By Sergio Baroni

Originally featured in the bestselling book: Ready, Set, Live!

It started with a strange ringing in my ears. At first I ignored it, thinking it would go away on its own, but it just got worse. In the middle of the third night of this, I woke up in a sweat, feeling nauseated, the room spinning wildly and a high-pitched whine like a dentist’s drill going on in my head.

I discovered I couldn’t stand up without falling over, so I lay in bed, struggling with the constant urge to vomit. Every minute was agonizing, and I couldn’t make it stop. I felt terrified and out of control, like a man clinging to a life raft at night in a stormy sea… In the morning my best friend rushed me to the hospital where I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, a severe dysfunction of the inner ear. The doctors told me that the condition was incurable and also that I would continue to have these unbearable symptoms and probably lose most, if not all, of my hearing within a few years.

I was devastated. I felt helpless…terrified…alone. Was my life really becoming a living hell? How could that be, when I had just had a taste of heaven! I had recently gotten back from a week-long trip in the wilderness where I’d worked with a dozen people to help them discover their life’s purpose. One starry night in a red rock canyon along the Colorado River, I’d had a transformative experience of my own. I was sitting in a natural hot spring with our group when, suddenly, my whole sense of self shifted. It was as though my heart and my eyes became one, and I was able to look at each person and “see” into their soul and the beauty, goodness and unique purpose there, and clearly reflect it back to them. I felt magical and powerful and so grateful that I had been graced by a force greater than myself to shine more goodness into the world.

I returned home from that trip feeling ecstatic and deeply fulfilled, and kind of amazed at myself for having had this great experience. I remember wondering how anything could ever top it, and marveling at what fantastic karma I had.

And now this?

When I was released from the hospital a few days later, there was little improvement in my symptoms, and I had already had significant hearing loss in one ear. In spite of my significant others trying to be there for me, I quickly fell into a depression and was plagued with unbearable feelings of dread and shame, as my thinking turned very negative.  What had I done to deserve such a fate? Was this some kind of cruel cosmic joke that the universe was playing on me? Had I been so stupid to be that happy? I had been praying for help since the symptoms started, but my prayers had not been answered. I felt rebuked by God.

I lay in bed for weeks because I didn’t have the balance to stand or walk. I looked forward to sleep as it was my only escape from the torment. I lost all sense of normalcy, let alone joy. For the first time in my life, I began to have suicidal thoughts. I felt a strange kinship with the countless people on the planet who wanted out from a life of hopeless misery.

Then one morning, out of the depths of despair, a question arose into my mind:

If, indeed, I would have to suffer terribly and without relief until I eventually became deaf, what, if anything, would still make my life worth living?

This wasn’t a rhetorical or theoretical question; I had to know, my life literally depended on it. Surprisingly, a clear answer soon followed: As long as I could give and receive love, my life would always be meaningful and worthwhile.

The message I received reverberated through me and I knew down in my bones that this was true.  As I lay there, tears came gushing forth, and I felt huge relief. I knew that no matter what, I would be okay, as long as I could feel and share love. In that moment, I became devoted to love as I understood it, realizing it was my life’s blood. And I knew it had to start with love for myself and my existence.

It was soon clear that this love wasn’t about building self-esteem, and it wasn’t just love for me; it included everyone and everything! At first I didn’t know what to do, but following my inner guidance, I began to speak to myself very tenderly, with lots of kindness, patience and encouragement. I stopped blaming myself and God for my health crisis, and I pretty much stopped scaring myself with compulsive, paranoid thoughts about the future. My free fall into panic and contraction gave way to a wonderful inner feeling of warmth and gradual expansion.

At the same time, my thinking got clearer and less conventional. I started searching in books and the Internet for accounts of what others with Meniere’s disease had done to help themselves heal and learned that homeopathy had been helpful for some. After more research, I started experimenting with several homeopathic remedies from my local health-food store, and sure enough, one of them began relieving my symptoms almost immediately!  It felt like a true miracle!

Oh, the joy and amazement of walking without dizziness again! And riding a bike and hearing more normally! I could taste the goodness of life again! Over the following year, I continued to treat myself with homeopathy, and my condition continued to improve until I eventually completely overcame the disease, despite the traditional medical world having told me it couldn’t happen!

