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You and I live in a world that does not understand the act of love. Western society places romantic gestures on a fiery pedestal. The act of love is equivalent, in the average person’s mind, with the act of passion. Love is giving you flowers. Love is telling you that you are beautiful. Love is climbing up a seventeen-floor fire escape to your window and professing my undying affection for you. Love is my inability to think of anything else except you. Love is poetry, sex, and favors. Love is something we must make time for three times a week.
To know the truth about love is to know that love is, simultaneously, all of those things and none of those things. Of course, such acts feel nice, but for most people they are only enthralled because these acts are triggers. Book after book on relationships teaches us to learn to trigger one another better. Supposedly, of we can recognize those triggers in one another and fulfill them, there’s a lifetime of love waiting. Such acts may trigger our love awareness, but they are not – and can never be – representations of love itself. In our eternal reality, those firework acts are nothing. They explode as fast as they fizzle.
In this way, our lives have become an interrelated web of transactions. I give you this just so you give me that. I’ll buy you flowers if it means you’ll wash my car. I’ll tell you that you’re inspiring and strong if you tell me I’m beautiful. I’ll spend time with you if you whisper me sweet nothings. I’ll forgive you if you forgive me. I’ll be nice if you’ll be nice. I’ll commit if you’ll commit. As long as these transactions are balanced, our relationships with others run smoothly. As long as our kind and loving actions are met with applause, we’ll keep doing them. However, the moment that our kind words meet anger or our acts of service receive ingratitude, we grow indignant, cold, and distant. Most people are only willing to give as much as they can get back. To do anything else brings forth pictures of selfless martyrdom that is reserved for those special people over there; those people who have nothing to do with me. I am a regular person and I just want to get what I deserve, to receive what I give, to be loved like I love.
Such a transactional view of our relationships keeps us chained into constantly fluctuating cycles of self-love and self-loathing, romance and resentment, loving and losing. We continue to find ourselves empty-handed. When our triggers lose their power, we are broken-hearted and bare. We feel like we are starting over, beginning once again the race to find the most dependable trigger and to become such a trigger. This life of enslavement keeps us hungry and empty, isolated and helpless.
Out of these cycles stems the pervasive victim mentality of our age. Yes, I had those dreams so long ago, but because of this and this thing that you did, I had to give up. Of course, I have tried to be forgiving and compassionate to him, but he is cold, demeaning, and doesn’t listen, so I can’t be nice anymore. When I first heard about changing my thoughts and taking responsibility for my life, I gave it my all, I really did, but my family didn’t approve. I had to stop, you see, because they didn’t love me the new way that I tried to be. It’s not my fault. It’s their fault for not supporting my journey to find my authentic self. I’m still dying, but it is them, not me, who are killing me.
In this part of the journey, what you’ll desperately want to do is to move into the mountains somewhere. Perhaps, you’ll think, I can join some temple, monastery, or village of people who are all committed to love, peace, and healing. This is a cold, harsh world and the people in it are keeping me from being the loving, giving soul that I know I am. This is, perhaps, the greatest challenge of our time – to love in the absence of any immediate rewards for our love.
While the movies would have you think otherwise, the act of love is rarely surrounded by swelling music and fireworks. It does not come with pretty bows or in the midst of well-choreographed proposals. Often, it is not even noticed. If it is, it’s often dismissed, ridiculed, or otherwise misunderstood. The act of love is often overlooked in the name of searching for more dazzling, important things. It is not until many years later, and sometimes never at all, that we look back on those acts that we so casually ignored and see them for what they really were. Sometimes we’re the recipients and sometimes we aren’t. We see kindness and it may elude our awareness in the moment, but when we awaken, we’ll remember.
In my bandages and armor, I was a black hole for all love and compassion. In fact, I disdained it. Perhaps you know someone like this. Perhaps you are someone like this. The kind act seems to have within it a hidden agenda. The compassionate word and the loving deed strike a chord of irritation and entrapment. They lead to thoughts like – are you just doing this so I’ll do it back for you? I don’t have the time, effort, or will to do the same for you. Are you manipulating me with all your generosity, all your kindness? What is the cost of this? What will I have to give in return for what you’ve given me?
And thus, the love hungry person will disdain the loving action. He’ll see it as an act of control. And, often, it is one. The person who gives and gives to others without taking any time or effort for herself can easily be called manipulative. Of course, she does not do this purposefully, but behind her actions lies a core principle: giving equals getting. She wants to receive so she keeps giving and giving hoping that, one day, she’ll get something back. When she doesn’t, she feels like a victim. Then, he who doesn’t give to the victim feels pigeonholed and trapped. Like this, the “loving act” is warped by both the giver and the receiver.
We have been taught, by such occurrences, to mistrust kindness. Even when we give kindness, it is often with the intention of receiving something in return. Knowing this about ourselves makes us question it in others. We project our own self-service onto all others. And thus, the act of love is completely overlooked and lumped in with all self-serving acts. To extend compassion to a so-called villain, to forgive those who have wronged you, and to find common ground with someone who has been awfully isolated are not acts typically met with fireworks and swelling violins. More often than not, they are pushed away. To love, really love, is to do them anyway.
To allow oneself to be pushed away by the mistrustful recipient of kindness is to fulfill the recipient’s prophecy. If your loving acts, receiving no reward, suddenly turn to self-victimization, then they were not loving acts in the first place. They were, just like the wary recipient thought, only self-serving acts. If we allow ourselves to wane in our love awareness due to a lack of external approval, then we cannot really say that we have love awareness. Love is always present and receiving it is always in our own hands, not in the hands of a circumstance or a response. Only love that continues to flow in the face of anger, blame, and indifference can be called love. All else is simply a transaction. All else is temporary, fleeting, and bound to end.
Once you understand love, you don’t need a reward your kindness or compassion just like you don’t need a reward for breathing. You breathe to live. You love to live. No one must congratulate you on breathing or approve of it. You simply know, in your heart, body, and soul, that it is the right thing to do and no one can ever convince you otherwise.
In this state, something funny happens. When you stop caring about what you get back from what you give, you create ripples of love all throughout every room you enter, every person you speak to, every place you go. For this, you rarely get any credit. You spend some time with a person and, a few days later, her anger wanes and she finds a new thirst for life. She does not know, necessarily, that this is because you gave her compassion. With the love mindset, you spread joy simply by existing. And perhaps, years later, those people who received your loving without reciprocating might just understand the value of what you’ve given them. Though your acts of love and compassion cannot penetrate bandages or armor, they are never wasted and never lost. They sit within the recipient’s mind, awaiting his awakening. If or when he does awaken to love, he’ll remember you. He’ll remember what you’ve said and done. The reward, then, will come, perhaps years later and perhaps within another lifetime. By this time, however, you will not care about any external reward. To spread the ripples of love is reward within itself.
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|Vironika Tugaleva is an author, speaker, people lover, reformed cynic, and a different kind of spiritual teacher. She helps people heal their minds and discover their inner strength. You’re invited to read more about Vironika and her inspiring book The Love Mindset.|