"How could I have said something so stupid??"
"That was so dumb of me!! I should have known better!"
"I will never get it right! Why am I even bothering to try??"
"I wish I wasn't so clumsy! Why can't I be more elegant and graceful, like Janet?"
Does any of that sound familiar to you? That was my inner voice, several years ago. That was the voice in my head, constantly nagging, putting myself down, wishing I was different, better, smarter, stronger, more spiritual. Wishing I was anyone but who I am.
The most meaningful lesson I learned from being at death's door is that unless I love myself, nothing else in my life can function at its best. The amount of depth, meaning, and joy I experience in my life is in direct proportion to how much love I have for myself. The amount of love, kindness, patience I have for others is also directly proportional to how much love, patience and kindness I have for myself, because we cannot give others what we ourselves do not have. And, unsurprisingly, the amount of love, respect, support, and compassion I receive from others is also in direct proportion to how much of the same I have for myself.
Many of us are taught from a young age to "love our neighbors as we love ourselves." But what if we don't love ourselves? What if we are our own worst enemy, and our own harshest critic? If we treat others as we treat ourselves, then are we judging everyone else with the same harsh brush that we are using to paint ourselves? Is this why there are more people on our planet obsessed with trying to condemn anyone who is different, instead of learning to embrace everyone who shares our earth, and rejoice in our differences?
Learning to love others begins with learning to love ourselves unconditionally first. This seems to be a well-kept secret, which no one taught me as I was growing up. On the contrary, I was encouraged from a young age to put myself last, that it is selfish to love ourselves, or put ourselves first. In fact, I used to give and give of myself, without tending to my own needs, to the point that I became so drained it started to affect my health. Continuing in this vein, I constantly believed that I needed to work on myself because I wasn't good enough as I am. So I continued to work on being "better," kinder, more "loving," more "spiritual." I was always judging myself because I never felt I made the mark.
And then I got cancer. In fact, I didn't just get cancer, I nearly died from cancer! But my cancer was the greatest gift I could ever have. Nearly dying taught me how to live. My cancer taught me the importance of loving and valuing myself unconditionally for who I am -- a perfect being of the Universe, who is worthy and deserving of love, without needing to prove myself, better myself or change myself in any way. I became aware that I am someone who has a right to express my uniqueness with abandon.
I now also understand that I don't have to work at being spiritual. Being spiritual is who we are, at our core, whether we realize it or not. It is our true nature, so we cannot not be spiritual! Being yourself and being spiritual are one and the same thing.
Because of my experience, I will never forsake myself ever again. I will never let myself down, treat myself like a doormat, or make myself small so others can feel big. I have learned that this is the biggest gift that I give not only to myself, but also to the planet, because I paint others with the same brush as I use on myself.
My life is much more joyful and meaningful now, and I have much more love to share with others than I ever did before, which I do unconditionally, and without draining myself. But most important, I now understand that if I do not express my authenticity, the Universe will be deprived of who I came here to be.
Anita Moorjani is the author of the bestselling book Dying to Be Me: My Journey From Cancer to Near Death to True Healing