Can We Turn Self-Love Into an Active Noun?

Love has been defined and understood in every possible way, many times referring towards others and not necessarily towards ourselves. M. Scott Peck, MD, in his wonderful book, “The Road Less Traveled”, defines love in a very unique way that also refers to one’s self:

“Definition of Love:
The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing
one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”.

By this definition, it seems like we need a will and an extension in order to make a proper love statement. While we are so used to offer this statement to another, how is it happening that we are not rushing to offer it to our own selves?
Thinking a little deeper – is it even possible to offer a will to extend ourselves to nurture another’s spiritual growth while not being able to offer the same will to nurture our own growth? Could it be that nurturing of one’s own spiritual growth should come prior to nurturing another’s growth? And if so – How can it be done? How can we turn Self-Love, a noun that is scarcely used in our daily life, into an active noun?

Picture by Amit Shlagman

When I was in the naturopathic school we learned to make medicine- tinctures, flower essences, salves etc.. our homework was to make them at home and test them for a week or two. At the beginning, when I was testing my tinctures, I was always getting very tired. I was taking the tinctures in the morning and in the evening- the evening one would shoot me straight to bed. The morning one was less obvious, however, exactly at 12 pm I was forced to lay down wherever I was and close my eyes for 20 minutes.

Later on, I realized that my tinctures didn’t make me tired but only showed me how tired I was. But back then, I was getting pretty mad because I needed to change my whole schedule to accommodate my tinctures. Juggling between my studies and my efforts to keep my family of one husband and three young kids alive, it was a great struggle to add these two breaks into my daily routine. I had no time for this nonsense! It seemed an impossible mission for me and it made me very angry – what kind of homework are these that create such a havoc in my life? Homework should be about reading some books and answering some questions and not about forcing me to change my life! I had such great life finding my status quo to balance my energy (or probably to hide what didn’t fit the paradigm I lived by back then), and now what should I do? Making a change requires enormous amounts of energies! Where do I bring them from? (for sure I didn’t count my forced breaks as energizers by any means…)

Picture by Amit Shlagman

And as a Taurus, I would find my ground and stand it. Only God could help those who tried to move me off my ground. But maybe this was God’s act, because I kept making my tinctures and kept testing them on myself (a commitment is a commitment! and since I wanted the certificate, I couldn’t spare more of my precious tightened time to complain..).

Picture by Amit Shlagman

Many months later, the wisdom of these herbs awaken some wisdom in my head. I started to notice that I was watching my life as a movie, while not really taking part in it. The more I was forced to rest, the more I was astounded to see that the main actress in this movie is Me! I was shocked to discover that the person who runs all over town like a headless chicken is Me!! Needless to say that I didn’t like what I was discovering….. Needless to say that it saddened me very much to watch myself heading no where…

And yet, what a blessing have I received making my homework! The blessing of stopping me in my tracks and opening a space for me to think. And there came some thinking……

Picture by Amit Shlagman

Going over my priority list, I understood what it is missing, or more accurately, who is missing in it – aka, Me. I realized that my own needs never appeared on my own list! How could this be happening? How could I be transparent for so many years and the earth kept spinning as if everything is ok?
And then I understood why this has been happening – it was happening because I had no idea what my needs were. I never took a moment of break to think about me! I never stopped what I was doing to find out if something is missing!
And then I knew why the earth never stopped spinning – it never stopped spinning because I never did! Why would anyone make an effort to do anything for me if I do not stop and make that effort to do it for own myself?

Picture by Amit Shlagman

Blessed by these forced breaks, I was given a chance to connect with the main character in my own movie and see what she needs. Apparently, first and for most, she needed some resting…… Now, I could start re-arranging my priority list. Not an easy task in a world (that in my perception) sees a person who cares for themselves as selfish. No matter how wide my eyes and brain opened!

Beginning to understand why everyone else’s needs came before mine, I became more willing to extend myself for the purpose of nurturing my own spiritual growth. I started to welcome any breaks and changes of plans into my life and saw them as opportunities for me to rest instead of trying to fit another event in my schedule. And all of this while appreciating the fact that I need to feel the meaning of extending myself for my own self before I extend myself for others.

Going back to M. Scott Peck MD’s definition of love – how can I offer love to anyone without understanding what it means?
That’s why, in my own little world, I created a rule – No act will be regarded as selfish when eventually it will be teaching me how to apply it on others.
This rule allows me to activate my love towards my own self, without the fear of depriving anyone around me. This rule allows me to grow into the understanding that without a will to extend myself to nurture my own growth, I will never be able to effortlessly extend myself to nurture another person.

Love, by any definition we choose, should come effortlessly, without draining our energies. And only when we allow ourselves to turn self-love into an active noun (creating as many personal rules as we need to maintain our sanity), we can make the best use of our energies, and offer true heartfelt love to those around us.

Picture by Amit Shlagman

ואהבת לרעך כמוך" ויקרא י"ט י"ח"
(“Love Your Neighbor as Yourself” Leviticus 19 18)

The topic of loving every person exactly as you love yourself came up in the Friday Zoom Services throughout the quarantine era in 2020 (led by Rabbi Avrohom Susskind director of Novi Northville Center for Jewish Life), raising this big question:

How can I love myself to a degree that I will be able
to extend the same love to every person?

With the intention to promote health and healing within our congregation, along with mutually contributing to our own community, I would like to offer my Trad-Em@ sessions once a month – PAY AS MUCH AS YOU CAN – all proceeds will be donated to Novi Northville Center for Jewish Life. 
Click here for available dates and details

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