Tag Archives: gratitude

Contemplating the Nature of Love

brigitte-tohm-210081.jpg

I don’t think I ever in my life felt more vulnerable than I do right now.

It’s an uncomfortable fog of thoughts swirling around in my brain, one that never seems to cease, even in my sleep.

But if it coalesces into a coherent treatise on the nature of love, I suppose it will be worth it.

I have been on a mission over the past two years to understand love better and love more selflessly in the process. To love as I want to be loved – not with a grasping possessiveness but with generosity. Not because I want to gain something but because I want to give.

It’s hard in part not because I’m naturally possessive (I don’t think I am) but because love is inextricably tied up in our society with gender relations and power and pride. Despite the Judeo-Christian ethics largely dictating American culture that give lip service to the notion of love as a generous act, we don’t treat it that way.

We are a grasping, materialistic, power-hungry people. And we will likely become more so under the influence of our current leadership.

And so love often becomes a power play, more about control and having than generosity and giving. That model perpetuates because it’s the only model some of us have ever known, and it rarely occurs to us to question it.

But I’m questioning it. I’ve had an excellent example to follow – a friend and mentor and possibly the first person I’ve ever met who is entirely capable of selfless love.

I haven’t always shown gratitude for his lessons. I’m stubborn and proud and rarely good at being vulnerable. And perhaps this post is as much a love letter and thank you note as it is an essay on the nature of love. Because he has always been patient with me. And as a result, he has taught me greater patience and self-confidence and compassion.

Friendship, truth, loyalty.

I falter, often, but change takes time. I consider myself something of an existential philosopher, constantly considering how best to live this one lovely life I’m given.

Love has always stood at the center of that life, the most important thing. But I’m trying to consider it in very different terms these days. As something I give without asking anything in return. As something I can experience without the physical and often arbitrary manifestations of it.

I’ll continue contemplating it and working on it and writing about it. It’s good, meaningful work, and I need some good, meaningful work in my life.

Podcast Notes: Tim Ferriss Interviews Tony Robbins

photo-1461770354136-8f58567b617a.jpg

Inspiration often falls into your path when you need it most. I don’t know how to explain this. I don’t believe in divine guidance, although I do believe we are part of something greater than we understand. And that there’s a perfectly reasonable scientific explanation for it. And I’m okay with not knowing.

I’ve always called myself an apathetic agnostic when it comes to that kind of thing. I don’t know, and I don’t care.

And maybe it is just coincidence. I’m just happy it happens.

I randomly chose a podcast from a series I haven’t heard in some time and listened to it while cooking dinner the other night. This episode featured an interview between Tim Ferriss and Tony Robbins.

I have a certain suspicion of the whole life coaching industry – particularly if it involves large groups of people sitting in a room while a guy on stage is jumping all over the place and making impassioned speeches.

However, I’ve listened to several interviews with Tony Robbins, and I always get something out of them. Usually something vital. About half an hour into this one, I stopped cooking and started taking notes. Because I’m a nerd, and that’s what I do with my free time.

Here are a couple of key things I gleaned:

“It is your decisions – not your conditions – that shape your life.”

As Robbins says, if you don’t like your job, change it. If you don’t like your relationship, change it. If you don’t like your income, change it. And (this is key), start by changing yourself.

This shouldn’t be news to me. I’ve done this before. (My habit of regularly “reinventing” myself has been remarked on more than once.) But sometimes when you start losing your way a bit, it takes an outside reminder of what you already know.

One of the things that I admire about people like Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss (and lots of other wonderful and not necessarily famous people) is that they see themselves as creators of their own lives. They are not victims of circumstance. They are not passive. They make the hard decisions.

Sometimes the results are great. Sometimes they’re wrong, so they reassess and make other decisions to change the circumstances. And they’ll continue to tweak their lives, because they’re always growing and changing and learning new things.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes (which will inevitably come up a lot, because it’s definitely in the top 5, and may in fact be #1, and I keep it posted next to my desk and read it every day):

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Sometimes you will fail, but life is an experiment and ultimately, no decision is going to ruin your or anyone else’s life. You just change it again. And you are always in control.

“Trade expectations for appreciation.”

You are either in what Robbins calls a “beautiful state” of joy and happiness or you are suffering. Any emotion that takes you out of that beautiful state – stress, anxiety, worry, anger, sadness, fear – sends you into a state of suffering.

When that happens, it’s because you’re looking inward and thinking about yourself.

Even when you think you’re motivated by your concern for others, it’s actually because you’re worried about losing something (love, respect, etc.) or that you will have less of something or that you will never have it at all.

And the antidote, says Robbins, is gratitude. Stop thinking about what you don’t have, what you’ve lost, what you might never have and appreciate what you do. Appreciate all the wonderful things around you. You can’t feel gratitude and <insert your favorite form of suffering here> at the same time.

I’ve been thinking about this for two days, and I can’t believe how much I’m struggling to grasp it. (I think that’s a sign that I need this advice.)

Everything is a choice, including happiness. You choose to be grateful for what you have and to not worry about what you don’t. Or you choose to be miserable. It’s a simple concept, but it requires training your brain. Maybe I should say it requires training your heart.

We take it for granted that we can learn things – that we can train our brains to learn new skills and information. We take it for granted that we can train our bodies to run faster, run longer, jump higher, lift heavier weights.

I’ve never considered the idea of training my heart (my own interpretation – not from the interview.) I’ve always thought of emotions as something over which we have no real control. And maybe in a sense we don’t, but I imagine that the more you train yourself to think positively, to feel gratitude instead of worry or fear, the easier it becomes – when we do start to automatically feel those negative emotions – to return our focus to the positive.

I’m still working on this.

One thing from this interview I have no trouble grasping: Life is too short to suffer. (Which might seem to contradict all the things I said about suffering making you stronger, but not really.)