We all want to love and be loved. Longing for love is the most primal, universal, and natural human tendency. The irony is, what we long for is always with us already. In our heart of hearts, that is what we are. I don’t use these words lightly as some kind of New Age solution the life’s complexity. With my head bowed with reverence, I give thanks and praise for this divine quality which abides intact in the deepest aspect of every living being. So why does love so often evoke such painful emotions and attachments?
To give and receive, the heart must open. When the heart is open, it can be hurt easily.
I believe this is the reason that addictive and traumatized behavior patterns are so common.
The same vulnerability, exposing us to possible rejection and loss, allows us to connect in an intimate, trusting, and respectful way with others. We cannot choose to feel only pleasurable feelings and avoid painful ones. If you want to feel anything at all, you must feel whatever comes through being real. Without feelings, life would be meaningless, so it is worth taking the risk to be sensitive. Or perhaps we can rise above feelings and see that life indeed has no meaning, only what we bring to it. Either path takes an immense amount of courage.
It is tempting to think, “there must be certain relationship skills one can develop to get hurt less.” The truth is, we are all hurt at birth. Being born into a body, we inherit the entire karma of our species, a biological chain of pain of survival instincts, ignorance, and fear. Pile on top of that all the unresolved and repeating cycles of suffering generated by our individual ancestors and families of origin. So much conditioning happens before we are old enough to defend our innocent hearts. Add to that the personal wounds we accumulate through lived experience. Untrained in the powers of imagination, we unconsciously project these fears into the past and future. Unaware that we reaping what we have sewn, we become overcome with self-doubt. No wonder it can be so hard to open up.
There is no human being alive who can love unconditionally without learning to navigate the fear that comes with the tenderness of having a heart. Anyone can do it, in any life circumstances.
Another trap is thinking, ” Great! In order to not get hurt, I will just love, love, love others until I have found someone who will not hurt me. Then I will open up.” Many of us try and practice the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Motivated to avoid getting hurt, even this is rather greedy. I can give all sorts of things, however, I can’t give love without exposing my heart. Trying to build trust with someone in order to make myself feel safe is a symptom of codependency. I am just using that person, not loving them.
The feeling of the heart opening up is knowing that I am safe right now. I am whole right now. Nothing can violate or damage me in any way. Of course having this kind of confidence depends on what one’s identity is based on. As the heart opens, it becomes easy to appreciate others for who they are, to desire their happiness, to be genuinely interested in them.
Sadly, because of karma, opening the heart can trigger trauma reactions which seem to pop up out of nowhere. Suddenly the heart flinches shut, a spontaneous spurt of paranoia we quickly attach meaning to in order to try and control it. If you can slow it down, you will observe first the raw sensation, the feeling of not wanting to suffer, or of not wanting to let go of joy. A story line quickly follows; emotional and mental content gather around the feeling like shards of magnet. Thoughts arise, usually familiar ones. “They will hurt me in the end. I am a fool. I deserve more than this.” Whatever our defense mechanism is….
Resolving karma is learning to remain open to the raw feeling itself, to remain engaged with the challenging situation and resist believing the thoughts. It doesn’t help to pretend to enjoy it, nor to wallow miserably, in the discomfort of uncertainty. The key is to step back and survey the whole scene as though watching from a third-person perspective. True love is this ability of non-judgmental acceptance matured into sustainable care despite knowing that there are no guarantees, no fixed outcomes.
Many times the term ‘unconditional love’ is understood as ‘loving without expecting anything in return.’ That is crazy. It is fine to expect others to be kind, honest, gentle, willing etc. In fact, expecting this is part of trusting and respecting others. Unconditional love includes expecting good behavior from others, but most importantly it gives loved ones the permission to change.
Perhaps one of the reasons some people are afraid to say ‘I love you,’ (while some others say it so much) is because of this implicit expectation that both beloved individuals will stay the same. Being nice to someone to manipulate them not to hurt me is not love. It is the very opposite, in fact, using wisdom to gain power over another person. That is why sometimes it is easier to love strangers than people we are close to. Try looking at a loved one as though you don’t know them at all. Set them free. That is love.
Projecting pain onto others is hard to avoid in love relationships, especially if we compromised our own growth to stay close to that person. The odds of sustaining requited love are looking more and more grim; so many tactics are falling away! Am I strong enough for this thing called love? Perhaps I should quit the game altogether. Whether we like it or not, the cliche “to love someone else, you have to love yourself first” is true. Again, it is rather greedy to strive to love ourselves simply as a means to be loved. Is there any truly altruistic intention to “love” someone other than ourselves? Yes, of course there is, but we must be very honest with ourselves if we wish to live up to it.
Break down the phrase, “I love you,” and you will discover simple solutions are not always easy. Ultimately, who am I, and who are you, really? Are we supposed to have that all taken care of before entering a relationship? Clearly that is impossible. Yet, try as I might to be consistent in a relationship, then I have a change of heart. If I am really honest inwardly, trying to be loving brings out reactions that are anything but that! The one I love might experience that too. They could loose interest in me or tread some path I don’t want to follow. The image of safety people crave in relationships shatters when one looks into the dark sea of our own soul. Becoming familiar with our true nature is a dynamic and unpredictable process. Lovers don’t owe each other anything. You only get out what you give, and that can feel scary.
The inevitability of change is why I prefer the word ‘care’ over ‘love.’People often say I love you to bargain their way out of change. The words care encompasses change, acknowledges it, is enhanced by it. Change is painful, especially for those who have less experience accepting it. It is also inevitable and, given time, leads to healing, goodness, and awakening, and peace.
So, is it getting any clearer why love can pose so many problems?
Do I dare open up knowing I might get hurt? Do I dare surrender to enjoyment knowing I will eventually have to let go? Do I dare to make a sacrifice to spare someone else from getting hurt? Do I dare to appear like a fool to do what is right? Do I dare use self-restraint if I get no recognition for it? Do I dare rejoice when my loved one changes? Do I dare show compassion if they flinch when I change? Do I dare try something new if I loose something I cherish? Do I dare go without? Do I dare hear the silence?
In order to love, must I promise never to be immoral, cruel, or vain? No.
Caring is the only daring we have to do.
As individuals we can attempt strive in these ways to become a better person if we so choose. Daring to do all these things listed above is too much to ask of another human being. They are not pre-requisites to loving. We don’t have to get it right all the time, but we do have to care about trying. The funny thing is: we know deep down inside that what we long for is already here if we just dare to open up?
So if I am already love in essence, why bother taking the risky challenge of opening the heart? True, why bother? Ah hah! We cannot help it. Do you know anyone who doesn’t fall in love? And as far as worthwhile goals goes, luckily there is one longing greater than the desire to love and be loved which can motivate us: the desire to be free and to feel seen.
People don’t often admit to their desire to be free and feel seen. It sounds rather selfish and vain. Followed heedlessly, these motives in fact are selfish and vain. Without self-knowledge, these desires are some of the main reasons that loved ones harm one another or go their separate ways. Isn’t that precisely what we most fear, what leaves these scars and makes our heart hesitate from opening? Followed wisely, the desire to be free and feel seen is already requited, innate, like love. Again, absence of the need for striving. However, since we are usually oblivious that what we long for is already there and the longing causes so much suffering, it is important to care once again. Caring is the only daring, caring about what? Caring that we are love, we are free, we are being watched and we don’t know it? That sounds pretty arrogant doesn’t it? Wisdom is not being blinded by desire nor glib with satisfaction. Wisdom is caring for someone who doesn’t know who they are, who is changing all the time, who not in denial that even the furthest sentiment from love abides within their selfhood.