Unconditional Love – A Daily Practice

Unconditional Love-Oscar Wilde Quote

To give and not expect return, that is what lies at the heart of love. ~ Oscar Wilde

“To give and not expect return.” How many of us know how to love like that? How many of us have been loved like that? We are imperfect beings in an imperfect world. We may think we love unconditionally but anytime we are disappointed by the words or actions of one we love, we may not be loving as unconditionally as we like to think.

I have been reflecting on this because it is almost Mother’s Day and there are so many posts and images that speak of a mother’s unconditional love – as though all mother’s love unconditionally, all the time. If we are lucky, we experience moments of unconditional love from our parents, as parents, as partners in a relationship, with friends we hold dear. Rarely are we loved completely unconditionally all the time; rarely do we love unconditionally all the time.

Unconditional love-nothing expected in returnWe are born with unconditional love and complete trust. As babies, we learn very quickly what behaviours and actions get rewarded and what don’t. It is a matter of survival to adapt to the expectations and conditions of people around us.

We know our soul qualities when we are very young, before we learn concepts of right and wrong, good and evil. We know our soul qualities before we build constructs around ourselves that we fool ourselves into believing are truth and essential to survival. We shape life to fit in and shape ourselves in trying to make other people happy.Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness (p. 13)

Loving unconditionally is a practice that starts with loving self unconditionally. The more you can be in a place of loving yourself unconditionally, the more you open up the portals to receive love unconditionally. Can you love another person fully, without judgment about who they are, what they say or how they act? Then you offer unconditional love.

I have been learning about unconditional love through recognizing the times I have been “loved” with conditions – conditions that often asked me to be someone I am not, to be there for another person at the expense of myself. These relationships showed me who I was not and where I was not loving or accepting myself.

IMG_1493I have been learning about unconditional love through my cats who also come into the world loving and trusting unconditionally. They remind me of the simplicity of life.

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I have been learning about unconditional love through my children, the hopes and dreams I have for them to be successful in life. When we examine what that means, often we have an idea of what success means and looks like and it carries expectations or conditions we are not always aware that we are carrying. Letting go of the expectations and personal hopes for our children’s lives is an act of love. We also hold hopes and expectations for our parents and our siblings and how we want them to be in life and in relationship with us. Letting our expectations and our judgments go is an act of love that opens the way for unconditional love. And I say this in full awareness that there are some relationships that are so toxic there is no opportunity to heal them inside the relationship – just the opportunity to heal within yourself by loving and trusting yourself unconditionally.

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And I have been learning about unconditional love through my relationship with my partner and our love for each other. It is as close to unconditional as any partnership can be, infused with mutual love, honour, integrity and respect. And it is a daily practice.

Unconditional love. We get there through awareness, intentionality and practice. Daily practice.

You Are Not Your Story

It is deeply heart-opening when people who read Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness share how the stories in the book resonate for them in their own journey.  And then they thank me for being so courageous to share those stories as they feel they have glimpsed into my own vulnerability.  All true.  And it has generated a curiosity for me about what my relationship with this book is – because it doesn’t feel quite so courageous from my perspective.  This book has its own life, energy and flow – thankfully and interestingly.

Story at work

How are your stories working for you?

And I get to remember, again, what I already knew and now know more deeply.  I am not my stories.  I am not my book. I am not the stories other people tell (or think) about me.  And, you are not your stories.  They do not define you – unless you choose to let them.  Of course, they shape you.  And, you have choices as to how they shape you – looking at life through the human tragedy or drama perspective or from the soul journey perspective – that which we are seeking to learn or experience at the soul level.

There are moments in my life that are seared into my memory as pivotal moments.  One such memory, complete with date, is March 1998.  I was halfway through a severance period, having been royally fired from my job, in the middle of a divorce and having bought a home, for me and my two young boys, predicated on a salary I no longer had with no idea what I was going to do next to support myself.  I was in the highest anxiety of my life – to that point.  I could only focus on what was right in front of me – the next moment, maybe the next day, but certainly not weeks, months or years down the road – because otherwise the stress was overwhelming to the point of being debilitating.

I was sitting in my kitchen, making a choice of which book to pick up and read – the practical What Colour is Your Parachute or the transformative The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.  I didn’t know it would be transformative when I picked it up, but it was.  I was transported to another world.  Mesmerized.  It moved me to tears and to laughter. And I understood maybe for the first time: I am not my stories.  I am not my failure.  I am not my divorce.  I am not my job loss.  These are things that have happened in my life.  I have a choice as to how I view them. The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore offered me a different, expansive option for how to view these things that happened to me.  The author, Alan Cohen, offered that I had attracted these things into my life. If I had the “power” to attract those life altering “negative” things, I had the equal and opposite capacity or power to also attract more life affirming circumstances into my life.

What I understood is that I had been increasingly drifting away from the things I hold true in my life, the things I valued – or said I valued.  My actions did not always support my beliefs and what I thought I valued.  I was in increasing dissonance and did not know how to live a fractured existence anymore. At the time I felt like I was looking out a picture window at my life as it unfolded, I was so dissociated from my experience and my existence.  And I did not have the skills to know how to navigate it – or relationships – in a healthy way.  It made me believe the human tragedy/drama perspective – that I must be a bad person, maybe even evil.  Otherwise, why would these things have happened to me?

In this one day, I was liberated.  I was invited into choice.  I wish I could say it was only a generative upward vortex from then on but of course it wasn’t.  It was, and still is, a human journey, fraught with the rollercoaster of emotions and experiences.  It took me another decade to surrender into the journey with a greater degree of fullness and I’m still learning about surrendering.

The book was and is intended as an offering of stories for others – for you even – in your own journey.  An invitation to journey on, journey deeper, journey more lightly. An invitation to view your stories in a different way from different perspectives, ones that generate more expansiveness, spaciousness and choice.  An invitation to trust what you doubt, to know someone has navigated similar waters with varying degrees of success, sometimes at peace and sometimes in turmoil – because this is life and this is how we grow. To understand that life is more than just the physical experience and to trust the non-physical as you experience it, as you surely do.  To treat yourself with compassion, love and forgiveness and to invite that into your relationships – all of them, even the ones where you would prefer to hold onto a bit of resentment.

When you live your stories as if they are you, you disempower yourself.  When you understand your story shapes your journey but is not you, you show up more fully in your strength and your power and it is a thing of beauty to behold.