The story appeared on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle several years ago. A female humpback whale had become entangled in a maze of crab traps and lines, including a line tugging in her mouth. A fisherman spotted the distressed whale just near the Golden Gate Bridge and radioed for help. A team of divers worked for hours to untangle the whale. When she was finally free, the divers described the incredible experience of what happened next. First she swam in what seemed like joyful circles, performing her own gratitude dance. Then she swam up to each diver individually and nudged them as if she was thanking them one by one. The diver who cut the line from her mouth said that he would never be the same after the whale’s eyes followed him the whole time he was working. It’s a beautiful story about love and gratitude and what is possible when love is set free.
The Sufi mystic Rumi said, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Like the whale, we often get tangled; tangled in our own walls of protection and tangled in the crossed lines of other people’s expectations and insecurities. The only people who get anywhere near us are those who can scale 30 foot walls of protection like paratroopers. Just when they get to the top of one wall, they look over and see another wall. We build new walls just as fast as people find ways to penetrate them.
There are many barriers to love. What are some of these defensive walls? Aside from the 30 foot high wall of self protection, there is the picket fence with neatly manicured hedges that keep out anyone who isn’t perfect. It’s easy to forget that there is no perfect partner, just a perfect connection between two people who are forgiving and accepting. Maybe you have built an inner picket fence that is the veneer of your impossible standards towards yourself. Maybe you’re expecting to be the perfect partner instead of just being who and where you are right now. Maybe you don’t think you are worthy of love. Maybe you’ve tried and feel jaded. Then there is the fence of humor that makes light of any personal inquiry or tells a joke to deflect an intimate connection. Or else maybe you have built a façade of lies, a web of deceit that you’re not even conscious of, that has become a barrier to love in your life. These are some of the many barriers we have built that prevent an authentic experience of love. What is the underlying reason for our defensiveness?
Jesuit Priest Anthony de Mello described a brief teaching conversation. The student asked the teacher, “What is love?”
The teacher replied, “The total absence of fear.”
The student said, “What is it we fear?”
The teacher said, “Love!”
It’s a vicious cycle of fear and protection. Stop the cycle today. Remove the barriers to love one at a time and enjoy the bliss; not just romantic love, but also platonic love for friends, the love of parents and grandparents, love that includes other species, love that includes yourself. Despite the many years of teaching that many of us have endured, love is not something that comes down from above or outside of ourselves. Love is something that is discovered from the inside out. You don’t even find love. Love finds you when you remove all the barriers within yourself and allow love to flow.
Once you remove the barriers to love and stand before your bare, naked nature, you will see that love is all there is. It is who you are, who you always were and what you do best. As it says in A Course In Miracles, “Love is within us. It cannot be destroyed, but can only be hidden. The world we knew as children is still buried within our minds.”
The crazy thing is that it actually takes more effort to resist love than it does to surrender to love. Building walls is exhausting. Give yourself a break. Stop resisting and surrender to love’s lead. If you’ve been hurt, betrayed, exhausted and misunderstood, love your humanity and persistence and let it grow from there. Love is your nature.
Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a scorpion that was drowning. One monk immediately scooped it up and set it upon the bank. In the process he was stung. He went back to washing his bowl and again the scorpion fell in. The monk saved the scorpion and was again stung.
The other monk asked him, “Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know its nature is to sting?”
“Because,” the monk replied, “it is my nature to love.”
You know that you will be hurt again. Life stings. That’s the nature of life when we bump up against each other’s walls. Keep loving anyway, because it’s your nature to love. In any case, being trapped inside your fortress of self protection will quickly suffocate you in a cocoon of isolation.
Breaking the Language Barrier
Love is there waiting to be found and expressed, once you remove some of the barriers. One of the barriers to the expression of love is the language of love. Douglas Adams created the mythical Babel fish in the movie and novel Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s a small, yellow, leech like creature that feeds on brainwave energy. It is able to feed this energy to others who place the fish in their ear. Anyone with the Babel fish in their ear can instantly understand anything said, no matter what the language or even which planet the person is from.
The miracle of love is that even though we are all so different, we are still able to receive a message that tunes into the love that resides within. But the Babel fish is not all healthy, like the tower from which it gets its name. Do you remember the ancient Hebrew story about the Tower of Babel? In ancient days, all people spoke the same language. You would think that would make it easier for love to be given and received. But it didn’t. People used the uniformity to try and build a massive empire of control, even trying to reach the heavens with a tower. They had forgotten that you can’t control love. In the story, God taught them a lesson by confusing their languages and scattering them around the earth. The lesson wasn’t to make it harder to express love. That would be a strange thing for a God who is the essence of love to do. The lesson was to make sure that no one could control love and each person internalized their understanding of love and expressed it in unique ways.
There are many languages of love, including The Five Love Languages outlined by Gary Chapman. Chapman says that each person has a love tank. We need to ask each other how to fill the other’s love tank in specific ways such as his five love languages which are words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gifts and physical touch. It’s a great start and I recommend his book. These are all important languages of love, but it’s not a complete list. I think we could build on this list. I would add space to the list, space for self discovery and personal responsibility. I would add challenge to the list, as in challenging a person to be more of who they are. Love is expressed in a lot more ways than warm fuzzies. Love can be confronting and in-your-face and love can draw clear boundaries to help people to claim their power.
