SM: Hi Janet! It's great to have another chance to chat with you and dive deeper into some of the work you've been doing this year.
First question. We all deserve love. How do you constitute or describe unconditional love?
JC: It's love that's given without conditions on how we act or how we feel. I think many of us are used to feeling that we have to fulfill certain conditions to be loved; unconditional love is definitely beyond that.
SM: Is there a difference between self-love and love, itself?
JC: Wow, I love this question! I think there shouldn't be a difference, but there often seems to be, depending on our self-image and self-worth. If we learned to feel unworthy, then loving oneself takes a bit of effort. And, we also seem to have different ideas of what love looks like. It makes loving ourselves more interesting, come to think of it. We should find all the ways!SM: Many say that we are all composed of love. Do you believe this? How so?
JC: I appreciate this view! I conduct meditation classes and enjoy raising the awareness that all the molecules and cells that make up our senses and bodies are borrowed. Imagine—atoms that were once in the earth, water, and air, and DNA once in our parents are now in us, lent to us without condition, putting together a body that we experience life with. This awareness connects us with the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, and all the people and history that brought these essentials of life to us, and the chemical and biological processes that have made this life possible. Even when I'm guiding others through this meditation, the realization still stuns me and fills me with love, and a bit of overwhelm!
SM: Why do you think so many of us struggle with self-love in society?
JC: I can only speak from my own experience and observation, but I think many of us were taught to contort ourselves for acceptance, and in many different ways. Of course, we learned how to behave ourselves in society, but we may also have learned that vulnerability or certain emotions are bad when these are natural to being human and just having a nervous system. In some ways, I found unlearning certain things were needed for my journey to self-love. A young version of me didn't know what self-love even was or what it could look like because feeling any emotion was considered weak and scary. I think there are many people still struggling with variations of this. If any part of ourselves was considered unacceptable or shameful, loving ourselves becomes conditional and difficult.
SM: How does self-love, self-acceptance, and self-worth impact our mental health?
JC: These can make all the difference. We have to believe we deserve to feel good, to be treated well and to have the tools to deal with difficult emotions and mental challenges. I'd like to put it this way too—people deserve to not be in survival mode all the time or to feel like they are under threat 24/7, be it financial, mental, or emotional. Mental health is affected not only by our personal habits but our relationships and environment. Self-love and self-worth can help us prioritize our mental health and assert our boundaries and needs in our lives, relationships, and workplaces.
SM: Mental health cases climbed during COVID. How can we navigate back toward altogether health in our minds and bodies?
JC: We need to acknowledge the difficulties and frustrations of this pandemic period. It sucks, and we need to keep acknowledging and witnessing all of our needs, challenges, and reactions. The restrictions on travel and activities right now have made it necessary for many people to find new coping tools and mechanisms, or worse in some cases, completely new jobs, lives, even homes, or partners. A lot of this can be extremely hard to carry all on one's own, and I do feel we need more systems in place to help. While those are adapting or being built, we need to reach out to others to ask for help, or if we are in positions to help, to extend kindness where we can.SM: In your new card deck The Self-Love Oracle, you paint gorgeous watercolor images, each with an inspiring and thoughtful message. What are some of the messages featured in the deck?
JC: There are so many, but among my favorites are "Set Boundaries," "Write," and "Evolve"! I wasn't taught clear boundaries and needed them so that I didn't have the weight of the world on my shoulders. "Write" was part of how I learned to think through my experiences. "Evolve" is my message to those who are afraid of changing even if they suspect they'll be happier doing so—change is part of growing! Everyone loves butterflies, right?
SM: How does the deck help readers find self-love?
JC: Self-love is a huge topic and can be approached in so several different ways. I think the deck offers 44 ways (i.e. 44 cards) to think about it! Anyone with the deck is encouraged to hold a question in their mind when drawing a card.
SM: One of your cards mentions that any new journey is for our growth. How can readers start approaching life in this mindset?
JC: We are already growing all the time—just think what we've gone through. Of course, feeling stagnation is a real thing. It's helpful to recognize when it's creeped in and then to identify new directions or avenues to explore. Challenges are one way we can identify what new skills or people we need to know!SM: What daily practices can we implement in life today to encourage self-love?
JC: A regular gratitude and journaling practice has helped me greatly—I don't do it every day, but I'm gratified whenever my daughter reminds me because she's also found it useful before bed time! I like reaching out to people I enjoy and checking in with them online, sharing small exchanges so we feel connected. It doesn't take much, but it can do wonders over time, especially because friendships let us share what we enjoy. And of course, I think we should all have time everyday doing something we really love, be it cooking, reading, watching movies, or looking at cute animals. It's really amazing how much love there is to go around!
Janet Chui was born in Singapore. Since childhood, she found refuge and expression in drawing things both real and imagined. She is a professional artist who has created fantasy, spiritual, and mythological paintings over her lifetime, and in 2009 she was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award for Best Artist.
Janet has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is currently studying counseling psychology. She has experienced motherhood, divorce, Tibetan Buddhism, healing, and the supernatural, all of which encouraged her to help others heal through self-acceptance and creative expression. Her latest work is The Self-Love Oracle card deck, released from Beyond Words in July 2021. For more about Janet and her work, visit: www.janetchui.com.