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Last June, a spiritual teacher and coach opened my eyes.
I can no longer close them. Prior to finding him, I was on a self-healing journey, believing I was a byproduct of childhood-attachment wounds and layers of ancestral trauma that needed to be cleared karmically. I perceived myself as having an anxious attachment style that was hopelessly attracted to dismissive avoidants. Each week, I journaled self-love affirmations, practiced balancing my Root chakra, and unwound through inner-child meditations. All in an effort to mend what I thought was broken.
I was heartbroken and chasing after someone who no longer wanted me. When I pushed for connection and my advances remained unacknowledged or unreciprocated, I seethed in a toxic cocktail of crushed sadness, burnt resentment, and marinating obsession.
When I look back on my behavior, I sometimes feel ashamed of how I clung to her. I held on with a death grip. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t the way to be, but I was afraid of losing her. And, when things became rocky, I unraveled as though I were coming apart at the seams. That wasn’t healthy—I even knew it then—which is why I went into therapy. I wasn’t in a healthy mindset, but I also wasn’t fundamentally broken either.
In hindsight, I see that I’d forgotten who and what I was. When you can no longer feel your own essence inside of you, you can’t see it as easily in others who are essentially your mirrors. At the time, I thought I was a caterpillar in the muck needing to be fed. I didn’t realize that in my cocoon that was the onset of my awakening, I was a butterfly.
I forgot I was the universe expressing itself in physical form. I wasn’t the mind-made “me” I’d conditioned myself to believe in. I wasn’t fragmented or lost. I simply had a case of mistaken identity that treated my relationship as an anchor to support and sustain the “me” I swore myself to be. Of course, by default, that meant I had expectations for the other person. If I was an empty belly that needed to be filled, hers were the hands that would supply what I needed from her, or from anyone for that matter.
As much as it disheveled my fragile ego, whenever she left with such apparent levity and ease, I retrospectively admire how free she was. It seemed as though events would roll off her back like a duck nonchalantly shaking off its wings and going on about its business as though nothing had rattled it.
I realize this encounter was an orchestration of my soul—the true, whole, and timeless self—triggered to shake me out of deep sleep and finally awaken to the truth.
Before that realization, I thought: How could anyone who really loves me just leave? How can they let me go as though I didn’t matter to them? How could anyone reject me and leave me to hang out in the cold? How could she just move on so easily and forget about me and all we shared? I deserved better and I wanted better from her!
It took me a year to move out of the eye of the storm that was my pain. Anything relating to love or relationships triggered me, even when it had nothing to do with her. I couldn’t see or hear about friends falling in love or moving on without wondering why she’d fallen out of love with me or if she was happier with someone else. I thought, if only I were more intelligent, more ambitious, more talented, popular, spiritual, or had my life together. Maybe then she wouldn’t have wanted to let me go. Perhaps if I were more like her, she wouldn’t have fallen out of love with me.
I left wonderfully-coupled friends in the dust because I burned with envy at their happiness. I felt like a sh*tty person for feeling that way. It made me feel small and petty. I felt as though I had a black heart. (But dammit, try as I did, I just couldn’t stomach it.)
I wasn’t wanting for admirers and knew my current romantic companion had genuine love to offer, but I experienced difficulty accepting love because I couldn’t feel strongly for another. I knew I deserved it, but that wasn’t really the problem. I wasn’t lacking in self-love. I was out of tune with my soul song. The song that is paradoxically louder and more robust than the low-vibrational voice inside my head that shouted, you’re limited, you’re broken, or you’re not good enough. I didn’t hear the love song that was infinitely more beautiful than any poem penned by any hand attached to any human body with another conditioned mind, like my own—like every other mind in the greater unconscious collective.
Now, I am on the brink of a deep and everlasting revelation; that love has the potential to be all around us if we feel it from within first and foremost. However, it is about more than just loving ourselves in spite of our real or perceived flaws. It’s about transcending our misconceptions about who we are and dropping our narratives and age-old belief patterns. It’s about making space for the light within us, beneath the gray-colored smog that is the egoic mind.
If one can make space for that light to shine through them, they no longer need to seek for love. Instead of reaching for it somewhere out there, they embody it. Eventually, everything outside becomes a clear reflection of this inner state. As we know from physics, there is a relationship between the observer and that which is being observed. We create our own reality.
After the death of Thich Nhat Hanh, I read the words that so perfectly tied everything I had been learning through spiritual texts for the past several years together. They were so simple and yet the truth to which they point is rooted in ancient wisdom. They read:
“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”
That stuck with me.
Contrary to what we’re conditioned to believe, when we love out of a sense of neediness or expectation, we demote ourselves as well as the other. Unknowingly, we objectify them, reducing them to a mere fleshly form through which we derive purpose and emotional nourishment. In doing so, we fail to truly recognize and honor both their humanness as well as their divinity of self, which is subtly, yet unmistakably intertwined with their birthright to be as free as the wind and sea of which they too are a part. We become more committed to our needs than to knowing them at a core level and seeing the world through their eyes.
Finally, when they disappoint us or eventually stop meeting our supply, we turn on them, withhold from them, almost in retaliation, we complain and demand. Suddenly, this thing we called love turns into its polar opposite and we shift from one end of the duality spectrum to the other. This is conditional love, not true love.
True love has no opposite, because it isn’t contingent upon a reward. It is offered to the other freely, with no agenda. Truthfully, very few of us can love that way and in turn, fewer than half of us will probably ever experience unconditional love, especially from a partner. As long as we’re identified with egoic thought patterns and beliefs, we rob ourselves and one another of this gift, and yet, this is part and parcel of the human condition as we know it.
So, perhaps, we must look ourselves in the eyes through a mirror and ask ourselves, with honesty and integrity, if I can’t love in a way that allows someone to feel free, can I really love organically?