Late one evening years ago, in a garden courtyard outside a church, I met a young Japanese man named Hiro (pronounced hero). Shortly into the conversation, we discovered that we were both dancers: he, a hip-hop street dancer and me, a ballet dancer. Though our forms of dance seemed to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, we had a lot in common. We shared the same passion. Served the same goddess. I confided that I was interested in choreographing and he encouraged me. Gesturing upwards, he said that I should respect my vision.
He said this as if one’s own vision were sacred. This was a revelation to me. I had always doubted, in fact had been taught to doubt, the mysterious goings on inside my head and heart. In terms of choreography, I tried doing a workshop. I tried to find mentors, only to be shot down fast and hard. In some ways, that early rejection was a gift. It made me focus on what I really wanted to say. Back then though, when I was taking my first few tentative steps out on my own, it felt harsh. Hiro’s words awakened something in me, as a kind word often can.
He looked me in the eyes and said I was a master. At the time, I thought, egoically, that he was saying, you, Tai Jimenez, are a master, but I think what he meant is that all of us are masters at our deepest level of being, even me, and that our creativity stems from that part in us all. Attaining mastery in this world is a matter of remembering who we are.
We bowed to each other and never met again. He left me with a humbling lesson in self-love. Why humbling? Because it resonated with a truth I’d almost forgotten and revealed all of my external striving to fit in and please others for what it was: superficial, childish and futile. How could I ask others to love what I did not love? Here’s a piece of crap. I doubt that it’s any good, but I hope you’ll like it. How could I have this attitude and then be freaked out when it was rejected?
Of course there is a time and place for constructive criticism, but what would happen if criticism was given from one master to another? People sometimes say that I always try to see what is positive in others. This is true, not because of some namby-pamby new-age idea, but because I want to see the intent of the inner master’s work. It is extremely rare that a work of art comes to us undiluted from the inner master. We are all struggling to make it more pure.
So, self-love is not immune to criticism. Just the opposite, because a self-lover wants to grow. After all, we don’t just create for ourselves, but to share with others. Self-love that is impervious to criticism goes by another word: self-esteem. There is a lot of talk about building up one’s self-esteem nowadays. I find it confusing. It seems to encourage this sense of feeling special. We all want to feel so special! It is fodder for the ego and a distraction for the soul. Ladies’ magazines tell us to pamper ourselves with indulgences because we deserve it, gosh darn it!
Now I like a new pair of pumps as much as the next girl and I occasionally give in to the expensive bath salts, but unlike self-esteem which seeks to be rewarded for nothing, self-love, real self-love… is not so easy. Self-love forces us to give up the illusion that something or someone will make us happy.
And how many of us are willing to do that?