The Power of Love

Life is the most valuable gift that any of us will ever be given. Yet,  how much of it do we fritter away in needless worries and petty concerns? One thing the world has never yet truly comprehended—in spite of all the positive messages of love, peace, and harmony that are sent out—is this simple truth. An end to suffering and the beginning of healing will only come through love.

We relegate love to the compartment of romance or measure it out to our family members and those friends who are closest to us. But must we give out love as if it were no more essential than the salt and pepper with which we season our foods? Is it not more than something to add flavor to our lives?

Indeed, love is much more than that. It is the very essence of humanity. It is the one emotion that is powerful enough to defeat  the pain, anguish, sorrow, and suffering in this world of ours.

When I finished my article “A Quest for Sublimity”, I was faced with criticism and opposition from those who believe that suffering is not a key component of our lives . . . that we can somehow limit the pain we experience by denying that it is “suffering” or by defining suffering as “complaining” instead of what it is—a genuine experience.

There are several things about this invalid reasoning and the lack of logic behind it that I wish to address. Suffering oftentimes is used interchangeably with the word “pain”. Although we may differentiate between the two words, since each word we write or speak is nothing more than a string of letters that each of us defines in our own terms, it is important to keep in mind that the words we use are part of our subjective reality. And, so are the concepts we attach to those words.

It may be that pain and suffering are both difficult concepts to focus on. But when you release yourself from the need to escape from them, you will find within yourself a new level of serenity.

In the words of Eugene Kennedy, psychologist and meditative thinker, “We cannot run away from this pain without running away from ourselves. We are ashamed of it only if we misunderstand it .  .  . In this same way, this existential pain is ‘our’ pain, the proof of our being human together.” Is there any reason why we should make ourselves ashamed of any emotions we feel, whether positive or negative? Must we be happy all the time in order to be worthy of love and respect? Are those of us who are the tortured souls branded with the words “pain” and “suffering” upon our brows? Are we to hang our heads in shame over acknowledging our suffering?

I will leave you to answer these questions. Your replies will indicate how deeply you have experienced life and how intensely you are willing to continue your life experience. When we speak of healing, if there is no pain, no sadness, no anguish, and no suffering, what is there to heal? Why is there such a need of love, kindness, and compassion in the world if there is not so much trauma connected with simply being human?

If we take a moment to remember the monumental tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2000, in New York City at the World Trade Center, we will understand that bad things can happen to good people. And we are yet again reminded of Harold Kushner’s purpose in writing his wise, touching, and insightful book called When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, they do.

Never deny the obvious, hoping you will miraculously make it untrue. Hard truths don’t disappear just because we don’t like them or because we don’t want to accept them as part of our lives.  There may be many paths to wisdom, but when we fail to discern that which is true from that which is not, the path we are on will only lead us to ignorance.

When I say that love will heal us, I am not speaking of the kind of love that brings about sexual union or the kind that exists merely between ourselves and those who are closest to us. The love I speak of being so powerful is that love that can bring all of us together—if not as one, then at least as joined links in a world that is well on the road to self-destruction even as we speak.

Love and life are two words that have always been intertwined. And when we cease to love or close ourselves off from giving and receiving love, we cease to be entirely human. Even though we may believe that we are protecting ourselves from being hurt or from experiencing pain, we are actually cutting off  ties with those around us. Indeed, we are creating barriers around our souls from which our body and mind cannot escape.

The psychologist Erich Fromm once said, “Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.” Why is it the only sane and satisfactory answer? Quite possibly because all other answers would only exist as part of our own subjective realities. Yet love binds us together and brings us into a spirit of oneness, of connection with our fellow men. Even when we’re deeply wounded and fear that opening up our hearts will only end up injuring us further, understand that the wounds we  already have will only heal by loving and through receiving love.

One does not have to be religious to appreciate the fact that the core essence of all of the most important religions have been founded upon the doctrine of loving one another. In Christianity, when the Law passed away and the Old Testament of the Bible was no longer relevant, the one command that Jesus gave is to be found in I John 13: 33-35, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” What could be more antithetical to this command than the legalistic, self-righteous attitude of many of those who call themselves Christians? How is it that people are able to justify the perversion of religious texts that they say they subscribe to? What is so difficult about persons obeying the command of a God whom they say they worship?

Whether you are an atheist, a Christian, or subscribe to another faith, it seems impossible to get away from the simple truth that love has the power to heal, to bless, to strengthen, and to transform life itself. Where love is lacking, there is ugliness, pain and misery. Yet, where is there not a lack of love? We complain, judge, criticize, argue, and debate—but, we hesitate to love. Why? There are many possible explanations for the thoughts of fear that some of us begin to attach to love.

Aside from being afraid that we will be hurt, some of us have a tendency to regard love as a subject fit for poets and sentimental writers. Love is such a universal term that rather than acknowledging the many different ways that it can be expressed and received, we choose to make some futile attempt to define it. Perhaps, defining it makes us feel more in control of whom we let ourselves give love to or receive love from. It also enables us to justify our behavior when we fail to demonstrate love to another person. The need to define it is often directly correlated to the need to judge, restrict, repress, and withhold.

