Over the last few rainy days, I have been reflecting on my most recent blog. What am I really talking about when I talk about Love? There are clearly some things I don’t mean. Obviously, for me, Love isn’t just romantic, sweet or mushy feelings, but it isn’t simply an obligation to a person, community, or cause either. Recently, in another writing project, I defined Love in this way.
Love means saying, “Yes” to all that life brings me: to all that is, has been and will be.
When I am in Love, I have forgiven myself and others for past dramas, disappointments and detours. When I am in Love, I am not anxious about the future; I don’t have to force my own agenda, or protect myself from what might happen. Most importantly, when I am in Love in the present moment, I am at peace with what is: myself, my circumstances, the people and possibilities around me. When I am in Love, I don’t need to change anything and when I am really feeling it, I don’t even want to.
But I am not always able to Love like this, which is why I intend to practice Loving even more in 2016. It might sound funny to think of Love as a behavior we have to practice, but we do. Like anything we want to be better at, we have to give it our focus and find ways to improve our abilities, especially if it doesn’t come naturally.
I came across a great image to help inspire me in these early weeks of the new year. It is from Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening. (If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, I highly recommend it.) Mark tells the story of a friend who wants to paint his family room. He gets home with all the supplies from the hardware store and preps everything in the garage, but when he wants to enter his house, he can’t get in. He has a bucket of paint in each hand, the drop cloths and rollers under his arms and the paintbrush in his mouth. He struggles to open the front door, refusing to put anything down, (because we hate to put anything down!) and just as he’s about to get in, he slips and falls and ends up covered in red paint. He could laugh about it now, but you can only imagine how angry and frustrated he must have been when it happened.
These are the words of wisdom Nepo gleams from the story:
…In a moment of ego we refuse to put down what we carry in order to open the door. Time and time again, we are offered the chance to truly learn this: We cannot hold on to things and enter. We must put down what we carry, open the door and the take up only what we need to bring inside.
As far as I’m concerned, it is the beginning of Love when we recognize that we are in front of a closed door in the first place. If nothing else, we’ll know we’re there by the way it feels in our bodies – the clenched jaw or balled-up fists, tension in our stomach or neck, our deep sighs, or raised voice. When we notice ourselves getting angry, anxious, or insisting on our own way, it is Love that allows us to stop, take a deep breath, and put our baggage down, whatever it is – our fears, expectations, justifications. Instead of seeing the situation, or person in front of us as an obstacle to be conquered, we see them as a doorway to something new.
In that moment, we are doing the most Loving thing we can. We are saying a resounding, “Yes” to what is, instead of ignoring, denying, or fighting against it. Once we’ve put things down, the rest is just a little bit easier. We can choose to act, instead of react. We can assess what we need to pick up, what is truly important and what will actually help us (and them) on the other side of the door. The rest, we leave behind. Loving actually makes us lighter! (How’s that for a New Year’s diet plan?)
The best way I know how to reinforce this kind of Loving is through my meditative practice of Centering Prayer. For twenty minutes each morning, I “put things down,” over and over again. Inspired by Jesus’ kenotic, or self-emptying, communion with God, Centering Prayer asks me to release my self-centered thoughts, desires and agendas. When I find my mind wandering through daydreams and to-do lists, I repeat my sacred word and put it all down. This practice reminds me that it is not my will that needs to be done.
Sidenote: In case you’re wondering, I have been meditating daily for almost three years and I still have to “put things down” at least fifty to a hundred times in those twenty minutes. I know, shockingly bad statistics there, but my first teacher told me that the only way to fail at meditation is to fail to do it. I choose to use that as my guide still.
Coincidentally, my meditation practice ends about the time my children’s alarm clocks go off. That’s when my real practice begins. My morning agenda is clear: get everyone fed, dressed and out the door on time. My expectations are much higher than that: I want morning hugs, smiles, thank yous for lunch, beds made, teeth brushed, dishes cleaned. You can imagine how many “closed doors” I encounter in those 45 minutes. Every morning, I have 45 minutes to practice Loving my kids in their tired grumpiness and haste. I have 45 minutes to respond to teenage stimuli with Love, patience, forgiveness, encouragement, and physical affection. I have 45 minutes to fail at Loving the way I want to, and when I do, (and yes, I find myself covered in red paint pretty frequently), I apologize. Love also means cleaning up the messes we’ve made. And then, when they leave, I just “put it down” again, even the self-criticism and frustration. I have to Love myself too, or I’ll never get anywhere at all.
In 2016, I want to meet more minutes of my days like I do those first forty-five, fresh off the meditation mat when the challenges are small and the challengers are people I care deeply about. It’s a different story entirely in the real world where I encounter people I don’t much like with even higher stakes. Pope Francis may have declared it the Year of Mercy, but I’ve declared it the Year of Love and I want it to last a lifetime! I will keep trying. At more and more of those closed doors, I will take a deep breath and drop my shoulders. I will think of the red paint I’m carrying. I will remember the crime scenes I’ve created when I refused to put my baggage down and then I will face that door with the freedom that only Love can bring.
So, yeah, in case you were wondering, that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about Love.