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Lessons in Self-Love from a 13 Year-Old Pug

Updated: Sep 17, 2021

Last week, the day I had been dreading and hoped would never come finally did. My dog Walter, the love of my life, passed away peacefully in his sleep. Though his breathing was labored from pneumonia, he was happy and alert until the end. He lived a very full and long and beautiful life. Of course, I'm relieved he's no longer suffering but in all honesty, I am devastated.

I often think about how at the beginning of the pandemic, my neighbor, a very wise retired psychologist said, "If you're going to be spending this much time alone, it would probably be a good idea for you to start liking yourself." My immediate reaction was anger and frustration. "I do yoga, I meditate, I read self-help books," I said. "How much better do I have to be? I'm tired of working on myself!" He replied, "I didn't say work on yourself. I said like yourself."

Wow. When he suggested I learn to like myself, I naturally assumed I would have to be better to somehow earn my own love and respect. My love for myself was always contingent on being perfect. I was never pretty or smart or skinny enough. I was too loud and attention-seeking and needy. I was a loser and a failure and a drain on my family. I was simply unlovable and no man would ever want to marry me. I hated myself because I set impossible standards and always fell short.

Losing a pet can be so painful because their love is truly unconditional. Walter didn't care what I looked like or how successful I was or whether or not I was charming or well-liked. He didn't put any conditions on loving me. He just loved me. What if we could learn to love ourselves as our pets do? What if we dropped the conditions and demands for perfection and just decided that we are worthy of love just as we are right now-- not later when we're better or more successful or thinner or have a bigger house or a nicer car or get into a relationship. We make up all sorts of ridiculous (but in our minds legitimate) reasons for why we don't deserve to love ourselves but if a dog wouldn't care about them, why should we?

The greatest tribute I can pay to Walter's life is to love myself as much as he did. The greatest gift we can give ourselves is to just stop finding reasons we're not good enough and just make the decision to love ourselves. It requires a lot of patience and effort but the solution is simple. A lot of us have spent decades hating and picking on ourselves so it will take time and there will be setbacks but if we can learn to become more self-aware in moments when those mean, hateful thoughts come up and decide to love ourselves instead, we can literally carve out new pathways in our brains. Like any new skill, the effort over time will lead to something that will become habitual and with enough practice, eventually, it will be effortless.

I've been working with one of my private yoga students on creating a daily list of things he loves about himself. Every day, we both write five things we love about ourselves and we share them. It can feel corny and embarrassing at first but it's so beautiful and empowering. If you want to try it for yourself, every day, in the notes app on your phone or on a sheet of paper or in a notebook, write "Five Things I Love About Myself" and then just list them.

I'll go first:

  1. I am open and willing to share my experiences and feelings with other people.

  2. I am a good cook!

  3. I'm kind.

  4. I take the time and am present enough to enjoy the simple pleasures in life.

  5. I was a really attentive and loving caregiver to Walter.

Do you want to give it a try?

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