November 10, 2013

“Unconditional” Love: How Can We Be So Sure It Won’t Be Abused? ~ Agnes Gardener


We all want our love to be free, its flow uninhibited and beautiful, like a crystal clear stream watering a lush green meadow or like the streaming sunshine warming the skin on a Spring day.

This is what would feel natural and right. At the same time, we also want to feel secure and to retain some degree of control over our lives, over the various emotional consequences of our loving.

How could these equally deep and true needs of ours be reconciled? What kind of love is realistically livable, and what kind of reality is loving enough?

To get to the point: of course there is no unconditional love for the conditioned mind. But what we usually mean by the conditions of our love are not the conditions ideal to make love grow and thrive, they are not the conditions for love. Rather, they are the conditions for fears, for reservations, for love to shrink and wither.

The usual setup looks more or less like this: “Unless you provide me with this and that thing, I will not be able to love you.” The things here in this statement, the conditions of our love, are perfectly reasonable items: honesty, closeness, emotional security, commitment, attention, understanding, enough space (and so on; you can go on with your own list of what you need). Everybody would agree that these are things to look for in a relationship, and they are necessary for emotional balance and well-being.

Nevertheless, when we come up against them as we would come up against a checkpoint on a border, their earthy wholesomeness starts to turn against us, against our wish and willingness to love and to be loved. It seems to be such a simple deal: you give me what I need and I give you what you need and so we’ll be happy together. And yet it’s not the way it works out.

This is not because we can’t tell the good things in a relationship from the bad things, or because we are too selfish (or too selfless!), but because we are using our power of wise differentiation and our goodwill in the wrong way.

I have a jar of jam and I want to open it. I take it into my hand, grab the lid with the other hand and turn… What happens? If I turn it in the right direction then I did everything right and it opens. Sweet! But if I turn it into the opposite direction, it stays closed. Maybe it gets closed even tighter.

In both cases I am doing nearly the same thing, and there’s only one small difference that makes the totality of my efforts useful or useless. So even if I am right in valuing the feeling of love and the  emotional balance in my relationship, I might still do something wrong.

As creating a loving relationship seems to be one of the big questions of our time and has been scrutinized from every angle, it’s not easy to look at it with a fresh eye. But when we feel we have tried everything, we must look for the part we were always so sure of that we never thought to change it. We did not see it as changeable or questionable. And that’s what we need to rethink:

“When you love somebody, you are giving him something.”

Wrong. This is the turning of the lid that goes in the wrong direction, that closes our hearts.

When we love somebody, we are giving ourselves something: this great feeling! Why else would we be so excited about love? We want to do it, we want to feel it, we dream about it, we search for it, we do our best to make it happen and make it last, we are suffering for it. We are even willing to change because of it. If we love somebody, we are simply wild about it. Our heart and soul and body are wild about it.

So who is it for, really?

To answer this question truthfully is all it needs to put the relationship into the right perspective. To allow, at long last, your mind also get wild about it!

If the other person, the one we love, is giving us his person and presence as a gift that lets us enjoy the feeling of love, then he is not owing us anything. If we want to, we can start thinking about giving something back for this gift. What might this something be? Honesty, closeness, emotional security, commitment, attention, understanding, enough space (and so on; you can go on with your own list of what you believe other people need).

When I first looked at my love and my relationship this way, I nearly couldn’t believe my eyes! It seemed too good to be true. It was hard to accept that something so beautifully fitting together and fitting what I wanted was really possible and really within my reach. But I liked it enough to keep letting it direct my thoughts and actions, and was fascinated as it unfolded, making a change in my life. It became a part of me—my natural mode of being that felt more like home than anything before.

In the picture above, Eishosai Choki’s print shows the lovers Okiku and Yosuke play cat’s cradle. In this game the two players keep offering the cord intertwined on their fingers to each other and thus create a harmonious progression of shapes together. The cord is there but not to bind. The cord is what brings the game to life.

So we can keep loving, and create for love with our conditions a good place in our lives where it can thrive. When we look at our relationship this way, our conditions of love become quite different: Just be there for me so I can feel my love for you. Just be.

There is no way our love could be abused, because all of it is for ourselves already.

Our good intentions could still be misunderstood, but it won’t happen in a place where life and death, love or hate is at stake, but between good friends taking part in the relationship equally, owing each other nothing.

When our love is something that we feel we can freely experience and express, just for the joy of it, we can do nothing wrong with it: this is what it is for. Then it starts to nourish our lives. The presence of this free and flowing love, acknowledged and celebrated for itself, for the sensation of its freedom and abundance, can bring out the best in our nature and the best in our relationship.

(I am writing this as a woman loving a man, but please feel free to turn it about to fit your own life.)

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Assistant Editor: Karissa Kneeland / Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photo via Wikimedia Commons}

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