Living from the Inside Out: How to Get to the Heart of Everything That Matters
By Jean-Marie Hamel, Ph.D.
Love is like the eye of a storm. Gales of confusion, loneliness, or heated emotions can be raging in all directions, yet at the center it is possible to find the transformative energy of love. We may not notice it at first, since love cares little for lustful yearnings and other pulls we are accustomed to. Or we might be looking outside instead of inside for its gifts of acceptance and fulfillment. But no matter what is going on around us or how conditioned we may be to mistaken notions of love, its energy gently swirls within all of us.
Often, this energy becomes more pronounced and makes surprise visits. Have you ever been knee-deep in upheaval and then suddenly stilled by the beauty of a rose or warmed by the tenderness of a kitten or awed by the innocence of a baby? In a moment of loneliness did you ever open an old family photograph album and feel your loving nature mirrored back to you? If so, love as the eye of a storm is no stranger to you.
Any time love makes an unexpected appearance, it can awaken us to our essence. Troubadors of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries knew about the transformative power of love. Strolling the streets of France and northern Italy, they sang praises to romance, encouraging sweethearts to feel the fullness of love in their hearts so they might experience their spiritual connection to God.
The inexorable call to love can also emerge in the least likely settings. A client once told me an unforgettable story about a woman named Angela, a soup kitchen volunteer in Colorado. One snowy January morning Angela took her six-year-old son to a neighborhood donut shop for breakfast. As they stood in line to place their order, a horrific stench filled the air and her son exclaimed, "Pee-u!" Standing beside them were two men shabbily dressed in lightweight clothing and torn tennis shoes. One man was tall with hunched shoulders; the other, about a foot shorter, had a dazed look in his eyes. Both were shivering from the cold.
Angela guessed they were homeless and watched as the tall man, clutching a few coins in his hand, set them on the counter. "Miss, will this buy us two cups of coffee?" he asked the counter attendant. She nodded and filled two large mugs for them. In Angela's mind, the men were taking shelter from the storm outside but feeling obligated to buy something, and coffee was all they could afford.
When it came to be her turn, she stepped up to the counter and ordered an apple-filled donut and cappuccino for herself and a maple-glazed donut with sprinkles, a donut hole, and a hot chocolate with whipped cream for her son. Then she asked for an additional bag to be packed with a double assortment of donuts-crème puffs, cinnamon buns, cherry filled, French twists, and glazed with chocolate chips. By the time her order was ready, the men were seated at a table, so she set the second sack of donuts in front of them. The tall man looked up and in a sweet voice said, "God bless you, lady," while his partner grinned from ear to ear. As Angela made her way to another table with her son, tears were streaming down her cheeks. She later told a friend, "I thought I was jumping on a chance to help others, but the truth is I was blessed, because I suddenly knew what it felt like to love and be loved with no strings attached."
In that moment, loving became a two-way street. The two men were grateful for the kindness of a stranger and Angela was grateful for the opportunity to teach her son the value of unconditional loving.
Learning To Love
An eye-of-the-storm experience does not have to take us by surprise. We can create our own encounter by consciously deciding to love. Too often, however, we are held back by cultural beliefs or family codes of conduct. For instance, you may have grown up believing that it is honorable to suffer or inappropriate to express feelings. Or you may have been taught to value saintliness and simplicity, or perhaps material wealth and possessions.
Although it is natural to guide our lives by such principles and consider them universal truths, they are actually opinions we have adopted early in life to win affection and approval. As Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung said, "The more intensively the family has stamped its character upon the child, the more it will tend to feel and see its earlier miniature world again in the bigger world of adult life." If you find yourself confined by past conditioning, bound by old beliefs, restricted by distant feelings, and limited by impaired behavior, you may be adhering to those imprints and missing out on the transformative power of love. It's time to ask yourself, "Do my beliefs and behaviors still work for me? Are they producing the results I want? If I keep investing in them, what will my future look like? Which ones am I willing to let go of in order to love?" It is never too late to release the cultural beliefs and family codes that no longer work for you and to replace them with principles that will work.
Just as we can learn to cook, paint, drive a vehicle, perform surgery, speak a foreign language, or fly an airplane, we can learn to love. All it takes is willingness.