Let me state right away that I am not a doctor or therapist; I am simply a woman (mother, wife, sister, daughter) that has amassed years of experience in the area of love. I've been deep in the trenches and if I were keeping score, well, let's just say I've won some and lost some.
But through these battles, these wars of the heart and mind, I have learned, and continue to learn, how to love unconditionally. I have built up strength by breaking down walls (defense mechanisms and otherwise). I have learned how to negotiate peace treaties, with myself and others, all in the name of unconditional love.
Here are nine ways I've learned to love unconditionally:
1. I remember that I am my priority.
In the world of health and wellness, we hear a lot about "self-love." You know how it goes: they say you have to love yourself first before you can love anyone else.
Well, it's true. We all have exactly what we need. It's not someone else's job to make us feel love or to be able to love. It is up to us to love and accept ourselves as we are. When that's our baseline, we give up score-keeping, and can let love shine on the world.
2. I totally gave up the idea of being perfect.
After years of beating myself up, not feeling I was good enough, special enough, skinny enough or smart enough, I have learned to give up on being perfect. This is the opposite of failure.
Hanging onto thinking "I suck at everything," and instead thinking "I can't be perfect at everything" has allowed me the freedom to be more present, to experience each moment, with myself and others, to it's fullest and without conditions.
3. I recognize that I am what I practice.
When we judge others harshly, we are judging ourselves. When we dish out disapproval, we are practicing disapproval. When we disrespect ourselves, we are disrespecting others. The more we do it the more it becomes painfully automatic.
Through awareness and lovingkindness we can begin to let go of this old way of being and move towards an openness that allows loving, kind and unconditional thoughts towards ourselves and others.
4. I know that it's never too late to love.
As a young girl I often felt "something was missing". (Was it love?) What I've been learning since then is that loving ourselves unconditionally is an ongoing process that doesn't know or care how old we are. Love continues to develop and grow, especially when we treat ourselves with kindness and acceptance instead of judgement.
5. I deliberately don't run away from my demons.
Running away, hiding or acting out when something isn't going the way we think it should never fixes anything. The problem, the anger, the fear, will show up wherever you are. Trying to deaden the pain can become a life-long pursuit, often with unhealthy choices that ripple through to everyone and everything in our life.
Facing our fears, feeling our fears, meeting head-on the very thing we're running from is how we begin to shine a light on the darkness, and accept that fear is part of life, part of loving unconditionally.
6. I don't engage in endless "self-talk."
The dialogue that runs in our head is incessant, constantly pulling us towards the edge of self-doubt or arrogance. Our thoughts are perhaps the most powerful voice we hear and work overtime to control our actions and reactions. Shut down the overactive dialogue and let the space fill with loving, kind thoughts. Meditation has helped me strengthen this muscle.
7. I accept that I can't solve every problem.
Let go of the notion that we can solve everything, that we can fix ourselves and others. When we get caught up in this minutia, we lose focus on listening to our hearts, listening to those in our lives and being present without judgement. When we let go of feeling responsible for solving everything, we open the door to acceptance of things the way they are, without conditions.
8. I cultivate free time and space in my life.
The gift of space, breathing room, time to understand, heal or mourn is one of the most important aspects of loving unconditionally and can be one of the hardest. It's OK to let things be, to give yourself and others time to move through a difficult phase.
Be there for yourself, your partner, family member or friend. Wait with loving patience, an open mind and open arms. Trust in your unconditional support. Your patience and understanding will always be welcome and lift you up while keeping you grounded in unconditional love.
9. I keep a looser grip on things.
In other words, stop white-knuckling through life!
I went through a phase where I was terrified of flying. The fear would start building weeks before my departure and consume me, affecting the way I treated myself and others. On the plane, I would literally white-knuckle the entire flight. I found myself thinking, If I let my guard down for one-second, catastrophe will strike.
We can slip into living life like this, hoping and praying and begging for everything to be OK while we miss the beauty of being in the moment, enjoying the journey and loving ourselves and others exactly as we are.