Tag Archives: growth

Contemplating the Nature of Love

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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.

Positive Mental Exercises

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One of the most important things I’ve learned – as I’ve already started discussing on this blog – is that happiness requires a great deal of deliberation. It isn’t an emotion that just occurs once you’ve acquired the right job, the right car, the right life partner, the right friends, the right 401K.

I used to tie the idea of happiness to achievement. But I’ve achieved a lot in my life, and happiness remains often elusive. This has led me at times to assume that I just don’t do happiness well – that I’m somehow hardwired for suffering.

This is probably the number one limiting assumption that I’ve been operating under for nearly 20 years.

I’ve been collecting mental exercises over the past few weeks to help me minimize that kind of thinking. I’ve found two in particular that feel like game changers to me.

1) Replace negative thoughts and feelings with a statement of gratitude.

I picked this up initially from an interview with Tony Robbins, who maintains that you can’t feel stress, fear, anger, etc. and gratitude at the same time.

I agree, but I’ve found that I have to make those statements pretty specific. I can’t replace “I’m frustrated with my job” with “I’m grateful I have a paycheck.” Not that I’m ungrateful to be able to pay my bills and keep my dogs in high-end kibble, but it doesn’t address the root of my discontent. Any job would give me a paycheck.

But if I say “I’m grateful for the autonomy and flexibility I have at work, I’m grateful that my boss solicits and values my opinion, I’m grateful I have people on my staff who produce great work with no supervision,” that works.

It requires effort. Sometimes it can feel so much easier to just sink into a miserable train of thought because it doesn’t require work. But in the end, when I come up with something specific for which I can truly be grateful – and that’s possible in almost any situation – it changes my whole outlook, which of course changes my behavior for the better.

2) I came about this one through a different source, but apparently it originates with Oprah, who has at some point in her life and career made this statement: There are only two emotions, love and fear.

I really love this. Tony Robbins (again) talks about how every negative emotion – stress, anger, sadness, etc. – can be tied to the fear of losing something or never having something. It’s a very possessive emotion.

I suspect that every positive emotion can be tied to love (a very giving emotion) in the same way. So, in a sense, that statement appears true.

Regardless of whether you agree, it provides some powerful questions (that I’ve stolen from Tim Ferriss, yet another person I continue to bring up in my writing on self-improvement): “If I assume that statement is true, that there are only two emotions, which one am I feeling right now and how is that affecting my behavior?”

And the obvious follow-on question, the real catalyst for behavioral change, is “if fear is what I’m feeling, how would I react if all I were feeling is love? How can I be more understanding?”

This has been extraordinarily helpful in forcing me to assess my emotions and recognize a pattern of negativity. If I face that fear head on and question just what it is I’m afraid of losing, I will almost always recognize how I would prefer to behave, to be seen. And I will make that choice rather than blindly reacting to events often beyond my control.

I wish I’d discovered this thought process before now – it would have saved me and others a lot of frustration and heartache.

Ironically, when you behave out of a sense of love and understanding, you are less likely to lose what you fear anyway. Fear begets fear – that’s why it’s such a dangerous emotion. And it can make us react in a way that hurts, frustrates and alienates others.