This morning, a friend was telling me about how someone she loves treats her. Her stories sounded painful and brutalizing, even abusive. I wondered why she tolerated such apparent disrespect. She was describing someone who obviously doesn’t appreciate the gift of this friend of mine, who is such a love bomb. When I asked her why she didn’t give herself the gift of distancing herself from this person and make space in her life for someone who treated her with more affection, appreciation, and care, she said, “But he loves me.”
I looked her squarely in the eye and said one of the most confronting and painful things I’ve ever said to her. “Sweetheart, THIS is not love. This is abuse. You need to learn to recognize the difference.”
I realized as I said it that this was good advice for myself because I sometimes mistake neglect or abuse for love like my friend does, and so—I suspect—do you.
Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.
What Love Isn’t
A mother can’t handle her colicky baby, so she gives him away when he’s six months old to his grandmother, who loves him with all his heart until the mother takes him back at five years old and proceeds to let her boyfriend beat the shit out of him until he’s nine years old, when the mother bypasses Grandma and drops him at an orphanage door, never to return. When this child confronts his mother as a teenager, she tells him, “But I still love you.”
No. THIS is not love. This is abuse. This is mental illness or addiction, maybe. But this is definitely NOT love.
A father works all the time in the hospital, clocking in endless hours in the emergency room. In his free time, he flies his airplane, talks to strangers on his “ham” radio, and plays with his gadgets. When his little girl begs for some of the limited time he could have given her when he wasn’t at the hospital, he pushes her away, more interested in his airplanes and technology than in showing up for his baby. When she comes down with a cold and seeks him out, wanting comfort from her Daddy, he tells her there are sicker children in the hospital and leaves her crying and neglected. When she begs him to hold her, he refuses, but he says, “I love you, darling.”
THIS is not love either. This is neglect.
A mother scrutinizes her daughter constantly, judging and criticizing every single thing she does. Her daughter can never please her. Her nose is too big and her mother insists she needs a nose job. Her mother tells her that her imaginative ideas are stupid and not aligned with what’s in the Bible. Her singing voice isn’t quite as good as it should be. She needs to practice more. No matter how many straight A report cards she earns, no matter how pretty she tries to look, no matter how many solos she sings in the church choir or how many of the 10 Commandments she fiercely obeys, her mother always finds fault with her. As a high schooler, the girl doesn’t drink, use drugs, or experiment with her sexuality the way her friends do, because her mother has warned her that such things will result in her getting kicked out of the house. Even still, she has to come upstairs after her 11 o’clock curfew (her friends all get to stay out until after midnight) to breathe on her mother in order to prove that she hasn’t been drinking, even though she hasn’t ever had one single drop of alcohol. As the enraged, mistrusted but trustworthy teen turns to go to bed, her mother says, “I love you.”
THIS is not love either. This is control, manipulation, and perfectionism. This is why girls get eating disorders and attempt suicide or become addicts, because obsessive, perfectionistic mothers micromanage every detail of their life and these girls are never good enough in their mother’s eyes.
A man falls in “love” with a woman, insisting that she is the love of his life, showering her with attention and gifts, flattering her 24/7, but he smothers her with the hungry ghost of his neediness. She tries to set boundaries, to protect her sovereignty and avoid the hook he is offering her into the Narcissus/Echo dance. When she triggers his childhood trauma by refusing to accept the hook, he attacks her in a fit of jealousy, demanding that she make him stop feeling the pain he’s feeling. He keeps repeating, “I love you. I love you. Can’t you see I love you?” When she breaks up with him because she’s hurting, but she asks him to stay part of the tribe, to join the family and bring the kids for Thanksgiving and Christmas, to stay her friend, he disappears, instantly transferring all of his attention and love onto another woman he just met. He stops returning the phone calls of the woman he allegedly loved.
LOVE does not do this. He did not love her. He was using “I love you” as a weapon, and love does not use itself as an act of war.
