It's time to talk about love again. What is it exactly that we're talking about when we talk about love? What is this feeling? Do you really know? Let's dig into it.
What Is Love and What Is Entangled With It?
Initially, love is like so many other things in our lives. It is simply accepted in the original form first supplied. This means that our general idea and sense of the feeling of love is coming from our family. Then we add a layer of social ideas from friends and mix in some very strange notions reinforced through media. Sprinkle in some passing encounters with different romantic partners, and here is one recipe for "love:"
Sexuality and fulfillment through physical release and sensations
Specific emotional feelings and sensations
Social obligation to someone
Expectations of certain behaviors
Pain (often verbal or physical abuse)
Projections onto the other person of who you think they are
Having only a few, specific situations where love is permissible to be felt or expressed
Somewhere in there, there might actually be real love. True love is unconditional acceptance. But in today's society with all the stories wrapped up in love, what people commonly think of as love is anything but unconditional. No, there are stories upon stories layered on this feeling, which we only allow ourselves at certain times and in certain ways. The depth and beauty of real love is lost in this mish-mash of endless expectations with a total lack of vulnerability. If you are wearing a suit of armor, how can you ever feel close to anyone? The other way many people go is to become open doors--to be victims--and let everyone do whatever they want because you think this is what you're supposed to do for a partner.
So, quite simply, the current idea in most people's minds about love is flat-out wrong, and it's why so few people are feeling nourished in relationships. It's also why we can't get very far in a conversation about spirituality until we take this thing apart to get to what's real and true.
The Real Truth About Love
I'm not going to call love in this regard as "spiritual love." I'm just going to call it love. Love is in everything. Calling it romantic love or brotherly love or whatever to label specific aspects gets in the way. The real truth about love is that it is available to you all the time with everyone. This doesn't mean it has anything to do with romance. Love has millions of ways of expressing itself, and each way is just as beautiful as the next. Sometimes, love is loud and strong when something is not healthy and someone is being hurt. Love is no push-over. Total and complete acceptance is not total and complete passivity, but only as you do your work to listen to your inner guidance will you know what's right for you to manifest in the way of love in any given situation.
Consider that you saw a child being beaten in the street by a man. Loving action may be a strong intervention in that situation. This may be a perfect unfolding of what's supposed to be happening at that moment, but you know in your heart what role you have to play. We are all extremely powerful beings and what we say and do shapes the world. To take those actions and say those words from a space of love re-shapes situations in ways that you can't possibly imagine, and when we're cut off from love, all the worst kinds of things can happen. I think the recent history on this planet has shown that.
Delving Down to Your True Love
There's probably a lot standing in your way to love. Love, as I said, isn't a push-over. Loving your father who beat you as a child doesn't mean you don't hold him accountable for those actions. There's a penance he'll have to pay at some point--if not to you, then to God and to himself. But you will only exhaust and deplete yourself with anger and shame. It's time to let those go. It's time to forgive and to learn how to love him for who he is and what he could offer. It really is an imperfect world, and no one is going to be coming through this shift cleanly. The spiritual path is a really messy path, and there's going to be the need for a whole lot of forgiveness and compassion to all the people and all the mistakes that will get made along the way. It is far better and ultimately easier to learn to forgive them then to harden your heart even more against people who don't know any better. And even if they do know better, forgive them anyway.
One of the spiritual teachers to whom I occasionally listen talks about many of us being the wayshow-ers and pioneers of this time period. If you have been drawn to this blog, you are very likely to be one of them. To do this work of showing the way means that we are delving into our hearts and finding love for both the people who help us and the people who hinder us. We are working our way to all the spaces in our hearts that are still cut off from us because of past grudges, shames, angers, fears, and sadnesses. It's time to clear that out and connect even more deeply to the vastness of love within us.
Exercises for the Heart: True Love Is Within You
Part of the core delusion people have with love is that they think it's outside of them. So they chase new lovers constantly trying to get from them what they already have inside them. It leads to a lot of disappointment because no one can ever have your love. As you learn to look inside and expand the love that you already have, the demands and expectations you place on a prospective romantic partner start to diminish. In turn, you may suddenly find it a lot easier to draw in amazing new loving partners as you find this inner abundance.
To start digging through all the junk in your heart, here are a couple potential exercises to consider:
Rip up the checklist. Every item on your checklist for a perfect partner or for when it's okay to open your heart is a way that you're cutting yourself off from yourself. It's one thing to be discerning about the people with whom you choose to share yourself. It's another thing to constantly be bottling up your love and suffocating your heart. It will only lead to regular, daily suffering. Time to open up to love on a daily basis.