I did not grow up in a household where I felt loved. My childhood was such that I also was unable to express freely the love I felt for others. Because I was young, I was not able to comprehend the reasons behind the lack of love and affection that I experienced. I was inclined to take the unloving words and actions personally. I believed that there was something deeply unlovable about me—that I was somehow not deserving of being loved and that the love I wanted to show others was not good enough for them.

It has only been later, as I have been able to detach myself from the psychological scars of my past, that I have seen that those who withhold love and affection from us are usually coming from a place of personal fear. As difficult as it may be to fathom, even a lack of love that takes the form of cruelty, manipulation, and abuse is rooted in fear. Does fear excuse these things? Certainly not. But, it does give us some understanding, however tenable, of the behavior of those who either cannot or choose not to love us.

There are those individuals who are so damaged that, at a certain point, it is no longer possible for them to love anyone. Oftentimes, we imagine that such people love themselves. But the reality is that what appears to be ego-driven or narcissistic behavior is oftentimes the product of hatred that is primarily directed inward. Although this hatred may be exhibited towards others, too, the negative image that these damaged people hold of themselves in their own minds prevents them from being able to love or accept themselves. In viewing others as not being worthy of their love, they also see themselves as not being worthy of self-love.

It is not always easy to discern when genuine self-hatred exists. Sometimes it is disguised by haughty and even bombastic declarations about specific gifts, talents, and abilities. Yet, in spite of all of the grandiloquence, there is usually no definitive sense of self-worth. Thus, the inability to love is part of an attempt to reinforce what is a negative and dysfunctional self-concept.  One of the problems that has come about is that as time has gone on and  people have become more obsessed with having and less focused on being, the inability to love has become not an occasional or even general problem. It has become a tragic epidemic.

The type of narcissism that is spreading through our world now is the very opposite of the dignity and acceptance of the individual. It clings to the accumulation of things, the concept of achievement and success, and the desire for mass-conformity, all of which make it impossible for each person to hold onto his/her own sense of self-worth.

Thus, rather than less pain, less misery, and less suffering in the world, these things are all flourishing. And as long as we continue to promote commercialism, materialism, and conformity, these things will continue to proliferate. Why is that we do not see what is right before us—namely, that things will never bring us lasting happiness?

Please realize that I’m not saying that things are bad in themselves. In fact, having certain things undoubtedly makes our lives a great deal more comfortable. But when we end our lives, our use for these things will have ended, also. What will be left is the impact that we had on the world and on the lives of other people. So, as long as our lives are centered around things instead of values such as love, compassion, kindness, and empathy, we will remain unfulfilled. That is the message I am conveying.

Money and material possessions are not to be despised within themselves. It is the importance we give these things that determines whether or not they have a positive or negative influence on each area of our lives. A love for material objects, no matter how lavish or exquisite they may be, must never replace the love we feel for our fellow human beings.

Even author Oscar Wilde, who was known for his taste for the finer things in life asked, “Who, being loved, is poor?” It may not always be easy to see that wealth and abundance can come from love when you barely have enough money to buy your most basic necessities. But once you awaken to the powerful impact that love can have, you will see that its value exceeds that of anything else. 

Through my own personal challenges, I have seen the difference that love can make. I have seen it bring about miracles. And I have seen the lack of it create a level of grief and anguish that words are incapable of expressing. Although the possibility of there coming a day when suffering and sorrow do not exist is difficult to fathom, there is only one thing that gives us even the slightest chance of bringing an end to the physical, spiritual, and psychological devastation that people throughout the world are experiencing. And that one thing is love.

What is harder than many of us will ever conceive of is the capacity for forgiveness that many of us must reach in order to begin loving. For, it is not simply anyone who has ever hurt us whom we must forgive—it is also ourselves. Perhaps, you don’t think that you need to forgive yourself for anything. But you do. Whether you are aware of it or not, there is some part of you that blames yourself for the wrong choices you have made and the people whom you have hurt, whether intentionally or not.

And, until you forgive yourself for both your mistakes and your perceived mistakes, you will not be able to forgive others. “How do I know?” you may be asking. Well, I have lived with self-blame for much of my life.  And the weight of this burden has brought me nothing but unhappiness. No matter how much we might want to go back, we cannot erase our past mistakes. The words we have said that were unkind or the choices we have made that were foolish are all part of a closed chapter or chapters of our lives.

In order to move forward, the past must remain where it is. Bringing it into the future will only trap us in the cycle of pain, doubt, fear, and bitterness. In Buddhism, it is believed that we create heaven or hell in our lives through our own responses to the circumstances that life brings us. If this were so, how much more aptly can we create a hell on earth for ourselves than by continuing a cycle of emotional and psychological anguish? Suffering is real, and pain is genuine. But that does not mean that we are incapable of diminishing both things in our lives.

To incorporate forgiveness, love, and self-acceptance into our daily lives is an excellent place to begin. The remarkable author and Jungian psychoanalyst Polly Young-Eisendrath summed up the subject of suffering and what can come from it very eloquently when she said, “When suffering leads to meanings that unlock the mysteries of life, it strengthens compassion, gratitude, joy, and wisdom. When suffering leads to barriers and retaliation and hatred, it empties you of hope and love.”