Don’t Confuse Love & Abuse
When our parents treat us abusively and then tack on “I love you,” they confuse our young, influential, easily programmable minds. The subconscious mind learns a messed up program—when someone treats you badly, they love you. The child fails to install the healthy program that says “Move away from abusive behavior.” A child will learn not to touch a hot stove after getting burned, but you will not learn to move away from people that will burn you if your parents installed a toxic program, and you conflate abuse with love. This damaging pattern will play out for your entire life if you don’t delete the program and install a new, healthier understanding of what love is and what love is not. This means facing what can be a painful realization—that some of the people you care about do not actually love you, not because they’re bad people but because they don’t know how to love (usually because they’ve been traumatized themselves).
Children who are abused in this way grow up confused about love, and they tend to repeat the mistakes of their parents, treating people disrespectfully, neglectfully, or even abusively and then covering up the shame they inevitably feel with a harmful Band-Aid of “I love you.” Or they’re vulnerable to others who do this.
The boy whose mother put him in the orphanage grows up, falls for a girl, becomes her lover, and then abandons her with no explanation. “But I love you,” he says, as if to reassure her that it’s not her fault.
The little girl whose Daddy neglected her grows up to expect neglect from men who supposedly love her, so when her lover leaves her without any explanation about why he’s abandoning her, she clings to his words, “But I love you,” not realizing that love doesn’t just walk away without any explanation.
The girl whose mother scrutinized her learns to hate herself, to judge herself, to scrutinize herself mercilessly. So she does the same to the men she loves, adding at the end of her criticism, “I love you.” Because she cannot love her imperfect self, she cannot possibly love anyone else.
And so it goes as we break each others hearts—over and over and over—in the name of “I love you.” We know not what we do. This is not an excuse to shame ourselves or judge someone else. This is an opportunity for compassion, for understanding, for seeing what is love and what is not love with clear-seeing. It is an opportunity to reckon with our relationship to love—and to one another.
It’s no wonder we’re confused about love, given all the romantic comedies, tortured “love” songs, and mixed messages about love we’re given by our culture, our parents, and each other. We have had so few role models of what actual love is.
Please Stop Blaspheming Love
This morning, when I was dancing with my Soul Tribe at my dance church Open Floor in Sausalito, I was dancing with a new dance partner, a man with strong, loving, powerful masculine energy, someone who I felt like I could fully surrender into, who made me feel safe enough to cut loose in his presence. Perhaps it was the safety evoked by this sacred masculine energy that allowed me to let go, but what transpired took me by surprise. Something ripped through my body when I let go like that—a fury that thrust me wildly across the dance floor, flinging arms and legs, rage coursing through me like Jesus turning over the merchant tables in the temples, howling, “Not in my Father’s house!” What moved through me was a mantra—THIS is not love. THIS is not love. THIS is not love. Everything that was not love was coursing through me, boiling and roiling inside of me, then exploding like the Balinese volcano I hiked last year, releasing into the Open Floor, pouring through me like a waterfall of lava and nearly flooding me with the intensity of emotion I experienced in a very embodied way.
Scenes of abuse flashed through my consciousness as I danced, as if I were watching a slide show of trauma.
Immature parenting that messes up innocent children because they’re not vulnerable enough to admit their mistakes or go to therapy—THIS is not love.
Self-absorbed narcissists who use and abuse people who care about them and then throw them the bone of “I love you,” THIS is not love.
Passive-aggressive, manipulative co-dependents who give until they’re depleted, sick, and resentful and rationalize their overfunctioning as “I’m so spiritual and loving”—THIS is not love.
Our polarizing political situation, which casts people on the opposite side of the political divide as “other” and therefore dehumanizes them as “less than”—THIS is not love.
The silencing of women and the demonizing of men during the #MeToo movement—THIS is not love.
President Trump says, “We love Puerto Rico.” But ignoring our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico in the wake of a powerful hurricane that left many in danger because we apparently care more about Texans and Floridians than Puerto Ricans—THIS is not love.
Our government says, “We love our veterans,” but sending innocent young men into traumatizing, brutalizing, dehumanizing wars that turn our brothers and sisters—women, children, and men—into “the enemy” worthy of abusing—THIS is not love.
To call such disrespectful, divisive, neglectful, and abusive behavior “LOVE” is to blaspheme love.
Make no mistake about it, dear ones. LOVE WILL NOT TOLERATE BEING BLASPHEMED ANY LONGER.