But there is a bigger issue that I suspect Chapman has not accounted for. If you haven’t removed the barriers to love within you, then other people can attempt to fill your tank until they’re blue in the face but you won’t be able to receive it. The interesting thing that Douglas Adams adds to his story is that the Babel fish is responsible for some of the bloodiest wars in history. Relationships are about more than words. Relationships are about more than actions. Relationships are about your willingness to take responsibility for your own barriers to love. Self love is the realization that the one person who is with you from first breath to last, and by your side through each of life’s ups and downs, is yourself. This is the relationship that sets the tone for all others. Love yourself and you will attract the most mutually awesome relationships into your life. When you love and respect yourself, you attract relationships of mutual respect.
Love is An Outlaw
There was a famous 80s song that said “You can’t hurry love.” That’s true but I would go further and say you often can’t even predict love and you can rarely control love. The American author Tom Robbins put it beautifully.
Love is the ultimate outlaw. It won’t adhere to rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question.
Security is out of the question. When you become love’s accomplice, you will steal hearts, and break and enter into the most secure personal space. You will in the words of Bruno Mars’s recent song, “Take a grenade for love. Do anything for love.” You will do it without a trace of certainty that your love will be received or reciprocated. Love offers no guarantees of trust, justice, forgiveness or even courtesy. You can’t always trust the person you love, but it’s easy to love the person you trust. You can’t always forgive the person you love, but it’s easy to love the person you forgive. You don’t always like the person you love, but it’s easy to love the person you like. In this sense trust, forgiveness and empathy are some of love’s accomplices. Build affinity, trust and forgiveness with others and watch your love increase.
Love offers no guarantees. It is a risky business. It MAY bring deep comfort and self assurance at times, but it makes no guarantees. If couples truly realized the risks of what they are doing on their wedding day, they would wear crash helmets. A bride wouldn’t wear a veil, but a crash helmet. Love is an act of faith. Sometimes I look at young couples in front of me at the wedding altar and I feel like sending them out with the instructions, “Do not try this at home without a safety net. It’s risky!” You will be glad to know that I have never said that at a wedding. You are allowed to be romantic on your wedding day. Lessons of love are best learnt under the camouflage of everyday life.
Love is a risky outlaw. But here is the best news. Without the comfort of security, love achieves something far more powerful. Growth and surrender to the moment.
Love is always evolving. The places where you find love also grow and expand. Have you seen those Rick Ruggles photography series? Ruggles has photographed thousands of love hearts that he found in natural settings, whether in a puddle, a cloud or a piece of rusty metal. In our home, we have a beautiful Ruggles poster above our kitchen table with the words “Love is where you find it.” It’s a constant reminder to find love wherever you are and part of the spirit we want to build in our home. If you build a world of inner love, you are always in love’s company. Of course it’s not always easy to remember this truth nor is it neat and tidy. My eight year old reminded me of the unruly nature of love a few years back. One day she was feeling a bit hard done by. She was having a mini tantrum and blurted out, “Love is NOT where you find it.” I had to hold back my giggles. But I’ve never loved her more than in that moment. Whenever I see random heart shapes now I think of the wisdom of my daughter, the truth of authentic love. Instead of getting the giggles, I get the ruggles, the reminder that love is real and everywhere and always changing shape.
As you can imagine this was no laughing matter to my daughter. It was a raw expression of being misunderstood and after saying the words, she composed herself quickly. Within minutes she was skipping around the house. All was forgiven. She did not get her way, but learnt that she could get over disappointment and move on. She had learnt another side of love, and so had I.
Just as love heart shapes can be found in the most natural and basic materials, so love is found in the most fundamental, the rawest, of human emotions- including despair, confusion and disappointment
Love is Transformative
Love is transformative, especially when you stretch your love beyond the people who are easiest to love and include those who are harder to love. The Jewish masters tell a story about an old man walking down a road. The story is told by a passerby who watched the whole thing take place. A horseman appears out of nowhere and charges straight toward the old man who has to throw himself into a ditch to save himself. Clambering out of the ditch, the old man shakes his fist at the horseman riding off into the distance and shouts, “May you be blessed. May your deepest desires be fulfilled!”
The passerby is amazed and asks the man, “Why would you wish such a good thing for someone who nearly killed you?”
The old man answers, “If his deepest desires were fulfilled, he would have no need to run an old man off the road?”
The people who are hardest to love need it the most. The parts of you that are least loveable are the parts that need the most loving. But more than that, it’s good for you to love those who are hardest to love. If you think of love as light, it shines bright with each manifestation of love. There is always light involved in love. There is even more light involved in loving your enemies. Of course there are as many ways to love friend and enemy alike as there are stars lighting up the sky.
Loving enemies doesn’t mean you trust them or even like them. Taken to its extreme, you can even leave a person, a cause or an idea, acknowledging that it’s time to be apart, but do it with love. In this case you simply create space for the other to be who and where they are, and with this space you expand your circle of love.
Love Is Where You Live it
Love is there waiting for you to remove all the barriers and become its accomplice. Once love finds you, however it looks in that moment with its variable face, it wants to be expressed.
Apparently when Oscar Hammerstein lay dying, he sent Broadway musical star, Mary Martin a note, just before she went on stage to perform South Pacific. It read:
“A bell’s not a bell till you ring it.
“A song’s not a song till you sing it.
“Love in your heart is not put there to stay.
“Love isn’t love till you give it away.”
Love is yours. Love IS you. It comes without any money back guarantees of security. But it comes with something far more powerful. It comes with the absolute certainty that you will feel alive and you WILL grow. The certainty of growth is one thing you can take to the bank. You can endorse the check with the one word, LOVE. Love and light in me greets love and light in you. Namaste.