7 gentle pieces of wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh on loving ourselves (How to Love Part 1)

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I’ve always turned to books to help me get better at things I struggle with. How can I relax? How I can I gain more confidence? Deal with insomnia? Be more adventurous? So it’s no surprise that I seek out authors to try and help me work out the really big question: how to love.

My favourite book on love may well be Thich Nhat Hanh’s How to Love from his “Mindfulness Essentials” series. I’ve wanted to write about this book for some time, but when I compiled all of my notes and takeaways, I realised it’d need more than one post.

It’s a small book, but it’s packed with so many life lessons (and love lessons!)

So I’ve decided to make this into a series of three posts, starting here with loving ourselves, followed by loving others, and finally some takeaways on appreciating and finding a home in our bodies. I’ll publish those over the next week.

To begin with, let’s enjoy some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s lessons on being loving towards ourselves.

1. When we feed and support our own happiness, we are nourishing our ability to love

By giving ourselves love, we have the most to give back to our loved ones. Come home to yourself – accept who you are right now, appreciate the life running through your body, and own your place on the planet.

Pay attention to the feelings you have about yourself before opening up more to others. Of course, that doesn’t mean ignoring your loved ones now. But I do think that the more we focus on our own self-care, the richer the gifts of presence and kindness we’ll give to others.

“Once you know how to come home to yourself, then you can open your home to other people, because you have something to offer. The other person has to do exactly the same thing if they are to have something to offer you. Otherwise, they will have nothing to share but their loneliness, sickness, and suffering. This can’t help heal you at all.”

Photo by Alain d’Alché on Unsplash

2. Become more of you every day

Make it a goal to “become yourself one hundred percent”, even if – or especially if – that means being vulnerable. Admit your weaknesses to your loved ones and open up about what you’re struggling with:
“Open your mouth and say with all your heart and with all your concentration that you suffer and you need help”.

3. We’re worthy – right now, without doing anything differently

Being able to love ourselves isn’t something to do tomorrow, or next week, or next year. There’s no goal post to reach before you can appreciate and take proper care of yourself. You can nourish yourself with a kind word or small act of self-care right now.

“Trust that you have a good and compassionate nature. You are part of the universe; you are made of stars. When you look at your loved one, you see that he is also made of stars and carries eternity inside. Looking in this way, we naturally feel reverence.”

How do you take care of yourself? Shout out to this bathtub I found on the internet. Photo by Lisa Moyneur on Unsplash

4. Not taking the time to understand ourselves can cause us trouble in relationships

We all want to feel loved and to love. But sometimes when we feel empty, we think that we need to fill the gap by finding an object of our love, rather than looking within ourselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh warns us against this: “When we realize that all our hopes and expectations of course can’t be fulfilled by that person, we continue to feel empty. You want to find something, but you don’t know what to search for.”

If we’re in a relationship and can’t generate the energy to take care of ourselves, we might feel like we’re missing something that others should be giving us – but our partner isn’t going to fix the root causes, at least not long-term.

We focus on the need and the lack rather than generating the energy of mindfulness, concentration, and insight that can heal our suffering and help the other person as well.”

One of many beautiful pages from How to Love.

5. Is taking time for introspection really so much?

I love how Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to take time for introspection before parenthood so we’re ready to do our best job:

“Before having a child, it would be wonderful if people would take a year to look deeply into themselves, to practice loving speech and deep listening, and to learn the other practices that will help them enjoy themselves and their children more.

Whether we’re to-be parents or not, I think we can benefit from keeping this in mind:

“Taking a year for introspection and preparation doesn’t seem too much. Doctors and therapists spend up to ten years to get a license.”

6.  How to train ourselves for love

“Walking, eating, breathing, talking, and working are all opportunities to practice creating happiness inside you and around you. Mindful living is an art, and each of us has to train to be an artist.”

As well as mindful exercises, we should also be mindful of what we consume. It all affects our body and mind.

“If we consume toxic magazine articles, movies, or video games, they will feed our craving, our anger, and our fear. If we set aside time each day to be in a peaceful environment, to walk in nature, or even just to look at a flower or the sky, then that beauty will penetrate us and feed our love and our joy.”

7. If we take good care of ourselves, we help everyone

People who take good care of themselves are our strongest support. And we can be like them too:

“Joy and happiness radiate from our eyes, and everyone around us benefits from our smile and our presence. If we take good care of ourselves, we help everyone. We stop being a source of suffering to the world, and we become a reservoir of joy and freshness.”

How to Love is a book for: self-care, loving kindness, improving our relationships, mindfulness, opening our hearts to others, being at home in our bodies.

You can get a copy here.

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