My daughter, Alma, is a tween. She’s high-strung and volatile, temperamental and explosive. She’s calm one moment, screaming the next. The slightest thing can set her off. Sometimes I like her. She’s quirky and funny. But other times I don’t like her much at all. If she was anyone else and not my daughter, I might end the relationship. But she is my daughter and I love her.
It’s come as a bit of a revelation, but I’ve discovered that loving and liking are two different things. Realizing this has changed everything! Relationships are complex and multidimensional, just like human beings. We can relate through the human ego with its likes and dislikes or we can relate through the true Self, which loves unconditionally.
The human ego is judgmental and critical. It looks for differences, faults and weaknesses, seeking to exploit them. As far as I can tell, there is no love to be found in the human ego. Even worse, love makes no sense to the ego. Love isn’t logical. And, when the ego can’t figure something out, it attacks it. Your ego will talk you out of love. It will give you many good reasons why you shouldn’t love someone. If you follow it, you will never find love.
When I respond to Alma from my ego, I am critical and judgmental. I want her to stop being the way she is — to instead be the way I want her to be. If she were more like me, we wouldn’t have any problems. I get angry and point the finger. I might even yell at her. It’s ugly! All my ego does is create more distance and less love.
On the other hand, when I stay present and engaged as my true Self, I might not like the way she’s acting, but I can see through the façade. I respond to her with love. I can see that her actions are fueled by her inner pain. It might look like she’s screaming at me, but what she’s really doing is screaming for love and acceptance. As the author Marianne Williamson has said, “Everything is either love or a call for love.” Your true Self inherently knows this. Your ego rejects it. It’s all in how you look.
In contrast to the judgment that resides in the human ego, love resides in your true Self. Your true Self is love. You were made by love, as love, and for love. To love unconditionally, you must connect with who you are at the deepest levels: a loving creation of the Divine who seeks nothing but love. Unconditional love is what you will feel when you relate to another with the loving presence of your true Self.
I don’t have to tolerate all of Alma’s behaviors. I can say no and set limits. I can be clear about what I find acceptable and unacceptable. There can be consequences to her behaviors and she needs to learn this. When she kept slamming her bedroom door in anger, I told her that if she didn’t stop, I would remove the door. There are other, more productive, ways to express her feelings.
Unconditional love doesn’t mean accepting anything and everything. It doesn’t mean being used and abused, hurt or manipulated. Unconditional love is a two-way street, not a one-way street. Setting boundaries helps define expectations, likes and dislikes. The strongest, most enduring relationships blend the ego with the unconditional love of the true Self.
Love begins with your true Self. It is the source of unconditional love. Find your Self and you find love at the same time. You and love are one and the same. Try this healing exercise. It’s a simple and effective way to connect with the love you are.
Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, following the air as it moves in and out of your body. Allow yourself to become relaxed and present. When you’re ready, say: “I am love.” Notice how right it feels to identify your Self as love. Let this awareness guide your relationships. Repeat daily. Live as love — and love unconditionally.