Excerpted from “Not Enlightened, But Lighter.” Listen to the full conversation here.
In 2011], I hit rock bottom. I was lying on the floor, crying, and I felt like my heart was going to explode. Something clicked in that moment, and I realized that I had been lying to myself. If I wanted to pull myself out of it and build a whole new life, I knew that I needed to start telling myself the truth. At that time, I totally put my foot down and said no to any more hard drugs. But I knew that alongside this, I needed to be truly honest with myself. That’s what got me started on this journey of getting to know myself, of sitting with difficult emotions, and opening a new doorway to loving myself properly. . .
Sometimes people think that self-love is just giving yourself whatever you want. But giving yourself whatever you want can make you sick, unhealthy, and unhappy. When I think about self-love, I define it as doing what you need to do to heal and free yourself. This type of self-love can open the door to unconditional love for all beings. As I’ve become more compassionate with myself in learning about how my mind works, when I see others struggling in ways similar to how I’ve struggled, it’s easier for me to be kinder and softer with them and to meet them at their pace.
[Importantly, however], self-love is not martyrdom. Anything taken to an extreme becomes unhelpful. If you’re just constantly giving and you spend no time taking care of yourself, then you’re going to end up incredibly depleted. The Buddha was constantly helping people, but he always set aside a few hours a night when he would rest, meditate, and take care of himself. Being able to balance giving with taking care of yourself is a strong middle path that we should try to emulate. . .
Self-acceptance is [another] critical aspect of self-love. When you begin turning inward and paying attention to the fluctuations of your emotions, you start seeing some pretty rough stuff. You start seeing your own history, and you might awaken memories that you’ve been running away from. Being able to engage with yourself through a medium of acceptance makes deeper healing possible. Without acceptance, you’re not going to be able to go very deep.
Self-love is also an active mode of existence. When I hit rock bottom, I was incredibly unhealthy. I was not taking care of myself, and I would run away from myself by seeking anything that I found pleasurable, whether that was smoking marijuana to the point that I was totally numb or eating food that had no nourishment. I started building positive habits like feeding myself better, going for walks, and eventually meditating two hours a day. It was difficult and took time to build those habits. But one of the most important things I’ve done for myself is realize that I have to bring meditation into my daily life. I need to make time so that I have two pillars of my day of meditating: one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. Having done that since 2015, I’ve realized that meditation has been a critical part of my life that everything else is built around. If it weren’t for this habit of getting myself to meditate each day, everything would be worse off than it is now: my relationships with my parents, friends, and my work. . .
I found that when I started meditating, creativity started being infused in my daily life—not just creativity in terms of art or writing, but creativity in the sense of seeing relationships and experiences in new ways. Meditation didn’t change what I had gone through. It didn’t change the poverty that I experienced as a child, or my experiences of immigration and racism. Instead, it helped take the energy away from those experiences so that they were still part of my story, but the story didn’t feel as heavy anymore. When that started happening, I was able to connect with this bubbling creativity. Everyone has access to that creativity. When you start meditating and deeply healing yourself, you’re going to be able to produce from a space of compassion, from a healed space, and from a much more creative space.
This excerpt has been edited for length and clarity.