Learning about unconditional love by traveling through Central and South America.
I’ve been traveling in South and Central America for two months now. I’m saturated in the colors, flavors, smells of this land of mysterious, diverse cultures and climes. Like a stone in the river of life, my edges have been polished by the rolling, sometimes disjointed, rhythm of constant movement.
I started this trip in the windswept Sacred Valley of Vilabamba, Ecuador, then headed north up to the technicolor lakes, jungle volcanoes and tribal textiles of Guatemala, Belize and Southern Mexico. I am now high in the mountains above Cusco, Peru, at over 11,500 feet above sea level.
We are living life en Español—a language I’ve never studied and am only now beginning to stutter. What a challenge! What an opportunity—an opportunity to let go of all my ideas about what I think love and loving is, and to live more quietly and wholly into something real and practical and responsive—something I recognized today as unconditional love. It’s really ridiculously simple—and worth taking note.
1. Love who you are with.
The person (or people) in front of you is your opportunity to love, period. Right now, there is no one else with whom to give and receive that mysterious currency called love. So, turn towards who ever you are with and give them your eyes, your awareness, your listening, your curiosity and compassion and see what happens. You don’t always get to choose your company, but you always get to choose how you attend to and respond to them.
2. Let love be its own language.
Giving and receiving requires no words. Presence requires no language. Gestures form a complete language. And, in the absence of language, it is easy to feel the heart. It’s as simple as a smile, a gaze, a giggle or an exhale in the face of stress. Let it be light. Let it flow. It will grow!
3. Learning is a way of loving.
Whether traveling internationally or connecting with a new friend or lover in your hometown, everyone has a different language of love. We all want to connect, to share, to understand and be understood, and we all do this differently. Love motivates us to learn how to observe and to communicate.
Regardless of shared language, we can observe the habits of another with curiosity and respect to discover the non-verbal and gestural language beneath language. We can also ask questions. With observation, communication and questions, we can respond more coherently to our friends day by day.
Love invites us to rest into observation and learning before imposing our own ideas, opinions and preferences on a person, a people and a place.
4. Love is a stillness.
Sometimes there is nothing to do. Have you ever noticed those old couples that sit together in easy silence? Non-doing is a place where shared peace, contentment, presence and delight are available.
As an American, I can be rather obsessed with optimal experience, with getting somewhere and getting things done. In these South American (and many indigenous) cultures, the value of not doing is penultimate. People value relaxation and enjoying the moment above achievement and efficiency. This can really confront the ego program that says, “I am valuable because I achieve.” Yeah! By sitting still, we simply are okay. ¡Tranquillo!
5. Love waits.
“Patience, my love.” In the absence of shared language, we have to be patient with our selves and our companions. Relaxed, patient presence is one of the greatest things we can give or receive. It takes time to look up that one key word in the dictionary.
It’s worth it.
The greatest suffering when traveling generally arises through our impatience—the frustration of not being able to communicate or immediately get what we want, and the shame that we don’t have all the answers. Traveling (and love) is a bumpy process of communicating at the level of a five-year-old. It implies letting other people do things for you, which means not being in control. It’s a fantastic opportunity for letting go of your ideas, opinions and preferences and being grateful for what is available in the moment. Patience then becomes a foundation for peace and enjoyment.
6. Love does not need to “be understood.”
Words can really get in the way of loving. Our obsession with understanding and being understood is often the biggest block to simply sharing love. I’ve been recognizing that I generally enter into relating with a perceived need to “be understood” as a prerequisite to that relationship working. What I really mean by this is that I want to have my worldview and my private inner world affirmed.
I’m realizing that this perceived need is more a function of insecurity than of love and loving. If I am secure and grounded in myself, sharing is easy. And, I don’t project an imagined need to be affirmed into the space of the relationship. It’s not the responsibility of my friends to understand all my little distinctions and the specific details of my perceptions. This is just a projection of my ego desire not to feel alone.
Understanding can come in the silence, in the patience and in the gestures. It really isn’t necessary to “be understood” in order to love and be loved.
7. Love acts/responds.
It’s the little things. Every mother in the world is overworked. Everybody appreciates getting a little shoulder rub, or having a cup of coffee poured. Every person in the world appreciates a humble bit of help.
Whether you speak the language or not, you can clean the kitchen, do the laundry, hold the baby, fold the towels or give an old man a ride down the hill. Love is a poetry of action.
8. Love lets go.
“If you love someone, set them free.” When traveling, we often love more freely and fully when we know that the connection is temporary. We’ve all had that experience—the fierce, beautiful and fleeting love that will not last but that fills us with memories to last a lifetime.
The grace here is the capacity to hold lightly and wholly the object of our love. If I can translate this to all of my relationships—to hold and to let go, to pour myself into the precious moment and hold the outcomes loosely — then I can really love unconditionally, no matter where I am.
This article originally appeared on Samantha Sweetwater’s personal blog, and is being reprinted with permission from the author.
Samantha Sweetwater, MA, is a spiritual leader, dancer, social innovator who teaches around the world. Her professional experience bridges ten years as an independent choreographer, dancer and producer in the San Francisco alternative arts scene, 10 years of teaching and training yoga teachers, and over 20 years of leadership experience from student government to arts and environmental community. Samantha lives in Oakland, CA. She is the founder of Dancing Freedom — a global dance facilitator training program to embody your freedom and be who you really are. www.dancingfreedom.com.
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Ed: K.Macku & B. Bemel