What if we just stop saying “I love you” when we really want to say something more honest, like “I feel shame” or “I just made a mistake” or “I’m really angry at you right now but I’m afraid to confront you” or “I love you, but I hate what you just did.” Loving someone doesn’t mean you won’t screw up. The violation of love doesn’t negate the love that might be real. But don’t defile something as sacred as love by saying “I love you” when you’ve done something unloving or when someone else is not demonstrating love to you. Love is a feeling, but love is also a collage of actions. If someone says “I love you” but their actions are not consistent with their declaration, trust the actions more than the words. Words are easy. Actions put skin in the game. When someone who is treating me badly tries to silver line the painful behavior with “I love you,” my response is, “Show me, don’t tell me.” We all have different love languages, but if someone’s love language doesn’t include loving, respectful, considerate, mature behavior, it’s not really love.
The Fire Storm
This morning, I danced through all these flashes of awareness as personal and collective grief and rage moved through me like a daemon fire. My soul sister Shanah danced with me, encouraging my emotions and my release, flapping her butterfly wings as I tornadoed into my rage, tears flooding my eyes until the other dancers got blurry and I collapsed into her arms, weeping and trembling.
Shanah cradled me in her arms while I cried the ugly cry, the kind you can’t control, the kind when your mascara winds up all over your face and there’s no turning off the floodgates. My new dance partner stood nearby, breathing and grounding, holding space for the rage and grief of the fierce Goddess energy that took me over. The daemon fire moved as quickly inside me as the California firestorms that have ripped the hillsides apart lately, burning away all that is not love, purifying and destroying anything in its wake.
When the fire moved through my body and into Mother Earth’s composting embrace, I felt the flames leave me, and on the other side of the fire, I was filled with the peace that passeth all understanding, riding shotgun with a lightness of being and radiant bliss that left me kissing Shanah and pirouetting around the room.
THIS Is LOVE!
So what IS love if THIS is not it? As I looked around the room at the 150 dancers I dance with every Sunday morning, I saw love everywhere. I felt hearts open. I saw strangers comforting one another as intense emotions erupted. I witnessed and felt in my body a room full of people who are at least trying to love each other. Nobody asks, “Who did you vote for?” before this love is offered freely. Nobody in this room blames or shames the women or tells them they should stuff their traumas inside and keep their voices silent if they’ve been brutalized. Nobody screens the men at the door to make sure none of them have ever been sexual harassers themselves. Nobody lets in Texans and Floridians but kicks out the Puerto Ricans. We’re not perfect. We’re fucking up just like everybody else. The room is full of people screaming, laughing, jumping, beating their fists against the floors, hugging, squirming, bawling their eyes out, and rocking each other like we’re babies in the arms of the mothers who never really loved us.
We look like we belong in a loony bin—all us crazy dancers—but I’ve come to realize that some of the most enlightened people on the planet look like the hot messes we really are—because we feel what we feel without numbing, suppressing, or masking our pain or our bliss. We’re not doing the “spiritual bypassing” thing and telling each other we have to go transcend and meditate our pain away or tone it down and do our “inner work.”
We do this hard work of moving and clearing and freeing stuck energies and heavy emotions because these are hard times, but we can do hard things with great love. We were made for hard times. Everyone I dance with—myself included—we just need to resist the temptation to despair, demonize, or make anyone else “other.”
What Is Love?
In Power Versus Force, David Hawkins, MD writes:
“Love as depicted in the mass media is not love. On the contrary, what the world generally refers to as love is an intense emotionality combining physical attraction, possessiveness, control, addiction, eroticism, and novelty. It is usually evanescent and fluctuating, waxing and waning with varying conditions. When frustrated, this emotion often reveals an underlying anger and dependency that it had masked. That love can turn to hate is a common concept, but what is being spoken about rather than love is an addictive sentimentality and attachment. Hate stems from pride, not love. There probably never was actual love in such a relationship. [Real love] is characterized by the development of a love that is unconditional, unchanging, and permanent. It does not fluctuate because its source within the person who loves is not dependent on external conditions. Loving is a state of being. It is a way of relating to the world that is forgiving, nurturing, and supportive. Love is not intellectual and does not proceed from the mind. Love emanates from the heart. It has the capacity to lift others and accomplish great feats because of its purity of motive…Love takes no position and thus is global, rising above the separation of positionality. It is then possible to be One with another, as there are no longer any barriers. Love is therefore inclusive and expands the sense of self progressively. Love focuses on the goodness of life in all its expressions and augments that which is positive. It dissolves negativity by recontextualizing it rather than by attacking it.”
