There was a time in my life when I was pretty certain that I was so entirely broken, in some fashion or another, that any contribution I could possibly make in my relationships would be a material one – or sex. That was the limit of what I thought I had to offer the world, or a partner; if I couldn’t buy it, or provide the manual labor, or do the sex thing, what else was there, really? Well, art. There was art. I am hopeful that I don’t have to point out what an incredibly limiting – and self-fulfilling – perspective that was.

Be love.

Be love.

I say “be love” as though what I mean is obvious. Perhaps it isn’t, and maybe a gentle morning over a good coffee is a nice time to clarify? It isn’t as if “be love” is something I came up with – because, if  it were…first, what a tragic state for the world to discover love so late, and second… well, damn, what about all those love songs? So, yeah, not my original thoughts, and surely there are other people who have written more better words with greater clarity on the subject of love, generally. So…if you’re after more better words with great clarity about love, I suggest Thich Nhat Hanh, Leo Buscaglia, or, if you’re ‘not there yet’ any of a number of books on loving the person in the mirror, which does have to come first, as it turns out, to love another with any real skill…have you checked out my reading list? 😉

The love thing is a big deal. It drives a lot of marketing, and therefore a great deal of profit-making goes on associated with love (I’m looking your way Valentine’s Day!). It’s clearly something human primates favor. Are you ‘getting your share’? Are you still thinking of it in those terms? I spent a lot of years stuck on the idea that if love were ‘real’ – and I wasn’t convinced it might be until well past 30, and couldn’t seem to figure out ‘how to have it’ until I was well past 40 – if love were real at all, why wasn’t I ‘getting my share’?? Ouch. Well, in fairness, there’s so much media pressure on us all regarding love we easily succumb to the visions of love we see in advertising, on television and in movies – how can what we see at home compete or compare? We are each so human – and no one is providing us handy re-writes of our script; our best moments are at risk of going unnoticed because we are so busy looking for something very different. How suck is that? You see where this is headed, right?

Mindful love. Yep. I couldn’t fathom it for a while. Mindfulness… check. Meditation… check. Awareness… check. Present in the moment… check. Treating myself well… check. Each concept falling into place, building on each other, and more than once I returned to my therapists office with this question “how does mindful love work?” It sounds like a simple enough question, and I couldn’t quite answer it in words – however many books I read. I didn’t understand that it wasn’t the part about mindfulness that I wasn’t fully grasping… it was love. 🙂

Now we’re getting somewhere! Is this the hot sexy part? With the tips for pleasing a lover? W00t!! Go sex!!

Oh… wait… nope. Sex is sex. Love is…

Love.

Love.

By moving into my own place, while also maintaining a romantic loving relationship with my traveling partner, I did something wonderful for me; I opened my eyes to some experiences about love that I hadn’t been able to understand so simply before. Some of the lessons have been complicated. Some of them have been so simple that they tripped me up while I sought to understand them as something more complicated than they were. Love matters so much that I figured I’d share some of the things I am learning – I expect that as with really first-rate self-care, learning to love well is likely a lifetime of practice, and similarly many of the practices themselves are so simple they mislead one into thinking they are also effortless – nope, in loving too there are verbs involved. Here come some verbs now…

Invest the best in your relationships that you have to offer. This is so simple and fundamental on the surface, but it is a rich deep practice that has kept me on my toes for months now, and until this past weekend, I didn’t have simple words to describe what I might mean by it. So here it is – invest the best in love. Kindness, a welcoming approach, listening deeply, and ensuring that the assumptions in my day-to-day thinking regarding my loving relationships are positive ones have nothing at all to do with money, with sex, or with material goods – without these things, though, no amount of money will buy me love.

An easy example, and common, if I am short-tempered with a loved one in a brief moment, surely it can be understood as part of being human, and an appropriate apology and making it right allows everyone to move on. If, however, my short-temperedness is a character trait that is recognizably ‘who I am’ it will likely undermine love over time. Other things work that way too; sarcasm, mockery, meanness, and cruelty have no role to play in love – defending their use by saying “it’s just who I am”, or by calling it a joke, may not be enough to stop love’s erosion over time, particularly if the user of such behaviors is unaware of the hurtful effect. (If the user is entirely aware of the hurtful effect of such things, and uses them for amusement or in anger without regard to the hurt they cause – that’s not love.)

This weekend, I mused with regret at some point that I don’t have money laying about in capital amounts with which to support my traveling partners endeavors – how wonderful it would be to be able to invest heavily in a solid business proposal, see it get off the ground, and watch his success and independence grow! I felt, ever so briefly, that I ‘don’t have enough to offer’. In material terms, that may be true (it also may not be true; ‘enough’ is a slippery concept). I realized as we talked through that particular conversation that what love asks of me has nothing whatever to do with money, and it’s never been money that was the strength of this relationship; emotions don’t work that way. Love is an emotion. Suddenly, I felt unsteady in my understanding of the world – I awoke to the vast riches I have to offer my relationships (and they are vast indeed).

If love isn’t looking for a cash investment, what is it looking for that I do have plentifully? How about – are you ready for this, because we’re all a lot wealthier than we realize, if we choose to be so – kindness. Yep. Day-to-day kindness and gentle words. Patience. Deep listening – really put myself on pause to hear what my partner is saying without ‘waiting for my turn to talk’. Hearing – really hearing my partner, the words, the intent, the meaning, the emotion – really ‘getting it’, because they matter, and it doesn’t cost a thing besides my good intentions, and a verb or two. Isn’t the basic willingness to do these things sort of implied when I say “I love you”? Making room in my experience to share the journey with another – graciously, generously, merrily – and making the good moments of greater value by savoring them, sharing them, exploring them, and giving them more of my precious mortal time, than I spend ruminating over some momentary misunderstanding, or hurt feelings over thoughtless words. How about vulnerability, too? Sharing life from the perspective that we are each very human, and being open to sharing our selves and experience in a raw and honest way – still being kind, still speaking gently, still listening deeply… it sounds easy. It’s worth practicing. It takes practice – invested, willful, engaged practice. And more of that, again and again.

Yelling, irritability, contentious disagreeable conversation, argument, fussing, insults, anger – not a bit of this is love. The love is in the quiet spaces in between, and in the laughter – and if we don’t invest the best we have to offer in the love we wish to enjoy, the love will slowly be squeezed out by thoughtlessness, negativity, anger, attachment to expectations, and disappointment when our assumption that love ‘should’ overlook our nastiness and bullshit doesn’t turn out to be true. Love isn’t a tantrum; it’s the long-term investment in what is best within ourselves.

Before we go too far, I want to be clear about one small detail – I don’t know of any way to actually ‘fake love’. This isn’t a ‘fake it until you make it’ sort of area of life, and a saccharine smile and a terse insincere “I’m fine” when that is clearly not the case isn’t love, either; it’s a lie. It is possible to speak honestly and sincerely – and also gently. (Listening helps with that.) Seriously. It is. Try it out sometime. It’s quite a lovely experience, I find. Yep. It does take practice. 🙂

Love is in the small things - strange for such a big deal.

Love is in the small things – strange for such a big deal.

Today is a good day to be love. Today is a good day to invest the best of what I have to offer in the relationships that matter most to me. Today is a good day to practice loving well. I’ll start with the woman in the mirror. Love can change the world.