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What Is Love?

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

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

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My Life As a Dog

And how it made me happier

Let’s face it. Dogs make amazing companions. That delighted-to-see-you greeting when you come home — even if you’ve only been gone for a few minutes. The look of pure love in their eyes as they gaze at you. That sense of their knowing when you’re upset, and in need of their comfort.

I was late to the dog-loving game. You see, I grew up in a cat family. I rarely came across dogs — they were much less common as pets back then. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I first fell in love with a dog. Oggie Doggie was anything but average. Physically, he was very tall and hairy for a Jack Russell. And his personality was larger than life. He was very cute (and knew it), very smart and very funny. Oggie had my heart at first sight, and knew that, too.

For the first few years, Oggie and I were inseparable. It’s true to say that my ex-husband was envious of the relationship I had with that dog. You see, life with Oggie was uncomplicated. We adored each other. It’s so easy to adore — and be adored by — a dog. My idyllic relationship with Oggie lasted for five years. And came to a crashing halt the day I left the marriage. I paid a high price for my freedom — my ex-husband got Oggie. He also got the other dog we had. He was “his” dog, just as Oggie was “my” dog. Oggie and I were separated for about 18 months. The moment our separation ended will stay with me forever. After much discussion, my ex had finally agreed to give me my dog back. When I went to the house to collect Oggie, both dogs rushed to the door to check out the visitor. The other dog walked away after one sniff, but not Oggie. He sniffed me, started to turn away, then rushed forward, and sniffed me again. He looked up, his eyes shining bright, and leaped into my arms. licking me. The look on his face said: “It’s HER. She’s BACK!”, and he ran out of the house without looking back.

It was at this point in our relationship that I started to learn from Oggie. A lot. This timing had everything to do with me, and nothing to do with him. He’d always had much to teach me, but I’d not been ready. It took a couple of major life challenges to get me ready to receive Oggie’s wisdom. The divorce, and my getting very sick with an autoimmune disease. These ground me down to the point where I had to do some serious self-work. Or go completely under. The decision to take a long, hard look at myself and how I was living opened me up. It gave me the self-awareness I needed to see the gifts Oggie had to offer.

The gift of unconditional love

The first gift was his unconditional love for me. I’d always known that the love I got from him felt different from all other love I’d experienced. But I had no idea why. His love felt liberating. I could be the real me with him at all times — no matter what that looked like in any moment — and it was fine with him. He didn’t judge me or my behaviour. He just loved me. And that felt so good.

It felt so good, because it’s not what I was used to. I’m guessing it’s not what you’re used to, either. Truth is, most of the love between people is conditional. You don’t mean it to be that way, but it’s what happens. It’s not your fault, it’s how society trained you to be. The conditions are subtle.

  • You praise someone for getting top marks, but not for failing.
  • You reward success, not the effort.
  • You think or say things like this. “If you really loved me, you would […]”, or “This is in your best interests…”, or “I wish he were […]”, or “You must/should […]”.

If you’re honest with yourself, you know you do this to others. And that it’s done to you, too. In fact, you’ve spent your life trying to fit in to receive love, even conditional love. It’s true for me. Or it used to be true.

Stepping away from this conditional form of love takes awareness, and courage. It starts with your noticing when you do any of these conditional things, and when they’re done to you. Once you start to see this behaviour in yourself and others, you can’t un-see it. Over time, you’ll start to catch your behaviour when it’s still a thought, and will have time to change it.

With every interaction, ask yourself if you deliver love that feels like Oggie’s love did for me. Love that says: “You’re perfect, just as you are. There is nothing I would change about you or this moment.”

The gift of living in the moment

The second gift Oggie gave me was understanding the power of living in the moment. I would often take him out for walks along exactly the same route, day after day. Whilst I tired of this route and routine, he never did. He treated every minute of every walk as if it were his first time experiencing it. He stepped out into his walks full of excitement and joy.

I could see WHY Oggie lived like this — it was an exhilarating! But it took me a good while to figure out HOW he did it. I wondered how he could get so excited about experiencing the same thing again and again. Many years later, I understood.

Oggie didn’t experience the same thing again and again. He knew that nothing is constant, that everything changes from second to second. And he noticed every single nuance of every single change.

He noticed that:

  • Different dogs had gone by, leaving different scents.
  • The weather was different, and this affected every sense. How things looked, smelled, how tasted, and felt. It affected the sounds that were about.
  • He was different, and was experiencing the walk through a different lens.
  • I was different, and was giving off different energy.
  • Everything along our path was different. Every blade of grass, every flower, every shrub, every tree. Different people were walking by. The garbage strewn around was different.
  • The cars going by were different.
  • Our rate of movement was different, and this affected how long we spent in one place.

These are but some of the things he noticed. When I finally started looking at the world like Oggie, it felt amazing. I was a young child once more, viewing everything with such wonder. What happened to enable me to be in the moment? I started a daily meditation practice… and kept it up.

The control this has given me over my thoughts and behaviour is mind-blowing. Take it from me when I say that a daily meditation practice will change your life. If you want more proof, this article from The Art of Living summarizes the benefits well.

The gift of acceptance

The third gift Oggie gave me was to accept what is. Completely. By the time he offered me this gift, I was already down the path to understanding acceptance. That had started when I got sick. After raging about my fate for a couple of years, I finally accepted it. In that moment, I took responsibility for my health, and took action to fix it. With great success. So I understood acceptance. Or thought I did.

My real understanding of acceptance didn’t happen until Oggie got sick. He’d developed a tumour in his neck that caused him constant pain. And it was inoperable. All I could do for him was to attempt to manage the pain via meds. This worked for a few months, then it became clear that his pain was getting worse. I kept on going back to the vet for more painkillers, but there was a limit to what they could do. I knew I had to make a decision, but the thought of being without Oggie was too much for me to contemplate. So I put my head in the sand and carried on.

Oggie made it clear that he knew I was struggling with his impending demise. He’d look at me in a way that said: “It’s OK, I’ll bear the pain for as long as you need”. He’d accepted his situation and his fate. I hadn’t.

I did make the right decision for him in the end, but it was two or three months later than it should have been. When I stopped feeling so raw from his death, I took stock of what had happened. And started understanding what acceptance really looks like.

Acceptance works on two levels. There’s accepting hard realities about yourself. And then there’s accepting hard realities about someone else. One is harder to do (the latter), but they both demand the same thing of you. That you step back and observe what’s there. That you see what is. Not what should be true, or could be true, or you’d like to be true. What is. And act based on that, and that alone.

I’ve not had another dog since Oggie. Partly, because I wasn’t emotionally ready for another. Partly, because I’ve been moving around a lot. I will get a dog, one day. And I’ll be grateful for the rest of my life for the gifts that scruffy little white dog with the big heart gave me.

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Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).