February 4, 2020 | 55 minutes, 55 seconds
In Search of Unconditional Love
Unconditional love is something many of us aspire to, but few attain. Most likely, this is because we are looking for it outside ourselves.
Loving fully without anything in return may sound a bit scary to most of us, but the ability is innate—we all have it! That ability waits patiently for us to drum up the courage to shed our emotional armor and let who we truly are out—and yes, that version of us will be well-versed in unconditional love.
One of my favorite Vedic sayings is “I love you, but it is no concern of yours.” This suggests that the joy of love is in giving, not getting. However, we often find ourselves trading love like a commodity, hoping for greater return on investment.
What’s worse, we often find ourselves holding back and treating the ones we love the worst. All too often, when we treat them poorly or withhold love from them, we blame them. We become irritated with them, but often, we are really mad at ourselves for letting someone else’s off-putting behavior make us into unpleasant, angry versions of ourselves. This kind of emotional behavior is part of our unconscious mind, which makes up 95% of our actions and desires.1,2
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Time to Drop Old Layers of Protection
Science tells us these unconscious behaviors are learned in the first six years of life, and they drive us to do the same dumb things again and again. Maybe when you were three, someone hurt your feelings, and to survive, you needed to protect yourself. To do this, you employed the services of your mind to create a personality that would keep you safe. Maybe you became the rebel, class clown, straight-A student, or Mom’s best helper—the better you played these roles, the more you earned approval. You were safe, loved, and appreciated—who could ask for more?
We all play a lead role in a movie made by our minds to protect us from getting hurt, and we try really hard to make a movie that everyone will like. We cast ourselves in these roles when we’re young, when our brains have a high degree of plasticity and impressionability, and we are often still reading the same lines from the same script thirty or forty years later. Instead of pleasing our parents, we now find ourselves pleasing our boss, our spouse, and even our kids, because the script says, “If I do these things, they will like me more.”
Love with Expectation Hurts
Our minds convince us that in order to feel loved, we have to continue to perform—even into exhaustion. Soon we become resentful, because while bending over backwards for everyone else, sooner or later they will let us down.
We find ourselves saying, “For crying out loud! I do so much for them—you would think they would show some appreciation!” Or, “If they would change, just stop doing this or that, I would be willing to love them so much more.” When we expect everyone to change or love us back as a return on the investment we made in them, we set ourselves up for disappointment and disaster.
Star in Your Own Movie—and Make it a Good One
The mind created this world of illusion to keep you safe at a time when your senses, emotions, and intellect were not yet fully developed. When you were two, you needed this type of protection. But now, as an adult, you can become the director of your own movie and change the script, create a new scene, and even take on that role that you were always meant to play—your real, vulnerable, loving, powerful self.
Science tells us we retain a certain amount of brain plasticity as adults3—thus, you have the power to leave childhood patterns behind and create new ways of being—living as the true you. Living without access to this part of yourself can be, in due time, very depressing.
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Your senses only offer temporary pleasure, and your emotions will distract you from yearning to be yourself for only so long, until, sooner or later, you have to step into this new role. The problem is that the mind has convinced you you can’t do this. We tell ourselves, “If I risk being myself fully and love everyone unconditionally and they don’t love me back, I will be hurt and devastated. It’s too risky. Just play it safe and stuff those delicate feelings.”
Be Happy Even When Something “Bad” Happens
In the world of illusion, we can only be happy when something good happens. If something bad happens, we become unhappy. In truth, unconditional love is available to all of us all the time. It is not dependent on something happening; it is the expression of our true nature. By definition, truth never changes. Emotions or moods change, but our inner joy, love, and contentment are always there for us.
A flower, for example, doesn’t count the number of bees that come, nor does it pump up its smell when you walk by. Its nature, as ours, is to expand and give of itself fully, no matter if anyone ever notices. The flower will be colorful and fragrant no matter what, because that is its nature. We think we will feel better when “Mister or Miss Right” comes along and loves us, making all our dreams come true. The reality is that this kind of love will rarely satisfy.
Write a Love Letter
Try this exercise:
Write a love letter to someone you love and with whom you feel safe, someone you know very well and trust. It could be your partner, mom, or sibling—you love them, but it is not without challenges. While you know you love them, you might find yourself holding back expressing your love. In this letter, tell them all the ways you love and appreciate them—really go for it. While writing, know that they will never read this letter—it is for your eyes only. As you write about the things you love and appreciate, become aware of how you feel. Do you feel good, warm, fuzzy, and even a bit more loved and appreciated?
If you do feel better and somehow more content from writing this letter, the next step is to act on those things your wrote about that made you feel so much better.
The things we so desperately think we need from someone else to make us feel good are things we can actually experience all by ourselves when we give ourselves permission to love fully and freely, without any concern for receiving love back in return.
Remember “I Love You, but it is No Concern of Yours”
This is the game the mind has been playing on us all these years. To truly be content, we must taste the vulnerability of true love by allowing ourselves to love without need for any return on investment. “I love you, but it is no concern of yours” means I now know what I really seek is to be love rather than be loved.
So, find that family member that both pushes your buttons and yet whom you love deeply. Write them that love letter and take a risk to act on the things you love about them, with no concern that they love you back, appreciate you, or approve of you. Simply act on your truth: you love them. For a moment, forget about the little things they do that set you off. Reacting to that is not you doing you; it is you reacting to them. For this exercise, just do you!
Waylon Lewis, a second generation American Buddhist, is the founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com. A 365-day bicycle commuter, mediocre climber, lazy yogi & featured columnist for Huffington Post, Waylon graduated from Boston University’s top-ranked magazine journalism school, worked with Shambhala Publications and Shambhala Mountain Center, and attended Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.
Named Treehugger’s “Changemaker & Eco Ambassador”, Discovery Channel’s Planet Green “Green Hero,” Shambhala Sun’s “Prominent Buddhist,” Naturally Boulder’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” & 5280’s Denver’s Most Eligible Bachelor, Waylon hopes to serve as the Jon Stewart of the mindful life—mainstreaming meditation and eco-responsibility in a fun, yet fundamentally serious manner.
Things I Would Like to do with You. is about love. A love for a new generation—a love that includes room for independence, change, humor . . . even loneliness. Poetically searching through four seasons, Things is a sweet book to curl up with. Shop the book here: elephantjournal.com/shop
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