Love is one of those inexhaustible subjects that everyone has their own experiences and opinions about. Observing various aspects of love expression during the holy period of Orthodox Easter, where people gather together more, I felt strongly the need to discuss it a little deeper.
It is a common agreement now that our first impression of the world are taken from the family and the environment in which we grow up. There, through words and actions, from how the 'adults' and the children around us feel, express themselves and communicate with one another, we understand whether something is allowed or not, how emotions are manifested, how people relate to each other and how they feel and behave in specific situations e.g. in grief, celebrations etc. That is, we create and internalise a scenario, a model, a construct of the emotional spectrum, its manifestations and associations.
One of the main feelings is that of love that has a specific wavelength, vibration that is emitted when someone feels it. It is a vibration of calmness, 'openness' and 'expansion', acceptance, satisfaction and fulfilment. These words do matter, because we often hear people associate love with something hurtful, stressful, anxiety provoking, agonising, tiring, demanding, painful etc. But why is that? That is precisely the point I want to discuss.
Most people know love through our early environments as something "conditional, ""if you're a good kid, I'll do this for you," or "if you loved me, you'd do this," or " if you love someone, you'll have to accept everything they do." Thus, we learn that in order to get something we want, in order to be accepted, in order to be loved, in order to get something we need from someone else, there must always be a condition, which is at first set by someone else and later we may set it to ourselves and to others in our turn.
So we live in a permanent, internal and external, state of insecurity, where acceptance and love for us always depends on some factors posed by others. So we are never accepted fully and we are always loved under conditions, that is, by criteria that someone sets as valid and true... for them!
If we have learned to love conditionally in general, then do we also love ourselves conditionally?
Is there any part of us that does not deserve our love? If so, what is that part and why exactly is it not worth our love?
And somehow the whole construct of 'conditional' love collapses and it is revealed that it was just an edifice, a construct.
Just as it is not healthy for there to be any part of us that does not deserve our love, so there is or there is not a part in others.
There may be behaviours of others that anger us, sadden us, challenge us, trouble us, we do not understand them, we do not want them, etc, but this does not make them unworthy of love. These behaviours may have been created due to conditional love within other environments and dynamics. A series, that is, of other criteria that the specific person had to follow in order to be loved and accepted by those around them.
Extending this thought, we understand that we end up existing as half-halves, fragmented, illiberal parts of an inhomogeneous whole, constantly rejecting each other, both internally and externally, because we somehow learned what is and what is not worthy of love. Layers upon layers of programming of values and behaviours that is!
Some of us have had the good fortune to live in other societies or to look for alternative possibilities of this and through hard work and self-search we have come to the conclusion that all this dichotomy only does harm. The fact that there are people who do not make the same choices as others, or that they want to exist in a different way from someone else, even in ways different to the majority, does not mean at all that the former or the latter are wrong or unworthy of love for what they are and do.
Of course, actions that harm someone physically or mentally are reprehensible, but shouldn't we finally discuss how a member of a society decides to do such an act? Maybe someone have shown them that it is OK to do so? Is an act of violence towards another being an indication and proof of the existence of violence internally, but also of the existence of hidden, collective violence;
The rejection of a member of society for their choices that do not agree with the choices of the majority is a form of violence in itself; it is the act of non-Love, non-acceptance, hatred towards another person and the way they choose to express themselves and live. If someone from a group of friends is moved by a movie that his friends are not excited about, does this makes them strange, freak, hypersensitive, 'softie' and so on?
A person who really loves themselves do not need to turn against any other person, except, of the possibly to defend themselves.
They understand that they are part of the global community of humans who are in constant interdependence with one another and no other person is superior or inferior in value to themselves.
Any attempt to control, attack, criticize, ignore, manipulate etc. other people, indicates only either insecurity or arrogance, both very flimsy foundations to build one's life on.
They are also characteristics that indicate a problematic relationship with self-love. In the first case there is a deficit and ,in the second case, there is an unnecessary surplus.
