What’s Love got to do with … anything?
We all want love. I don’t mean just the juicy romantic, sexual, kind of love, although there is nothing wrong with that. The problem with romance, however, is that it is so temperamental. This sort of love does not come with a guarantee, as our tumultuous times make so clearly evident. How many marriages do you know where the love is steady, constant, and secure?
If we have learned anything from the epidemic of broken marriages and the heart crushing betrayals demonstrated daily in our divorce courts, it is that romantic love is just a shade away from a kind of hatred that can turn the blood cold. Of course this kind of experience, or the fear of it, would make us guarded and suspicious of love itself.
The tragedy of our understandably skeptical view of love is that we end up defended against the one thing we all desire and need the most. Our resistance to love is like being afraid to drink water or breath air. After a while our life force begins to wither and fade.
We naturally conclude that other people are the problem. They can’t be trusted. We cannot ever fully give our heart to another. Given all the ways that we have been betrayed, it does not make sense to be vulnerable again in this way. And so we become wary of people, and of love itself.
If we don’t work our way out of this predicament, we spend our lives perpetually caught between our desire for other people’s affection, and our fear of their rejection. We settle for seemingly safe relationships where we don’t risk too much. Yet this also means that we don’t gain too much, and we end up secretly starving for love and appreciation.
So, what is the answer to this seemingly impossible situation?
Platitudes like “we each have all the love we need inside” or “we need to love ourselves first” are useless. These nice sounding ways to approach our despair simply hide it beneath a veneer of affirmation. They allow us to pretend to find a way through the shadows of a loveless world without actually facing our fear. You may be able to shore yourself up for a while through beliefs like these, but sooner or later they will collapse and leave you more desperate than before.
We don’t find the source of love by some whimsical hope, wish, or fantasy. Yet this doesn’t mean that love is not real. Don’t believe it until you see it for yourself, but do have faith that it is there. Our habit is to look for love outside of ourselves. We believe that it can only come from other people. This is our fundamental problem.
It is not that love does not come from other people, or that we have to isolate ourselves to find it. However, we do have to be disillusioned in order for love to reveal itself to us. The usual ways that we seek for love have to fail us, and we have to give up looking outward, before we can look inward. Our illusions about love have to be shattered, and this is obviously going to be painful for many of us.
When our heart breaks, it also opens. If we can resist the tragic story of betrayal and the temptation to see ourselves as victims of another person’s carelessness, we can ask why. Why is this happening to me? Why is love so hard to find? The trick is to open to these questions without immediately filling in the answers. Accept for a moment that you do not know, and keep asking, believing that there is an answer.
Go into your fear. Go through it. Head directly for it, instead of always turning away as your instinct tells you to do. Trust that love is real and is there for you, even if you cannot see it. Don’t look for that love to come from other people. Find the source inside of you, and don’t settle for anything less.
Then, perhaps slowly, a way opens up. It gradually becomes apparent that we have a choice only to love or not to love, and that being loved is beyond our control. If we choose to withhold our love, thinking that this will protect us from further pain, we start to shrivel up inside. We cut ourselves off from our most essential need.
The paradox is that we need to activate love from our own reserves in order to access it. We have to give it away in order to recognize that we have an endless source inside of ourselves. There is nothing rational or logical about this process. We have to take a leap and trust something beyond our perception – something we cannot see yet.
If we are willing to stretch ourselves, something shifts. Discovering the source of love in this way hurts a bit, the way a good exercise or diet or yoga routine hurts. This kind of hurt does not damage us, but rather makes us stronger and more resilient. We have to go through some discomfort, and we have to learn to use painful experiences to grow and expand ourselves.
To get beyond the simplistic and superficial platitudes, you have to make yourself work a little. You have to give, even when you don’t feel like it, and when you don’t think you have anything left to give because it has all been stolen from you.
Just try it. Give it away anyway. At this point what do you have to lose? Once you have locked yourself up in your grievances and fortressed yourself against love, can it get any worse?
The trick is to give love away without making it an exchange. We have to let go of our habit of demanding an equal return on our investment. Most of us are stuck in this way of thinking which obscures the source. We have access to an infinite source of love – the thing we all want and need more than anything else – yet we cannot see it because we think love is something to be exchanged between people.
Don’t trust what your head tells you on this one – rather, trust your heart. Once you start giving love away, it starts to flow again inside you, and you feel better – instantly. There is nothing magical or mysterious about this, and it is not superstition or fantasy. The love is there and it is real. In fact, it is the most real thing there could be. We just have been looking for it in a place it cannot be found.
I find that simple practices such as meditationconscious communication
Likewise, when I set down my judgments or defensive reactions and listen to another person to see things from their point of view, I find myself caring about them, even as I may feel threatened by their behavior.
If all this seems to impossible or “pie in the sky”, perhaps it is time to take a retreat