Love is a universal force more powerful than any of us can fully comprehend. Love is light. Love is energy. It’s the natural state of being. But for us to understand love we need to accept its inherent paradox. We can’t experience light without darkness. We’re unable to appreciate energy without stillness. And while the expression of love can be complete without the response of gratitude, it’s unfulfilled. Writer and spiritualist Henri Nouwen said, “The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”
Can you think of any instance in your life when love has been anything less than a gift? If we’re required to pay for something, it’s not a gift and it certainly isn’t love.
Real love is given freely with no expectations or strings attached. In its ideal sense it’s unconditional. Perhaps we find it in its purest form in nature: the sun that gives us light and warmth is a pure form of energy—in other words, love—whether we are thankful or indifferent to its power.
Our bodies are composed of chemicals transformed into energy. We are each a source of power. We use our capacity to generate energy in connecting with others. Our highest, purest and most natural form of energy is love. But although we’re all connected by this vital source, there’s a duality to our beings: we each have a darker side that could be described as a lack of love or an emptiness. We hold within us the same paradox that we can observe throughout the universe: that of light and darkness.
Though we are created equal, not all of us have received the same gift of love. Those of us who haven’t experienced affection, support and love—perhaps since our infancy—find love extremely difficult to recognize and even harder to accept from another human being. So how do we move beyond a state of hopeless isolation to join other caring people? How do we begin to believe that another person can love us and how do we learn to love him or her?
The answer is twofold. We need to take small steps in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Deep inside we’re afraid to be abandoned and yet over and over we unwittingly impel others to leave us because we don’t feel worthy of love. We desperately need to accept love, but to break this toxic cycle we must realize that human beings share a duality of love and fear. In healthy relationships love conquers fear. But if we have never experienced an abundance of love, if our emotional lives are impoverished, or if our hearts have been broken, it takes courage to risk our shaky but predictable solitude to allow ourselves to trust.
While we can reach out for help from caring people, this is only half the answer. The other half entails the day-to-day work of being honest with ourselves about our own shortcomings. Once we accept and forgive our flaws, we can work on becoming authentic, in other words, our real selves. A primary aspect of this transformation is to become trustworthy in order to earn the trust we want to extend.
In practicing compassion for others, we can love and forgive them their flaws just as we recognize our own. We can begin to experience our oneness with them, and then we’ll be able to distinguish real love from manipulation by anyone who wants to take advantage of our weaknesses. We can start to set self-respecting boundaries, and learn that respect is returned by those who care. When we first experience love and respect, it’s worth each pain, every mistake, and all the patience and persistence we endured to arrive at this enlightened state of consciousness, in which light and warmth replace our former experience of emptiness.
Remarkably, we’ll feel more gratitude than we had ever imagined to receive each caring gesture, each smile, and each outstretched hand, because each act of acceptance and intimacy is truly a gift of love that another person chooses to extend to us. In truth, they’re drawn to our loving energy. Our gratitude is our acceptance of one’s love. It’s also love’s expression and fulfillment. Like other manifestations of love, gratitude only has meaning when it’s authentic. And just as significant, all love binds us in our dignity and humanity.