Tell someone you love them every day. If you don't have an intimate partner to whom you can say this, find a friend. Tell your children. Make new friends to whom you can tell this. Heck, tell me. I can always use more love in my inbox. The point is to un-make the practice of saying, "I love you," something that only happens once in a blue moon and which brings with it a huge amount of neediness.
Forgive someone. It may be time for that phone call, email, or in-person chat to let someone know that you forgive them. It can be a super healing moment for both of you. Even if the other person can't hear it (because they don't think they did anything wrong or whatever), the point is to open up your heart. You don't have to renew the relationship; you simply have to let go of the pain you're carrying so that you no longer suffer.
The Canvas That Holds all Colors
Here's one last metaphor for the nature of true love. Love is the canvas that holds all colors. It never rejects any paint no matter how dark or light the color is. It really gives us the freedom of choice in what colors we choose to make part of our life portrait. But even deeper, love is these colors too. When we start mixing colors together, new ones appear as old ones disappear. This represents the fluidity of love and the fluidity of life. Everything is always changing, but we do have our choices to make in terms of the colors we are creating and using. True love encourages us to make those choices consciously with a responsible and open heart.
The Wealth and Abundance of Love Grows
I can tell you that in my own life, I feel so much more love in me and around me than I ever did before awakening years ago. My heart has grown quite considerably, and in truth, I'm still finding out just how big it is. I encourage you to find out how big yours is. Tempered with the wisdom of the intellect, love is a potent agent of change. Much change comes simply through the power of our loving presence, and much can also come through loving action. You can't do any of this, however, until you know what love is. You need to go back. Go back into your seminal ideas and feelings of love, and do the work to peel away the untruths and lies that have gunked it up. Go back and return to that beautiful core in you that comes freely, easily, and without expectations or obligations. Go back and reclaim your heart. In so doing, you will reclaim your power, your soul, your life.
Love and the Search for Validation
Early in life we get taught to seek love outside of ourselves. It is probably inevitable because our initial phases of being in this human body involve us being completely dependent on others for several years. It gets hard-coded into us to get things from others just to survive. And it is always going to be true that for sustenance and shelter we need to rely on the external world to a large degree. That's why the search for independence (which is a whole other topic) is ultimately futile. There is so little that we ever do on our own. We truly are interdependent beings. Even within our own bodies, we live in a huge, complex set of systems, most of which we have zero control over. If our endocrine system shuts down for whatever reason, we are in a world of hurt. Sometimes, I hear people discussing the spiritual path as if it holds the key to eternal physical health, but that is not the case. The spiritual path embraces all levels of physical ease and dis-ease, and so many of us find ourselves quite humbled to know that we have no control over our bodies and a limited amount of "independence" in terms of what we can physically do.
But in the space of love, we all have that. We don't actually have to depend on anyone else for that. In this way, we have this one shining moment where we can have a kind of "love" independence, which is ultimately a profound realization of interdependence. When everything within and around us is love, what is there left to search for?
With that in mind, I'll talk about how love gets watered-down and polluted into the murky waters of validation as well as discuss how to come back to the purity you already are.
The Lie of Needing Love
As I mentioned, we spend a lot of our formative years heavily dependent on others (usually a family, but not always) for survival. Love and survival are quickly mixed up together, and one of the core messages many people receive is that to receive love and the means to survive you need to do what you are told. A certain kind of obedience and loyalty to a larger individual or group of individuals (the tribe) is often developed, and this becomes one of those cornerstones that build up a whole network of lies in terms of what relationships we seek, how we choose to engage with them, what companies we work for, and so forth. As pretty much every psychologist knows, childhood is a critical phase of human development, and many of the mechanisms for living our lives that grow up from those years continue into other phases even if they are no longer useful.
Because we need things from others, love naturally joins with those needs, and depending on how conditional the love is that you experience growing up, you will create a variety of avenues and decisions in regards to how to get it. Most of this is extremely unconscious because a child is simply responding from what is being presented to him or her. S/he doesn't really understand what options are before her/him. So if a parent is very neglectful, the child learns to act out to get "love," which has been diluted to simply a kind of attention. If a parent is overbearing and abusive, a child may learn to be quiet as a way to get what she or he wants without also receiving pain. For the children who are abused, pain and love tend to become deeply intertwined, and this becomes the basis for many people who continue to seek abusive relationships because love and pain are taught through experience to be a package deal.
