LOVE, TO LIVE II
January 1, 1970My last blog, LOVE, TO LIVE, seems to have hit a nerve! I’ve received so many comments and notes at once that I want to reply to you “at large.”
My point in the blog is that we all are better served in life by making choices out of love – or passion – than out of fear of error or rejection. Love stimulates a positive, constructive approach to life, while fear compels a negative retreat from the full experience of living.
But the comments to this blog point out how distorted our perceptions of love can become, especially among those of us who are prone to eating disorders. Here are a few of your notes:
- the big question remains, how do you tap the internal resource?
- I know how to GIVE love...but I have no idea how receive it .I felt applause was love. And that is as close as I would let love get to me.
- I find it very hard to break from looking to others for what is needed, what is best, and have a hard time knowing what I love and like. I'm not sure how to find myself again.
- You have to also add fear of finding out who you really are.
In response, I want to share with you a few of the principles I’ve learned in my recent study of mindful self-awareness. I hesitate to give “how-to” suggestions, because every one of us is different and up against different issues and experiences. However, I have found the underlying principles of mindfulness to be profound, both in my own daily experience and in the current spate of scientific research that is proving the effectiveness of this ancient way of being.
The first, and to my mind most critical, principle is compassion. When I talk about love, I am talking crucially about compassion. Love of self is NOT conceit. Love of self is not even self-esteem. To love your self is to feel kindness toward your body, heart, and mind. By kindness I mean an emphatically nonjudgmental patience and generosity of spirit. Compassion is what we all ideally (but sadly, sometimes can’t) feel toward a newborn infant or beloved pet. It is not competitive or critical, threatening or hurried. It is curious and accepting.
We do not live in a compassionate culture. Instead, we live in a culture motivated, even obsessed, with competition. Many of us do not grow up in compassionate homes, either. We do not learn to listen to each other accurately, let alone to ourselves. We are fed a steady diet of judgment, as if being “critical,” and especially self-critical, were a positive trait of character! That’s why so many of us do not know what simply feels good, what we genuinely love to do or experience. We think of – and react to -- love as a gut-wrenching display when, really, true love is a free and effortless state of grace.
The second principle that I’ve found life-changing is the principle of attention. Mindfulness is a process of paying attention with all one’s senses, but without judgment. Mindful self-awareness is a process of paying attention to the sensations, feelings, habits, and thoughts that shape our sense of self. In other words, our identity. I’m talking about noticing when you raise your voice, when you feel the urge to manically clean closets, when your heart begins to slam against your rib cage, when you feel as if a lead weight were bearing down on your skull. I’m also talking about noticing when your heart lifts, when tears spring to your eyes, when the sky seems ecstatically blue or the tulips the color of gumdrops. Without needing to do anything about it, without feeling obligated to fight or flee the feeling, just stop occasionally and notice how you feel in this instant and all the factors in your environment that are contributing to this feeling. There is no right or wrong to feelings that are real. We need to remind ourselves of this on a daily basis, though, because many of us have been taught otherwise.
Which, of course, brings me to the third principle, which threads through all of mindful awareness, and that is suspension of judgment. Neutrality. Neither embracing nor rejecting but simply observing what is. For many, this is the most difficult part of mindfulness practices such as meditation, yoga, or tai-chi. “How do I know when I’m meditating right?” is the question most often asked in meditation classes I’ve attended. But there is no “right”! The very question is judgmental. Mindfulness meditation is simply the act of witnessing what happens inside your mind. You become the quiet observer of your own thoughts, your own physical and emotional sensations, your own brain in motion. You may gently lead your mind, but you do not fight it. In the best of senses, you treat your mind in meditation as a loving parent would lead a child, listening attentively and curiously, suggesting paths away from danger, offering kindness and tolerance.
Neuroscientists such as Daniel Seigel at UCLA and Robert Cloninger at Washington University are proving that mindfulness practices actually can rewire the brain to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and change lifelong habits and patterns of thinking. Whether or not they constitute a “cure” for suffering, they certainly offer us powerful tools for reducing our daily suffering. Most important of all, they can help us discover and exercise the basic principles of love.