Description: A candid look at unconditional love- what it is, how to find it, and how to use it to make your life happier and more peaceful.
A friend of mine was left by his girlfriend recently. He’s in shock and in pain. He’s also studying Buddhist philosophy; and he asked me the following question: Am I supposed to love her even after she did this to me? Isn’t that what this Buddhist stuff is telling me to do? The short answer is yes; but it’s more complicated than that. Because in order to love unconditionally–the thing that is called for here–one needs to undergo a shift in perception, and come to a new understanding about what love is, and what it can be.
Romantic love, the love of steamy novels and Valentine cards, is about having your needs–or at least your desires and fantasies–met by someone else. It is conditional, and suffers, from a Buddhist perspective, from what you would call attachment. I’m seeing this played out right now by my son’s thirteen-year-old friends, as they fall in and out of love with each other, depending on whether one is doing what the other wants at a given moment. They are, after all, merely acting out what surrounds them, in movies, in the news, in their parents lives, in the life of the culture.
It’s easy to love someone when they’re doing what you want them to do. And it’s easy to love someone who is like you, who lives and acts in your comfort zone. But what happens when your partner or your friend or your parent does something that makes you uncomfortable, that you really don’t like? If you’re being honest, I think it would be fair to say that a part of you falls out of love, at least for a while. And in the midst of deep betrayal, all bets are off. Sometimes you find your way back to what feels like love, and sometimes you don’t.
So what kind of love endures these storms of life? I call it radical love. Radical means two things: On the one hand it means “on the fringe” or “extreme”, and it also means “coming from the root” or “fundamental, innate and essential.” Unconditional love is all of these things. I believe it is where we come from; it’s who we are deep down. Our task is to find our way back to it through the turmoil of the culture that dominates our lives today.
Should we allow ourselves to be abused? No. Should we create healthy boundaries and maintain them? Absolutely! This is part of healthy loving. But we can also look for what is fundamental to ourselves and others, in those times when we might abandon love and see only separateness and conflict. In the midst of pain and disillusionment, we can also see what binds us–what we’re all a part of–regardless of what one or another of us might say or do.
This position bears out the other half of the definition: Unconditional love is way out of the norm in our society, obsessed as we are by the differences between us, and believing as we do that we must protect our limited resources from one another.
Believing that we are one is, indeed, a most radical notion. I hope my friend will come to understand that his girlfriend–and her objectionable behavior–are in some way a part of him, just as he is a part of her. How he chooses to act and react helps to define who she will be to him in the future. This is the Buddhist concept of seeing the potential in all things. It isn’t so hard, once you get the hang of it, but boy can it be a bitch to get started…particularly when you’ve just been dealt a mighty blow! But this is the best time, when your heart is cracked wide open.
So unconditional love isn’t about rolling over and giving yourself up. And it isn’t about pretending that everything’s ok. It’s about understanding that we’re all a part of each other. In the push and pull of life, we’re connected at our roots. Knowing this allows us to remain connected even when we’re in pain, and the source of the pain appears to be the one we love, and the one who loves us. It’s not just what we’re supposed to do; it’s what we’re meant do, in order to be happy, and to be whole.