Most of us not only desire to be loved, but we desire to be loved unconditionally, no strings attached, no ifs ands or buts, love no matter what. Unconditional love is what many of us would consider to be true love. After all, someone who only loves us when we are at our most beautiful, healthy, wealthy or wise may not love us when we start to age, become ill, lose our money, or start to lose our mental faculties. Love with conditions is fear masquerading as love and not love at all.
I believe that all of us are born with a limitless store of unconditional love. We start with unconditional love of self or of life (our survival instinct) and unconditional love of our parents. As we go through life, we come in contact with many other souls and may give unconditional love to fellow travelers along the way.
Why Is Unconditional Love So Hard to Achieve?
Given that we all desire to be loved unconditionally and have an endless store of love to give, why then is unconditional love so hard to do? Why is it so rare? Why do many of us madly search for it and never find it?
While unconditional love may sound perfect on first blush, it has its own challenges.
- To open ourselves to receiving unconditional love we must also open ourselves to giving unconditional love.
- To give unconditional love, we must first deal with our fears. If we do not face our fears, they will form fear-motivated desires or love with conditions.
- To give unconditional love, we must also reconcile love with our rational mind. Our rational mind tells us to act based on reason. When we need to make important decisions we consider the pros and cons of the situation and pick the choice that will give us the best long-term fulfillment. Rational choice is by definition in conflict with unconditional love, which is love without reason.
Conditional Love and Fear
It is natural for us to love and we start with an unconditional love of life or of self. Because life is precious to us, we fear death. Fear, therefore, arises out of love and is part of the human experience. However, if we fear death then we fear getting hurt, getting ill, and aging. These fears, if unaddressed, can make it difficult for us to love life.
Unfortunately, we are taught that fear is bad, is a weakness, is an illness, is the work of the devil. As a result, we suppress our fears and our automatic coping mechanisms kick in to soothe our fragile ego from daunting reality, thereby warping it. We avoid our fear of death by pretending it does not exist, we get Botox injections to hold back aging, and illness is something we only discuss with our doctors in a cold and clinical fashion. God forbid if any one of us should show our emotions or expose our fears. In this way, we deny aging, illness, and death.
When we run away from our fears, they grow and our beliefs keep getting distorted by our automatic soothing system. Instead of accepting fear as a normal human emotion, we deny feeling any fear at all and ironically become controlled by it.
Fear causes us to only love ourselves when we are healthy and young, when we are useful, wealthy, successful, or whatever else. Fear places conditions on love and when fear grows, conditional fear or conditional desires crowd out unconditional love.
On the other hand, if we face our fears, deeply listen to their messages, and understand their true source, then we will see that they are simply a part of life, and something that we can accept and adapt to. We can give up our false belief in having complete control over our lives, our unrealistic goals and wishes, our hubris, and simply let ourselves experience life as it unfolds. When we do this, we actually gain more control of our lives and make better decisions.
We like to think of ourselves as the leaders in the dance of life. However, that is not reality. In reality, life is the leader who graciously lets us twirl, bend, and caper about. But when she decides to lead, we must respect her power and move with her. It is when we forget this fact and struggle that we create unnecessary suffering.
Unconditional Love and Rationality
I am very proud of my rational mind, which has helped me overcome many challenges. It has also gotten me into a thousand kinds of trouble.
We are born with an unconditional love of life and love of self. However, our rational minds balk at this fact, because we are taught that we must have reasons for everything, including love. Because of this, we run around madly searching for the reasons we should love life (meaning of life), as well as the reasons we should love our very own selves. We should love life because life brings us happiness and beauty. This may seem noble, but under this belief, when life brings us anything less than happiness and beauty, for example when it brings us loss, sorrow, and suffering, we get disappointed, we reject life, we reject parts of ourselves, and we suffer even more. This belief in conditional love or love based on reason creates unresolvable conflict within ourselves, and causes unnecessary anxiety and suffering.
There is nothing wrong with having a rational mind. In fact, I am a big proponent of rationality. It is when our rational minds are working off of incorrect facts that our troubles arise and grow. Here are some truths that I am retraining my rational mind to accept –
- You are not in control of everything and that is ok.
- You are not in control of many aspects of life and that is ok.
- You are not in control of emotions and that is ok.
- You are not in control of love and that is ok.
- Unconditional love by definition is not based on reason. There is no need to look for any, just stop and relax.
Let yourself love without reason, let yourself love unconditionally. In this daring, you will find unconditional love in return.
Love, Trust, Relationships
Remember though, that feeling unconditional love towards someone is different from the decision of having a relationship with them. Sometimes, we may love a person but decide not to enter into an unhealthy connection. For example, I love my parents unconditionally, but I have only had very limited contact with them in my adult life.
Both my parents have had difficult childhoods themselves and as a result, they are not capable of giving unconditional love or maintaining healthy bonds. My mother is very afraid of love and thus is afraid of life. Because of fear she rejects everyone before they can reject her, she rejects learning, exploring, experiencing, and living. I love her even though I have spent countless years trying to convince myself that I ought not to. However, it is not possible to establish a relationship with one who rejects you with her every breath.
My father equates love with material success and a show of wealth. He liked spending money and he borrowed much of it. During childhood I saw very little of my father and all the times we spent together were based on his terms. He had little interest in discussing my thoughts or desires. Still, I hero-worshipped him all the way into mid-adulthood. The first time he asked me for a large sum of money, I gave it to him. The second time I said I could not. This led to many more money calls, lies, and ultimately he threatened me with his love and his health. I realized then that I could no longer have a relationship with him.
Our self-love demands that we set certain boundaries of respect, kindness, and trust with those we interact with. Sometimes, those we love are unable to return that love in kind. I do not believe that my parents enjoy being the way they are, but unfortunately, they are unable to face their own demons and free themselves to love unconditionally. It is a sadness, but one I have come to accept.
A healthy relationship does have conditions, of a sort: your boundaries. If your partner doesn’t respect your boundaries, the relationship isn’t healthy, no matter how deeply you love them. Moving on from it, then, could be an act of unconditional self-love.
Meaning of Life
To paraphrase a wonderful quote …
Ask not what life can do for you — ask what you can do for life.
We already have an unconditional love of life. That is our survival instinct. We do not need to look for reasons to love life, we simply do. When we try to look for reasons, we invariably get disappointed because we are not happy enough, not young enough, not rich enough.
Instead of frantically asking life for reasons why we should love her, we can simply accept the truth that we do. Given that we love life, we can express this love by increasing our understanding of her many everyday miracles, and practicing our love across her many dual aspects, including her joys and sorrows, her gains and losses, her happiness and suffering.
Love is not bound by reason. Do not limit yourself by binding your inborn gift of infinite love to a pros and cons list.