Loving Greatly: A Guide To Self-actualized Love
“People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason the world is in chaos is because things are being loved, and people are being used” –Anonymous
Relationships are challenging. Attempting to develop a healthy relationship in a culture that is bound and determined to base relationships on ownership is doubly challenging. The peculiar thing is that we all imagine relationships should be simple, or at least we hope they will be. But when it really comes down to it, the challenge of the relationship is where all the good stuff is; it’s where love is seizing itself and bursting with authenticity. They say in life that the journey is the thing, not the destination. Well, in a relationship the challenge is the thing, not living happily ever after. Living happily ever after is nothing more than a distracter when you’re in the throes of a challenging relationship. The challenge must come first. Don’t put the cart before the horse. I know, it’s easier said than done. But if it’s important enough it shouldn't make a difference how difficult it is. Right?
Unfortunately, the predominant love paradigm in our culture is ownership-based love. We live in a world where relationships are mostly based upon materialism, ownership and immediate gratification. It’s almost like we’re conditioned to consume to the point that we “consume” each other. Even the words we use toward each other imply ownership. It’s a sad reality. But no condition is insurmountable. We can just as easily condition ourselves to form healthy relationships based upon respect, honesty, and trust. But first we need to recognize each other as opposite sides of the same being. Our yin-yang dynamic is more dynamic than we tend to allow it to be.
Here’s the thing: Women are deceivingly complex creatures. Men are deceivingly simple creatures. These two facts alone should prove to be a gargantuan challenge for any relationship. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The bulk of the iceberg is the psychological ramifications of these two facts. That is to say, the deceivingly complex woman imagines the deceivingly simple man to be just as complex as she is, and the deceivingly simple man imagines the deceivingly complex woman to be just as simple as he is, neither of them even realizing how deceiving they really are. Now that should spell out an undertaking of Herculean proportions. And if it doesn’t then it should.
You see, it’s not just that men are from Mars and women are from Venus; it’s that the men have their heads in the Martian sand and the women have their heads in the Venusian storm clouds, and neither one can even see the others' planet to even begin to understand that they are from different planets. And no amount of clever analogies or on-the-fly metaphors can do justice to the almost insurmountable task of two people of the opposite sex getting on the same sheet of music. But we have to try, right? I suppose it’s better than slamming our heads into the wall over and over again, and hey, occasionally there’s sex to sugarcoat all the deliciously-deceptive simplex-complexities that slap us around the self-induced cage we call Love. Pun intended.
At the end of the day, we live on the same planet. There are no women from Venus. There are no men from Mars. There are just two different types of the same insecure being who is out of touch with its animal side. The ramifications of which goes beyond relationships and sex, but that’s for another essay. For our purposes here, we will focus upon how being out of touch with our creaturely self is costing us our cosmic self as it pertains to forming bonding relationships that stand the test of time. The bottom line is: the human condition is an insecure condition. We are insecure, fallible animals who believe we are secure, infallible gods. It seems our hypocrisy knows no bounds. And when it comes to the concept of love and relationships with others, we are hypocrites par excellence. That said; we are also the most social of all the animals exactly because of our insecurities, and, in an indirect way, because of our hypocrisies as well. The trick, as it pertains to love and relationships, is to honor and respect each other our insecurities, while tiptoeing through the land-minds of hypocrisies that we each must allow in the other. It requires a balancing act that eludes most people who have not moved on to a more mature, cosmic-centered mindset that allows for vulnerability, growth, and open-ended romance over the adolescent, egocentric mindset that is so predominant in the world today.
And so I introduce the three keys to happiness in this life, especially as they pertain to love and relationships:
- The ability to love.
- The ability to let love.
- The ability to let love go.
The Ability to Love: Vulnerability
This is arguably the easiest of the three abilities. But don’t let this fool you into believing that it is easy in general. We all think we have the ability to love, but, like with all things, we have a tendency to put the cart before the horse. In this matter, the cart is our ability to love another; the horse is our ability to love ourselves.
Similar to the airplane crash landing analogy, “Always put the mask on yourself before assisting someone who may be less capable,” we must put the Mask of Love on ourselves before loving someone who may or may not be capable of love. It’s simple: in order to become a person who has the emotional capacity to love another, we must first be people who can love who we are. Loving ourselves is the cornerstone of being healthy. In order to be healthy enough to love another person, we must first be capable of loving ourselves. Sounds tricky, but really it’s not. It’s just a matter of becoming healthy and finding peace with the virtue of self-sufficiency. Once we get the horse back in front of the cart, we open ourselves up to an entirely new way of traveling down the wide-open, albeit twisty, road of love.
