By Jimmy Warden
There is a very large misunderstanding about what the word “love” means. According to Webster’s Dictionary, there are a few definitions of love. For one, there is love in a motherly or fatherly way when there is “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person”. There is also the definition of “loving a person in a romantic way”. Lastly, there is “an attraction that includes a sexual desire; a strong attraction felt by people who have a romantic relationship”. I don’t necessarily disagree with these ideas completely, but I disagree with the notion that they cover all of the aspects of love because they don’t cover the idea that love is truly unconditional.
If I had to give my own personal definition of love, I would say that it is “an unconditional positive regard towards self and others”. The word I want to zoom in on is unconditional. The reason why I say this is because I’ve learned over the years that we all tend to put conditions on our love. I have learned this through podcasts such as The Aubrey Marcus Podcast and books such as The Four Agreements and The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz, Mastery of Self by Don Miguel Ruiz Junior, and Unlearn by Humble the Poet.
What I mean by conditions is, “I love you when you do ___ for me”. This is not something that we consciously say, but we tend to subconsciously or consciously think it. We don’t always feel love for someone when they are not doing what we verbally asked them to do, or when their actions do not match the mental imagery we had envisioned them doing. Through this, we create a scorecard of positives and negatives when people do things we approve of and when they do things we don’t approve of.
For example, have you ever gotten annoyed because your significant other, your child, or someone else you “love” didn’t take out the trash when you asked them to, and as a reaction you got mad at them externally or internally? That’s an example of putting a condition on love. They didn’t do ‘x’ (take out the trash), so they didn’t receive ‘y’ (love). If you get upset at the fact they didn’t take out the trash, you’re needing that action to occur in order for you to show them love, as if they need to earn it. Essentially, a cause and effect type of love. Another example could be that your significant other didn’t get you a present on your birthday, and as a result you got upset. This shows that you need that present in order for you to feel loved by your significant other on your birthday. This is another condition you’re creating with the relationship between you and that significant other. A third example could be wanting to try something new, or do something you personally love, so you ask your loved one to join you, but then you have another emotional reaction when they decline. You’re placing your love on the condition that they join you.
At this point, you could be thinking one of two things. One, Jimmy you’re out of your mind. Two, Jimmy you’re right! What can I do to change this? If you resonated with thought number two, keep reading.
The true way to love is to remove any conditions on giving or receiving love. At its core, unconditional love is the ability to appreciate something as is, or love without an expectation of reciprocity. These actions constitute as unconditional love because nothing needs to be earned; there is no need to keep score. Appreciating something or someone as is, and loving without expectation of reciprocity are the ways people can show unconditional positive regard. The actions are taken for the sheer sake of showing love to someone else. You are loving others as they are, and you are loving yourself as you are.
This is a lot easier said than done. The idea is simple, but that does not make it easy. There are many reasons why unconditional love is so challenging, but it all starts with the self.
The first way that unconditional love starts with the self is that we often compare ourselves to different people, that work different jobs, in different parts of the world, with a completely different set of circumstances. The only person that we should compare ourselves to is ourself, but far too often we are such a harsh judge, and do not feel like our contributions are enough. We think that the efforts we make, no matter how large or small, are not helping us become the person we want to become. We are not happy with our body, our job, our relationships, etcetera. We just generally feel inadequate. Marcus talks extensively about this on his podcast. This is what Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Miguel Ruiz Junior refer to as “The Parasite” that is within our minds. The Parasite is responsible for all of our emotional wounds that we give ourselves for no real reason other than we give The Parasite permission to invade our mind. These narratives from The Parasite are another large reason love starts with the self.
The stories our minds create convince us we are not worthy of love. If we do not reach a certain standard, we are not good; if we do not live up to a certain expectation, we don’t deserve love. These are the conditions we put on our self-love. When we don’t reach certain goals we feel we’re inadequate, but that is not always the case. That’s just what our narrative says. We could have just won an achievement award, but we are still telling ourselves that we are no good. Almost as if we were an imposter. We are feeling like we’re not allowed to be proud of ourselves because The Parasite is at the helm of our conscious thinking. Allowing The Parasite to control our minds keeps us hungry for self-acceptance.
A third reason that unconditional love of yourself is challenging is our need to fulfill a certain personal or societal expectation. We never want to be “out of the group” in any way, so we will do whatever it takes to remain a member, even if that means we hide some of the parts we love most about ourselves from those group members. If we’re a man and we love to write poetry, maybe we keep that a secret because others in our friend group think that it’s feminine to write poetry, or that only women write poetry. If we’re a woman, maybe we keep it a secret that we love to box, but we would be seen as a woman with anger issues because only aggressive men box. Perhaps, we’re struggling with gender identity and we’re nervous to come forth with that to anyone because we think that the people in our circle, or society at large, will not accept us. Whatever it may be, there are ways to improve how to show ourselves love.
Some ways that we can begin to make progress towards unconditional self-love include: stopping the comparisons between ourselves and others, managing the conversation in our mind about our life story, and evaluating the expectations we’re holding about ourselves and the expectations we believe society holds of us.
We should not compare ourselves to others because we are not other people and they are not us. We live completely different lives with different lifestyles, values, and ambitions, and that’s okay. There is no need to compare an apple to an orange. It’s also okay when we come up short of our ambitions as long as we know we did everything in our power to try to fulfill them with the knowledge we had at the time. The kicker here being “the knowledge we had at the time” because hindsight is always 20/20. This is the narrative that we need to accept, so that we can be less of a harsh judge. We also need to take pride in being our authentic self to the world, even if that means we exile ourselves from people we thought we were close to. If they cannot accept our whole self, chances are they shouldn’t be in our circle. If we can remove these conditions on our self-love, that will open the door for us to be able to love others unconditionally.
