Make it a resolution: Learn how to love
By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.
We have already entered the calendar year 2013. Since today is the first day of the rest of your life, why not learn a new skill, a new attitude and practice a new talent?
We all need to be loved. Very few of us truly understand the nature of neither our need, nor the experience when we’re loved. However, at some point in our maturation, we should be able to shift our focus from whether or not we are loved to whether or not we are loving. For loving is a skill, an attitude and a talent, and it can be learned … perhaps today.
Most of us learned about what love is when we were children. We did not have the benefit of much life experience, rationality nor abstract-thinking ability. When we were warm, snuggled, caressed, fed and rocked, we felt good. Feeling good was the only criteria we had for defining love. When we were attached to a parent, and our needs were met while attached, we concluded that those were the conditions necessary for feeling good … for feeling loved.
When we grew up, we often continued to believe that if we were emotionally attached to another and getting are needs addressed at the same time, we were loved. Unfortunately, love is not attachment. It is not need fulfillment. It is not desire.
If we did not update our understanding of love as we grew up, we often feel disappointed, betrayed or disillusioned when “love” was not what we thought it to be. So we begin to bargain. I have worked with many troubled marriages wherein the prime difficulty was that their relationship was based upon an unconscious bargain or deal. The terms of this deal are usually: “I will take care of you (provide for you…care for you) as long as you meet my needs or expectations.” Men often expect to be loved (taken care of) if they are “good providers.” Women believe they will be loved if they “care enough” for the needs of their mates or children. Both men and women are disappointed to discover that love does not depend on striking a bargain or setting up an exchange. Then, they feel that they have been emotionally betrayed. Feeling betrayed, both partners begin to feel resentment and anger.
Unfortunately, the loving (good) feelings we have in a bargaining relationship are always limited to those whom we like, because they give us what we want or need. We “love” someone until they disappoint us in some way. Then, we no longer love them. Or we feel loved by another until we do something they don’t like, then they withdraw their “love” and we feel the loss. A bargained loving relationship is based upon childhood attachment and need fulfillment, not upon mature loving.
Meditation master, Sharon Salzberg, calls genuine love, “metta.” Metta is the word for love in the language of Pali, the language spoken by the Buddha. Salzberg writes, “We can think we’re feeling metta for someone when we’re really feeling attachment and desire. For this reason, desire is called the `near enemy’ of metta. Because it can feel so similar, it can masquerade as metta—until it reaches its limit. But metta is boundless. It is open and freely given. Metta does not create a duality between subject and object; it does not try to control or hold on; it is not subject to the same fears and frailties of betrayal. Metta is based on desirelessness.” If you want to learn how to be loving, you need to practice metta.
Love based upon detachment is not a sullen or brooding withdrawal from others. It is not indifference. Rather, love is total involvement with life. It is energetic participation in relationships. It is living in the most natural, spontaneous way.
Perhaps it is time for each of us to update our understanding of love. When we are no longer children, we recognize that love is a choice we can make. It is not something earned or bargained for. We can love freely and unconditionally, or we can pursue attachment and desire.
Actually, loving is what we are programmed to do. It is our natural state. Again, Salzberg writes: “When His Holiness the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize, someone commented that to give the Dalai Lama a peace prize was like giving Mother Nature an art award. For all of us, love can be the natural state of our own being; naturally at peace, naturally connected, because this becomes the reflection of who we simply are.”
In the year, 2013, instead of wondering (or worrying) about whether or not you are loved, make loving a reflection of who you are as a loved child, and you will outgrow your childhood perception and become the free, loving adult you were meant to be.
Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life coach from Wellington, Colo.