We always hear people say the same thing over and over again when it comes to love and relationships, “I just don’t want to get hurt.” We hear it, and we nod in equal parts empathy and sympathy, followed by an understanding pat on the back or a hug. But wait a minute! Who ever said getting hurt wasn’t a part of love? Are not pain and love two sides of the same coin? Here’s the thing: the ability to love another person takes an enormous act of courage. If we really allow ourselves to love another person we must open ourselves up to the possibility of being hurt. This is what it means to be vulnerable. If we’re not "all in" then what’s the point of trying? If we’ve already learned to love ourselves, which we should have taken care of before attempting to love another, then insecurities be damned! It’s time to go for it. Rejection happens. At least you’ll know. But if you don’t at least give it a shot, and that means getting vulnerable and laying your insecurities out on the table like a bad hand of poker, then you’ll never know if it could have been something magical or not. Like Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, wrote, “Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.”
Understand: A crucial aspect of the self-actualized love experience is to allow ourselves to be vulnerable so that we may be astonished by love, taken aback by it, in awe of it. The myth of courage is that it implies invulnerability. But courage is not being invulnerable. Courage is not an unwavering hardness. It's actually a soft plasticity. Like Jonathan Lear wrote, “To be human is necessarily to be a vulnerable risk-taker; to be a courageous human is to be good at it.” I beseech you, you who would love greatly, look not for what’s solid within you; look instead for what is soft and malleable, what can be created and then co-created. The courage will come. Like a potter at a wheel, that softness will take shape. And its shape can be a romantic adventure of the most high, especially when, at long last, you and your lover’s hands are co-creating the organically forming pot that is your relationship.
The Ability to Let Love: Freedom
Everybody is searching for love. We’re obsessed with the pursuit of it. It’s seen as the pinnacle of human expression, and rightly so. But people tend to think that falling in love will make them whole. I think otherwise. I think like Philip Roth wrote, “you’re whole before you begin. And love fractures you. You’re whole, and then you’re cracked open.” And that’s the beauty of it. Love cracks you open; your heart laid out and vulnerable. It’s in this state where true loving intimacy is allowed to come to fruition. It’s in this state where we are truly capable of allowing somebody to be who they must be, because we understand that they were a whole person before they met us just as we were, and now it’s time that we both grow together as two separate people in a relationship with each other. It’s not that we’ve suddenly become one. No, that puts way too much pressure on our shoulders. We are too insecure an animal to handle such expectations. It’s that we’ve become a relationship. We’ve become a dynamic and unique dance that nobody else can be a part of. It’s our dance and ours alone. Sure there are other dances out there, but our dance is uniquely blended to our love frequency. All the other dances have their own frequency, but this one is ours. Like Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote, “To love is to learn the steps. To make love is to dance the dance.”
Now that we understand that our relationships are actually two uniquely different people who have gone from being dancers to becoming the dance, we are now ready for the really difficult part: allowing our partner to love the way they need to love. This sounds simple enough, but it is deceivingly so. This requires good communication skills, brutal honesty, and an exemplary trust in the other dancer, as well as in the flow of the dance. One of the biggest assumptions we make about love is that we imagine the other person probably loves in the same way that we do. In other words, we assume that what the other person means by love means the same thing that we mean by it. But this simply cannot be true. There are over seven billion people on this planet and each and every one of us has a different psycho-physiological reaction to any given stimuli, however minute that difference. And this is especially the case when the stimulus is love itself. Another problem is semantics. Our language is dreadfully inadequate to do the concept of love any justice. We should have 50 different words for the concept of love, like the Eskimos have for the concept of snow, but we don’t. The fact is: we each have our own definition for the concept of love, but that definition speaks a language older than words.
So how do we learn to speak this language? Simply put: mindfulness. More complexly put: we must become aware of what our bodies are telling us and then be honest about that information regarding our relationships. Letting our lover love the way they need to love is just as much a part of the dance as our unique way of loving is. But we must be honest, first with ourselves and, second, with our partners. Sometimes this honesty will hurt, but pain is necessary for growth. And if a relationship is what you’re trying to grow, pain is par for the course. If the way another person loves doesn’t jive with the way that you love, then the dance either needs to end or it needs to take on a new form.
