Love: we hear and use this word every day. However, rarely do we think about what this word really means. Love is hard to explain and easy to recognize. My natural personality style is a director. Although my intention is never to hurt anyone, my past actions have resulted in a few strained relationships. With time and financial pressures, occasionally I gave more importance to getting the job done than to my sensitivity to others. This approach has neither served me well in my personal life nor in my professional life.
To turn things around, I set out to work on myself. I wanted to become a more loving and gentle person. In this process, I have interviewed four women, who I consider to be very loving. They are: Jan Born of The Cool Plant Lady, Elaine McGillicuddy founder of Portland Yoga Studio, Jessica McKneally, Yoga teacher, and Deborah Knighton Tallarico, co-director of Spiritual Renaissance Center.
McGillicuddy emphasizes, “Love is everything.” She explains, “It is the whole purpose of life. It helps us in the choices that we make and how we spend our time. My late husband, Francis showed his unconditional love for me. I was able to cater to him because of it. We could be there for each other.” Loving helps us to nurture good relationships. It enables us to be more productive and to live happier and more peacefully.
McKneally says, “Love is the essence of life. There are two kinds of love. One is conditional and the other is unconditional.” Tallarico describes the difference between conditional love, which is personal, and unconditional love, which is divine or universal. She says, “Personal love has attachment. Divine love and universal love do not have boundaries. Love is something that radiates from the heart. It is very spiritual. It is vibration. Love is the glue that holds everything in the universe together. When love is around, everything opens like a flower.” Universal love is to love people of all beliefs, colors, looks, ages, and genders.
What happens if we do not love? Born explains, “If we do not love, other emotions such as fear, anger, or sadness fill the void. If we connect with fear, anger and sadness we get back the same and disconnect ourselves from love. Love has profound divine presence. Love is healing. It is a balm. When a baby is hurt, mother says let me kiss it and baby feels that it is healed. Love comes in to us and goes out of us. Being human, we are not happy all the time. However, if we dwell in fear, anger and sadness, it becomes a habit.”
It is easy to love when we are at peace. The challenge is to love others when we are under stress. Self-awareness and meditation help us to prevent negative reactions to stressful situations and to hold that calm, loving place. The other day, while waiting at a stoplight, a man wanted to move into my lane and I did not notice. When the light turned green, I started driving. That man was yelling and screaming at me. I let him go first with a smile, and I kept my peace. Hopefully my response calmed him down.
At times loving another can feel difficult. Born suggests, in such a situation: “If someone is in your face, you need to realize that it is not about you, it is about that person. You may ask, what I have done to aggravate you to act like this?” Tallarico says, “If something really irritates me, I stop and look at myself. Why is this irritating me? What is this person reflecting back to me? Is it showing me a part of me that I have not loved in myself? When we are in a bad mood, everything looks bad. Everything mirrors. It is a law of resonance. We must strive to have compassion and understanding of what the other person may be going through. We can nurture our hearts by loving-kindness or imagining a flame that radiates energy outward.”
McGillicuddy shares, “My teacher Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz is a very loving person. He values people genuinely and accepts them with all their voices.” McGillicuddy quotes Jean Houston who wrote that we want to see someone who is not naturally attractive and say to ourselves “I know you! - God in hiding’.”
Tallarico believes that “Unconditional love is possible.” She explains, “Love is connected with unity and oneness. I believe we are all connected. When I believe this, whatever I see in a person, it is a reflection of some part of myself. Unconditional love of someone goes hand in hand with unconditional love of oneself. We are always mirroring each other. When I see someone being irresponsible, my heart goes to that person and I say maybe that person didn’t get structure as a child. Maybe that person never learned how to be responsible. Maybe that person doesn’t love him or herself enough and is self-destructive. Love is not about what that person does. It is about who that person is, about loving that person’s Soul. You can see the Soul beyond the irresponsibility and love all. Unconditional love of oneself is the key to unconditional love of another.”
At a young age, Born had her own revelation on the importance of loving herself. She recalls, “I see you and me the same. I see a homeless person the same. We are all the same. When I was 16, I had a relationship with someone, and I was gifted with a profound thought - before you go any further, you need to love yourself. I contemplated on it and started thinking how can I learn to love myself? I decided to BE love. Through a process of several months, I became love. When you love yourself, you are plugged into the Source energy and you don’t deviate from it.”
