While I’m on a spiritual roll, I wanted to share with you a snapshot of one of my most favorite small prints hanging on my wall right now.

Here it is:

The quote says, “Love is, above all, the gift of oneself.”

Several years ago, when I first moved into the place where I currently live today, I was fleeing the inevitable transition of a challenging relationship.

In those first days in my new apartment, I had bare walls, bare shelves – I didn’t even own a kitchen knife (thank goodness, given the mood I was in most days at that time).

Then one day I got tired of staring at an endless expanse of unbroken pale yellow walls, and I got in the car and drove myself to Michael’s.

There I found an assortment of cheap prints in cheerful colors that seemed to go with yellow. I didn’t pay much attention to what they said – hearts, flowers, bunnies, anything that looked the opposite of how I felt – that was what I was after.

So it took me some time to actually digest what this particular print was trying to tell me.

It took some time more to realize that, at first at least, I violently disagreed. I thought “love” was what happened when you met someone else. If you had chemistry with that someone else, so much the better.

I also thought love was a gift you earned – like “if I’m a really nice person and dress really well, maybe happily-ever-after will find me and stick around.”

Oddly, in the ensuing years, some of the moments in which happily-right-now (a state far preferable to happily-ever-after I have discovered) has been most apparent have been when I am all alone, unbathed, engaged in simple things like meditating or cleaning the house or scratching my bird’s neck feathers or simply watching a good flick au solo.

I have also, slowly but surely, since realized that I can only love someone else (and of course I am speaking just for me, from my own personal experience to date) as well as I can manage to love myself.

This means I will never cook for those I love, now or in the future, but I will certainly be able to clean for them quite well, give them genuine compliments, offer them unsolicited affection, and commit to continually improving both my personal self and our shared connection and intimacy.

As I improve in each of these areas in my own relationship with me, I get closer to self-love. As I get closer to self-love, I have noticed two things happening: 1) Love from others finds me more easily and seems more inclined to stay, and 2) I experience a similar degree of inner contentment and happiness no matter whether I am alone or in the midst of a crowd.

In fact, for years my personal self-improvement goal has been to feel exactly the same degree of peace, happiness, love and connectedness with self or others whether I am at one of end of that spectrum (in a crowd) or the other (all by myself).

I am still working on it, of course. I believe this is work that takes a lifetime, so it is quite convenient that I get a lifetime to do my work.

But each time I take one tiny step closer, that painting on the wall ceases to be a cheap “cheer me up” print and becomes a powerful mentor in its own right in my life.

Today’s Takeaway: Sometimes the catchy phrases we have the strongest negative reactions to have the most to offer us. If this applies, what is one such phrase for you – a phrase that reliably pisses you off, turns you off, or sets you off? What message or opportunity do you think that phrase might be trying to reach out to you with?