I haven’t quite grasped the concept of unconditional love. The capacity to love despite the circumstances seems so unrealistic and impractical to me. However, I understand why others do. Love is a force of positive emotion that bestows upon its object intense warmth, kindness, and at times, desire, but it isn’t easily defined. I’ve spent my entire life offering love, but it hasn’t always been met with reciprocity. I’ve simply loved for the sake of loving. Thus, love is something I welcome when it’s there, and long for, when it isn’t. What is love, though?
Love shows up for me in many ways. I love my home, my pet, and possessions. I love my family, and friends, and humanity as a whole. I love the idea of having afternoon tea with a great book, maybe a pastry. However, what I’ve wanted most throughout my life has been a romantic partner to share my life and love with. I associate my happiness with this aspect of love, which has eluded me.
I’ve fallen in love many times — each seemingly real at the moment, then subsequently a lapse in judgement, in hindsight. In my twenties, I traded sex for love. In my thirties, self-worth for love, and now in my forties, love has become this illusive inconvenience I’d gladly trade for chocolate, or whiskey. I’ve drunk away many sorrows regarding love, to the point of giving up on it all together.
Others have said, “Stop looking for love, and let it find you,” or “You’re looking for love in all the wrong places,” and we’ve all heard the notorious “If you don’t love yourself, how can you love someone else?” It seems logical that my love for others begins with love for myself. Perhaps, I’d understand unconditional love if the idea of self-love was clearer. Do I love myself? How do I know? How does self-love relate to my love of others?
Many times, over the years, I’ve explored these questions on social media in an attempt to sincerely understand. Unfortunately, I’ve been mostly met with idealistic and romanticized responses. One person commented, “Unconditional love is simply to love someone for all that they are, and all they are not.” Others described the love between parent and child, for religious deities, and the love they share with their pets as examples of unconditional love. I understood the responses, but didn’t feel closer to understanding unconditional love.
As I delved deeper, someone replied “Perhaps, to understand it, you first have to experience it.” Had I never experienced unconditional love? Something began to click for me. Then, another person replied, “I think the mistake people make is they believe that love is more of an emotion, than an action.” That comment set my brain waves on fire, and reminded me of something I read years prior. German Social Psychologist, Erich Fromm in his 1956 book ‘The Art of Loving,” stated, “If an individual is able to love productively, he loves himself, too; if he can love only others, he cannot love at all.”
It sounds as if love is first expressed for ourselves, then extended to others. This doesn’t exactly tell us what love is. After a quick Google search, perusing Wikipedia, and referring to multiple dictionaries at the library, a common definition of love is “an intense feeling of deep affection.” However, a 2016 article on Time.com titled “We are defining love the wrong way “ by Rabbi David Wolpe says love isn’t just about what one feels, but it causes action. “We would have a healthier conception of love if we understood that love, like parenting or friendship, is a feeling that expresses itself in action. What we really feel is reflected in what we do,” Wolpe wrote.
If love is an emotion expressed through action, what am I doing, as a practitioner of love, to show myself that I love myself, thereby authentically loving others? In the years since I began this quest to truly understand love, I’ve developed five ways to gauge my love for myself, and craft healthier ways of approaching love with others.
1. Feed my mind.
From reading, to engaging in thought-provoking conversation, I fill my mind with nutrition that fortifies my thinking, and boosts my emotional intelligence. I visit a therapist weekly so that I have help working through problematic behaviors and self-defeating thought patterns. This helps me by tapping into the wisdom I have that is sometimes restricted by negative thoughts about myself. What do you do regularly to take care of your mind?
2. Care for my body.
Whether it be bathing regularly, or engaging in physical activity, taking care of my body has become an effective way to express love for myself. This is the only body I will have, and I need it to last for the rest of my life. I also strive to get enough sleep, explore healthy meals to prepare, and make drinking water a priority. What does taking care of your body look like for you?
3. Balance my essence.
What some call their spirit, or soul, I call my essence. It’s that intangible, metaphysical part of my being that connects me to the Universe. Through meditation, prayer, or chanting, I tap into my essence in an effort to balance my karma and release stress. I sometime sip tea, burn incense, or play music to enhance the experience. This allows my vibration to align with my reality, and welcome balance into my life. How is balance a priority in your life?
4. Set boundaries.
In such a busy world, attending to my mind, body, and essence has to be a priority if attaining a sense of self-love is a goal. Self-love in an investment and requires comparable amounts of time as maintaining other relationships do. I’ve found it helpful to schedule time for such practices. I set aside 15 to 30 minutes per day to engage in each of these practices. Many of us offer employers 8 to 10 hours of our sweat equity, but how much more fulfilled would we be over time if we dedicated a fraction of that to loving ourselves?
5. Document my journey.
I take notes and journal chronically! I write everything down. I frequently jot things down in apps like Google Keep or Evernote, then transfer them to my more than 40 notebooks and journals. Each one is dedicated to a separate topic. I use them to sort out my thoughts and document works in progress. I periodically refer back to what I write to measure my growth. For 2019, I began keeping a regular gratitude journal where I write daily entries of what I’m grateful for or want to manifest in my life. I’ve posted these daily affirmations on Facebook to share positivity, as well as be held accountable for the energy I put out into the world. In what ways do you include others in your self-love journey?
These notes are not a prescription to anyone, but a description of how I use the knowledge I’ve acquired in my love journey. Love, much like life, is an expedition of trial and error, losses and lessons, and practice toward perfection. One of the lessons I’ve learned in this process of understanding self-love, and exploring unconditional love is if I don’t make myself a priority, no one else will? I’ve also learned that loving myself doesn’t deprive others of love. Because I love myself, others can trust that the love I hold for them is sincere.
“We learn to love by the way that we live. The love we get, and the love that we give.” Those are lines from a poem titled ‘Breathe’ that I wrote to help me learn to never give up on my dreams. It expresses how our relationships to and with others serve as ways to test out love. Since writing that poem, love has become a personal revolution. I find that the only revolution is love, and I vow to extend love to others out of the sincere and unconditional love I hold for myself. Love, and be well.