“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them”
― Thomas Merton
It can take a lifetime to understand how to love unconditionally. Later in life, reflection and a deep sense of regret can occur when a relationship misses the mark. Age heralds clarity, shining a light on the shadows the sit between two people. This is especially true among those who have allowed unrealistic expectations to be voiced as harsh judgments. Harmful criticism forces distance and is never acceptable in a loving relationship. Sadly, this revelation often present after the damage has been done. Such is the irony of life.
Each generation seems to become more and more consumed by self, completely missing the importance of showing compassion to others. Separateness is the norm with love of self being paramount to love of others. This is no more self-evident than in the intimate relationships forged with close friends and family. The “need it now” and “me before all else” mantra leaves little room for the practice and disciple of deep love. In addition, the voyeuristic culture of social media lends to a feeling of greater importance or unnatural hubris fashioned from the imaginary world of pictures on the internet. It is a viscous cycle.
In practice, love requires a letting go of the desire for control in all instances. This letting go while difficult, is necessary for love to flourish. One must peel away a multitude of protective layers intended to soften the weight of living in a less than forgiving world. This takes great courage and an ability to feel fear but not be paralyzed by it. Unconditional love finds breathe, when changing the lens in which one views another from the rose colored glasses of the ideal to the clearer lenses of the actual.
“Real intimacy is a sacred experience. It never exposes its secret trust and belonging to the voyeuristic eye of a neon culture. Real intimacy is of the soul, and the soul is reserved.”
― John O’Donohue
As is often the case, people are much harder on those they hold dear. Business associates and acquaintances received endless amounts of patience and support while a spouse, child or sibling can be the recipient of a critical barrage of judgments. I am just as guilty of this as the next, especially with my siblings. If not being careful, I only see the things that irritate or rub and completely overlook the beauty in the other. This beauty is always found in differences rather than similarities, the way in which one navigates the world apart from a tribe. What may appear to be foolhardy or even ill advised to one can be a great learning opportunity for another. If I love someone, I love all of them. I love the many ways in which they chose to show up in my life and at times, I love them from a distance as is necessary for my well being.
Holding pain for another is yet another way in which unconditional love thrives. We are all delicate and fragile souls, baring scars from both intentional and unintentional wrongdoing. No amount of letting go will set us completely free from the conditioning of our upbringing and life experiences. It becomes a choice, when seeing scars in another, to gently soften the wound rather than rub salt. It is always easier to find fault in foreign ideas, actions and thoughts rather than looking intently within ourselves. Mirroring or projecting on to others all that we dislike about ourselves will never improve our lot. Reflecting pains and sorrows outward in the hopes of improving self-worth is not love but selfishness.
Therein is the beauty of unconditional love. It demands holding another’s heart while setting boundaries needed to honor spirit. There is never a rule book as to how this should play out, each individual is gloriously unique and so too is the act of loving. The goal should always be compassionate listening, gentle guidance and a letting go of the outcome.