Also during that time, my girlfriend broke up with me and, while it was a painful loss, I realized that our relationship hadn’t been that healthy for either one of us, anyway. And the love I now felt within allowed me to let her go more peacefully, and, happily, that led to my eventually finding and marrying my soul mate.

So, the illness turned out to hold many profound lessons and gifts. As my egoic pride and sense of being in control had been totally stripped away, I had discovered a deeper reality: that the living truth of love was the most precious aspect of my life, and it was there behind everything! This love also revealed the essence that is deeply good and unlimited within us. I call it Authentic Self Love, because it’s love of what we truly are, not just the mind/bodies we mistakenly think we are.  Tough as it was to get through, these days I’m grateful that I got Meniere’s disease because it led to my knowing Authentic Self Love (ASL) for the first time. It can show up in our lives like that, in times of crisis, but, thankfully, it can also be cultivated.

To this day, ASL has continued to sustain and transform my life, like sunshine and water sustains a plant. It’s not self-esteem, which is defined as an overall emotional evaluation of one’s own worth. Self-esteem is a judgment of oneself that fluctuates with circumstances and can be good or bad (“I am competent,” or “I’m a failure”). It’s a function of one’s ego, which always looks at the outer aspects of our life and asks, “How am I doing now?”  So self-esteem is an outside-in, rather than an inside-out approach to well-being.

Authentic Self Love is the opposite of this: it stops negative self-judgment and self-doubt. It’s on the level of the soul, beyond all the evaluations and comparisons on the surface of life, and it always reveals one’s essential goodness and wholeness, from the inside out. Whatever your race or gender or material status in life, whether you’re in relationship or single, have a lot of possessions or just enough to get by, when you experience ASL, you have an abiding feeling of inspiration, gratitude, wellness and safety arising deep within you.

In my experience, Authentic Self Love is like a warm, accepting embrace, an inner glow that permeates your entire being. It allows you to “see” the magic within and around you and feel more alive, peaceful, intelligent and courageous. Your “eyes” are opened by the power of love to see your divine essence, and that transforms your life forever.

By showing you who you really are, ASL also supports the continuous unfoldment of your purpose by revealing the bigger reality you’re a part of, and your unique role in it. It allows you to grow toward your full potential and reach for and have all that you need.

In my 25 years of practicing psychotherapy I have met with a lot of unhappy people, and it’s so clear to me now, how often they are suffering (along with most of humanity) fundamentally from a lack of ASL.

Many have relationship problems because the truth is we can’t truly love another until we can love ourselves. I’ve met countless people who are caught in this unhappy predicament, searching for something outside that they have to find first inside.

Another problem caused by lack of ASL is chronic approval seeking. From the time we’re children, we’re conditioned to seek approval and develop strategies to get it, but no amount of approval can ever satisfy our need for love. And even more problems arise when we try to satisfy that need with food, sugar, alcohol, drugs, possessions and superficial distractions instead. We’re merely fooling ourselves, and happiness and peace will continue to elude us.

If you can identify with any of these patterns, take heart! The pain caused by being run by the fear-based ego can help push you toward “waking up” or opening to ASL and becoming more self-loving, free and secure in yourself. Suffering  can ripen us for learning how to love ourselves. And, at any moment, no matter what’s happening in your life, ASL can sustain you and transform your life and your relationships. Because, here’s the good news: Authentic Self Love is not just a concept to hold onto with your mind; it’s something experiential that you can develop!  

If you will devote at least 15 minutes a day for about a month to doing what I call “Deep Heart Stretches,” you will build up your ASL capacity, I promise you. See for yourself how simple yet effective they are.  Feel free to modify them to suit you.  Remember to breathe as fully and deeply as you can during this practice.


Five Deep Heart Stretches That Will Wake You Up

To Authentic Self Love

1.For at least three minutes every day: Find the place in your body where you feel most tender, empty or vulnerable. Notice that there may be an impulse to avoid, numb, fill, cover up or disconnect from that part. Place your hands there gently. Relax and soften your body. Breathe in like you are breathing into that part of your body and exhale deeply. Try saying these words internally and repeatedly: “I am here, I’m not leaving you; you are ok as you are; you can feel safe now; you are precious to me; I care about you no matter what.” Ask that tender, vulnerable part to speak to you and, whatever it says, acknowledge the feelings and offer up kindness and compassion. Keep reassuring that part that it’s okay now to gradually let love in and to let it out too.


