As I have been pondering the New Year’s approach, I have been reflecting on some of the significant learnings I had this past year. The first major learning came from an 8 week class I took through SURJ in Denver called “Confronting White Supremacy.” My intention in taking this class was to get in touch with my whiteness and privilege and learn how I can be a part of healing our way of being human beings together on this Earth. I hoped to unravel my racism and whiteness through mindfulness, readings, deep reflection; but what I got was how important it was to just start seeing my deeper biases and conditioning behind some of my “caring actions; ie, the way I was trying to be helpful. Maybe I wasn’t really helping? By talking with others openly about my feelings and motivations from prompts we were given, based on readings and lectures from Indigenous and Black teachers, I was able to witness my own layers of prejudice, judgment and ego-based thoughts and actions that were actually “white supremacist traits.” Yikes! I could see how we all are perpetrating these ways of being in the world without realizing it—unless we do this inner work.

Secondly, I learned that it doesn’t matter what you hope or wish to do. It matters how it really lands and impacts another person. Intentions are only as good as they are coming from clarity and conscious balanced presence. Taking responsibility is vast and includes realizing you can cause “unintended harm” when what you did with “unconscious” good intentions hurt another person. I wanted to become more conscious about how my actions in the world could really bring change within myself and others I touch—but it seems so big and there is so much work to do for all of us. Our group inspired me because many were Millennials who really were committed to making these changes in their lives and their relationships at work and in the world now. Their commitment was eye-opening and so inspiring! They gave me hope. But what was the answer to getting us there?

One young woman, who touched me deeply with her graceful and loving attitude and attention in our small group, suggested I read All About Love by bell hooks. Bell hooks is a visionary, scholar, cultural critic, feminist theorist and writer. She died last year, but she taught English at Yale and Oberlin Colleges and wrote 17 books. In this powerful historical and cultural essay of how LOVE is the answer to how we can get through our current disconnect with each other and heal, she explains why we don’t know what LOVE is, or how to feel or find it in our current culture today, and how it has gotten so misunderstood and lost in our relationships.

So, I set about to explore how LOVE could be the answer in all these contexts of where we are suffering and not working together to heal our Earth and our culture.  I read the book in one night! Here’s a bit of it for you.

WITHOUT JUSTICE THERE CAN BE NO LOVE

Love was defined by psychiatrist M. Scott Peck in A Road Less Traveled (1978) as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is an act of will—namely both and intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”

“Love doesn’t happen instinctually.” hooks says, “It must be nurtured with several ingredients: Care, Affection, Recognition, Respect, Commitment, Trust, and Honest & Open Communication.”(p.5) But these ingredients are not easy to come by and many of our relationships and families lack several of these ingredients. So we have misunderstood and confused feeling “cathected” with being loved. This cathecting is Peck’s word for investing in a loved one by getting emotionally connected. Deep or strong feelings are associated with Love but can occur even when we are hurting or neglecting our loved ones. Abuse and neglect are the opposite of care and nurturance. John Bradshaw calls this confusion about love “mystification” in his book Creating Love. “We loved our blood relatives —it was not a choice.”

Teaching our children to live by the truth of what is really happening, rather than the way we want it to be or hope it should be is justice. Using our desire for power over others, lying to get ahead or win, competition and comparison, hierarchical divisions—only contribute to injustice, control and subordination. These behaviors are often disguised as caring for others, or love. We cannot heal our culture, country, relationships without treating each other equally.  Social Justice has to be paramount and that’s why social scientists are working so hard on Intersectionality and diversity trainings and anti-racism programs. Without a broader context for understanding and experiencing true compassion, the act of caring for each other or ourselves when we are hurting; our “caring” can easily become transactional and conditional rather than unconditionally accepting.  True compassion takes self-awareness and personal innerwork; and it is the foundation from which we can learn to be loving in our actions.

SELF-LOVE IS THE FOUNDATION OF ALL LOVING PRACTICE

Bell hooks summed this up so well when she said, “By giving ourselves love, we provide our inner being with the opportunity to have the unconditional love we may have always longed to receive from someone else. Whenever we interact with others, the love we give and receive is always conditional….We can have control over our own actions and give ourselves the unconditional love that is grounding for sustained acceptance and affirmation,” Even more important….”When we give this precious gift to ourselves, we are able to reach out to others from a place of fulfillment and not a place of lack.”  It all starts with you.

If we don’t know how to create the conditions for love to develop in our relationships, we also don’t know how to generate Self-Love. My work over the past decade has been about just this — finding our own inner goodness inside of ourselves and learning to nurture it so that we can heal the rest of our brokenness. This is really about learning what love really feels like to us, inside, and what actually generates it for us.

When I feel loved I feel freed up to be totally me, and to meet my own needs freely with joy and enthusiasm. If it’s hurtful or causing pain to others for my needs to be met, then I need to take responsibility for honoring others’ needs and my own as that can happen. Loving is actively taking responsibility for nurturing our hearts. I think this is where a spiritual life is paramount. It can teach us how to find this loving place inside of us.  In a loveless world we have to let our hearts open enough to feel the full expression of our humanity and that is loving fully. Sometimes that means we also can meet pain and suffering more fully for ourselves and others because we have loved deeply.  It creates a healing spiral of compassionate loving and acting.

TAKING ACTION TO AWAKEN OR BRING LOVE TO YOURSELF AND OTHERS

The countercultural spiritual awakening that is happening today is slowly breaking down our social taboos about silencing our emotions. As each of us finds our own spiritual path to love, we can create a powerful emerging force of change. When we open to our own pain and grief that is real and valid, we feel our deepest emotions and that awakens our full capacity for love. I invite you to find your own path to your heart and deep connection in your relationships with yourself and others. The tools I have offered in my memoir, A Midlife Voyage to Transformation, and my Companion Workbook coming out this month, can give you a path to follow through your own pain to find self-love and transformation. Then you can take action in a powerful way to bring more love into this world.

Loving Kindness Phrases are a great way to generate a loving, compassionate warmth inside of you and some say it actually lightens the heart.  Here’s some basic phrases to speak silently to yourself and to use throughout the day to help you switch the brain from our negativity bias into a more loving place. Sharon Salzberg in her book Loving Kindness teaches that the Buddha described spiritual practice as “the liberation of the heart which is love.” Spiritual practice can help us find our own radiant, joyful and loving hearts within us and helps us manifest it into the world.

LOVING KINDNESS PHRASES
May I be filled with Loving Kindness
Held in Loving Kindness
May Loving Kindness be my Essence

May I open to my heart
May I be happy
May I be peaceful
May I feel loved
May I live with ease