How to give and receive unconditional love

“If you wish for the light, make yourself ready to receive the light.”

~ Rumi

I grew up in an environment where the tension between love and fear was so strong it could split a room in two. My parents loved me very much, but their fear of something bad happening to me was just as great. Naturally, they did everything they could to protect me from the dangers of the world and to make sure I studied hard and made good grades.

I soon learned that if I wanted their affection and goodwill, I should be cautious, restrained, high-achieving, and amenable. For a very long time, I was mostly all of these things; there were times when the house of cards came crumbling down, but I mainly stuck to the script. Honestly, it served me well in a lot of ways: it kept me out of trouble, in the top ten percent of my class, and it opened the door to many opportunities I genuinely desired.

An unintended consequence of this upbringing, however, was that I began to associate love with the performance of these virtues. Essentially, love was contractual — quid pro quo. As I began building relationships outside of the nuclear family, I found I could agree to the terms of this contract for six months or so. At that point, everything I’d been hiding and suppressing would begin trickling up from my subconscious, making me hip to the coming flood. Rather than be exposed and rejected for who I truly was, I’d leave first, and the other party was often left reeling in the wake of such a swift and baffling decision.

At a certain point, it occurred to me that the price of love was too great: I simply had to give up too much of myself in order to be accepted. Eventually, I stopped giving love away, and when it was offered to me, I turned it down more often than not. I fortified my dam and kept my true self from view. Unbeknownst to me, my fear of love began eating me from the inside out, killing my capacity for pleasure and disconnecting me from everything that was truly important.

One warm, sunny day last August, I was sitting in a park watching my daughter play. It had recently been announced that she still wouldn’t be returning to school, and I was trying to wrap my head around the logistics of balancing virtual learning and work and a happy home environment. I decided to give up my musing and allowed myself to be lulled into quietude by the dulcet tones of Alan Watts. Masked children were buzzing around me like happy bees, and I felt my ego melt away to make room for a deeper, broader, wider consciousness to enter. Suddenly, my dam cracked open: the torrent of who I was came rushing forth, and the universe held space for it. I felt held and accepted and loved and in divine union with everything around me.

I now know the meaning of the phrase “watershed moment”: there is a dividing line between what came before that late summer day in the park and what’s come ever since. And I think it happened because I’d spent so long in the desert of love that I no longer knew “Myself”. Really, there was nothing left to protect, and so love was no longer a danger. And every experience since then (some gentle and expansive, others frightening and challenging) has been a lesson in the art of receiving.

When we release our fears around worthiness and acceptance, we’re welcomed by an endless bounty of goodwill that perpetually gives and asks nothing in return. In order to receive unconditional love, we must stop questioning whether or not we or others deserve it. We must know in our bones that it is ours whenever we choose to let it in. It is ours to give and receive when we’re able to say “I’m enough.”

xoxo Jessi

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