“What is love? It is not simply compassion, not simply kindness. In compassion there are two: the one who suffers and the one who feels compassion. In kindness there are two: the one who gives and the one who receives. But in love there is only one; the two join, unite, become inseparable. The ‘I’ and the ‘you’ vanish. To love means to lose oneself in the beloved.”Nikos Kazantzakis
I wasn’t sure I agreed with Nikos Kazantzakis’s definition of love.
I am a strong, independent woman. Why on earth would I want to ever lose myself in the beloved? Or become inseparable? I like my personal space thank you very much, and the breathing opportunities it provides. I like Kazantzaki’s work and I appreciate him as an author but that quote stroke a cord.
Then I met Terry and he challenged all my beliefs around love and independence. We met at a cultural conference in Crete, Greece. I was in the organizing committee and he was an attendee. I was taking a quick break to eat and looked around to find a place to sit. The only open seat was next to him. I sat down and we started talking. I don’t remember about what. All I can remember is that he was engaging and I felt comfortable under my own skin. And let me tell you how this wasn’t the norm for me. Every single time I met someone interesting or attractive I would hold my breath and suck my belly in, as I was putting my social mask on. That didn’t happen with him. I felt I didn’t have to pretend or pose around him, it was okay to just be me. It was weird but I felt a sense of being accepted exactly as I was by him. We became friends and a year later we were together as a couple.
I said yes when he proposed not only because I was in love with him, but also because he loved and accepted me exactly as I was. He didn’t want to change me, he didn’t want to tame me. The moment I realized that he doesn’t feel intimidated by a dynamic woman who speaks her own mind and knows how to use a screwdriver, I said to myself: This is the one!
He taught me a lot of things but I will share with you the moment when he rocked my world. The moment I changed how I see the world and myself.
It was a regular Tuesday morning and I was getting ready to go to work. “You look great!” he said with a tone of enthusiasm
“What? no, no I look awful! My hair is messy and my belly is bloated” I replied in a self loathing tone, waiting for him to contradict my claims. Expecting him to say: “No, no your hair looks nice and your belly is flat” Instead he said: “Oh, okay”
It felt like a punch in the face. Like all the blood from my head suddenly rushed down towards my feet. “Oh okay” is all he said. I was so surprised by his reaction, that I held my breath. I was angry and embarrassed all at the same time. And all that because I was expecting him to play my game of “no-I-can’t-accept-your-compliment-because-I-am-humble-good-girl-but-please-say-more” But no, not him, because he came into my life to teach me the practice of acceptance.
What his reaction said loud and clear was: if you don’t think that about yourself, I cannot, and /or have any intention of changing it- I accept you as you are.
After the initial shock I started noticing his behavior more closely. In business, in friendships and in challenging family dynamics Terry was practicing acceptance. Which basically boils down to accepting the situation or the other human being as is. Without trying to change, resist or fight.I begun to notice how judgemental I was.
In all honesty, I was judging other people, the city I lived in, situations I didn’t like. But the thing is that all I got in return was frustration, stress and other uncomfortable sensations in my body, mind and soul.
I decided to try Terry’s approach of practicing acceptance. And although I was in a new Terry-tory, I kinda linked it. When I encountered a person with different political views for example, I was more open to listen to their opinion and that made me more compassionate. When a family member pissed me off I’d accept them as they were with all of their unique personality traits, and that made me feel calm inside. When I found myself in a challenging situation, one that let’s say I wouldn’t choose to be in, I would accept it. That shift allowed me to feel more responsible and in charge of my life, especially during hard times.
Practicing acceptance was very liberating. I was finally free of all the burden of being “Ms always-right”, “Ms know-it-all”, “Ms critic-daily” and I allowed myself to loosen up, try new things, be more creative, be more vulnerable and authentic.
By accepting the present moment as is and other people as they are, I became more accepting of myself. And you know what? That voice inside, the inner critic who was pointing the finger at every mistake I made, became quiet.
This practice didn’t just make me calmer and more loving towards myself; it also helped me overcome the belief that “I am not enough”, something that led me on a TEDx stage.
Terry challenges me to think, love deeper and stronger, laugh, and sometimes cry. Life isn’t perfect but it’s real. And he has his way of making it fun. We laugh a lot. We drink coffee and we read the newspaper together on Sundays. I take pictures of him when he is surfing. He cheers for me when I am speaking on stage.
I took the leap and left my family, my friends, my country and everything familiar to me so that I can be with him. I don’t know if you know the struggles an immigrant goes through, but they are many and it is hard. Looking back I wouldn’t be able to mentally survive this challenging transition, if it wasn’t for his love and support.
I finally started to understand Kazantzakis quote on love: it was all about letting go of the ego. I could still have my independence, I could still be strong, I could still have my own interests, I could still have my space. But loving deeply and completely meant that I accept myself as I am, I accept my partner as he is and in that union, there was no room for ego. The “you” and the “I” disappeared. To love means to loose one’s ego.
I also learned how to accept in general. Accept a gift, accept help when I need it, accept a good word.
Now every time I am in my pj’s with messy hair, no makeup and all and he says “Honey, you are so pretty” I reply by saying “Oh, thank you honey” and that feels great.
Now, before you say “that’s a nice story, but so what and who cares?” think about how your life could be different if you practiced acceptance. How would that influence your relationships, your career, your health and wellbeing? It takes some time to get into it, but as your acceptance muscle becomes stronger, you will be able to do it without an effort. I believe it will transform your life, as it transformed mine. Try it for a week and see how you feel. Start by accepting yourself exactly as you are. After all, this is the fastest path to personal transformation and self-love.