Any criticism, therefore, does not indicate something about the person being judged necessarily, but more about the person who criticises and their relationship with acceptance and love in general.
It is indicative that many people during the holy days of Easter go to church and participate in Masses and, at the same time, despite the imperative of the days for love and forgiveness, they continue to turn with words and acts of hatred and malice, against other people, as if the existence and application of love concerns only specific things and people.
The more I reflect on love, the more I am inclined to conclude that it is a universal feeling that exists as a possibility in all people towards all living beings and, at the same time, is a constant struggle, conflict and process of oneself towards higher spiritual lessons.
Love, like all emotions, signifies the way we relate to ourselves and to the world. If we feel insecure, that is, we will constantly be afraid that someone will want to harm us and, consequently, we will be in constant defence.
Also, love always has an object. We love, that is, something that we consider to be of value, that it is beautiful, that has a positive quality and, overall, makes us feel nice and calm. Even the love that one can have for an unhealthy habit, such as smoking, however oxymoron it may sound, is basically related to a positive feeling, that of satisfaction, recurrent ritual, the "filling" when something is taken in, the balancing of tension, etc.
In this sense "love" means listen, respect, understand, accept, embrace, support, help, explain, reward, expand, include, forgive, endure, insist, claim, connect and so much more, because it relates to an inner need and state of being that seeks satisfaction and fulfilment. Challenging course of action that require constant effort. Most of the time, it is not about someone else, but, mainly, about ourselves.
How often do we adopt and act upon this attitude towards ourselves in order to do the same towards others as well?
If we do not commit to love ourselves daily and practice love towards ourselves, then we will desperately seek someone, a parent, a child, friends, romantic partners, temporary lovers, etc. that they are going to do it for us, like they're responsible, like they owe it to us. But what we ask them is to fill in a gap the resides within us, a need, the lack of attention, appreciation, love and for this very reason, we, then, become the prey of others, because with the possibility of losing them, we feel that we will lose this love and satisfaction and then it is us who need to have to learn to love ourselves.
These are the mechanics of codependence, where one bears the complementary part of the other, and completeness comes only through the relationship with the other. Otherwise, we feel empty and alone, which is why we end up accepting and participating in situations that are ultimately problematic and damaging for us, in order not to lose that contact with the love and fullness the codependent relationship brings to an extent.
But in reality, love exists within us and concerns primarily the relationship with ourselves. This is where spiritual lessons come in as a challenge for a deeper relationship with ourselves and by extension with others. Because we are called, beyond what we have learned and programmed to be, to rewrite the script of our lives, to create a new construct, to learn to love and care for the darkest, most confusing, most unacceptable, most unknown, wildest and 'ugly' parts of us that no one has ever done so and, ultimately, cannot do for us. Even if a thousand other people tell us that they love something specific about us, if we do not acknowledge it, "embrace" it and love it, then it will remain in the realm of the rejected, inactive and distorted parts of ourselves.
This does not mean that we have to do all this on our own!
Healthy, adult and mature love also exists and flows in relationships of mutual interdependence with others. Where both parts find acceptance, just as they are, but also the space to evolve towards whatever path their heart calls them.
Fear, insecurity, internal oppression and restriction, obedience to the rigid rules of societies are the advisors that will always lead us to more "safe", contradictory, incompatible and illiberal choices and actions.
I see it all the time in the therapy room, people who have been struggling for years between the series of 'musts' that they learned and the 'wants' that their hearts longs for; all those parts of them that have not found love and have been twisted into various painful forms to find some way to remain alive.
It is a journey, yes, but it is also a pity that souls leave this world with so much darkness and lack of love within them!
When will we learn to truly and deeply love ourselves and each other?
The celebration of Easter will always remain a symbolic process that will invite us, beyond the holidays and the food festivities, the temporary pleasures that is, to reconsider our relationship with unconditional love, with selflessness, with forgiveness, with 'open arms', with the deepest essence of our lives, with the uplift of our souls again and again until the truly meet God within us.