The lies keep building up from there, and still the truth is that you have all the love you could ever desire.
Watering Down Love
Most parents aren't conscious enough to teach a child that they have all the love they could need. They don't know how to love unconditionally because their own sense of love is so intertwined with conditioning. Even those who think they can love unconditionally have very rarely done the inner-looking and inner-listening to understand what love means to them. As a result, the first forms of love that most children receive are already being watered-down no matter how well-meaning they are.
Let me be clear, that for most people this watering-down is not malicious or ill-intentioned. It is simply ignorant. That is one of the cornerstones of illusion in this world that has created all this pain and suffering. Ignorance is not being able to see or know something, and of course, some forms of ignorance are willful (like how most people don't really want to know how their cell phones are being made--they just want to pay less for them). Because parents don't know what love is for them, they pass all that ignorance, kindness, and general confusion onto their children. It is only when we start to unwind the mess do we begin to understand the profundity of our own love. Until then, it gets watered-down into a search for validation through things, attention, experiences, and so on.
Fame and Attention
One of the most basic forms of watered-down love is attention. If someone pays attention to you, they are directing their energy towards you. Women tend to play this game by trying to be beautiful according to cultural standards. Huge industries have been created out of this need. This drive for attention can be built up into the grand-scale of fame, where tons of people are directing their energy at someone. However, by this level, what is being directed at someone is pretty polluted with all kinds of assumptions and agendas going towards the person (think tabloid newspapers and TV shows if you need an example of the filth other people say about "famous" people they've never met). That's why more than a few famous people have so much difficulty. They're catching all kinds of weird energy that they have no idea what to do with, and at the same time, they are probably confused as to why they are not happy at all with all this fame. What they have been searching for is love, but especially with fame, a lot of the attention being sent their way does not validate them. Some it may be directed to tear them down. Because someone in this position has been searching for validation within that attention, they become increasingly unhappy. This can lead towards all kinds of excesses (drugs, sex, etc.) to try and make themselves feel better.
Which leads us to another aspect of watered-down love--the feel good story.
The Lie of the Feeling Good and Pleasure
A lot of people also associate love with the sense of feeling good. Pleasure can become a goal. It is a kind of physical and/or emotional validation of sorts to feel good about oneself. There are all kinds of ways this plays out. This includes the spiritual path, where people are seeking high state experiences to feel good all the time. But they neglect to look at why they are feeling bad. They neglect to see how placing their joy in others and experiences and hoping that they get some sort of good feeling or compliment back is the very genesis of their misery. So the seeking continues. Whether it's doing tons of charity work, trying lots of drugs, having lots of sex, going to long meditation retreats, or something else, there are many ways we attempt to get the world to make us feel good about ourselves.
But love embraces all experiences, and it is our own preference for feeling some way in particular that creates more and more resistance to whatever is here in this moment. Embracing the moment as it arises is the only sane way to be with life. Otherwise, you will keep looking for the next rollercoaster ride. You may enjoy it for a little while or not. Then it will be over, and you will be back to facing yourself.
Combing the World for Validation
There are still many more games for getting validation. Good grades, pay raises, fast cars, exotic vacations, large mansions, having children, trophies, and awards all can be part of the search for validation, which simply says that you are okay. Interestingly enough, the search for validation does not necessarily mean that you've done well at something for the deeper parts of us. We're usually just seeking this feeling of being okay. The pressure is over. We've won the big game. What a huge relief? You might pay attention to this feeling of victory if you are into sports. See how much of it is relief that the the fear and tension of losing is gone versus the actual joy of winning--if there is any.
The nasty thing is that survival and validation stay intertwined too. Being validated for your academic work (given high marks) or athletic prowess (winning the track meet) can give rise to money in the form of scholarships and promotional deals, respectively. That develops the ego further, and the identity of being a winner roots in more firmly. The stakes seem to get raised at each step of the way, and in a culture of increasing ideals around perfectionism, the fall from grace seems particularly high. Plus, since you have never learned to love yourself by this point, the fear of having all that validation go away and to become a nobody seems incredibly threatening. Because most people who are in your life are playing the same game, more than a few of them probably would stop giving you that attention and validation. Some might even leave your life if you have this kind of fall from grace (which in truth might be a rebirth and a reclaiming of your true grace). But if this where you are, this is not what it will look like to you. The fall from standing here looks more like the end of the world.
