Life needs you to love, to come home to your true loving self. It needs you to be open to all that you don’t know, it needs you to listen with the intent to deeply connect, it needs you to want to feel everything, it needs you to recognize at every moment this might be your last chance to get it right. Here are the ever-evolving tips that I work to live by every day in the quest to build a life made of love. Each seems deceptively simple at first glance, but they are each present advanced practices of both what love requires of us and how, if we are blessed, we are re-created in its form. Love is in you, all around you, inescapably holding you if we could just learn its ways.
"I live in the open mindedness of not knowing enough about anything." ~ Mary Oliver
When we know, or think we know, we cut ourselves off from the vast swaths of reality that we cannot see. Lately, I am painfully aware every day of not knowing how to do what I am attempting to do. It is embarrassingly easy for this not knowing to harden my exterior and before long, I am not sure who is speaking through my voice, but I don’t like her very much. Instead, when I can embrace the not knowing as a form of wonder, I soften and I can trust in what has yet to be revealed. Not knowing what to do, or what should come next can be a kind of freedom that lets you be where you are. Most of all, it unlocks the judgments that separate us from loving ourselves and others.
"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." ~ Steven Covey
We shut the door on the love in our lives every day with our low skill levels in listening. I am the queen of this particular malady, so it is with deep humility that I bring it up again as a primary form of love. I have said before, but it bears repeating, that when we feel truly heard, we cannot distinguish that experience from love. My own lack of listening usually comes from a good-hearted place of wanting to share an insight that I believe would help the person speaking to me. It has taken me five decades to really understand that others (especially my children) don’t want my insight, they want my love which they perceive as I bear witness to them silently, opening and holding the space for them to listen for their own insights. Love has little to do with fixing, recommending, or telling—when people want this from us, they will ask.
"There exists no miracle mightier than this: to feel." ~ E.E. Cummings
I maintain that there is no deeper turning away from love than our refusal to feel. Emotional illiteracy hampers our ability to identify and name our feelings and also prevents us from expressing them. The things that live in us without recognition don’t go away, they grow larger, demanding to be seen. This explains the vast and ever-changing technologies and self-medicating techniques that we give so much of our life to. When we won’t feel our own hearts, we have to numb them. And worse still, when we won’t feel our own experience, we have no access to feeling the people we love. Learning to feel can be scary, because we believe they will swallow us up whole. The opposite is actually true, as we allow them space to express, they wash through us, and in the deepest cleansing the heart knows. Our capacity to feel is truly a miracle waiting to happen.
"Treat every moment as your last. It is not a preparation for something else." ~ Shunryu Suzuki
As I come to the first anniversary of my father’s death, I am more aware every day of the brevity of this life. If this was the last day you had to love the people near you, to forgive yourself, to do this tedious menial task again, what reverence would you bring to it. For me, one of the most powerful mind practices is forcing myself to imagine that this is the last time I might ever get to walk my dog, kiss my husband good bye, speak to my son on the phone, resolve a label issue at work. And then I am often weeping with the gratitude of having this day, this person. I can make you this one promise, when the time actually comes when you are taking your last breath, the only thought that you will have will be of who you loved and who loved you. Practice this now. It will make the last moments and all the ones in between more beautiful. Guaranteed.