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Radical Acts of Love

*Disclaimer: I gently ask that you read this post all the way to the end. I am going to outline a few ideas upfront that might seem hard to swallow, but I promise the end will provide clarity and resolution. We have all been the recipients of greater or lesser degrees of harm in our lives. The intention of this blog is not to dismiss the impact and gravity that harm and trauma have on us, but rather, to encourage ways in which we can decrease the level of harm being done in this world. The intention is for healing and liberation on all sides of the pain.*

* * *

This holiday season, I would like to talk about love. Not the warm, fuzzy, glowing, good feeling that most of us associate with the word, but the actual practice of love. Love that is difficult. Love that is painful. Love that makes you recoil in disgust. Love that terrifies you. Love that you don’t want to cultivate. Love that you refuse to give. Love that you believe you are entitled to withhold. Love that you resist. Love that you deflect. Love that you will never let in. Love that you don’t believe exists.

The way we love is too easy. We love the people and situations that are loving to us. We love things that are kind. We love things that are cute. We love chocolate. We love wine. We love the things that make us feel good. We love vacation. We love the things that we believe are beneficial to us. We love things that appear to be serving our agenda. We love things that do not challenge our belief systems. We love things that are safe and predictable.

All of that is nice, but it is not enough.

Love is a much more rigorous practice.

Can you love those who have harmed you? Can you love those who harm others? Can you love those who have hurt your family? Can you love those who are lying? Can you love those who have cheated you? Can you love those who have cheated on you? Can you love those who have manipulated you? Can you love those who have stolen from you? Can you love those who are ignorant? Can you love those whose beliefs you vehemently oppose? Can you love those whom you are afraid of? Can you love those who are practicing hate? Can you love those who are destroying the earth? Can you love those who have tortured, who have killed, who have raped, who have abused?

Moreover, can you love yourself?

Or do you believe you are exempt from practicing this kind of love? Do you believe that you have a right not to love the monsters? Do you believe that you are not a monster, yourself?

Here is where the work comes in for all of us. This is where the gold is, where the magic happens. This is the key to radical transformation.

Only wounded people harm others. Only people in pain try to destroy life. Only people who have been disconnected from love become monsters. The more devastating an act a person performs, the more heinous the crime, the more they are in need of love.

The question is, are you strong enough to do it? Are we collectively strong enough to do it? Are we willing to try? I beg that we do. Let’s start today. Let’s start now.

Let’s first admit that we are not so fragile, not so innocent. This is a requirement for love.

As horrible as any events we have experienced may have been, we survived. We are still here. We can practice love. If we don’t practice love, then what are we doing with this life? Identification as a victim serves no one. The only way to find freedom from pain or trauma is through radical acts of love.

Let’s stop worrying so much about our safety and comfort and do the work that this life is calling us to do. Life is a working ground for the soul. Safety is an illusion. In the same way, there is no real danger, either. Instead of being so consumed with our own little experience in this brief time and space, how about we look outside of ourselves and jump in the trenches. When you love fully and unconditionally, there really is nothing to lose. The world needs more people willing to take this risk.

If we wait for the monsters to stop doing harm, harm will never stop. If we punish, fight, resist, lecture, ridicule, demean, or cast them aside, we become an aggressor ourselves. The only chance we have to cultivate peace and reduce harm is by connecting to our inner resilience and recognizing that we are always connected and that we are ok, but that the ones who harm us are in desperate need. Their hurtful actions are opportunities for us to step up and practice the most powerful kind of love in the world, the selfless kind. In the face of our own pain, it is up to us to recognize their cry for love, and to be brave enough to stand up and extend our hearts unconditionally.

When we refuse to extend love, compassion, and mercy to those who have harmed us, we perpetuate the wound. It festers, gets infected. Our hearts become hard. Left untreated for a long enough, we become the perpetrator.

