“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.” Rumi
If you are like me, you are much better at giving love and being kind than you are at receiving love and accepting acts of kindness. To be truly happy, we need to learn to both give and accept/receive love and kindness.
Love and understanding are not things we are born with. They are the result of how we use our minds and how we practice. We can choose to train our minds to truly love by understanding ourselves and others. Or we can allow our stories and habit energies to make us feel separate, alone and in need of defending ourselves.
“We do not need to go out and find love; rather, we need to be still and let love discover us.” John O’Donohue
True love doesn’t foster clinging. It is generated from within. To truly love someone, you need to feel complete in yourself. Love is not looking for someone to complete you. Sometimes we can’t accept love because it is not truly love, but attachment.
“Attachment masquerades as love. It looks and smells like love, but it’s a cheap imitation. You can feel how attachment grasps and is driven by need and fear. Love is selfless; attachment is self-centered. Love is freeing; attachment is possessive. When we love, we relax, we don’t hold on so tightly, and we naturally let go more easily.”
“Attachment likes to impersonate love. It says, “I will love you if you give me what I need.” Love is focused on generosity; attachment is obsessed with getting needs met. Love is an expression of our most essential nature; attachment is an expression of the personality. Love engenders faithfulness, aligning with our values, moving with purpose; attachment clings in fear and grasps tightly to a particular end result. Love is selfless and encourages freedom; attachment is self-centered and engenders possessiveness. Attachment leaves scars. Love inclines us to gratefulness.” Frank Ostaseski
People pleasers, like me, often confuse attachment with love. You may have been raised to believe that being helpful and pleasing is the only way to earn love. It may be so ingrained in your internal chatter that you don’t even notice it. You do things for people you were not asked to do, and you fix problems you were not asked to fix. You put others’ needs ahead of your own and try to be the person you think they want you to be. I know from experience that it is exhausting. Unconsciously, you think this is the way to receive love and approval. The only way we are worthy of love is to earn it. So, when love is given freely, we feel like we don’t deserve it and can’t accept it.
“People-pleasing behaviors are motivated by fear, whereas kindness is motivated by generosity and resourcefulness. I am all about seeking approval and avoiding rejection. I want to make everyone happy, even if it means ignoring my own needs. True kindness, however, arises from a genuine, deep care for others’ well-being without expecting anything in return.” Yvette Erasmus
We all have internalized conditions of worth: what and who we must be to be lovable. When we don’t meet those unrealistic expectations, we feel we are not worthy of love. And since we are not worthy, we can’t let love or even kindness in. How often does someone offer to do something nice for you and you reject the offer: “No thanks, I’ve got it.” Or we reject compliments: “It was no big deal.” We also reject affection: “Stiffening up when we are hugged.” That rejection of help, kind words or affection are bricks on the wall we have built to protect ourselves from getting hurt. We don’t want others to see our needs and vulnerabilities.
“If you suppress or disown parts of yourself, feeling bad about who you are can easily follow, with the sense that there are nasty, weak, shameful, or unlovable things inside you. It may feel uneasy and tense to keep so much at bay. We end up playing small around others to keep them away from all that we cannot accept about ourselves.” Rick Hanson
I built a big brick wall in my life. To dismantle that brick wall, I found I needed to build my kindness muscle. Kindness (both giving and receiving) is a skill that we can all develop. It starts with how you pay attention. Kindness practice aims to increase feelings of caring and warmth for our self and for others. We increase feelings of caring by mentally sending goodwill, kindness, and warmth towards ourselves and others by silently repeating a series of phrases. Click here for a list of phrases you may want to practice with.
Kindness meditation can help us to develop a selfless love. It does so by developing the quality of ‘loving acceptance.’ Kindness meditation acts like self-psychotherapy, a way of releasing our troubled mind from its pain and confusion. It has the immediate benefit of sweetening and changing old habituated negative patterns of mind. But that only happens if we actually practice kindness meditation.
By practicing kindness for ourselves, we develop a calm mind, a mind free from anger, greed and jealousy. Only in the fertile ground of a peaceful mind can kindness flower. As long as we calm our mind, even if we ‘don’t feel loving,’ the practice will work anyway. If you keep doing it, staying with the intention, and just repeating the phrases and making a connection with yourself, it will inevitably work. We set the intention to be better friends to ourselves and to others, by realizing that we all want to be happy and free of suffering.
Sending kindness gives expression to our wishes for the well-being and happiness of ourselves or others. You will find that recognizing and expressing goodwill will have a softening effect on your heart. Usually it evokes feelings of love, tenderness, and warmth.
But softening of the heart can expose difficult or painful buried emotions. Allowing all these emotions to surface in their own time is one function of kindness practice. By allowing difficult emotions to surface, we learn that we don’t really need the brick wall we have built. The kinder we are to ourselves, the more resources we have to support us in being with difficult emotions.
“If you keep resting your mind on self-criticism, worries, grumbling about others, hurts, and stress, then your brain will be shaped into greater reactivity, vulnerability to anxiety and depressed mood, a narrow focus on threats and losses, and inclinations toward anger, sadness, and guilt. On the other hand, if you keep resting your mind on good events and conditions (someone was nice to you, there’s a roof over your head), pleasant feelings, the things you do get done, physical pleasures, and your good intentions and qualities, then over time your brain will take a different shape, one with strength and resilience hardwired into it, as well as a realistically optimistic outlook, a positive mood, and a sense of worth.” Rick Hanson
Neuroplasticity shows us how your brain is shaped by where you focus and rest your mind. But it is hard for a people-pleaser to stop being who you’re not. You want to make people happy. You want them to like you. You assume that they won’t like who you truly are. So, you don your mask or put up our brick wall to hide who you really are. But you don’t need the mask or the brick wall, you just need to develop relationships with the people who will accept you as you are.
“Donning masks to hide the pain of unmet needs and to defend our vulnerability, we further narrow our sense of who we are. We wear the disguise of “busy important person,” “angry victim,” “deficient person,” or “obsessed, addicted person.” Tara Brach
True love includes accepting yourself and others as they are now, with all our strengths and weaknesses. On his podcast, Ten Percent Happier, I heard Dan Harris say that
“love is our evolutionary capacity to give a shit. It is our ability to cooperate, communicate and connect. If you ignore this, it is at your own peril.” Dan Harris
True love can only grow on this ground of understanding. Understanding ourselves and understanding others. Mindfulness meditation slows us down so that we can see what is needed for happiness and what causes suffering. When we practice, we can see how much peace, happiness, and lightness we have as well as how much anger, irritation, fear, or anxiety are in us. As we become aware of the feelings in us, our self-understanding will deepen. We see how our fears and lack of peace contribute to our unhappiness. Then we see the value of understanding the ones we love.
Nourishing love is a lifelong kindness practice. The more you practice, the more you see your love grow. Kindness practice counteracts the loneliness and sense of separation that comes from not feeling connected to other people.