Most of us do not see ourselves as valuable simply because we are. A lack of an innate sense of worth is ubiquitous in our culture. We do, however, extend a different level of generosity to our pets. If our dog lies around all day, we love him or her all the same. Our dogs do not have to play a good game of catch to win our approval. But many of us feel that we have to prove ourselves each and every day, struggling with a fundamental rejection of our very selves. This often morphs into low level or high grade self hatred.

This sense of value that we feel we must earn shows up both as a lack of confidence and overconfidence, inferiority and superiority, timidity and arrogance. It is a collectively shared wound, transcending cultural diversity and differences.

We have a million ways of dealing with this, ranging from obsessing about our bodies to all manner of imaginable distractions. We numb out, overcompensate, obsess about the future, dream, restrict our dreams, go to therapy, smoke weed, take up yoga, drink too much, repeat affirmations, and on and on and on and on.

Many attempt to rectify their lack of self worth by cultivating self love. We have been told that in order to love others, we have to love ourselves. There is some truth to this. And sometimes self love is exactly what is needed. We need to learn how to affirm ourselves, take care of ourselves, and listen to our bodies, recognizing them as the precious vessels that they are.

But this is a slippery slope as it implies that self love is an actual place. That self love is the goal. That if we only learned to love ourselves, we would love the world. That through self love we will find many of the things that we long for: inner peace, internal harmony, inherent goodness, freedom, equanimity, and, yes, love itself.

So here is the conundrum: we cannot paper over self rejection with self love. It won’t work. If we do, self love becomes a bandaid, and every once in awhile that wound of self rejection will bleed through, calling out for our attention.

We have to deal with self rejection on its own terms. How? The short answer is that we stay in the presence of it when it arises, without amplifying or rejecting it. Over time, through the power of our attention stream, the negativity will eventually release.

But there is a deeper and more important conversation around this, which is that when we call in self love we inevitably call in self hate. Love generated at the level of mind is binary. Anything that is binary in nature will, by definition, call in its opposite.

So how do we get out of this conundrum? We have to take the entire conversation to a higher octave.

In my own life I have experienced a lot of self rejection. In the past, I was relentlessly hard on myself. I also had a lot of self admiration. I played this binary scale like a well tuned violin.

Eventually, I worked directly with the imprint of self rejection discovering its specific energetic pattern and its physical manifestation in my body. I became familiar with what triggered it. And over time, this resolved.

But here is where it gets interesting. I always assumed that when self rejection resolved, self love would appear. But what I have found with all of my negative tendencies is that when they dissipate they leave open space. It is like removing a tumor. Once the tumor is gone, there is nothing there.

This is by design. If we are interested in awakening to our Highest Self we are dissolving identity, not strengthening it (this assumes some level of ego integration). As our identity loosens, the flow of the mind stream slows down, and there is less of a sense of “self” to hang onto. Identity is subsumed by Presence. “I” am no longer loving or hating myself. I simply am. This is simultaneously disconcerting and liberating.

Over time, as the mind-stream thins out, a deeper substratum within the self which we call by a thousand names — including Pure Awareness or the True Self — begins to shine through. This is a slow and largely imperceptible process.

And here is the heart of it, no pun intended: As that wordless, deeper Presence begins to subsume our identity we simply are love. We don’t love or reject ourselves, as love is no longer based on a subject and object. Our bodies become a vessel that streams love, regardless of the external context. Most of us identify with the vessel. But the True Self is the stream of Pure Awareness running through it.

Not everyone seeks self actualization. But for those who do remember that, although self love may be helpful along the way, it isn’t the landing pad. If we attempt to generate love anchored to the mind-stream or our identity, we will inevitably find ourselves swimming in relative love, caught in its binary nature. But when we identify with that stream of Awareness which runs like a current through us, we become love.

Jan Birchfield


Author, Speaker and Founder of Contemplative Leadership Development. CLD offers leadership and executive coaching both nationally and internationally.