2. For at least three minutes every day: Breathe in the energy of love, kindness and compassion right into your heart. Visualize this as a bright light, expanding through your chest and gradually filling your whole body. On each exhale, breathe out any fear, shame and self-rejection, visualizing it as a dark smoke or mist. Imagine that smoke or mist dissolving into a clear sky of pure light energy. Do this repeatedly and repeat the sound, “Aaaahh” as you do.


3. For at least three minutes every day: Let yourself perceive through the eyes of unconditional embodied Love. Imagine Jesus or Buddha, a beautiful goddess, a great saint, or the most loving human being imaginable standing before you. Visualize their face and focus on their eyes and hands. See them looking at you with total kindness and compassion, with arms and hands gently extending toward you. Gradually feel yourself magnetically drawn toward them and slowly opening your heart to receive the warm radiance of their Loving kindness. Now simply receive as best you can through your heart.  Now gradually imagine your heart communing with their heart, so that you can begin to see and feel as they do. Imagine looking back at the person that is you. Feel the blessing of being seen for what you really are, as though for the very first time. Relax as best you can into the experience of being and feeling seen that way.  Feel your own goodness.


4. For at least three minutes every day: Use one of the following verbal activations every day for a few days each, then move on to the next, and the next, till you start again with the first. Say them internally and slowly to yourself, savoring and drinking in the energy that they generate. Say them from what feels like the center of your chest. You can imagine the words creating energetic ripples through your entire body, as though you’re dropping pebbles into a pond.


“I am nothing other than what I truly am, and my real essence is good, sacred and worthy; what I am is truly enough as I allow myself to fully be;

I am lovable in my being and my becoming. And so it is. Thank you.”


“Like sun rays bursting through clouds, I now allow my true self to be revealed, by that power greater than my egoic mind. May I let my authentic self come through, no matter what.  Love and I are part of One continuous reality and I am a vessel for love.  I am now devoting myself to receiving and giving love so that I may thrive! I am learning to be courageous and grateful.

I am growing in the light of Love!”

“I am allowing my true self to radiate through the miraculous power of love that’s already inside of me, gradually starting now. I am a part of the loving intelligence of life and the Universe, discovering and celebrating itself uniquely through me. With every choice I make, may I deeply embrace all that I am and love my Authentic Self.  Thank you.”


5. For at least three minutes every day: Be Love’s body. Imagine that all the cells of your body and all the tissues and organs are made of one primordial, translucent, warm, glowing essence, which is Love. Imagine that the fluid of your body is liquid love and that the air you breathe is vaporized love. Imagine the bones of your body as a solid, structured form of love. Imagine all the cells of your body pulsating and receiving nourishment from the energy of love. Relax into it a little more with every breath, and let yourself feel love’s light glowing inside you.  Repeat silently, “Thank you. I am that.”


You can do these deep heart stretches anytime you have a few free moments. Just like stretching is a good and needed thing for your body, your emotional body is made to stretch and expand to allow ever more loving energy to move through it. But unlike your body that can only stretch to its physical limits, I bet you’ll discover that the heart can actually stretch infinitely when given enough the opportunity.

When you commit to doing these practices every day, you will see how they’ll transform your life and bring you more peace and happiness than ever before!

During the dark night of my healing crisis, I could never have imagined the gifts that were waiting for me on the other side. Wherever you find yourself on your journey and whatever obstacles or challenges you’re facing, please open yourself to the possibility that Authentic Self Love is right here for you, too, closer than you think. Because love is part of your essence—the primordial stuff that you and I are made of.

The great Sufi poet Rumi said, “Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from your Self.” And I would add, “Ask your Self for love and keep asking, you’ll find more there than you can imagine.”

Sergio Baroni is a licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and life coach, specializing in helping people experience rapid transformation in their lives. He was a co-developer with Marci Shimoff of the New York Times bestselling book Happy for No Reason and the Happy for No Reason Life Coaching program. He was also a co-facilitator and developer of the HeroQuest coaching program, which has helped many people discover their life purpose.


Sergio’s passion is to show others how to transform their lives from suffering to unconditional happiness. In his 25 years of experience working with adults, couples and families, Sergio has had extraordinary success helping people to overcome depression, grief and addictions; reduce stress and anxiety; and resolve relationship and life-transition issues.


Born and raised in Italy until age 10, Sergio is an advanced practitioner of meditation and yoga. Currently, he has a private practice in San Francisco and Marin County, California.