McKneally’s friend, Traca expresses love for herself as well as all beings. “One could feel how open Traca’s heart is when you are around her. Anybody in her presence feels welcome. She accepts all people unconditionally no matter who they are or where they are at.”
A loving person has traits such as presence, acceptance, kindness, patience, generosity, gratitude, honesty, forgiveness, courtesy, gentleness, humility and empathy.
Presence: On being present, McKneally says, “The best way to express love is to be present for people. If I am on the phone, it is very rare that I am also doing the dishes or something else. When I am with someone, they have my undivided attention. Otherwise it feels very unloving.” McGillicuddy adds, “A loving person will give the person they are speaking with attention and will put that person ahead of him or herself.”
Acceptance: As love begins with Self, acceptance begins with self-acceptance. McKneally suggests, “People who feel that they don’t have a loved one need to first experience it within themselves. When we accept and are compassionate with ourselves, it becomes easy to be in a relationship with another person. No one can provide love for one, if that person can’t provide for self. Looking for love outside continuously makes one disappointed." McGillicuddy adds, “Each person has something unique to give that is needed. We need each other’s gifts. We need each other. Not only do we need to accept others, but we also need to accept ourselves.”
Kindness: Tallarico uses Mother Teresa as an example, “In her presence, I felt her whole energy was humbling and healing. Loving is being aware and sensitive to another person. Loving is deeply caring about another being. It is about being in a sacred relationship with that person, about honoring and respecting them.” McGillicuddy says, “Love is more than being happy with ourselves and loving people around us. True love includes concern for justice and peace for all.”
Patience: McKneally shares, “When you feel connected with God, you feel everything is love. Once you get the glimpse of it, it is a motivating factor to get back in that state. With patience, through spiritual practices one can maintain that state of bliss.”
Tallarico advises, “Loving is a practice of life and a conscious choice. When I catch myself not loving enough, I recognize that I am impatient with myself; hence I am impatient with others. It is important to love all parts of ourselves.”
Generosity: McKneally said, “My mother-in-law goes out of her way to make sure that people around her are very comfortable. She does it with love and joy and without expecting anything in return. My friend, Traca, is very generous with her time and energy. She radiates a universal love that does not judge or have requirements. “
Gentleness: People are of different personalities and temperaments. Some people are very sensitive. I realized the importance of communicating with sensitivity to others’ feelings. Treating others, as they would like to be treated will help me in becoming a more loving person.
Courtesy: I take an extra few seconds to wait for the person behind me and hold the door open. Small acts to express gratitude for people who have helped us, such as sending flowers and thank you notes will brighten our lives.
Honesty: Being truthful in all situations, even if it comes with a cost is the best way to happiness in the long run. We love ourselves when we are truthful. People respect us and our self-esteem enhances.
Forgiveness: I do not hold animosity with anyone. A few people disliked some of my actions over the years. I recently called these people and asked for their forgiveness. It did not matter whose fault it was. I feel lighter and freer without that negative energy. They were appreciative of my call. Even if I feel that someone has hurt me, I forgive and move on. I think maybe the conditions they were brought up in or current struggles that they are facing probably made them act like that.
Through interviewing these women, I have found them to be very wonderful, energetic, simple, radiant, confidant, and content. I have learned by loving and accepting ourselves, we will feel the love for others. Loving is a continuous practice.
As a result of my recent work, I have found that my relationships are getting stronger. For example, my teenage daughter recently wrote to me, “Daddy, you are the best dad that I could hope for”; one of my colleagues who usually sees things differently told me that she liked the way I was more open to suggestions from others; and a good friend told me that I am much more empathetic now. My children and I started sharing kind things that we have done for others on that day. This brings joy and reinforces bonds among us. Thus by loving others, we will have positive relationships and live happier lives. Since we see things, as we are, when we are happy, we see the goodness in others. Let us love more and live more.
© 2012 Ashok Nalamalapu. All Rights Reserved.