It was a slow day. The birds seemed to be engaged in a never-ending song that could be heard from above in the vast trees. Their shade extended over the wild grass. The sun was shining through the leaves, flickering on the narrow paths under the trees. These paths, much like the trees in which the birds had made their homes, were a product of time. The grass was worn down by timeless feet, moving under the trees. There was a set of large stones almost next to the trunk of the oldest tree. It was a natural, yet necessary place of rest for all those who ventured there. It is often heard that spending time in nature brings peace. A chance to clear your mind, gather your thoughts, and look around at the natural arrangement of so many things existing in harmony. It makes you wonder, what are we doing here? In a perfectly balanced environment, we have a plethora of complicated problems to deal with. Most of them, ironically are created by our very own existence. Humans creating problems for humans. Is this what we are here to do? To avoid, solve, or handle these problems?
I stared at the bright yellow dandelion that swayed and whispered to myself, “If only I could sway in the wind like the flowers – carefree and peaceful”. “There is,” He answered. We sat on the stones as the leaves rustled above us in the gentle wind. The flickering sun warmed our backs as we enjoyed a magnificent view of green plains and far-off mountains. “We can tame ourselves to love who we are and reflect our self-understanding in our everyday interactions by controlling our emotions, prioritizing virtue, and practicing self-love” He looked at me with a rather assuring smile, “When you know your true worth, you learn to withdraw from things and circumstances that are not worth your peace yet you don’t choose momentary peace over a righteous struggle to achieve something lasting”. I kept looking at the flower, as I tried to understand his words, “What about the things and circumstance we prefer and want?” He gazed at me patiently and replied, “We all work for what seems right to us. Sometimes, we get what we want”.
This statement raised more questions than it had answered. Instantly, I leaned closer and asked, “And when we don’t get what we want?” He seemed annoyed by the question as if I had asked something strange. I looked at him intently, but as he shrugged and took a deep breath, “Then you get what you had deserved all along …”, He closed his eyes as he added, “…something a lot better hopefully”. I looked at him and my mind kept stirring. “Perhaps I’m still bitter”, I said with a sigh. The recent events in my life had changed my perspective. I felt indifferent and there was little that excited me now. It had been a long time since I left the confines of my room. I would stare at myself in the mirror, noticing my eyes change as the glimmer in them slowly faded. I would touch my shabby hair and stare at my pale face for hours at a time. Things started to change, however, when I met him. We had long conversations about loss and recovery – about loving oneself. I was slowly beginning to understand the process of recovery. I asked him, “How does one recover from a debacle? Especially, one concerning losing people you care about for no apparent reasons? Why is such loss difficult for one, but seems so easy for the other?”, He replied calmly. “I have learned that you should walk away from people who use their insecurities to measure every single thing you say or do and let their past shape your relationship with them. Love is not about healing others. It’s about loving them regardless of their wounds”.
I arranged the thoughts in my mind as I struggled to understand. The plains seemed to be a shade of brown now, and the mountains seemed taller than before. I opened my journal and wrote down what he had just said, and as soon as I was done, my gaze turned to the previous page, which was written in my hand as well. It read, “Recovery to some extent, however, does come with time. You can heal, but the scars always remain. The road to recovery starts from forgetting everything you were told about yourself and venturing on to find who you were before it all happened. Recovery is about being yourself again, loving yourself again, and prioritizing yourself again. Recovery is all about staying true to who you are and always were. It is about learning from your mistakes. It is about using how others treat you to grow as a human. It is about not letting the cruelty of others and this world shape you. What I have found is that recovery begins at forgiveness and it takes place at self-realization and ends at growth.” As I read the page, I felt him moving restlessly in his place, as if trying to find a comfortable spot. I look at him and he was expressionless as he settled. It seemed as if he knew what I was reading and surely, after a minute of silence, he pointed at the journal and spoke.
“The process is not easy and it takes time. It is, however something we all must do to create a better space for ourselves and the people around us. The little acts of kindness, the mere effort put in bringing about smiles, the simple joy of giving – all these things become a part of a person who has forgiven, realized self, and have in turn grown. The pointless noise of the world no longer excites them. They start doing things they have always wanted to, breaking the imaginary chains they put on themselves for the sake of others. They become fearless and independent of everything and everyone. They become enough for themselves and this very feeling makes them content and happy.” I listened to him carefully and then sank my head in my hands and felt my hair between my fingers. I thought to myself, “So, one can say, that recovery is about self-love, but what exactly is self-love?”
I have often wondered. We hear a lot about self-love, but how do we define it, and to what degree can we indulge in self-love without becoming selfish or narcissistic? While researching this, I came across Aristotle’s definition. He states that people who love themselves to achieve unwarranted personal gain are selfish/erroneous, but those who love themselves to achieve virtuous principles are the best sort of good. This helped me understand a lot about myself. To expand on this definition, it can be established that self-love is not about personal gain. It is about achieving virtue. It is about, respecting oneself and loving oneself enough to reach a plateau of moral, ethical, and virtuous principles. To define these principles, we need to delve deeper into moral philosophy. However, when you focus on taming yourself, it is essential to derive satisfaction from the day-to-day good deeds. To love oneself, it is important to see yourself as a source of “good”. To become “good”, you need to first learn to forgive and be patient.
As I contemplated, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “To reach this realization, an individual must go through a life experience that forces one to ponder over oneself, their purpose and their situation.” I picked my head up and looked at the fading plains as his voice caressed in my ears, “I have found that those who are quick to produce conclusions and are often satisfied by their view and opinions only are the ones who have not yet reached the maturity or the life experience required to practice self-love. People, who will go the extra mile to justify their actions, their words, and their reasoning, but will not stop to take in the present reality or the “bigger picture”. They often like to pretend that things are not in their control. They believe what they perceive is and will always be correct – even about yourself. To escape them you have to understand your worth. You have to understand the self.” I nodded my head quietly as he continued.
“There is another trait, that is required to practice self-love; Emotional intelligence. The key to controlling situations and retaining your inner peace is restraint.” His grip on my shoulder grew firm. “This is the only task I will assign you for today: To practice restraint.” The air around me started to grow stale but I wanted to know more. I put my hand on his hand on my shoulder to keep him from leaving and asked him, “I had thought that the answer to everything related to ‘self’ was the experiences we all have in our lives. That everything that happens to us and around us defines our image, or rather our understanding of ourselves”. He sat attentively now and spoke swiftly as if time was running out “It is quite the opposite. The way we react to situations, problems, and challenges in our lives is in our control. To exercise that control, we need to practice restraint. We need to learn to control our emotions and hence our reactions by being calm and restraining ourselves. This gives us power over ourselves. This gives us the power to define ourselves and in turn, understand ourselves. This is the pinnacle of self-love, awareness, and discovery.” I made a mental note and instantly asked him “So how do you do that?”. He whispered, “Regardless of the method you choose if you are trying or even just thinking about it, you have already started your journey” The answer to the simple impediment of your mind is and always had been, restraint.”
“How,” I asked him again. There was no answer. I looked at the spot where he had been sitting and realized he was gone. “Not again!” I yelled. The plains faded completely and the mountains had become walls around me. The trees grew dark and formed the roof over the walls. The grass became the carpet on the floor, and I saw myself in the mirror that was now in front of me. “There!” I exclaimed as I saw him in the mirror.