As I have written elsewhere, this path of self-love involves freeing your mind of the illusion that you are somehow flawed, "not good enough"; opening your heart to the suffering you carry and fully releasing it; and embracing and living the joyfulness of your body.
No prior spirituality has at it's heart the project of confronting and releasing one's emotional pain, and developing complete trust in and love for oneself. The spirituality of the future must use the best of ancient traditions while renouncing the distortions that all of them contain. We must think for ourselves, and question all we have been taught, if we are to fully set ourselves free.
To illustrate this, let us enter into an examination of the great tradition of Buddhism.
The soul of the Buddhist path is the practice of meditation. I heartily propose that meditation and the cultivation of mindfulness (the ability to center your awareness in this present moment) are not only helpful, but essential to living well and developing inner peace. I teach my students and therapy clients how to meditate and I personally do zen meditation every day. I have done so for 30+ years.
Interestingly, I have found that despite it's many positive effects meditation and the development of mindfulness have severe limits as a path of healing and awakening. People's emotional pain -- and it's origins in childhood especially -- is so effectively suppressed that no amount of meditation will bring that pain to conscious awareness, for the majority of people. Relying on meditation alone as the lens through which one examines the self and its moment-to-moment experience ultimately led to the Buddhist ideology of "no-self". This doctrine states that you are only free of your suffering when you renounce your identification with the unique you and come to identify with the transpersonal sea of energy. In other words, YOU don't really exist in any meaningful way, and your pain, desires and dreams are also illusions. This, of course, is veiled self-hatred masquerading as "enlightenment".
I believe that the Buddha -- and the tradition that grew from his teachings -- developed this approach simply because he wasn't aware of the childhood origins of people's pain and problems in life. Therefore, if you were in emotional pain, the answer wasn't to see how it originated in childhood, completely express it and release it, and learn to love and accept your unique individual self -- but rather to try and maintain a meditative state that subtly splits your awareness away from your body and feelings. And also to cultivate the self-rejecting belief that you as a separate being really don't exist!
It is MUCH harder to become fully aware of the pain from a difficult childhood, stored in one's body, than it is to reach the advanced meditative states pursued in Buddhism. But the result is much more aliveness, joy and self-acceptance -- and therefore happiness!
I firmly believe that what we now know about the childhood origins of adult problems and suffering -- knowledge hidden until the early 20th Century -- and how it is stored in the body, must be combined with mindfulness-based practices for the complete liberation of the person. Buddhism alone -- along with all the other ancient philosophies and religions -- just aren't deep and thorough enough to free both individuals and the human race from the pain that continues to plague us, despite the widespread adoption and practice of these ancient teachings. A single glance at the state of the world, and the widespread personal unhappiness of the masses, is ample proof of this. And some of the key ideas of what I refer to as the old spiritualities -- for example the Christian doctrine of "original sin/inborn guilt, the Judaic commandment to submissively "honor one's parents" (thereby burying the pain of neglect and abuse) and the Buddhist doctrine of "no self"" -- are actually toxic and perpetuate suffering rather than healing it.
Love and mindfulness, trust in oneself and in the goodness of life, are the eternal foundation of happiness. The doctrines of the past are incomplete roadmaps to making these experiences real in our daily lives. A deeper knowledge of why we suffer, and how we can be healed, is emerging. We must continue to evolve in our ability to set ourselves free. And I believe that the humblest of ideas -- that one must fully love and believe in oneself -- can lead our lives forward. LOTS OF LOVE -- BRYAN