I’m not sure I believe in unconditional love. There. I said it.
And it’s not like I haven’t thought about it. Our culture is saturated with stories of loves of all flavors, so it would be tough to miss. Our adolescence and young adulthood are often dominated by our quest for love, or our pain from having incorrectly thought we found it.
In my mind, ‘love by default’ would be a better approach to take. Start off with love in your heart for everyone you meet. (Did I get this from a Christmas song?) Enter any relationship, no matter how trivial, with love as your starting point. Start with vulnerable openness and the assumption that the person before you is worthy of respect and support. Love by default.
From there, by all means, have conditions. Conditions are simply boundaries that guard the soft, sweet gooey awesomeness that makes you you. And that sparkly glob of human jello is totally worth protecting.
So the trick is to set your conditions appropriately. If our boundaries are too easy to violate, then we’re probably being too careful, too protective. If our conditions are too easy to meet or non-existent (cough – unconditional – cough), then we put our inner hearts in jeopardy.
Instead, we need conditions that make it easy for the right people to get in, but difficult for the wrong people to get past the gate. All while starting with love by default.
So what we want is vulnerability mixed with resilience. We want our hearts to be open and strong. I’ve come to think of this as equanimity.
Equanimity is calmness, presence of mind, composure in the face of situations that commonly generate strong emotions. It’s a resilience to animosity, attack or betrayal.
But I’m not just talking about going all Mr. Spock and eliminating emotions. Logic was Spock’s religion and the sin was feeling anything. Equanimity, on the other hand, means we can feel the slings and arrows that may come our way, but we need not be injured by them.
I once took an Aikido class from a friend of mine. She started with the basic idea of being rooted or grounded in your body. As with a large tree, when you are firmly rooted in your mind and body, you are surprisingly difficult to topple.
In my experience the hardest part of finding this grounded equanimity is knowing that I am not just worthy of love, but that I don’t need anyone to validate me. We do not need anyone to save us or protect us. You are enough as you are, a being of love, a force to be reckoned with. For me, this is something I aspire to because I’m usually pretty susceptible to external validation, be it positive OR negative.
But in rare moments of clarity, I’ve experienced the sensation of being grounded. It feels like strength beyond what anyone can measure at the gym. It’s like opening your eyes for the first time on the real world. It’s the world that’s always there, if only our fears didn’t distort it.
Love by default requires us to be present and available to the people around us, the situation at hand. We must understand and accept ourselves. When we do, we are unassailable. We remain open to those who would nourish us and help us grow, and we are there to return their love.
Having written everything above, it occurs to me that there IS one situation where unconditional love is appropriate. We should unconditionally love ourselves. When we accept and nurture ourselves through the mistakes, failures, betrayals and tragedies of life, we are strong and ready for the love that is just hovering out there ready to dote on our precious inner puddle of love goo.