Continued from Part 1, which is about how meditating on the phrase ‘I choose love’ has been helping me detach from deep-seated fears and resentments. This post is about how that affects my relationships with others.
I find it interesting that the way I relate to other people is directly linked to a practice I do when I’m alone. I’m starting to think that, at a fundamental level, love has very little to do with relationships at all. They’re more like the effect to its cause. You let go of the sticks you use to beat yourself with, taste the freedom that comes from that, feel looser and more expansive, and treat the people around you better as a result.
I believe that people who have attained the all-love, no-fear state — the people who wear their egos like loose-fitting clothing — don’t feel the need to protect themselves from others at all, because nothing threatens them, not even death. But there’s no point pretending I’m one of those people. My ego’s fragile. It needs a lot of protecting. If I ignore its insecurities and trigger points it’ll make all kinds of unpleasant noises until I start paying attention to it again. But if I only focus on self-protection I become bitter, suspicious and selfish, which affects how I treat others, which affects how they treat me, which only goes to confirm all my worst suspicions about them, which makes me more guarded than ever, and I’m lost.
The good news is that the choice between treating others well and protecting myself is a false one. People-pleasing and guarding my own interests are both based in fear and separation: here’s what they want, here’s what I want. The opposite of both is love, and the beauty of love is that it doesn’t separate. Loving myself more automatically means loving others more.
Ultimately, the best “protection” I have in the world is choosing love. The more I love myself the safer I feel. The safer I feel the more my fear diminishes. The more my fear diminishes the more I enjoy spending time with other people, and the easier I find it to set the right boundaries when I don’t want to see them. Which reduces my resentment, which makes me want to see the people more, and so on. Everyone benefits from my self-love.
Lao Tzu again: ‘The supreme good is like water, which nourishes all things without trying to.’ I’m still a long way off from this ideal, but knowing what I’m aiming at is half the battle.
What’s really astonished me about approaching interactions from the ‘I choose love’ perspective is that the people I’m with end up acting just as differently as I do. I genuinely had no idea my attitudes and behaviour had such an impact on other people’s. In fact, one of the principal things my fear and resentment tell me is that meeting others turns me into a helpless ball of passivity, a sounding board for their stream of consciousness, a victim pinned against the wall by their narcissistic force of personality. I adapt to them, but they don’t adapt to me. They just do whatever they’ve made up their minds to do. I might as well not be there.
Turns out that’s not true. Other people are adapting to me all the time. And the crazy part is that the more tense and wary I am, the more they do all the things that annoy me so much! Even seemingly unaware people usually pick up on their conversation partner’s anxiety on a subliminal level, and manage the situation by stepping in and being more dominant than ever (‘If I control this interaction nothing bad will happen’). That’s how they manage their unease, which is fed by my unease. The more at ease I am the more at ease they are, and the more of an open, free, mutually enriching dialogue we can have.
So here’s my new Fear vs. Love Formula:
If I enter an interaction in a fearful state of mind then (1) more difficulties will arise, (2) I’ll take them harder when they do, (3) I’ll do less to address them (because I’m so afraid), (4) I’ll resent the other person more than ever, and (5) I’ll resent myself for letting them away with everything.
If I head into an interaction having “chosen love” (1) I’ll be less afraid, (2) my companion will relax, (3) they’ll do less of the things that push my buttons, (4) when they do them I won’t care as much, (5) we’ll both have fun, and (6) the next interaction will be slightly less difficult.
I really think the choice between fear and love is as stark as this. It’s sobering in a way. You mean I’ve been the architect of so many of my own problems all along? What a waste of time all that nervousness has been. But the ‘I choose love’ perspective tells me to be compassionate with myself — can I help my genetics and predispositions? Am I responsible for the decisions my younger self made, that quick-thinking infant who brilliantly realised they had to erect a series of defences around their identity or they’d never be able to develop a personality at all? Fear played a crucial role in getting me where I am today. Choosing love now means undoing my early self-conditioning only very slowly and carefully, and having infinite patience with myself as I do it.
Yes, it’s kind of depressing that so many of my problems are between my ears — after all, it’s where I spend all my time. But from another point of view it’s incredibly empowering. A couple of posts ago I said that I was using what I call my “half-lockdown” to reprogram myself, and for now ‘I choose love’ is the main weapon in my arsenal.
I spend every day confronting anxiety, self-flagellating thoughts and overly high expectations of myself and others. I’m only capable of about a third of the things I want to do with my time. And I often feel weary just thinking about how much some people take out of me.
But I’m also filled with love. In fact I am love. And if gradually sinking into that deeper, broader part of myself has already brought about noticeable results in a relatively short amount of time, there’s no telling where the project will take me in the months and years to come. I’m looking forward to finding out.
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