Love Has Many Forms and Faces

Stephen and Tasha by Kim 3          One of the more famous of the poems Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote to her Robert as they fell in love begins, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” It has always been a favorite of mine. I even set it to music and played it on my guitar in the days I sang in coffee houses and for parties.  Love can be given in many ways, and all of them are valid and special because each person has his or her own way of giving love. When I pay attention and see how love is given, it is a wonderful lesson to be cherished. Watch very small children; toddlers give us wonderful examples of the giving of unconditional love.

The gifts of love are so special. My home has loving presents from friends and family that come from their love and I cherish the giver as I see, wear, or use them. The kind words I hear, or receive in emails or cards and letters never fail to warm my heart. The love I have shared with my beloved husband for nearly forty years is an important part of my every day experience. I think of him as my always valentine. Love whether brotherly, romantic or spiritual nourishes my heart as well as the heart of us all.

Valentines’ day is an annual reminder that love is a vital part of our lives. I know that as I live with love and give it, I grow happier and more content. A wise teacher once told me, “You don’t have to like everyone but you must love everyone.” When I first heard this I thought a lot about what it meant. How do I love everyone? Especially how do I love those that annoy, irritate or even do awful things, whether to me or to others? In time I have taught myself to do this. I learned how as I grew more aware when I wasn’t loving and deliberately corrected myself, replacing criticism with unconditional love. I am still learning.

When I practice unconditional love, love without judgment and with compassion, even unlikable people can be loved. I don’t have to like them, or like how they act. Nor do I have to approve of anything about them. I can simply open my heart and see them as another human being, however troubled or awful, and envision them surrounded in the light of love. If I feel they ought to be punished I can say I hope they get what they deserve, without specifying.

When my children were small and had been naughty, I might not have liked their behavior yet though I might punish them, I loved them all the same. Often their bad behavior came from ignorance or was a test of boundaries. When I make an effort not to judge another person regardless how I might feel about them, I enhance my ability to give that kind of love. Unconditional love grows from practice. Just as I could punish my child’s bad behavior and love them still, I can give my unconditional love to anyone, and as to punishment, that’s not my job. I can have faith that eventually what goes around will come around, and sooner or later, so it will.

The Many Kinds Of Love

Peace Village retreat 7eart cropped2Saint Valentine may or may not have actually existed. In fact, research reveals that there were not one but three Saint Valentines in all, with various details to their lives and deaths though all were martyred. The general information on the Internet indicates they were killed for performing marriages that had been forbidden by the Emperor Claudius the Cruel. It is also said that the Christian church took advantage of a popular pagan festival of that month, substituting the celebration of St. Valentine’s beheading.

Saint Valentine and Valentines’ Day aside, romantic love, while nice to have in one’s life is not necessarily the most satisfying. I recall how one day a dear friend was bemoaning his recent breakup with his former girlfriend. “Nobody loves me,” he mourned. “I love you,” I replied. “But you love everybody,” he retorted. I sighed and nodded. I had wanted to cheer him up. However he seemed determined to be sad. Many crave romantic love and are not comforted by the fact that they are loved in other ways

According to the Internet, the Sanskrit language has 96 words for love, ancient Persian has 80, Greek has three and we have only one. What a sad state of affairs! There are synonyms that express a loving feeling for someone or something: fondness, affection, adoration, and so on. Regardless, they do not adequately describe the love of a child for its parents, of the attachment many feel for their animal companions, or even of where they live. You probably would not say, “I am fond of my baby, my cat, or feel affection for my home,” you would usually say, “I love…”

The fact that we have no other word for it means that we apply the term “love” to many situations and individuals. We say we love this or that or them, yet we do not mean we have romantic feelings. Does this weaken the impact of the word? My friend’s dismay when I told him I loved him might indicate that the love I had for him was somehow not as desirable or as important as the love of his girlfriend. Yet my feelings for him were actually less tinged with judgment and more comprehensive than the ones he craved to hear from her.

Unconditional love or in Latin Caritas and in Greek Agape may be the most important of the kinds of love we can express for others or even for dwelling places or animals. That kind of love carries no criticism or parameters, no qualifiers or desire for any return. It is simply and purely love in its most beautiful form. When we are at our most loving is when we can give this love to others. It has the power to transform and to heal as well as to uplift. It is this love that the martyred St. Valentine back in the days of Rome portrays to us. Perhaps his love for others as he expressed it before he was executed might be seen as an example for us all.

 

A Valentine to Lost Loves

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When I was eight years old my dear nurse, Emily left to get married. She had taken care of me since I was around eighteen months of age and was in most respects my second mother. She was a practical nurse. That meant besides looking after me, she helped with household chores as well as driving me where I might need to go. She was a devoted caretaker and when she left I missed her sorely. While my own mother loved me dearly, she loved me in her own way. Unlike Emily she was not a physically affectionate person. Also she had much higher expectations of me than Emily did.

When I was twelve, my friend and classmate Sally went away to boarding school. A bookish, unathletic, somewhat plump child, I had no interest in the things my classmates did, and neither did she. As a result from the third to the seventh grade we formed a team of two, and I defended her from the bullies that taunted her for her shyness. I missed her sadly. She lived in a big house by the ocean and our idyllic summers were spent swimming and playing tennis in her private court. Her freezer always held a tub of ice cream and we could make cones when we wanted. When we reached sixteen and I began dating, despite my efforts to remain close, we drifted apart. She had been my best and only friend. She remained distant.

