Most of my life I have been on a path. A path of self-discovery. I am one of those people who is curious about my inner landscape.
My goal has always been to find happiness, always…ever since I was a small child. I wanted to uncover how to avoid pain, discomfort, and heartache.
I have analyzed situations and behaviors looking for patterns that I can categorize into good (producing happiness) or bad (producing sadness, hurt, etc). And boy had I gotten really good at it. So good in fact that life got pretty humdrum.
Then I fell in love, I mean really fell in love. I have been married and divorced, but apparently, I had never been in love. And boy did the last year of trying to recover from the end of that relationship open my eyes.
This was the year I discovered what unconditional love really is and why, despite its challenges, I have decided this is the only way to love.
To oversimplify a complicated issue, I left my husband (many years ago now) because he didn’t love me unconditionally. We had many conversations about this topic. He didn’t believe in unconditional love and I did.
To be fair, I did not have a clue how to successfully love unconditionally, but I believed it was possible if we just tried to figure it out. I distinctly remember having a tearful conversation with a good friend at a local restaurant about this topic.
I remember whining “And he doesn’t believe in unconditional love.” And my friend saying, “unconditional love doesn’t exist. All love has conditions.”
She went on to list a few of her conditions on love. I stared at her trying to sort out my feelings. I have never not believed in unconditional love and yet I had received overwhelming evidence all of my life that ‘all love has conditions.’ I decided to shelve the topic but truthfully never stopped believing in it.
The years rolled on, I got myself in therapy, eventually divorced my husband, continuing on my mission of self-discovery and finally met up again with an old friend from college. I knew the moment we met for dinner and he told me his wife had left him, that we were going to fall in love.
The truth is, we were always a little bit in love ever since our ill-fated first attempt at dating in college. We were both good at big emotions. Big love and big pain when things end. And to some degree, we both practiced unconditional love.
Yes, practiced it. That is what I discovered, unconditional love was a practice – a verb – not a noun. All of the “practices” I believed made me a weak person–forgiveness, giving the benefit of the doubt, choosing to love people despite their flaws–these are all practices of unconditional love.
Unfortunately, I never really learned how to love unconditionally, take care of myself, and deal with emotions when things didn’t work out. So I reacted the way most of us would when I felt emotionally betrayed by the man I loved. I got angry, I put conditions on my love, I left him, I spiraled down into a rabbit hole of depression and self-doubt.
And as I climbed out of the rabbit hole, I uncovered a few of the practices of unconditional love that helped me stay in an open-hearted, healthy place and not a bitter, angry place.
1. Let Love love through you.
After my relationship ended I had lots of advice from friends – “you need to protect yourself” and “he doesn’t deserve your love after the way he treated you.”
These friends were very well-meaning and sincere. They wanted to protect me from hurt and heartbreak. The single biggest lesson I learned this year was that closing my heart–protecting myself–was a big fat mistake. Love isn’t a gift we bestow on another. Love just is.
Love is a noun and unconditional love is a verb. It is not we who love, but Love that loves through us.
I needed to stop trying to repress my feeling and force myself to get over him. Because here is the truth, I love him. I love him just as much now as I did before I got hurt.
He didn’t hurt me because he chose to, he hurt me because he was reacting to his own pain. (This is true almost all the time.) Denying love to flow through us is actually damaging to us in all ways – mentally, emotionally, spiritually and even physically.
Allow the love you feel for someone who hurt you, acknowledge it, if only to yourself. As Martin Luther King Jr. said “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Repressing my love didn’t punish him, it injured me.
2. Set boundaries and communicate them with love and clarity
This is a very important practice in unconditional love because without setting boundaries, we leave ourselves open to abuse and co-dependence.
We can’t control how someone loves us. We can look within ourselves and decide if that person, or the way they love us, is appropriate or good for us. And if it is not good for us, we can speak from our hearts and say it. “This behavior is not something I can allow in my life” and let the cards fall where they may.
Setting boundaries is the practice of self-love. By setting boundaries, we are taking responsibility for our own happiness. We are communicating our limits without denying the love we have for another person, without closing our hearts and becoming bitter.
Self-love and self-care must be your number one priority in any relationship with another person. It is important to know yourself and be able to express openly what you need to be happy and healthy.
3. Forgive - constantly - and be sure to include yourself
Here is what happens when most relationships end–we talk to our friends, they talk to their friends and each of us demonizes the other. “They were wrong because they should have loved me this way.” And then we actively turn love into hate.
I will be the first to admit that, at first, hating is much easier than loving someone with whom I have decided I can’t have a relationship. This process of remaining consciously in love, of love, towards the person who broke your heart, is not easy. It takes reflection and emotional honesty to remember that there are two people in a relationship and when it doesn’t work out, there doesn’t always have to be a right person and a wrong person.
Ultimately, the process of practicing unconditional love through a breakup is about the art of constant forgiveness. Forgiving him for not being how I wished he could be, for not giving me what I wanted from him. And then the harder part, forgiving myself for getting hurt, for opening myself up to a world of heartbreak that even now leaves me feeling a bit nervous about inviting someone else in to try.
Forgiveness is not a one-time event. It often doesn’t stick the first time. We have to forgive in layers as we heal. And yes, as anyone who has had their heart broken will tell you, it is hard and it takes time and sometimes it feels like it might be easier to just avoid the pain from the start.
But loving, being in love, and being in a deep relationship with someone is so worth all of it. Even when bad things happen and relationships have to end for the health and well-being of all involved, you can choose to be of love for that person.
True, deep love never ends. We never “get over it.” We just learn to love from a distance, moving forward and being present.
Forgiveness will bring us to lead happier and ultimately healthier lives as we will save ourselves all the ailments associated with the buildup of negative emotions in our physical bodies.
4. Accept that in order to love, we have to risk getting hurt.
Unconditional love on the earth plane is messy love. It is soaring to amazing heights and crashing down to unspeakable lows. Our mastery of unconditional love here on earth differs from the unconditional love in the Universe of non-physical.
It differs by being, well, messy and filled with emotions, obstacles, hopes, dreams, and disappointments. It is not even-keeled, harmonious, bliss 24/7, for that is the unconditional love expressed where we came from and where will go again once we die.
Earth is for messy love, for the lessons we learn from our earthly experience of love is how we evolve our spirit, how we grow our soul. And believe it or not, that is why we came here to earth.
I have loved and I have been hurt and I have been forever changed by it–always for the better.
5. Be Brave and Trust Yourself - commit to the love you feel or end a relationship that doesn't honor you
This year, I discovered that without lows and experiences one might classify as sad, difficult, or heartbreaking, I will never know the complete bliss of what life has to offer.
I have decided that, for me, life is about all the emotions. Full spectrum living! I want to learn from my mistakes but not limit my experience of joy by protecting myself from the experience of pain.
I now know what it feels like to have my heart broken (it sucks), however, I also know what it feels like to love someone so much that there are no words in this or any other language to adequately express the emotion (it is amazing).
I have learned that I can trust my instincts. I can accept the end of a relationship that meant so much to me because I knew it wasn’t right for me. And I can have faith that a better relationship awaits me.
As I move forward, I am thankful for all I have learned and really happy for the change in energy so I can practice unconditional love in ACTION, not while treading water.
There is still a lot to learn–that forgiveness thing can be hard, and being brave? That can be tricky too, and of course that whole communicating with love piece…yeah, that needs some work. But I am committed to my journey, so onward and upward.