The End of the Search
At some point--if you are lucky--you start to wonder what you are looking for. You start to wonder why you've tried so hard to get these trophies, compliments, perfect boyfriends/girlfriends, and pay-raises. You may wonder what it is all about. This can be the start of the end of the search. This may be the beginning of the search for the inner fountain of love. Usually at this point, love is still a very misunderstood idea, and this unease is only a sliver in the mind. It hasn't turned into a big enough log to bash through all the inner ego barriers that have fortified you from perceived harm. This is why I talk about the importance of building a practice. Your meditation, work with a teacher/healer, journal, reading of spiritual texts, and so forth starts to create a broader perspective. Initially, most of us are too much in the mud of our lives to see anything. We have too much in the way of our clarity, and external help can be crucial to start to navigate the path towards our own love.
And it's ironic that something so natural and effortless requires external help, and I do want to emphasize that ultimately everything you want is already within you. You don't need help to get it per se, but it sure can be nice to have a little support. If you do ask for it though, expect things to get rougher and harder before they get better. It's not because the spiritual path has to be hard; it's because we're used to making our lives hard for us. To suddenly not put tons of energy into all these external games to get our validation and attention is a major shift in thinking. Initially, the ego wants to believe that this is insane, which simply shows how much madness humanity has become lost to. But if you want your search to end, you have to initially take a leap of faith into something that is unknown. And true love is always flowing and shifting in the beautiful deep places of the unknown.
The spiritual path is actually delightfully simple. Just be nobody. There's no one to be. Who is it that wants to be somebody? What does it mean to be somebody? Who defines all of that?
Past the obvious truth that you are you and you are a human being, there's not a lot more that needs definition for daily living. You probably have noticed a theme on this blog about letting go. What are you letting go of? You're letting go of everything that defines you as somebody. You're letting go of acting as a victim, perpetrator, lover, hater, fool, wisdom-sharer, and everything else. In that letting go, there is a delightful freedom to be anyone. How beautiful is that?
No One Wants to Be Nobody
This subhead is a fun little double entendre (watch out, I can be full of them, so listen carefully). On the one hand, the ego is so committed to attaining an identity, title, persona, and so forth--it is so committed to being somebody--that the idea of being nobody makes no sense. It does not want this. It will come up with not only a laundry of reasons why it can't do this, but also why it shouldn't do this.
"Oh, I have bills to pay. I can't forget who I am."
What does paying your bills have to do with being someone? Sure. You do a job and make money. But that job title is not you. You can dispose of it. You don't have to act like a classroom teacher in any specific way to teach children. You don't have to act like some super smart scientist to do intelligent research work. You don't have to carry those masks outside of those venues either. Being is already here. It is the background and the foreground, but it is covered up by identities and the exhaustive amount of work it takes for a person to act as somebody. Some people even try to avoid the somebody they've created. In this way, there are several ego identities at work. One ego is there trying to act one way, and then another is trying to avoid acting that way by doing something else. How tiring. Are you tired enough yet?
On the other hand, no one wants to be nobody because we are all already no one. We are no one at all. That is the truth. We are simply the ocean of consciousness. And in that space of being no one, we realize that we don't want to be anyone. We actually enjoy being nobody. There's an immense amount of freedom in it, so let's talk a little more about that since I am sure that this idea is quite new.
Maintaining Daily Life as No One
The big issue the ego comes up with is that somehow you will be incapable of living your daily life if you are no one. The ego says, "But you need me to take the kids to practice?" To this I say, you are just listening to excuses. No one is not mindless. No one is actually mindful. In being mindful, you are much less likely to be overwhelmed by life and lost in the many ego games that you've created to act as somebody. When you aren't trying to act as the Perfect Mother, Career Woman, Mrs. Fashionable, Ms. Never Wrong, and an assortment of other somebodies, it is much easier to remember that the kids have soccer practice, to remember to give them a light jacket because it may rain a little, and to remember that the usual practice spot has moved to some place else. The frenetic ego that is too busy trying to be several somebodies is much more likely to forget.
Furthermore, how many people find themselves lost in the daily grind of life? Whether it is the 9 to 5 grind (which is now much longer since people are always checking work emails after hours) or it is raising rambunctious kids, people are exhausted trying to make life go according to how they think it should go so that it fits with their ideas of themselves. Kids have their own plans much like co-workers, employees, and employers. So while the ego is exhausting itself every day to act out its many roles with many people and try to make them play along with its fantasies, no one is content to flow along and be nobody.