LOVE Starts Inside Ourselves
We have to remember that people abuse each other in the name of love because they do not know how to love themselves. This is not a reason to shame people. It is a reason to hug them. This is why I send out The Daily Flame Monday–Friday—a daily love letter from your Inner Pilot Light (you can sign up here). This is why I will be publishing The Daily Flame book next year, because you may find it hard to love yourself when you’re such a hot mess, but if you can connect to this wise, loving Divine presence inside yourself, this part can love all the rest. Only then can you be trusted to love others.
To truly love your wounded parts, you have to learn how to tune into your deepest needs and be brave and vulnerable enough to ask your loved ones for what you need. (Read How To Be “Needy” Without Being Co-Dependent here.) If you’re not getting your needs met in a personal or professional relationship, but you’re not asking for what you need, sweetheart, I hate to break it to you, but the burden is on YOU. This is YOU not loving YOU, and if you can’t love you, you won’t love others in a trustworthy way. You just won’t be able to . . .
Why do we fail love? Why do we behave abusively with people we say we love? It’s not because we’re bad people or because we don’t care. It’s because of trauma, beloveds. We live in a traumatizing culture, at the mercy of traumatizing conditioning, usually coming from traumatizing families. No matter how hard we try, few of us escape childhood unscathed, which is why my daughter’s father and I are very serious about sending our daughter Siena to the Hoffman Institute when she’s 25 so she can deprogram any unhealthy program we accidentally installed. No matter how hard we try to be loving, we will fail her somewhere. We just don’t want her to carry it into middle age, the way we have!
The good news is that trauma can be cured. Getting a good therapist who specializes in trauma, especially one with training in energy psychology techniques like Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT), can free you to truly love. As I wrote here, this is worth doing not only to improve intimacy and transform your relationships, but to cure and prevent illness, since unhealed trauma and disease are intimately linked. I know it can be overwhelming to dive into your past and do the work to heal yourself, but THIS is love. When we love ourselves and others enough to do this work, I can only imagine that the angels rejoice.
We Need Soul Tribes To Help Us Deprogram Our Conditioning
If you’re one of those people who got love confused with abuse, don’t despair. You’re SO not alone. There are many of us working to reprogram this pattern, and we are all here to walk each other home to the kind of love that is real and trustworthy. If you want to join our Soul Tribe—our intention is to offer each other this kind of love and support as we reprogram unhealthy patterns and learn how to be intimate and healthy together. (Sign up here. Our next group call happens December 27, just in time to get a fresh LOVE boost in the New Year.)
As with my dance church, only in community can we feel safe enough to truly let go, feel our painful emotions, hold each other close in the intimacy of love’s embrace, and heal what has been wounded.
Real Love Includes Fierce Love
Keep in mind that love isn’t always gentle and snuggly. Sometimes, as I experienced this morning in my dance, love is fierce. Love is the fire that burns away everything that is not love. This means that you passive-aggressive conflict-avoiders need to get help with your conflict avoidance (seriously, read this article I wrote about co-dependence. It was an act of fierce love to write it). Start letting the purifying fire of love burn through you, so you can stay aligned with your integrity and call out love and integrity breaches when you spot them in yourself and others.
We need to call out those who have been brainwashed by a sick culture. As Pancho Ramos-Stierle said in a confrontation with his jailers, “Brother, your soul is too beautiful to be doing this work.” We need to have those kinds of hearts—hearts that can erect healthy boundaries but still say to the lost, traumatized politicians, bankers, CEO’s, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, closed-minded doctors and academicians, and #MeToo abusers, “Your soul is too beautiful to be doing this.”
A friend told me she got fired this morning from her corporate job. I expressed compassion but also said, “Institutions are all breaking down right now. Those who have open hearts and healthy integrity will all have to leave the institutions.” I reassured her that there’s a whole other world on the other side of the Matrix. I told her I would meet her there . . . where LOVE lives.
