Answering the one question that unites us all
Most years, “What is love?” is the top global Google search query. A quick search using this phrase yielded a staggering 402,000,000 results in .08 seconds.
I didn’t look at any of the answers. I didn’t need to.
I know what love is.
Love is a sacred union between two beings. Parent and child. Person and tree. Life partners. Close friends. Person and animal. What makes the union sacred is that it’s unconditional, and divine.
When I talk of unconditional love, I mean that there is nothing about the other you want to change. Ever. You accept the other exactly as presented in every moment. You see the other, apparent imperfections, and all, and love her anyway.
And when I talk about love being divine, I mean that its sole purpose is to elevate each being. To help the other realize her full potential. The potential that reflects her true self, and not the self we may want her to be. You remove all that limits your love. You give of yourself fully and freely.
This love is real love.
Does knowing what love is make it easier to find? Does it make it drop into your lap, as if by magic?
I also know the answer to this. No, it doesn’t. But it does make this kind of love easier to recognize if you do find it.
It’s easy to mistake other kinds of love for real love. At first, anyway. In the honeymoon period, when love is so new and fresh, there’s no place for conditions. Everything about the other is so wonderful, so perfect. Conditions start to creep in soon enough. Your eyes go from seeing the perfection to seeing the flaws.
“That tree is so beautiful! I’m so lucky to have it in my garden!!” ==> “That tree is blocking my light. It would be better without those branches!”
“I love his creativity! He can see beauty in chaos!” ==> “I wish he’d tidy his home, it’s so haphazard! The mess drives me nuts!”
“I love how independent and free-spirited she is!” ==> “I need her to be around me all the time. If she loved me, she wouldn’t want to be so independent.”
“I love you so much, I’ll support you, no matter what!” ==> “I want what’s best for you, so you need to do this, not that.”
Conditions don’t creep in consciously. They start to appear when your insecurities do. And insecurities arise when old, unresolved wounds get re-opened.
They, too, get re-opened without your knowing it. It happens when something you’re experiencing today triggers a memory in you. An unpleasant memory. This old hurt gets activated and feels so real in the moment that you react to it. Even though the present situation doesn’t warrant it. You believe you’re reacting to what’s going on today. But you’re not.
The minute things start to get conditional, real love goes out the window. That’s because unconditional love it the starting place for real love. Love needs to be unconditional before it can become divine.
The path to unconditional love
To misquote The Beatles, the path to unconditional love is a long and winding road that leads to your door. Your own door, not the door of another being.
Unconditional love starts with you.
If your love for yourself is conditional, then your love for others will be the same. The conditions might even be the same, because they’re all about you. Your conditions reflect what you believe you need to feel worthy of love. All those “If only I/he was more…, then I would feel more…” thoughts flying around your head are your conditions.
I get this. I spent much of my life in the conditional, only to discover one truth. That the conditions never filled the void inside. You see, the void can’t be filled by things, be they conditions, endless pairs of shoes, or binge eating sessions.
The void can only be filled by love. Self-love.
The foundation for unconditional love is self-love. Truth is, this kind of love is NOT selfish — it doesn’t spring from your ego. It springs from your caring for your own well-being, and happiness. It springs from your taking responsibility for your own life. (If you’d like to understand this concept better, you can read my article on it.)
How you get to a place of self-love is personal. There are as many different routes as there are people. What they all have in common is this. They demand an unrelenting focus, and courage. The focus keeps the prize in mind — the prize of a happy, worthy you. The courage keeps you moving forward, one step at a time, no matter what gets thrown at you along the way.
My own path to self-love was a very long and winding one. It took 30 years of relentless focus and courage. But the prize was worth every ounce of effort, and more.
The path to divine love
This path is both harder, and easier, than the path to unconditional love. Harder, because it involves two beings. And easier, because it involves two beings.
The challenge lies in finding another being who is on the same page as you about love. Especially another human being. I first explored the whole notion of divine love with a tree. I felt much safer with this tree — a cedar — than with another person. Trees are unconditional and divine by nature. So I knew that any resistance to our shared love was coming from me. At first, I had some good days when I’d connect deeply with it. But I had far more bad days. Luckily for me, trees are endlessly patient — especially my tree.
Over time, it got easier. I found that I could love my tree unconditionally, and give of myself fully and freely. I wanted nothing less for my tree than to help it achieve its highest purpose. Which was being the tree it was destined to be, not the tree I wanted it to be.
At this point, I knew I was ready for divine love with a human. One who was one the same page as I about the nature of real love. The 30 years I spent getting ready for divine love were hard. But this is when the challenge really began.
It’s easy to see why finding someone with the same view of love is such a challenge. Real love is not what society values. You can tell, because of how society rewards conditional love. If you do x, you’ll get y. Even worse, if you don’t do x, not only won’t you get y, but you’ll also get punished in some way. Life today is about compliance. And compliance, by its very nature, is loaded with conditions.
The starting place for me was to get clear on some prerequisites for real love. For this, I had to write a list of my relationship non-negotiables*. These are the characteristics that must be present in another for us to be on the same page about life in general. After I’d written my list, I realized why so much had gone wrong in all my previous relationships. My partners and I were miles apart on most items on my list. This meant we were miles apart on everything that mattered to me. I couldn’t see any of them as the perfect beings they were, because they were far from perfect for me.
This is a crucial point. Unconditional love depends on your being able to see and accept the other as perfect, just as he is. This won’t happen if what matters most to each of you is very different. You won’t feel comfortable enough with him. And this will make it easy to find fault with him — as a way of explaining your discomfort.
With your list of non-negotiables in hand, it’s much easier to navigate the choppy waters of dating. There’s a yes or a no answer to every item on your list. An answer to whether this person has the same worldview as you, for example. It removes all subjectivity from the dating equation.
If you find someone who meets all your non-negotiables, then the fun can begin. I say ‘can begin’, not ‘will begin’, because what follows depends on other things. Like timing. Are you in the same place at the same time? Like connection — emotional, mental, spiritual and physical.
You’re worth it
If you do get to a place of real love, life gets easier. Much easier. Because divine love ‘à deux’ is love on steroids. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.
Getting to a place of real love isn’t for the faint-hearted. The focus and courage it requires knocks many people off-course. But the prize when you get there makes it worthwhile. It makes it beyond worthwhile, to be honest.
And you’re worth it, you perfect human being. You may not believe this right now, in this moment, but you are. You are worth making the effort for. You are worthy of real love. You are worthy of being your best self. You are worthy of giving of yourself — and receiving of the other — freely and fully.
You are worth it.
* I’m grateful to SARK and John Waddell for making this easier via their book, Succulent Wild Love: Six Powerful Habits for Feeling More Love More Often