Meditation is one way of cultivating our sometimes forgotten ability as humans to look inwards to remember who we really are.
The irony of looking outside of yourself for pleasure, satisfaction. etc.. is that the one who looks is what you/we are looking for. So, the irony is that what you are seeking is the one who seeks. And so, that is why "loving yourself" is the great shortcut to "self-realization", because when you quit looking outside of yourself to fulfill that "sense of self"....you have arrived!
What do I mean by fulfilling "sense of self"? Think about it, pretty much all of the messages and pursuits of the world that we are told everyday... (You know.. get the car you want, the house you want, the lover you want, the validation you want, the vacation you want... etc..) When we get those things we think might will bring some level of fulfillment, long term. But they don't. There is nothing wrong with "things" when they aren't obtained to help you feel a certain way about yourself. When you accept yourself you don't really need all of those outside things to feel good about yourself. The search is over. You are the one. Not the egotistical one who has been chasing it all, of course, but the one within who is unshakeable, the one within you who has always been the same through all of life's changes.
Peeling back the layers of our pursuits, it's easy to see that what we're looking for most of the time is love,.. but instead of looking to "find love", instead I have found I can BE love. So, BE love first and all those other things (feelings of self worth) will be yours. Ironically, I don't think material things (or external relationships) will have the same meaning because you'll realize that they don't, and won't, define you.. and, because of that, I think they can be enjoyed more, with true gratitude, and appreciation. You will know full well their temporary nature. They will come... and they will go... but you will enjoy them more fully in the moment because of that.
When we hide away in the ego, and seek fulfillment outside of ourselves ..it's like the human version of chasing our tail... (but we do it with our minds and bodies). It is a physiological and mental hamster wheel, that seems to be all too common (yet widely encouraged) in the human experience.
What do I mean?
Imagine the dog who is chasing his tail. He's running and running and running after his tail.. and he has a look of excitement.. and this excitement is intermittently peppered with a little bewilderment and despair as he frantically chases faster and faster, and then occasionally he stops all exasperated, panting and exhausted and looks up at you..as if to say, "did you SEE how fast that thing is!!!" Somewhere in his face is also the distant hint that he may know that what he's chasing is something he'll never catch...and that it's all just a game.. but he doesn't mind, he doesn't seem to realize, or at least want to admit that what he's running after is himself.. what he's running after IS part of him... not only will he never catch it, but it WAS him the whole time.
It's hard not to watch it all and not feel a little sorry for the dog, and at the same time to feel amused at the comedy of the whole scene, and sort of laugh at it's silliness. In this analogy, the dog is really just a sort of a mirror of our own mental image of ourselves as humans, chasing satisfaction outside of ourselves.
The messages of "the world", or maybe you could call it the "the collective ego", encourage us to keep this up... The marketers, and messagers of the world say "hey look over here, look over there.. look what you can buy, look what you ingest, look what you can desire, look what you can fear, chase this, chase that..." basically they are all saying the same thing..which is.. LOOK OUT!! (..and look outwards) All of that "looking outwards" becomes shell game of the ego, distracting us from the real truth. The real truth is that the place to look, and focus on is within ourselves. Those outer things only trigger our body's pleasure responses and chemicals from within. The idea that the thing outside of us is the source of pleasure is just an illusion. We have the opportunity here and now to be conscious in directing our attention towards the only place that really matters.. (looking in). In other words begin to become inwardly aware... of the body's response to thoughts (and to no-thoughts at all).
I hope it makes sense that this isn't just some abstract "spiritual" analogy. We now know that there is a physiological basis for all of this.. when we seek reward outside of ourselves, we get a dopamine hit, and that feels good until it wears off and then we need another, and another.. and another..and another.. I am reminded of the statement that it's easier for the rich man to go through the eye of the needle than to enter the kingdom of heaven... my interpretation is that this statement wasn't some kind of judgement against people who happen to be wealthy.. but is simply because the rich have the resources to continue this mental tail chasing game to the end...on and on and on..
Studies have now shown us that meditation raises and balances these dopamine and neurotransmitter levels (serotonin, oxytocin, anandamide etc). So, the kingdom of heaven truly is within...and it won't cost you a dime. I'm not saying that it's only about brain chemicals, but they do give us a new level of understanding of our mind and body, and spirit connection
I realize too, that it may be a little scary to let go of the chase for things outside.. the chase keeps us occupied, the chase keeps us feeling safe, gives us a sense of purpose. The chase helps us to feel like what we desire is just around the corner. This gives a temporary hit of satisfaction, but the truth is what you desire has been within you all along. What will satisfy you is already with you. There is no chase.
So quit. Quit chasing your dreams, and instead let them catch up. Rumi said, "what you seek is seeking you.." and I'll paraphrase and tweak it a bit to say "..what you seek IS the one who is seeking..." ..or maybe you could also say "the one who is observing".
So, experience Love and bliss now. Try this. Close your eyes and focus on cultivating those feelings of Love. Love and accept yourself exactly as you are. Don't expect it from someone else. Imagine these feelings of love, and watch them come into to being in your physiology. (Now, see this same desire for Love, that you have, in others too.) Want to feel blissful, focus on bliss. Remember a time of blissfulness, and feel it grow again within your body. Want to feel high? Focus on feeling high. Want "abundance", notice the abundance you already have. Want to feel sexually awakened? Focus on healthy feelings of sexual fulfillment from a place of mutual respect...trust...admiration... let them flow..., and so on.
Try this as a mantra in your meditation:
Make this a practice and observe what happens next, you will begin to be freed from the mental prison of "lack", and these things will naturally be able to come your way. As you begin to take responsibility for supplying some of these needs from within, the energy, of "neediness" (attachment and expectation) will begin to dissipate and in general others will actually find THAT more attractive. Why? Because people subconsciously are uncomfortable and avoid the energy of "attachment and expectation". Because while they may feel empathetic or sorry about it in some cases, they don't actually know how to fulfill those needs for you (and truthfully, they can't, right?). Now, think about how you feel when you get the sense that someone wants something from you (psychologically or energetically) that you can't really provide. The natural and subconscious reflex is usually to just shy away from the person, or situation, altogether. Conversely, who is it easiest to be around? The person that needs nothing from you!! Then, you are free to enjoy each other fully. So, when we find this Love within ourselves we are always free to give it away, because it is an unending and eternal supply.
..and I know when I am awake to this because I can see this Love already present in others, and sometimes their eyes are like diamonds.
Discover in every moment who you are, and Love the one who is looking.
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Just a personal note: There is nothing new under the sun. I am just attempting to present info. here that has helped me. I hope to present it in a clear way based on my experience with anxiety which was a spiritual, psychological and emotional awakening for me. In retrospect of this experience I have been reading as much as I could to come to a deeper and more grounded understanding of this seemingly mystical thing that happened to me (so that I could share it with you). I'm not a doctor or a scientist. Please know this is only my experience. Yours will obviously be different, but since my experience was so similar to others I've talked to, I am hoping this may be helpful or useful to you in some way. It's also a way that I hope to share the love with you. That is my purpose here.