Offer love. Receive love. Acknowledge love. Above all, learn how to get better at love. Love is worth cultivating.
I read once that love is an art form. And that proper training is needed in order to love properly. Both ideas resonated deeply with me because as I look around, I see that as a society, we have lost sight on how to love right. Dating and domestic violence rates are at an all time high. Arguments, drama and nasty between lovers, friends and family are rampant. Everywhere. In all neighborhoods. And tax brackets. Seems like the drama is not just in reality television shows or behind other people's doors, it is in our very own living rooms. (Perhaps that is why Americans are so obsessed with reality shows? Maybe we all just need a hug and some therapy?)
I get it that many times choosing to love and to receive love are things that are easier said than done. That good love only happens in soap operas or fairy tales. How does one accept the right kind of love if one is accustomed to being loved the wrong way? I am reminded of the story told to me recently by a friend who witnessed a mother slapping her crying toddler. When the mom saw her baby's tears, she quickly rubbed the tears away and kissed the baby girl's cheeks and told her she loved her. What kind of message was this baby getting about love? What kind of message was this mother sending? That love hurts, that those who love us hurt us? That love is both pleasure and pain-- ya think?
For many of us, when we look inside ourselves, we don't really believe that we are lovable. We've come to belief the false notion that we don't really deserve to be loved right? That perhaps we really don't have the capacity to love. The root of these distorted notions may have been set during those early years. And while it's really worth digging, it's also helpful to start shifting that perspective. Like now...
For as long as I can remember, I've been seduced by love--familial love, platonic love, romantic love, passionate love-- love of all sorts. I love love songs, love poems, love letters. Books on love. Thing is, I want to love and be loved right. And I know that I am not alone. As a society, we spend much of our time looking for love, offering our love, receiving love, trying to understand love, and learning how to love ourselves. We are eager about love as a subject, this I know. But sadly, we spend very little time learning how to love. Dr Tim Brieske's beautiful and moving conversation about love gets at the core because it starts with conscious loving of the self. It's a gem worth listening to as are the two books I mentioned earlier, The Art of Love by Erich Fromm and Thich Nhat Hanh's tiny treasure, True Love. But what is right love? Wrong love? What does it mean to love properly?
According to Buddhist tradition love has four main components-- loving kindness, compassion, joy and freedom. But, according to my Latina mother, at the most basic level, love is cooking her five children our favorite dishes. If I distill mom's idea to its essence, cooking for someone you love their favorite meal is indeed the right kind of love. It has all the components of Buddhist tradition even though I doubt my mom even knows what a Buddhist is!
It brings me immense joy to eat the food that mom lovingly prepares for me. She is showing me kindness by offering her time, effort and attention. She is sharing her art form. By thinking about what brings me joy and cooking me that delicious plate of fish in creole sauce on a bed of rice and beans, my mom shows me compassion. These days, her offering has deeper meaning because I am in the right space of heart and mind not just to understand the act, but to receive it. It's fascinating too that each of my siblings, when asked what they want for their birthdays, all choose the same thing: a dish prepared by mami. Even my oldest son is into it. It is a cycle that is perfect and it is filled with loving kindness, compassion, joy, freedom: mom dishes out love, I receive it. In turn, I offer it right back to her. We are both present. And the act connects us, intimately.
I've been able to appreciate not just mom's meals, but all meals that are prepared by those that I love and love me back. Recently, while cooking, I've developed a delightful little habit. Everything get's a sprinkle of love. Call me crazy, but I actually mouth out loud, l o v e, right after sprinkling salt, and before pepper. It is no coincidence that in Latin America there is a popular proverb, el amor entra por el estomago, love enters via the tummy. (Caution: evil does too, which is why many spiritual healers warn against ingesting a stranger's offering-- you are potentially ingesting death. And this is not just a healer's warning, remember the Greek story of Persephone and Hades?)
Love has many beautiful individual expressions. My mom's love is expressed via food? Find how others in your life express their love. Tap into how you express yours. Receive love. Offer love. Acknowledge love. Above all, learn how to get better at love. Love is worth cultivating. Because to love properly, yourself, and others, is a courageous act. And to receive the right kind of love is even more courageous.