Love requires acknowledging that we are all monsters, equally capable of causing harm. We cause harm every day. In the realm of energy, the act of aiming a hateful, malicious thought at someone is the same as an act of physical violence. Let’s let go of our need to pretend that we are so good and righteous. Let’s stop blaming and pointing fingers. Let’s stop talking about who’s better and who’s worse. Let’s stop talking about who’s right and who’s wrong. Let’s stop labeling others as ‘bad’. Let’s drop ‘good’ and ‘bad’ altogether. Let’s collectively admit that we all have shadow. Let’s drop the shame of that shadow. Let’s embrace the totality.

Let’s go where the work is needed. Let's do the work.

It is not going to be comfortable. It is not going to be fun.

It will be liberating.

Because in the same way that we all are monsters, we are also all equipped with an unlimited capacity for love and compassion.

Loving those who have harmed us does not mean that we have to put ourselves in the same physical space. It does not require that we talk to them. It does not involve re-living any traumatic experiences. It means holding these people and experiences differently in our thoughts. It means transforming our minds. It means opening our hearts. It means letting go of our stance. It means releasing our need to be right. It means dropping our struggle to uphold the persona that we identify with.

You do not have to feel love to extend love. You do not have to feel compassion to extend compassion. Love and compassion are actions, not feelings. They can be practiced and cultivated. In time, with enough practice, it often happens that the feelings emerge naturally. However, they are never a prerequisite, nor a necessity.

So where do we start? How do we go about beginning a task that is not only counterintuitive, but may feel repulsive to our core?

First we must start with ourselves. In many cases, we are our own abusers. Practicing mercy, compassion, and unconditional love and acceptance for our own selves is critical if we want to love others.

Regarding practical steps, I suggest we begin by developing a regular practice of sitting with ourselves (meditation). Here we can learn to stay with who we are, without running away. We can develop the ability to pause. Even if we only sit for a minute or two here and there, it still provides practice in putting space between impulse and action. This allows us choice when placed in a situation with a challenging person. Instead of flying into our habits of rage, fear, or reaction, we can pause. This pause gives us the opportunity to make a gentler choice, even, and especially, if the other person does not.

Next, I suggest a contemplative practice of loving compassion. Buddhism offers formal contemplations like the Four Immeasurables, but you can do a similar technique outside of any spiritual or philosophical affiliation.

A simple one that I like is this: Think of the person you are having a challenge or resentment with. As you hold them in your mind, gently wish them abundance, joy, and freedom. Do this every day for two weeks. Even if at first you don’t believe that you genuinely want these things for them, by the end of the two weeks, you will find that you have softened.

The Four Immeasurables contemplation is as follows:

1. Loving Kindness: May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness

  1. May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. (about one minute)

  2. May (someone I love) enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. (about one minute)

  3. May (someone I feel neutral toward) enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. (about one minute)

  4. May (someone that challenges me) enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. (about one minute)

  5. Let the loving-kindness expand beyond boundaries: May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. (Contemplate for a few minutes. If a feeling of warmth or insight arises, let go of the words and images and rest in the feeling in your mind and body)

2. Compassion: May all beings be free from suffering and the root of suffering.

(repeat steps above, replacing “enjoy happiness…” with “be free from suffering and the root of suffering”)

3. Joy: May all beings not be separated from the great happiness, devoid of suffering

(repeat steps above, replacing “enjoy happiness…” with “not be separated from the great happiness, devoid of suffering”)

4. Equanimity: May all beings dwell in the great equanimity, free from passion, aggression, and ignorance

(repeat steps above, replacing “enjoy happiness…” with “dwell in the great equanimity, free from passion, aggression, and ignorance”)

* * *

You can select whatever method or set of words that work for you. Make up your own. The point is to open your heart space and set the intention of sending love, compassion, and healing to those people whom you would prefer to hate.

It is my dream that more of us might begin to practice this kind of love. It is my belief that we can heal. It is my intention to always remember that everyone really wants the same things in this life:to feel alive, to feel connected, and to experience unconditional love and acceptance.

"Fervent love can suffer much, tepidity very little."

~Saint Teresa of Avila

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