Love has been on my mind a lot since I wrote my last post about the importance of practicing and celebrating love. That post came from a sincere desire to make a shift towards being a more loving person every day. Of course, wanting that and writing about it are not the same as actually doing it in the moment. Stepping into a new mode of acting from a place of love isn’t something we can just do with a snap of the fingers. I found myself wondering how and where I could start.
Love is something we do naturally without needing to think about it, and yet it is complex and hard to describe. It’s more than saying the words, “I love you,” or buying gifts, or even giving your time and energy to help and support. All of these can be done in an empty way, without the feeling inside that makes love real. We feel love from others only when we sense their words and gestures are genuinely coming from that place of love inside.
I realized there are at least two sides to becoming more loving. First, I need to find and cultivate a place of genuine love within and act from there. Then I also need to know how to express love in the right way to each person, so that they actually know and feel it. Love is an ongoing process of learning to be more genuinely connected to others in ways that work for both sides.
The task of life is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. - Rumi
This Rumi quote from my last post has lingered with me. It has helped me notice times when love doesn’t come easily, and then I’ve tried to locate the barriers standing in the way. I discovered a big barrier for me is the difficulty I have in loving people as they are, rather than as I want them to be. This is even more true for my self-love: I withhold love from the parts of me that aren’t what I want them to be.
It’s those moments where I’m not who I want to be, or others aren’t who I want them to be, that love is hardest to find. It gets lost within the anger and sadness. Of course we want to be better, and we want to help others be better - but how will that happen if we don’t show ourselves and others some love right now so we can all gain the strength we need to grow? It’s not that anger and sadness are useless: they clue us in to things we want to change or perhaps mourn. Then it’s time to send love to those places so they can grow or heal in the right way.
With this in mind, I found myself responding differently over these past weeks to feelings of intense anxiety that I have experienced now for many years. Although therapy and meditation have worked wonders on my anxiety overall, recent life disruptions have triggered a resurgence. Right now I experience it most as body shakes and wobbliness, a pounding heart, and a continual tension in my chest and stomach. Even minor stressors can feel overwhelming, and my mind is in a constant state of high alert that can quickly escalate into a panic attack.
I know all of these feelings well, and so I should have known that donating blood this week was probably not a good idea. Nonetheless, I’ve wanted to donate for a while and I rarely allow my anxiety to disrupt my plans (even when I definitely should). With my breathing already uncomfortable in the KN95 mask, and the general atmosphere spiking my anxiety, the sensation of losing blood triggered a surge of panic. I didn’t know if I was going to pass out, fall off the table, or something worse, but I knew something bad was going to happen.
After feeling like this for ten minutes (that felt like hours) I somehow remembered all the thoughts of love that had been swirling around my mind. I realized it was a perfect time to love the part of me I don’t want to be: the anxious self. Rather than lying there letting my mind confirm that everything was terribly wrong, could I instead try to send some love to the parts of me that felt wrong? As my mind moved from fear to fear, I tried to respond with love by gently holding it, letting it be, and embracing it with care. As I did this, the panic gave way and I started to believe I would be okay.
Lying there in the Red Cross center, I came up with a self-guided relaxation and self-love practice that you can do too if this story resonates. Simply close your eyes and start to feel within the places that you don’t like. These are the places that frustrate you, that disappoint you, or for whatever reason tend to bring up negative emotions. Instead, practice embracing and loving these parts as they are. For me, these parts include the below list, which you can borrow or change for yourself depending on what you are feeling at the time:
The part that’s always anxious
The part that feels like I’m not okay, even when I am
The part that can’t sleep, even when I’m exhausted
The heart that pounds for no reason
The body that shakes and wobbles
The mind that races
The part that feels overwhelmed by the simplest tasks
The part that doesn’t want to do anything, even when I’m bored
The part that doesn’t want to let anyone help, even when I need it
The part that doesn’t want to let anyone love me
The part that doesn’t want to love myself
The part that’s afraid to die
The part that’s afraid to live
The part that knows I’ll never be the person I want to be
The part afraid to change
The part afraid to love me for who I am
The part afraid to love others for who they are
It felt unnatural at first to send love to these unwanted places, but the effect was almost immediate: I felt better. Not instantly full of joy, but a little more relaxed. Given how I was feeling, this small change was huge. It’s a practice now that I want to incorporate into my routine, perhaps before or after meditation. I’ve noticed it’s already helping me treat others with more kindness too, seeing that their “flaws” are no less deserving of my love. I hope it can help you too. My goal here is always to provide both insights and practices that help you, right now, have more of the life and the world that you want.