Week 9: The Practice of Love
This is week nine of a 10-week series based on David Simon’s new book, Free to Love, Free to Heal.
The great paradox of love is that the better you are at generating a state of internally created peace, the less you are dependent upon others to help you feel good about yourself. And the less needy you are for others to make you feel whole, the more appealing you become, and the easier it is to attract love. People who know themselves as lovable easily draw others into their lives who are willing and happy to love them. Knowing that you and those in your life are inherently deserving of love, you can develop the skills of identifying and communicating what is needed in order to make your relationships more loving.
In his book Nonviolent Communication, psychologist Marshall Rosenberg reminds us that how we communicate our needs plays a major role in our ability to get them met. The better we become at meeting our needs, the greater emotional well-being we experience. However, when people feel vulnerable, they commonly compensate by becoming demanding and threatening, believing that forcefulness will increase the likelihood of getting what they want. As often as not, this approach has the opposite effect. Time and again, I see how people’s fears of what might happen almost ensure the dreaded outcome. For example, a manufacturer’s representative is so anxious about a customer finding other sources for their products that she drives away the very business she is trying to maintain. A jealous husband is so controlling that his partner leaves out of a feeling of suffocation. A woman, who withholds her affection out of fear of being vulnerable, loses her partner to a more demonstrative woman.
Expressing Your Needs
The way you express your needs is one of the most conditioned aspects of your personality. You learned it by observing your parents and it became your style, whether or not it was consistently effective. People often become attached to what is most familiar to them, even if it is has not been proven to be the most successful. To see how this works, let’s look at a few common scenarios.
You go to a party given by friends of your new partner. You are standing alone while your partner is engaged in lively conversation with an acquaintance.
“I saw you flirting with that person and I feel betrayed by you. If you do this again, don’t expect me to ever come to another party with you.”
“When I saw you talking with that person, I felt invisible. I need to feel at ease when I go with you to a place where I don’t know anyone. Will you please introduce me to some of your friends so I can feel comfortable while you are talking with other people?”
You arrive home from work and find your spouse and children playing video games in the family room. There are dishes in the sink and clothing items on the floor.
“I’m sick of being the only one to clean up around here. Everyone treats me like the maid! I feel completely unsupported by this family and I’m tired of exhausting myself so you can play video games.”
“I’ve been working all day and arrive home to see dishes in the sink and laundry on the floor. I’d really appreciate some help from you to maintain some orderliness in this house. Can everyone please pitch in for the next fifteen minutes and clean up the house while I start dinner?”
In each scenario, the conditioned response has two consistent elements: (1) The speaker applies past experiences to the present, so that the historical pattern dominates the immediate event; and (2) The speaker has an expectation that others already know what they need and are, therefore, intentionally withholding the behavior. There is an underlying sense of victimization that says, in essence, “You know what I need and are purposely refusing to give it to me.”
In contrast, a conscious response deals with the present experience as an independent event. The need is not assumed to be obvious and therefore the person takes on the responsibility of identifying the need and communicating the behavior that will meet it.
Conscious communication is a critical skill set can transform any relationship. I encourage you to master it by practicing the following simple method, which you can find at the Chopra Center’s online library. Learn how to communicate consciously here.
Choosing Empowering Words
The conscious wording of our feelings is another powerful tool of conscious communication that can move us forward to getting our needs met. Certain words used to describe feelings are inherently victimizing and are best avoided in thought and speech. Here are a sampling of words I encourage you to eliminate from your vocabulary, which includes your self-talk, for they declare to yourself and the world that you have surrendered responsibility for your feelings to others:
I am not suggesting that you deny uncomfortable feelings that arise when your boundaries are crossed or your needs are not met. What I’m saying is that the language you use to communicate your feelings will have a substantial impact on your ability to change them. If your goal is emotional freedom, it’s counterproductive to reinforce a victim stance by replaying, over and over, mental dialogues such as I feel abused, I feel abandoned, I feel neglected, and other self-defeating messages.
Commit to Compassion
People are transformed by love. The very nature of love expands our sense of self and our capacity to treat others tenderly. The distinctions and differences that separate and divide us from others become less attractive than what unites us. Personal love becomes less personal as our internal identity becomes less constricted. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi used to say, “All love is directed to the Self. I love you but it’s no concern of yours.”
We move from personal love to higher love by adding silence to our awareness. While we are engaged in our inner dialogue about what has happened in the past or what we anticipate in the future, we remain imprisoned in our personality, limited by the stories we tell ourselves. When we are able to quiet our thought traffic through meditation, we glimpse the expansive state between our thoughts and recognize that we are much more than we think we are. When we can live in this state of grace, we become authentic lovers in all of our relationships.
Love is an ability that improves with practice. Every drop of love is sacred. Every impulse of love moves us in the direction of unity. Now that you have invested your time and attention in removing the obstacles to an open heart, commit from this point forward to making love, in all of its expressions, the most important thing in your life.
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