“In order to be loved by others, we must first love ourselves.”
Or something like that. It’s a common adage. A mantra used in yoga as we nurture our spine and open our hearts. A saying plastered onto Pinterest, with pictures of clouds and balloons in the background encouraging a freer mind and a loving soul.
But what if the opposite is true? What if the unbridled and uncensored gift of simply Loving could actually introduce us to ourselves?
Is it possible that loving others with reckless abandon is the truest form of self-love?
To squander away our love is like denying a plant water and space. Case in point: my parents have a tree in their backyard that used to live in a terra cotta pot outside my grandmother’s window. When she moved out of state, we were gifted the sad little shrub to plant in our brand new home. That was 18 years ago. The tree now towers over my parents’ two-story house, and the roots bulge out from the ground, making waves in the grass.
We were born to feel. To feel love, to feel fear – just to feel. As babies, it’s all we do. And then somewhere along the way, those feeling get obscured by “rational thought”, which we’re supposed to mind and follow and use to navigate our lives. The capacity to feel doesn’t disappear. Not yet. It just starts to fight for the attention it deserves.
A loving heart is, without doubt, overwhelming to carry around. In the market, at the gym, sitting in traffic – it’s always there. Inescapable. And while the force of it sometimes takes us by surprise and bewilderment, we are truly blessed to feel so deeply. We have been given this enormous power to care, this heart that constantly whispers sweet nothings, and it urges us to give love no matter the situation and no matter the consequence. Not at the expense of anything or anyone – not to be loved back, be popular, be beneficiary or even counted. Giving without care of consequence is just giving to give. Simple as that.
Love is love, and whether it is for a friend or pet or significant other makes no difference. And here is the strangely fascinating thing: the more we allow ourselves to love others wholly and fully, the more we love ourselves. We begin to love our capacity to love, and we begin to love the traits in ourselves that our loved ones bring out in us. We become complete because we love.
I give because I have experienced too much loss in my years not to Give. I never feel I told them enough. Estranged friends…lost family…lovers both brief and prolonged…I feel pangs in my chest when I think of missed opportunities, or opportunities I wish I had been just a little bit more clear. And I wonder if they knew just how much they were – are – loved.
I give because if you really truly matter, you make me walk a little taller and smile a whole lot brighter. I give because your presence in my life makes me feel whole. I give because I see myself in you, and you empower me to embrace the nuances I see reflected back at me. Your brightness makes me brighter, your darkness makes me more accepting of my shortcomings. I give because love is like a boomerang – what we put out comes back around, and we are able to accept our own gifts. I give because I can’t control it, and I don’t want to.
There’s this argument that love is not always romantic. But yes – yes, it is. Love is always romantic. Life is one big romance with the world around us; how can that possibly not be all-inclusive? There are so many people who make the mistake of thinking this strong in-love love is reserved for those we date or move in with or marry. And let me tell you, these are the ones who are missing out. Big time. It is always a mystery when people who share a mutual respect and admiration for one another react awkwardly to expressed gratitude or adoration. What, are we now too cool for love? Has love suddenly become out of vogue and outlandish? But as ludicrous and it sounds, not everyone can accept love with love. These people starve themselves of affection: pushing others away, turning on apathy, pulling out snark and cynicism. They need a line of defense because their own self-expression is limited. Because their outward image is in conflict with the soul that is within their body, their true self that is waiting to come alive.
I am head-over-heels in love with way more than a handful of people in my life. I tell them constantly. Because I have to. Because I feel so blessed and so grateful – and moreover, expressing my love is a little reminder that I feel unafraid to explore all the nuances that make me Me. I’ve learned the hard way, as we all do, that some people just don’t know how to hear it. Don’t know how to take the notion that other people give a you-know-what about them. Some people don’t know what to do with gratitude for their existence. But you know what? That is their deal. They’ve got their skeletons to deal with. One day, some day, they will stop and it will hit them and they will get it. It will happen…hopefully. Yet until then, we need to let them know as much as possible, if nothing but for our own sake.
And those beloved people who do get it? Well, those are the people who are giving us the biggest gifts of all. Those are the ones who allow us to anchor our roots and expand our branches to reach way farther than we could ever fathom.
We need to tell the people for whom we are grateful that we are grateful for them. We need to tell the people we love that we love them. We need to give love. Because if we don’t, we will collapse. We will disappear. Either or.