Once I was married and had children I became friends with woman whose two boys were around the age of my two girls. We all went everywhere together. She had a wonderful voice and we used to sing folk songs at our children’s school. We even performed in a contest. Very close, we spoke on the phone almost daily. Then for some reason she became angry with me and disappeared from my life. For months I was devastated. Later on I had another friend I went to the beach with each day. Sadly, after several years she went back to Germany and never returned. By then I was beginning to learn what it was to lose someone I loved, and how to handle it; I was able to recover faster.

Throughout my long life I have had many opportunities to learn to live with loss. I had to come to terms with son’s death when he was twenty-eight, and as I grew older, my parents passing. More lately have come the deaths of others I loved. As time has gone on, these experiences have helped me learn to let loved ones go with a more peaceful heart. I have discovered that I do not need to stop thinking about them, nor do I need to regret their absence. I can take the images of them together with the memories of our time together and put them lovingly in a special album I keep in my heart. Then when I wish to I can open it, turn the pages and smile as I remember with joy the good times we had and the love we shared.

Tasha Halpert

The Eyes of Unconditional Love

heart-and-bellsOnce upon a time I wrote a poem about the eyes of love. It began: “consider with the eyes of love.” Though at that time I hadn’t yet learned about the difference that the qualifying word unconditional makes, what I meant by love in the poem actually was unconditional love. My parents and grandmother loved me very much. They were also quite critical of me, as well as of others they loved and otherwise thought well of. Unconditional love means just that—no criticism, no conditions on the love. It also to me means looking at others as well as at myself without a disapproving attitude.

My dear mother had most probably inherited her critical outlook on life from her highly critical mother who made frequent remarks concerning how she well as others looked. In her eyes one’s stomach was not supposed to be anything but flat as a pancake, one’s waist slender, etc. I at one time wondered why, when she was quite thin my mother wore a girdle. Then I learned it was because she believed bulges were not to be tolerated. She used to try with little success to get me to wear one. They were so uncomfortable, I wouldn’t. Eventually she too stopped wearing one.

My father too had his viewpoint. Once I acquired them my eyeglasses became an issue for him, especially when I was dressed up. I can hear him now as he aimed his camera, saying, “Take off your glasses and look pretty.” Thus whenever I was in my party clothes the glasses I wore from the third grade on became an issue for me, making me think I ought to take them off in order to look properly attractive. He was also particular about my hair, which was supposed to look smooth and symmetrical–properly arranged in a tidy manner.

My grandmother had very strong ideas about what it was to act like or to be a “lady.” When I was twelve, inspired by my first experience of being paid for it, I decided to earn money giving the puppet shows I wrote and performed for birthday parties. My grandmother quickly put an end to this. She told me sternly that ladies didn’t work. Then she gave me a twenty-dollar bill and said, “Now you don’t have to earn money.” She had grown up in a household where as she informed me, if a log rolled off the fire she rang for a maid to come in and put it back. While she did volunteer work, she had never earned money.

The critical eye that I inherited from my family persisted for a long time. It took me years to be aware of it. Then I had to learn to stop the little voice in my head that called attention to whatever deviation from the “norm” of beauty I perceived. To begin with I applied this to my view of others. Gradually I learned to do this for myself as well. The eyes of unconditional love do not see critically but with an understanding that for good reasons, we are all perfect just the way we are. These days the eyes I see through are my own, and I look out upon the world with love. As well, when I look in the mirror now, I smile.

Tasha Halpert

Practicing Unconditional Love

 

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          Holy week celebrates the life story of Jesus, specifically its culmination. His life is a very special example of unconditional love. Whatever you may or may not believe concerning His life, you cannot argue the fact that here is someone for whom love was the supreme guiding light. In his life and in his words there are numerous examples of unconditional love: that love which is given without expectations or parameters. While Christians are supposed to practice this kind of love, they may or may not focus on it to the extent He did. Unfortunately, it is often not easy to do. It begins in families.

          We learn about love in childhood. If the love we are given does not feel to us like love, we grow disappointed and eventually believe we are not loved. To a child’s mind, if we are not loved it must mean we are unlovable. With the help of a therapist I learned to see my parents love as authentic, thus I was able to begin to love myself. The more I can love myself, the easier it is for me to be grateful for and accepting of the love of others.

          My parents did the best they could. They were two very different, very volatile individuals. Their attitude toward one another was so fierce and their fights and disagreements so frequent that even though now I know I was loved, I could not feel it then. In addition they had high standards for me, their oldest child, and were quite strict in what they expected of me. Too often they stressed my inadequacies rather than my successes. This attitude, with which they both had been raised, did little for my self esteem.

          As a result of learning to love myself, I started to practice unconditional love. I began with people I didn’t know well, went on to friends, and finally to family. It is most difficult to practice unconditional love with dear ones because I have expectations of them. Expectations and unconditional love do not mix. Still as I learn to love more deeply I can allow myself imperfection. After all if I do not spot my errors, how can I correct them. If I love myself enough, I can smile at my errors and congratulate myself on my efforts rather than criticize.

          Awareness is important; it is easy to justify criticism of others by thinking of them as in need of correction. However, when I encounter what seems to need correcting, I can ask myself if the fault I perceive in another is a reflection of something in my own being that needs work. If not, it may be that what I am uncomfortable with in the other person stems from a wound of which I am not aware. Then perhaps I need to relinquish judgment and practice compassion. The practice of unconditional love is ongoing. As I work at it I find that as well as deepening my love of others I am deepening my love of myself. In this way I find more and more harmony in the beautiful song of life.

Tasha Halpert

Love Begins With Me

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.

Tasha and Sunflower, best

Photo by Marcia Ruth Text by Tasha Halpert