A great teacher named Casey Hubbell taught a series of classes where she instructed students to cultivate gratitude at various levels of objectivity. At first they were asked to feel gratitude for themselves, for their bodies, their lives, their breathing, basically anything and everything that had to do with them. At the next level, they were told to extend that gratitude out to include intimate people in their lives as well as acquaintances, to concentrate on these relationships. Finally, students were asked to cast their net of gratitude out even further to include some group of people they didn’t know but might respect.
This is a great exercise to do with students. From the perspective of Western psychology it addresses egocentricity by allowing people the chance to focus exclusively on themselves before becoming more objective in their thinking, extending out their sphere of reality to include more and more of the world. Egocentricity, what we might term narcissism, is one of the biggest barriers to self-actualization. The great psychologist Erich Fromm believed that overcoming primary narcissism was the fundamental life task for every human being.
He also had the brilliant insight that narcissists don’t love themselves too much they love themselves too little. This lack of self-love is what makes them focus so much on themselves. They hope to fill up the black hole where self-love should be, but no amount of thinking and worrying about their own needs while neglecting the needs and rights of everyone else does the trick.
What the process of yoga allows people to do is focus exclusively on themselves in the healthiest of ways, really teaching themselves self-love through taking care of their bodies and finding peace and equanimity in their minds. They show themselves that they are worth all that hard work and dedication because they keep coming back, and they start consciously moving down the path of self-actualization. The result is authentic self-love, not the false self-love of the narcissist, and this authentic self-love allows people to spread their love and gratitude out into the world too, to give freely of it because authentic self-love is a spring whose waters run deep, not a black hole sucking up everything around it.