Unconditional love can also serve as a challenge in all types of relationships. We generally love the people we spend the most time with, such as intimate partners, family members, and close friends, otherwise we wouldn’t spend so much time with them. However, something we don’t always take into account is if the love is true or not. We often think that because someone we have a relationship with is fulfilling a need we have, it can be quantified as love. This is the wrong definition because that type of love is conditional. There is the condition that the other person in the relationship fulfills that certain need, so when they don’t, we get upset.
This dynamic is challenging because we have expectations of what others should do, but the only person that we are truly responsible for is ourself. Not only that, but the scorecard forever looms over relationships that are solely based on reciprocity. This often turns into a game of attempted “one upping” the other; a tango of power dynamics where the person who did the most recent thing for the other is the one that’s leading the scoreboard. This creates an underlying pressure to continue to meet a certain standard that is being created by someone else, and no matter how hard we try, the judge (who in this case is person we have the relationship with) may not be satisfied. A relationship with another person is tricky for that, and many other reasons, but if we cannot do our best to fulfill our part in the two-way relationship, forget about it.
When we try to practice unconditional love in a relationship, the first thing to keep in mind is that we are only in control of ourselves. We are not responsible for the actions or words of someone else; we are only responsible for how we interpret their words and actions. The same could be said for our actions and words; we are only responsible for what we say and do, not how others react to what we say and do. Not only that, but what other people say or do is never personal; they are decisions made within themselves to meet their needs. Even if their intent was to harm us with what they say or do, that is them trying to meet their needs, and we have a choice about how to react to that. We can choose to take it personally, or we can choose to love them regardless, knowing the outburst was a way to meet their own needs or show that they’ve been hurt. This is a matter of changing our lens, changing our perspective, and seeing through the eyes of capital ‘L’ Love, which is unconditional love, rather than The Judge.
By seeing people through the eyes of capital ‘L’ Love, we see everyone as a person who we should love, no matter who they are. Seeing people through the eyes of Love will allow us to burn that mental scoreboard we’ve had in our parasitic minds for so long, and instead just love people for the sake of love. With this mindset, we’ll love others because we genuinely want to. In the words of Humble the Poet, we need to unlearn conditional love in order to learn unconditional love. Instead of getting angry at someone who insults us or gets angry at us, we should love them anyway by acknowledging they’re merely meeting a need and acting out to meet that need. That is not their true, loving self; it is their “angry” self or “sad” self. We are all put on this Earth to love. Whether or not people do that is a different story because we often have societal pressures, which lead to personal pressures, to see the world through eyes different than Love.
In order to stay out of this mindset, we have to mentally remove ourselves from the noise of the world. We have to mentally remove ourselves from what people say we should do if it is something we don’t truly believe in because then we’re fulfilling a role in their Dream, to borrow another word from the Toltec Masters, Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Miguel Ruiz Junior. The Toltecs teach that each day we are here on Earth is really just a dream. There is the Individual Dream and the Collective Dream.
The Individual Dream is the dream that each person on Earth has. Essentially, their life is their dream, with all of its intricate nuances, based on their thoughts and actions about their life. Then, there is the Collective Dream. This is what we’ve been taught about how society should be. We believe society should be a specific way, with specific rules or expectations, roles to fulfill, and that we should all play the part that others believe we should play.
To bring this back to how this ties into relationships, let’s think back to some of the topics that have previously been discussed. For example, those expectations that we have about how others should act in our relationship come from the Collective Dream and our Individual Dream. We’ve been taught from a young age about how relationships should work by the Collective Dream, quite often this involves reciprocity, so when that is not met, our Individual Dream is misaligned with what we think it should be. This is why we construct those narratives that have been previously mentioned. This is also why relationships can self-destruct. I say self-destruct because we’re ultimately responsible for how we interpret what others do and say, regardless of what that is.
The same could be said for our Individual Dream. From a young age, we are taught right from wrong by adults without much of a say of what constitutes right and wrong. As a result, our Individual Dream shifts from being a playful, loving young person to being a more civilized, proper individual who is less likely to take play or take risks because that would not be the “right thing” to do based on what we’ve been taught.
In order for us to get to a place where we’re loving unconditionally, it’s going to take time, patience, practice, and of course, love. Unconditional love is not something that we can merely turn on or off because of how habitual our conditional love is. This is why it’s going to take time. It’s going to take time to see ourselves through the eyes of Love; it’s going to take time for us to see people through the eyes of Love; it’s going to take time for us to undo those habits that we’ve learned. This is also where patience will come into play. Without patience, we won’t have the resilience to continue our practice. Instead, we’d just get frustrated and go back to putting conditions on our love because that’s what we’re used to. Without practice, there is no capital ‘L’ Love. It is a way of being that we need to be deliberate about by being aware of the narrative that is forming in our mind each time The Parasite or Judge comes out to play. Instead of believing that old narrative, we must be mindful that is is merely a thought, let it go, and prove with our actions and words that we are loving unconditionally. Lastly, it is going to take Love. Capital ‘L’, Love. When we make mistakes, Love ourselves anyway. When we’re not satisfied with who we are, accept and Love ourselves anyway. When others make mistakes, Love them anyway. When others are experiencing challenges, Love them anyway. When others do us wrong, Love them anyway.
You never know what could come of it.