I got to talking with a friend of my recently about unconditional love. Her comment was, “Kaye, I can remember a conversation you and I had early on about having unconditional love for all people, and I really struggled with that. In fact, I still struggle with that. To me it seems like unicorns and rainbows.” She said she reserves her love for a select few people for whom she’d do anything – her family and her close friends. And, sure she could get on board with a general conceptual “I love all of humanity and want the best for them,” but loving everyone… um… no.
I could completely understand what she was saying. So, the conversation sort of caused me to sit back for a second and wonder if I was just completely unrealistic in this concept that part of the spiritual path is learning to love all people. Maybe that is just ridiculous.
I mean, let’s face it, love is complicated. It’s not as easy and fluffy as unicorns, rainbows, flowers and Valentines. Love involves other people who are sometimes difficult to love. Love requires risk, being vulnerable and possibly getting hurt. Love involves not always getting our way. Love means getting our egos out of the way.
Dr. Rachel Remen, who cofounder and medical director of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program, tells a story in her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, “Some years ago a young resident psychiatrist from Langley Porter Institute at the UCSF Medical Center who wanted to learn more about people at the edge of life was observing one of my sessions. A former gang member whose hands were covered with tattoos was speaking of the deep love he now felt for his young wife who was dying of cancer, the ways in which this capacity to love had caught him unawares and so had healed him. As he shared insights about himself and experiences of intense intimacy and tenderness with his wife, I glanced over at the young Freudian psychiatrist, he had stopped taking notes. His eyes were filled with tears. After the patient left, I asked him if he had learned anything useful from the session. He smiled ruefully. “We are all more than we seem,” he said. Actually we are all more than we know. Wholeness is never lost, it is only forgotten.”
Clearly she is right. Most of us have forgotten what it feels like to be whole. We have forgotten what it feels like to love deeply. And I believe we’ve forgotten because we’ve gotten caught up in our fears and we’ve pulled back inside our safe walls. The book of First John says that “perfect love casts out fear.” But it seems we’ve forgotten how to live without fear, and so forgotten our wholeness.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, French theologian: “We are one, after all, you and I; together we suffer, together exist, and forever will recreate each other.” Love does not yell out, “God hates fags.” Love does not turn away tired, hungry, scared children longing for a better world. Love does not work to deny women equal rights, equal pay and a say over their own bodies. Love does not destroy the environment. But love is not rainbows and unicorns.
So, what does it mean to love and to build our lives and our community on Love? I think it begins as simply as remembering the Hindu word, Namaste, every time we meet someone. “The Divine in me sees the Divine in you.” Yes, somewhere deep inside each person is the spark of the Divine, it is just that we’ve forgotten who we are. How will we remember unless someone else then see it in us? Loving another means supporting others for what is in their highest good. It means not letting yourself get wrapped up in negativity over a person. Loving means opening up and taking a risk… risk being love, joy and hope in a world that seems to have little respect for those things.
Perhaps most of all, loving means taking a step back when we become judgmental, critical, angry or resentful, and trying to determine what fear within us causes us to respond that way. What triggered those feelings? And then ask ourselves “how can I respond in a way that will bring positive change?”
Dr. Kent Keith once wrote, “People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered. Love anyway.” And he’s right. Loving others (and I do not mean bringing them into your home, giving them your bed, enabling them, or letting yourself get hurt) brings us back to our core, our essence, the Diving within us.
Love gets complicated because we, as human beings, are complicated, love anyway.