When we stop trying to make ourselves great and simply realize our greatness, it is easy to fall in love with who we are. The greatness that we try so desperately to conjure up is effectively buried beneath our best efforts to make ourselves acceptable. When we give up on the stuff, realizing that it doesn't make us feel the way that we were hoping it would, we dig a little deeper. And under all the stuff, we are exactly who we want to be.
I have a painting of a naked man hanging on my living room wall. It is my favorite painting -- not because it is a naked man -- but because it is the only one that has ever made me cry. The man sits on rocky ground; his testicles brush the earth. He has nothing left. He is the picture of vulnerability, but in the corner of the painting is the sun. And in the sun is a songbird, which, according to Chinese legend, is sending out rays of hope to the man. The rays have yet to reach him. But they will reach him.
Finding Our Greatest Strength
It is in our weakest moment that we find our greatest strength. It is in our vulnerability that we find promise and depth. It is in our hopelessness that we find hope. It is when we give up on what we can see that we reach beyond it and find the love that transcends it.
It is when we find the courage to get naked and free ourselves of pretense that the sun and the hope move in our direction. It is when we act from our higher self, that pure place within, that we fall in love with who we are. It is when we experience the self-verification of being true to ourselves that we know joy.
When we fall in love with ourselves, we automatically fall in love with life and everybody else. When we accept our own vulnerability right alongside our greatness, it is easy to accept other people as they are. When we see the greatness within us, we can see the greatness within them. The same greatness that lies in us lies in them. Our greatness, the very best of who we are, is that pure place of love inside. It is not the stuff -- nothing we can put on, or erect, or produce.
Falling In Love with the Naked Self
Have you ever watched as your lover was sleeping? Have you felt a lump in your throat as you realized how precious he or she was to you? Have you sensed, as you looked on, a sacred feeling -- a deep appreciation for the meaning that he or she added to your life? It wasn't because you were looking at your lover's best effort to look good. It was because you were looking at your lover's most naked face. When we are asleep, we don't have the presence of mind to be guarded or self-conscious. There is nothing unattractive about our nakedness. It is our being uncomfortable with our nakedness that can be unattractive.
When we fall in love with our own nakedness, we can fall in love with a partner's. Our nakedness is the best of who we are. It is our greatness; it is God's greatness. It is the love within us. The Apostle Paul wrote, "They show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness." And if we were to sum up God's law in one word, that one word would have to be "love."
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The What and Why-fore of Love
Love reduces all of the complexities to something we can understand and look for in a partner. And the Apostle Paul depicted love beautifully:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.
Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Love never faileth.
Remember when you thought that all you had to do was avoid the really bad stuff, like lying and murder? The higher self is sensitive to much more than that, but it is all simplified in "love." And love is the very best of who you are; it is that part on which you cannot improve.
The late Erich Fromm, in The Art of Loving, described genuine love as an expression of productiveness that implies care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge, an active striving for the growth and happiness of the loved person, rooted in one's own capacity to love.
Love: An Attitude of the Heart
The love we express -- whether it's for a neighbor, a child, or a sweetheart -- reflects the love we have for ourselves and our world as a whole. Our love is not our relationship to one special person who is deemed lovable (the beautiful one who adores us). Our love is an attitude of the heart that determines how we relate to everybody.
If we fail to realize that genuine love is an attitude of our heart -- and not about having the perfect neighbor, making the most lovable child, or finding the right partner -- then we can spend ourselves in the pursuit of finding the right one or changing our "loved" ones. Fromm compares this to a man who wants to paint but who, instead of learning the art, claims that he has just to wait for the right object, and he will paint beautifully when he finds it.
How many times have we found ourselves looking for the right object to love, or trying to change somebody into the right object to love -- thinking that once we get the object right, everything after that will be easy. But alas, the perfect object to love doesn't create the perfect love within us.
When we know love, it extends to all of life. Then the object of our love determines the type of love we feel -- brotherly love, parental love, erotic love, or self love. And all four types of love include an expression of care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge.
Distinguishing between Self-Love and Selfishness
When we feel guilty about showing self-love, perhaps it's because we haven't made a distinction between self-love and selfishness. Fromm says that selfishness is caused by a lack of self-love, that the selfish person makes an attempt to cover up and compensate for his failure to care for his real self. The selfish person is only interested in himself and sees in others only what he can get for himself. He finds some level of pleasure in taking, but none in giving.
No wonder we fear being selfish, but self-love is critical to loving others. Even the unselfish person who doesn't love himself cannot love others. Often unselfishness is seen as a redeeming character trait, but it can be a symptom of a lack of self-love. That's why the unselfish person sometimes surprises us by being unhappy and dissatisfied in his relationships -- in spite of his unselfishness.
So, how do you go about really loving yourself? The path to loving yourself is the path to knowing yourself and your God -- that means getting naked. It is the path to a union with God and with life. On that path, love for another is clearly inseparable from love for yourself.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.
Naked Relationships: Sharing Your Authentic Self to Find the Partner of Your Dreams
by Jan Denise.
Naked Relationships is a smart, fun, and practical guide to building healthy, lasting relationships. Jan Denise, whose newspaper column offers weekly advice on the finer points of love and life, shows you how to take nakedness to a whole new level, physically, mentally, and spiritually. You'll begin to understand relationships in a way you never did before. And you'll come to know that there really is a recipe for perfect love. Best of all, you'll acquire tools to perfect the most important relationship of all--your unconditional love of self--so that the real you emerges, beautifully naked, ready for an honest relationship with a partner.
About the Author
Jan Denise is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, whose weekly feature, "Naked Relationships," runs in newspapers across the United States. She is based in Florida, and conducts workshops, gives lectures, and is heard regularly on radio talk shows. She is the author of The Person I Don't Have Time to Be ... Is the Person I Am, and Naked Relationships. Visit her website at http://www.jandenise.com/