Understand: Instead of trying to possess love we should let ourselves be possessed by it. This way, love is allowed to be a free thing. The best part about letting someone love the way they need to love is freedom. The person you love is free to love. What could be better than that? But here’s the kicker: sometimes the person you love isn’t ready yet. Sometimes the person you love loves another person, or multiple people, or loves his/her self too much to move forward. But at least now you know that. At least you gave them the chance. At least now you have the correct information to make the best possible decision regarding your health and the health of your relationship with that person. Easy! Okay, not easy. But there you go, and such is life. Freedom and volition are paramount to a healthy relationship.
The Ability to Let Love Go: Compersion
We’ve all heard the now common cliché, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it's yours. If it does not come back, it was never meant to be.” This may now be an overused platitude, but its impact and meaning is not lost. If we truly love our selves, and we truly love somebody else, then we should want that somebody to be happy, even if that somebody can’t seem to find happiness with us. Letting love go is a painful process of maturity. It requires an almost saint-like disposition toward the reality of the relationship. It requires compersion: contrasted with jealousy as a feeling of joy associated with seeing a loved one love another. Perhaps the only other emotion more difficult to master is forgiveness. And sometimes we need both in order to grow and mature from our relationships. But this doesn’t only apply to past relationships. Our current relationships require “letting go of" from time to time to keep things in perspective.
This is arguably the most difficult of the three abilities. Letting go of love is painful. Remember: pain is the other side of the coin. And jealousy can be an almost crippling emotion. But pain and jealousy can be used in healthy ways, just as anger can. Pain can be transformed into strength. Jealousy can be transformed into compersion. But they must first be honored. They must first have their say. Never should they be ignored or suppressed, lest we become psychologically and emotionally unhealthy. Here too, the power of vulnerability is paramount. Being vulnerable to the pain and jealousy takes more courage than being strong and steadfast toward it. A person who discovers power through vulnerability is healthier than a person who discovers power through strength. And really, power through vulnerability becomes real strength: strength without the need for armor. It’s the kind of strength that comes from being open to the world and knowing that we have the courage to handle anything that comes our way.
Understand: Letting love go doesn’t mean we let go of Love itself –not at all. It means we are letting go of the ego aspect of love. We are letting go of the attachment, the need to cling. It’s not like we let go of love and then forget about it. No, it’s more like we are saying goodbye. Like proud parents who are sad that their child has left home, but are open to the possibility of their return. Love itself is never abandoned, nor is it forgotten. Only the needy, codependent, ego side of love that’s filled with unhealthy expectations and cultural predispositions about the way love should be is abandoned. True love lasts forever, despite us, and in spite of our egos. Let love go. Do it over and over again. The more you let it go the more you’ll realize that you never owned it in the first place. It was never a thing which could be owned. Do this, and true love will find a place inside your heart.
Conclusion: Self-actualized Love
Eventually, after years of practicing these three abilities, it is possible to achieve a state of self-actualized love. This is the cosmic-centered love I discussed earlier. This is a state where the ego aspect of love is held almost entirely in check, or is at least trumped by our ability to love without expectation. Mind you, there will always be the animal inside of us who needs its “fix,” so to speak, and we should always give that animal aspect of ourselves its say without suppressing it, but moderation and awareness of consequence are key. There will always be pain. There will always be jealousy. But with our ability to love, let love, and let love go, we will be able to transform these emotions into their healthier counterparts: strength and compersion. It also generates abundance, creativity, open-mindedness, and hunger for more authentic love; while also reducing the stress and anxiety that stems from ownership-based love practices.
Besides the occasional rendezvous with our base needs, as well as the occasional stiff-arming of our cultural predispositions, we can achieve a state where the relationship itself becomes a kind of moving meditation; where we are mindful of each other to such an extent that our love becomes more of a transcendent mature sense of humor rather than the codependent immature ego-love that came before it; where we are better able to regard each other as mature loving beings with gifts that go beyond our ego’s need for recognition, and beyond the culturally prescribed ownership-based love that our society has conditioned us to believe in. In such a state we realize that what we called love before was perhaps more akin to lust than anything else. And that’s okay. That was part of the journey. And a journey of love -true love- doesn’t need to make sense. Like Victor Hugo wrote, “Love is never stronger than when it is completely unreasonable."
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