
I have done this meditation in groups before, but now for the first time something really happened deep inside me. At first I especially felt love and compassion but also pride for Trea, Sjoerd and Jesse. And, as the meditation went deeper, I also felt an intense sense of love and compassion for myself. I realize that it may sound woolly, but I felt a wave of love flowing within me for myself and for others.
I felt tears in my eyes, as I realized: I feel love in me, I can love myself!
Afterwards I realise that unconsciously my mind had been too much involved in my search and I now realize that, simply put, you only can feel love with your heart.
The lack of love at home had shaped me. Partly because of that, I was often stuck in the same negative patterns as my parents. I was inclined to be negative rather than positive, I was more often gloomy than sincerely happy, I criticized much more easily than I complimented, I was often annoyed quickly or I sometimes reacted bluntly to others.
It took decades before I could see this. But I now know that there is love in me, that I can love and transform myself to let love flow within me and learn to express my love better, to myself and to others.
Light of the world, shine on me
Love is the answer (let it shine)
Shine on us all, set us free
Love is the answer (you know the answer is love)
(Todd Rundgren – Love Is The Answer)