Love is my number one value, but what it means to me has evolved over the course of my life. A child of divorce and Disney movies, I was a hopeless romantic by an early age, always on the lookout for my soulmate. 19 years ago, in my freshman year of college, I asked a classmate out on a date for later the same week, a Thursday night, and she agreed. At the time of scheduling, neither of us was aware that the coming Thursday was February 14, Valentine’s Day, and we each had a different reaction to learning this fact. I bought a box of chocolates, and she stood me up.
By contrast, yesterday I forgot to even get a card for my date, who happens to be my fiancée, and we had what both of us agreed was probably our best Valentine’s Day ever. When I look back at the amount of growth and transformation that had to occur in the last two decades for me to get to this place in my life, I arrive at a core set of guideposts. Had I known them at the start of my journey, they could have made the process much smoother, if not less painful.
Four guideposts on the path to a nourishing kind of love
- Self-love — It may sound cliché, and I definitely hated hearing this for most of my life, but true love of another is not fully possible without the ability to love oneself. My desperate need for a soulmate was a symptom of a fundamental inability to be okay on my own. The guidepost here would have been the knowledge, or perhaps even just the faith, that it actually is possible to feel okay on my own, and if I don’t, then it’s worth taking the time to look at why. Not because there is something wrong with me (that would go against self-love) but because something hurts, and pain is a sign that something is in need of care and attention.
- Mindfulness — The problem with intellectual knowledge, and with faith, is that they do not come from lived experience, but rather from holding onto a lesson taught by an outside source. Replacing a piece of experiential knowledge (“I’m not okay on my own”) with a piece of theoretical knowledge (“Sure, I am!”) is close to impossible. So, the guidepost here is the knowledge that the mind is an incessant chatterbox whose job is to look for problems based on prior experience, so it’s helpful to hold lightly anything it tells me. Even if I can’t get the voice in my mind to agree that I am good enough all the time, that does not have to shake my faith in my basic goodness.
- Embodiment — Now, this is a term that I’ve been hearing a lot lately, but it’s almost never defined. My definition of embodiment, at least for now, is the extent to which we translate our intellectual knowledge into action and embodied awareness. Merely telling myself that I am worthy is often not enough to make me feel worthy in my body. If I had been paying closer attention to this guidepost on my journey with love, I would have put more conscious awareness, with openness and acceptance, on the physical sensations occurring in my body when I was having negative thoughts about myself. And I would have made a greater commitment to taking actions in the world that showed me that I was someone worth caring for.
- Universal love — The first three guideposts are about staying grounded in self-love despite the inevitable fluctuations and murmurings of our minds and bodies. Once this kind of self-love is being practiced consistently, and we become aware of how many internal obstacles stand between us and true happiness, a natural compassion at the tragicomedy of human existence begins to build. We begin to see that these obstacles to inner peace are not unique to us as individuals but are a part of the human condition. The recognition that we are all just doing our best with what we know in order to be happy and avoid suffering can be heartbreaking, and the only natural next step is to commit oneself to universal love and selfless service of others.
So there you have it. Four guideposts to a more nourishing kind of love. Looking back, I can see that I received my earliest lesson in the guidepost of universal love mere months after my disappointing freshman year Valentine’s Day experience. In a class entitled “The Sociology of Love,” I read Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving, in which he spoke of the impossibility of loving one person if one is incapable of loving all people. In the coming weeks, I will write more in depth about each of these guideposts and how we can use them to heal our relationship with love.
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Nauser Bear is a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT#123099, licensed with the BBS as Nicholas Reynolds) in California. To work with Nauser, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, call (510) 394-5373, or schedule a free 20-minute consultation by clicking here.
Disclaimer: This blog and comments on it do not constitute medical or mental health advice. If you are in need of support and live in California, contact me to set up a consult to see if working together is a fit. Otherwise, seek mental health support in your area. If you are in danger of hurting yourself or someone else, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention hotline, which is available 24/7, at 800-273-8255.