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 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

 

Sidney and pony 6

 

          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