And you're right to object (because I can hear the objections all the way over here) that some people in your life won't like no one. They may even tell you that you're a nobody, which you can consider to be a compliment in disguise. Your life may change radically because you're no longer playing out your role as somebody and others no longer know how to fit you into their illusions. You've taken off the mask and costume, and they can't tell who you are anymore. Consequently, you now can be anyone.
Anyone and Nobody Are More Powerful Than Somebody
When you are somebody, you have to stick to that. If you don't, then others don't like you because they're committed to acting as a specific somebody and need you to play your role accordingly. Otherwise, the play falls apart. But of course, that is what I'm talking about. I'm talking about tearing apart the illusion of the play. I'll tell you the truth: stepping out from that play is intoxicatingly wonderful. It's intoxicatingly free, and it's a drunkenness that is incomparable to any other state of awareness. You won't want to go back. But many of you aren't there yet. You like your role. You like the role of acting as Mrs. Perfect Mom, Captain Football, Star Performer, Miss Beautiful, Super Dad, Mr. Successful, and so forth. Additionally, many of you are also just as committed to your role acting as Victim, Lost Soul, Loser, Ugly Duckling, Old Maid, Angry Heathen, and so forth. There are so many roles out there that I can't list them all, but they are all limiting. They limit your ability to be anyone and to live your life.
In being nobody, you can choose to be anybody. So you put on a new mask for awhile, but with a key difference: You know you are acting. This is essentially my definition of the true spiritual ego. The true spiritual ego is the ego we don to help us interpret the world around us, but we can take it off at any time. The old ego that tries to be somebody believes that he or she is as they act. Many will defend that sense of identity violently. But you--the you that is free and that was always free--understand that there is nothing to defend. In being nobody, you are simply acknowledging the truth--that you and everyone else is completely made up. Consequently, you can play any role you want and adapt to whatever life throws your way. In saying this, however, this space is naturally loving and intelligent, so it is unlikely to don the guise of the sadist dictator or murderer. These are not the ways of this space. Furthermore, from this space of being nobody, you can become incredibly powerful and persuasive to change social wrongs just as you can easily melt into spaces of receiving and letting others lead.
The Daily Practice of Being No One
Every morning, the ego starts it's list of things to do, how to act, and so forth. So start each morning by noticing this function and pulling the plug. This doesn't mean forgetting about stuff, and if you are naturally forgetful, this is what we have calendars, mobile phones, and whiteboards for. As you notice this habitual remembering, you can take back more and more power by letting go of these ideas. These ideas are limitations. If you are only supposed to be happy all the time, you limit your experience of life. You also will tend to create a very unhealthy shadow. Fear, anger, and sadness all arise in our lives, but in the space of being no one, we have no preference. We also have no reason to hold onto them. So they are like storm clouds in the sky. The rains will come, and then they will pass.
Additionally, I encourage you to notice when you feel like you need to create opinions and defend ideas. While the awakened state can create opinions and defend ideas, it does it from a completely different space. The ego does these things to defend its identity. The awakened space would do so to help or serve others. Keep in mind that many egos also try to co-opt that idea, but you will know the truth. You will know when you are truly helping to serve others and when you are doing it to make yourself feel good or to make yourself look like a savior, good person, hero, or something else. It is always in the how, and no one naturally does things from a space of love.
Being Nobody Means Being Love
Ultimately, nobody is love, and everybody is love. This is the space where paradoxes align. When you no longer have any rules for feeling love, love is what you are. The rules and the situations and the lovers are actually separating you from your own experience of love. Your love is so profound that even if a little of it got out, then it would radically change your whole world. This is part of why the ego fears it because love will destroy its world, and at the moment, many of you are still too committed to this current world and the miserable illusion of safety that it offers. Many of you are still committed to acting as somebody and living out a role that you think is safe and will make you happy. But the scraps and crumbs of happiness that fall from the ego's table are few and far between, and many of the so-called happiest egos are actually starving.
So be nobody instead. It's easy. It requires no work. The only work it truly requires is for you to let go of all the old unhealthy patterns and to release your resistance to it. In that space of nobody, you naturally are love, and you can choose any role in this world that your heart desires. Freedom for nobody or prison for somebody? It's your choice. Let me know what you decide.