Love Begins With Me
While little children learn to love by observing the behavior of those around them, they also, as any parent of a toddler knows come with a built in ability to love. The human heart has an inborn tendency to emotional cherishing. From what I have seen both on television and in the movies, this is true of other mammals as well. Perhaps it is chemistry, or maybe it is a gift from the Creator, however it is certainly evident, especially in small children.
Furthermore, the emotional heart that dwells within us is infinitely expandable. However, in order to keep expanding it needs to stay elastic. This elasticity requires a certain amount of maintenance. When individuals harden their hearts–even if they do it because they feel they must in order to survive, they reduce the heart’s elasticity, and possibly begin a process that will eventually result in the heart’s inability to expand at all. The way the heart becomes hard is through the resistance to and denial of pain.
That is not say it is easy to admit pain into the heart. There is so much of it around. The media confronts us with pain at every turn. Each day when I open my computer I am confronted with samples of disaster or tragedy, sometimes many of them. In our personal lives there is much opportunity for pain of all sorts even in the best of lives. Major trauma can strike at any time, and on any given day there are many small deaths or sadnesses to be dealt with.
When I am willing to allow my emotional pain into my heart, I also take an important step toward compassion for myself and for others as well. Compassion is a natural response to pain. Even very small children will try to comfort you if you are sad or hurt. It seems to be a built in reaction. There are animals that will do the same. I remember a day long ago when I was feeling sad and began to cry. At the time we had three cats and all three came over and tried to climb into my lap.
It can be difficult for me to open my heart to emotional pain. I was brought up not to cry, to be tough and to ignore hurt. Yet that meant ignoring rather than acknowledging it. I had to learn to open my heart enough to take in the pain in order for compassion to find its way in as well. I had to be taught to love myself enough to admit that I felt pain, and that I needed to address that pain. In this I had the help of a fine therapist. I will always be grateful to her.
By loving myself enough to be honest with myself and others, I keep my heart flexible and elastic. By comforting myself with that love, I acknowledge what I feel, and then I can do what is necessary to address that pain. Being emotionally honest is being loving to myself. When I am loving to myself in this way I expand my heart. This makes it possible for me to love others even more. The more I love myself, the more I am able to love others, and that makes me happy in my heart.
Photo by Marcia Ruth Text by Tasha Halpert