It’s not that there aren’t wonderful, inspiring, Love-filled people inside our institutions right now, serving as what my friend Maja Rode calls, “Stealth Agents of Awareness.” It’s just that institutions are just too slow to keep up with the leading edge of Love’s fire on the cusp of the transformational wave. There’s too much bureaucracy. Too much pride. Too much ego. Too much conditioning from the patriarchy. Too much greed. Too many people maximizing self-interest and not thinking, “What would LOVE do here?” Love annihilates what makes institutions function—hierarchy, control, domination, abuse, pride. Maybe I’m talking out of my ass here, but my sense is that those who really know how to Love ultimately will find that it’s intolerable to stay inside the institutions, that in the end, the systems of order we might think will last forever will collapse in order for Love to rebuild from the ashes of this phoenix process. This will be messy, but it is also exciting. As I wrote in my book The Fear Cure, “When you don’t know what the future holds, anything is possible, even miracles.”
As Rumi wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
Love lives out in that field. I will meet you there.
We Were Made For These Times
The time for reckoning is now. This is an exciting time to be alive, but your love is needed- and your soul song needs to be sung, and your life dance is necessary in times like this.
As Women Who Run With The Wolves author Clarissa Pinkola Estes so eloquently wrote, “We were made for these times.”
Her words are worth repeating here, because THIS is love. Thank you dear wise woman for these entirely necessary words. (And hat tip to Soul Tribe member Jeff Magnani for turning me onto Dr. Estes’s words.)
My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.
You are right in your assessments. The luster and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.
I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.
Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.
In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.
We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.
Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do. There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.
The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.
Love Demands Us To Love Ourselves
Please don’t read this blog and beat yourself up. Love is ultimately forgiving—both of yourself and others. I’m not talking about the “spiritual bypass” technique of “premature forgiveness,” when you bully yourself into forgiving someone before you’ve really healed and returned to Love. Sometimes Love needs to get fierce and angry and set boundaries and enforce consequences. This does not mean it’s not Love. If you can see what is and what is not Love with clear-seeing, without shaming yourself or someone else, then you’re on your way to a deeper, truer understanding of how Love operates in a world in need of open hearts.
If any part of you feels provoked or triggered, please rock that child part in the great loving arms of your Inner Pilot Light, giving that child every bit of acceptance, compassion, and unconditional love you can possibly muster. Remember, beloved, you are a child of God/Goddess, and this makes you inherently lovable. You don’t have to do anything to earn this love. It is a gift of grace—an unearned blessing that is always available for you, if only you humble yourself before the Mystery and open your heart to that which has been right there all along. When you open to receiving this Force of Love within you, you are then free to share it with others. Your very Presence will leave others feeling loved.
This does not mean you won’t be vulnerable to unloving behavior. It’s not so black and white. You can absolutely love someone and still mistreat them. When your own unhealed trauma gets activated, you are at risk of doing things you might regret. You will hurt people and behave selfishly because your own needs are not getting met. This hurtful behavior is not love. You may love someone, but do not confuse someone by calling your hurtful behavior “love.”
And do not despair! There is hope for we adorable humans!
Love does not have to go into hiding when you’re triggered. This is not about being a perfect Being of Love. I don’t believe there is any such thing as a perfect, infallible human, so let go of any sort of spiritual perfectionism here. It’s possible for Love to expand so wide that it can hold within it both Love and everything that is not Love. It helps if you simply acknowledge to your loved ones, “My trauma is lighting up right now” rather than letting it hijack you into unloving behavior. Then Love will fill the room, and your triggered parts will be held by that Love too.
During this holiday season, love can be confusing, so be gentle with yourselves, dear ones. Practice healthy boundaries so your traumatized parts feel safe. Practice radical self-care so your small parts know they are a priority to you. Love yourself and let yourself open to the great, vast Love that is available to you now and always. Know in your heart that you are worthy of this love and that it can fuel you to commit great acts of Love yourself.
We were, indeed, made for times like this. Whether you believe you are a star seed who came to this planet to help our sweet planet survive its rebirth, or whether you believe you’re a bodhisattva here to help others awaken to their Buddha Nature, or whether you have opened yourself to being a vessel of Divine Love, here to find and fulfill your calling, you and your Love are needed right now. Once you realize what is NOT love, you will more fully recognize what IS, and you will be free to receive it and give it with a pure heart.
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