(Originally posted in Huffington Post, April 16, 2013)
I was 13 when, due to a number of conducive circumstances — including being immersed in gorgeous choral singing in a candlelit chapel, and my own spiritual fervor — I experienced my first conscious glimpse of God’s unconditional love. Of being bathed in the incredible love and grace that is there to partake in.
The experience stands out for a number of reasons, one being that it remains a blessed memory in my life’s journey. Another — which leads me to the theme of today’s blog — is that it pointed to one of the paradoxical ways I see us dear humans repeatedly tripping over our own two feet.
There I was, gifted with what I recall as a piercing, overflowing, all-encompassing love. Completely amazed and blown open by the fullness and generosity. Me? Little me, loved like that? What had been a spiritual concept and possibility — God’s unconditional love — was suddenly real. I had no idea. It was so tangible, incredible really, and immediate.
It didn’t take away the conditionality required to become a decent human being — that was all still there in the cards. Yet simultaneously, no matter how stumbling my attempts at waking up and showing up with integrity may have been and still are, and how I continually need to be held accountable in that regard, here was this all-encompassing “yes.”
What’s interesting is that, while being in complete awe of the gift and grace offered, it only took a few moments for the “little me” to get in the way. To feel undeserving. And in doing so, I noticed how quickly I placed layers between me and It. I could literally “see” myself blocking the love from reaching me. Why on earth would I do that?!
I’m not the only one that does this; I see it day in, day out, in my counseling practice, in my own daily life, in the lives of friends and colleagues.
We spend our lives seeking to be fully seen, completely loved and accepted. If we take an honest look at what drives most of what we do, it’s that thirst and intrinsic human need. Tirelessly, we look for this great love that shows up in many forms. We mistake our search for all kinds of distractions — “When I get rich, famous, successful, settled, enlightened… (insert your particular distraction(s))… then all will be well.” And yet, when offered to us on a golden platter, surprising us in a daily moment, we get in the way of fully receiving it. We resist it. Or we sidetrack it to inflate our ego-self, which doesn’t get at the real thirst at all, rather, this perpetuates it.
My observation is that we’re much better at seeking it than at receiving it. We’re also better at giving it than receiving it. Funny, huh? And tragic, when we consider how this human-made “trip-up” may well lie at the source of so much malfunctioning and human suffering…. From over-consumption to a nagging inner despair, living from a self-centered grasping for what keeps escaping us to envy and ongoing dissatisfaction.
That which we yearn for, spend our lives looking for, when offered to us, is stopped in its tracks by the protective layers and beliefs we hold up against it!
It feels safer to yearn for it than to open up to it and have that love become the baseline of our lives (were I to live from this foundation, would I stretch my wings further, show up more generously, and live more fully?). We learn early on that this world is a rocky place for the vulnerable hearts that we are. We place protective layers around our hearts; these layers help us survive and “make do.” They keep us safe from being hurt and disappointed. And yet, those layers we build up around our hearts don’t just hold out what might frighten and threaten, but also what delights and nourishes.
So, can we loosen them? Coax those layers to soften? Allow the gifts of true love to touch and transform us to the core and bone?
Try this: The next time you feel love, be it by someone or by life itself, take a moment to relax, breath, and let that offering make its way to your core — invite it to seep through any layers of protection you may be holding in place. If the love comes up against resistance, invite yourself to ease, to allow, to “let enter” and become enfolded in the love offered. Let it touch you.
Or when someone shares a sincere “thank you,” an appreciation or a compliment with you, instead of responding with the fashionable reflex of saying something like, “oh, it’s nothing,” or “thanks for the reflection of your own beauty!” or “reflecting your own brilliance right back atcha!” and in this way deflecting the gift, simply let. it. in. Receive it. Receive it generously!
Open wide the gates of your heart, allow that yearning heart to be filled, and then pass it on and up, release it generously too, giving thanks for partaking in this incredibly rich journey and exchange of goodness, truth, and beauty.
Here’s another thing — receiving generously a gift of authentic love has nothing to do with deserving. It’s called unconditional love for a reason. That love that embraces us, even when we mess up. This love surpasses our calculations of right and wrong. This great love loves, no matter what. And yes, it might be given after we’ve just done our best, but even that “best” is not ours to own like a piece of ego real estate.
When we fully and generously receive it, we take a step toward balancing out the unconditional with the conditional — in all our relationships. Bringing them together we become more whole, and also meet others more fully. We then do both, rather than one or the other: We stretch and straighten our spines, we hold ourselves accountable, we are willing to grow up and we offer ourselves and others kindness, compassion, forgiveness, an unconditional “yes,” a warm embrace. In doing so, we begin to bring to life the wisdom held in the words: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
So, here’s to receiving generously, you dear human being!
Next time something good comes your way — be it a compliment, an expression of love, God’s presence — receive it. Become active in the receiving by shedding the layers that you hold up against that which you most yearn for. And when it reaches that beautiful heart of yours, offer it on and up, in deeper gratitude to the great love at the source of this whole wild adventure of becoming human.