Monday, October 24, 2011

Daily Spiritual Practices in Love

At the heart of any spiritual practice is...well...the heart. How can you have a spiritual practice without love? I see some people try. They get lost in the machinations of their minds. They are trying to think their way to enlightenment and are caught up in philosophical tenets and meditative practices never turning inwards to that most essential piece--love. Or perhaps, it only is some kind conceptual love that they turn to. It isn't the whole body kind of love that shakes you to the innermost you. But that's where we're all ultimately headed, and that's where I'm helping you go today.

Self-Love: The Space of True Love
We spend so much time focusing on getting love from the outer world. And how's that going anyway? Maybe some of you have had fleeting moments of it, but how long do they last? How long before your current partner does or says something that doesn't feel like love? Then you're dissatisfied. Already a part of you is looking to find a new, better partner. Maybe he or she will give you the love that you need and deserve. But it does no good. So long as you do not fully love and accept yourself, you will never find a partner who can make you feel the way that you yearn for. Ultimately, it is never our partner's job to fill us with love; only we can fill that space. And when we do that, then the love that does come from our partners, families, friends, and well-wishers may fill you to overflowing. Which leads to another topic about expanding our capacities to hold love, but that's another topic for another day.

A Daily Practice in Self-Love
Subsequently, the first daily practice that I want to talk to you about is a focus on offering love to yourself. This is more than random acts of kindness. If you're not comfortable with love yet, feel free to work on doing small, simple things for yourself to build up to it. But of course, you ultimately can't be with love until you face it head on. And the best place to do that is in the mirror.

I would encourage you as part of your daily practice in self-love to look at yourself in the mirror and say, "I love you."

See what comes up.

I already hear it now from many of you reading it. You're thinking:

"That's stupid."

"Why should I do this?"

"Enough with the touchy-feely crap, I want answers."

Oh but what are your real questions anyway? When you boil down a lot of them, you come to core things like "Am I deserving of love?" For many of you, your answer is currently, "No." You don't feel deserving of it, and that's why you've gotten lost in the pursuit of others--friends, lovers, partners, and even successes in sports and business--to give you love or its watered down version, which is called approval. Your search has failed repeatedly, and only by turning a blind-eye to reality can you stay in the really unhealthy relationships you've been in. For you, stopping and facing the mirror will be profound. It may be profoundly difficult, which is why I always encourage you to write down in your journal the emotions and thoughts that come up when you say, "I love you" to yourself. No one else has to know about this exploration except for the person who is saying and hearing those words.

Practicing Your Loving Words With Others
Now on to a different phase: offering love freely to others. This may be a challenge because you may never have said, "I love you" to someone else without expecting them to say, "I love you" back to you. That, my friends, is not love. In its deepest way, love requires nothing from anyone else. If you say those three words that seem to give so many people heart palpitations, then do so freely. Start with people in your closest circles. See if you can do it at least once a day with the fullness of your heart behind those words. This isn't, "Ok. Bye honey. Have a good day at work. I love you." The love barely even made it into that sentence before your partner was out the door, and s/he was probably already not there with you in her/his heart.

No, see if you can bring some intentionality to it. And see what comes up for you. How does it make you feel? How do you perceive your partner to respond? It doesn't have to be a partner either. It can be a close friend or family member, but find someone. If you truly don't have anyone with whom you can open your heart, then this is first step in building your daily spiritual practice in love. So many people think that spirituality is this far off thing that happens at retreat centers or monasteries, but creating strong, loving relationships is all part of becoming a more deeply loving and interconnected globe. Love starts with you; not with a revolution in Iraq.

Expanding Your Circles of Love
I know. It's a big day for the use of the word, "love." You must be thinking, "Jim, what's going on with you over there?" Just love. Nothing special. I've found that there are times when I've really let go into myself where I spontaneously feel love. I've had those moments, ironically, where I'm sitting at my computer working on a freelance project, and this wave of love washes over me. It's very beautiful; it's part of what happens for all of us as we open hearts. We begin to find that love isn't a localized thing--it isn't dependent on having the right circumstances with the right people. Love is truly unconditional, and the more we practice bringing love into our lives, the more it simply appears at many moments of our lives--unbidden and unchained to the situation.

In that vein of thinking, I encourage those of you who feel strong in self-love and in offering love to those close to you to begin to bring more people into your hearts. Find more people with whom you can simply say, "I love you." Your love isn't meant to be a limited thing, and if you are truly opening your heart to the spiritual path, this will feel like a natural progression. And while it may feel like a natural progression, you will likely find more challenges. You will feel challenged to explain yourself at times--sometimes that's good; sometimes that's bad. If you find yourself being defensive about offering those three words, you need to explore why you need to defend it. If you find people misunderstanding your words, then you need to learn how to open your voice more fully to help them understand. For sure, not everyone understands love. For many people, love from the opposite gender means one thing--an invitation to romance and sex. While love is certainly in those things, it is far greater. It's more handy than a Swiss Army Knife and just as good at getting out of sticky situations with misunderstandings. So, trust yourself. And trust that when you feel the words arising in you, that it is the right time to say them.

Opening Into Love Brings Forth the Natural Intelligence of the Heart
As you develop your daily practices in love, you'll feel yourself shift. You'll feel your heart start to open and that saying, "I love you" becomes less and less of a big deal. It's a statement of fact. It's not an invitation to anything, and it's not stuck in one kind of definition. From that openness comes a fluidity that allows love to create and bring many new things into your life. What they are will be up to you and your path, but I do know that where we're all headed is where only love can take us. So much hate and fear has clouded the world, and so many people don't understand what love is. It doesn't matter how well you do or don't understand love because that understanding resides in your heart, and your heart can always get bigger.
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