The Ancient Greeks had six definitions for love: Eros, or sexual passion, which they saw as being quite dangerous since it could cause true reason to be abandoned; Philia which is deep friendship, the kind experienced by brothers in arms dying together in battle; Ludus, a playful love, the kind we have for our children but also experienced while flirting, dancing, or chatting with friends (perhaps our Twitter ‘friends’ would fit in neatly here?); Agape, the love we have for humanity, which is very similar to the Pali Metta of Metta Bhavana (the cultivation of loving kindness) but also translates into Latin as caritas (in English charity) the type St Paul spoke of in his first letter to the Corinthians and often translated simply as ‘love’; Pragma, the long standing, mutually supporting love of an elderly married couple for each other for example; and lastly Philautia, the love of the self.
Aristotle held that there are two types of Philautia: the unhealthy variety, which is narcissism, where you are self-obsessed and focused on personal fame and fortune. How redolent is this in today’s celebrity culture? The healthier version, he said, is “self-compassion” which also enhances our wider capacity to love. The idea is that if you like yourself and feel secure in yourself you will have plenty of love to give others, the friendly feelings for others being an extension of a person’s positive feelings for themselves. But it’s not easy, we have to first cultivate these feelings towards ourselves, and we can often find that very difficult. Even when we have great compassion for others we can struggle to be kind to ourselves.
Our self-worth, if we are not careful, is defined by our successes. When we are praised we glow with satisfaction and pride, when blamed for something, or unappreciated, we wither. And perhaps we refuse to accept praise when it is freely given? “You’re just being nice” we say, “you’re just saying that to cheer me up”. We can be habitually cruel to ourselves.
Nevertheless, we still crave affirmation, and seek perfection in ourselves even if not in others. Criticism is hard to bear as we can take it so personally, but self-criticism is worse, nagging away inside our brains. We must build up our resilience because the eight worldly winds: praise and blame—success and failure—pleasure and pain—gain and loss, will come along in turns, as sure as eggs is eggs. Nothing is permanent. As well as our successes, which of course we should allow ourselves to celebrate and enjoy, there will be knock-backs. We will lose that job, that friend, that partner, our health. I do not mean this to be depressing, we should welcome them all in, whatever they are. (See ‘The Guest House’ poem by Rumi http://www.sagemindfulness.com/blog/rumi-s-poem-the-guest-house). As Kipling says in his poem ‘If’: “..if you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same…yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it”. But I think most of all, in the midst of everything, the key is to be kind to ourselves.