It does appear that there is a clear choice. You can either choose to allow your pain, fear, sadness, and suffering to close you off from being loved and from loving others or you can let it make you more willing both to give and receive love. The wounds and scars from your past can either serve as a way for you to experience life on a deeper and more profound level or they can hold you back from ever experiencing anything other than shallow emotions and superficial satisfaction.

Do you see how, yet again, it’s entirely up to you? Your life is yours. You can either relish it, appreciate it, and make the most of it or you can cast it aside like a useless present.  What choice will you make?

Love and blessings,

Alexis, your SuccessDiva

(for Tracey Fielder, with lots of love)

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This message and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. (C) Copyright 2010 by Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva. All Rights Reserved

when you have to close your heart. . .

heart23I have always been a compassionate person, but, as I have gotten older, I have been even more inclined to demonstrate caring and love towards those around me. Perhaps, my mother’s battle with advanced stage cancer over two years ago has had something to do with my desire to truly be a loyal and supportive friend to the people in my life. When something of that nature comes about, you are reminded of the brevity of life. . .and you also realize how important it is to make sure that the people whom you love know that you love them. Saying the words “I love you” becomes twice as important—hugging people and making sure that you never make them feel as if you have forgotten them seems essential. What is difficult, however, is knowing when the time comes that you must not let your compassion for others prevent you from making the choices that are best for you.

As you know, my blog posts are loaded with examples from my own life experiences. Sometimes, I feel as if I’m putting into words a documentary of the Success Diva’s life. It isn’t always easy to open up my heart to those who are reading these posts, particularly since there are so many of you whom I do not know and probably never will know. Yet it is my choice to come from a very personal place, even if that place is full of pain, heartache, and unhappiness. Remember what I said in my last post about the heart being like your inner sanctuary? Well, that’s what it’s like. Pretend that you have a little church or cottage within yourself and that there are gates around this place. Whom you open the gates to is your decision and no one can force you to open those gates if you choose not to. But when someone has managed to persuade you to open your heart to them, and then they end up mistreating you or betraying you, what do you do? Well, you close those gates in their face, of course, and never look back. However, that is easier to suggest than it actually is to do. The person whom I just discovered has betrayed me has tried to offer an explanation for his conduct now. He has told me that he didn’t mean the mean and cruel things that he said about me behind my back. Well, being the compassionate diva that I am, it would not be impossible for me to keep him in my life as a friend. When we think of certain books we have read or movies we have seen, we can probably recall cases in which someone forgave and accepted the person who betrayed them. One book that comes to my mind without having to give it an abundance of thought is Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel, Anna Karenina. In this story, Anna, the title character, is unfaithful to her husband. She has a passionate affair with the dashing Count Vronsky. Her affair soon ostracizes her from society, and her husband becomes aware of her disloyalty. However, he chooses to forgive her and even offers her a divorce so that she can marry her lover. Unfortunately, Anna makes a series of unwise decisions, ultimately resulting in her eventual suicide. This book has been immortalized a few times in films, and, even if you haven’t read the book or seen the film, you may well have heard references to it in other books or movies. Yet another example of betrayal is in the consummate novel by the American author, Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence. In this story, a man, Newland Archer, marries an innocent young lady from a good background, only to be drawn into a beguiling infatuation with the exotic Countess Olenska, who lives on the fringes of society because of scandalous behavior. Archer’s wife, May Welland, knows that her husband’s affections reside elsewhere, and, yet, throughout a marriage that lasts several decades, she never once indicates that she suspects the truth. Finally, towards the end of the book, after his wife’s death, Newland finds out that what he thought was a secret that only he and Countess Olenska shared was known by his wife from the very beginning.

So, if characters in books and movies can not only forgive such instances of betrayal but also keep the person who betrayed them in in their lives, how can we know when we should refuse to accept any excuses or explanations?? Well, this is a difficult point to address as each situation is obviously different. However, if we are talking about someone whom we are in a committed relationship with who continues to be unfaithful to us, I would have to say that choosing to end that relationship is the decision that is in your best interest. But, if we’re speaking of instances of betrayal that are. . .well, less significant, the line between forgiveness and actual acceptance can become a wee bit hazy. For me, betrayal is unacceptable in all its forms. I truly do expect loyalty from those whom I let into my life. Whether or not you do is exclusively your choice. At the same time, never think that you have to have someone in your life. I don’t care how dependent you think you are on someone—or how dependent they make you feel you are on them. Should a person whom you have trusted and cared about betray you in any way, you are always perfectly justified in cutting that person out of  your life. If we look at our circle of friends as a large round of cheese, any treachery on the part of one of our friends would be like a portion of that cheese that became corroded with mold. Would you let that portion of cheese stay where it is. . .or would you cut it off? I know you wouldn’t eat the moldy cheese. Well, when you keep a traitor in your life, you are essentially serving slices of mildewed cheese to yourself on a cracker or a piece of bread. How does that make you feel? It sounds rather disgusting, doesn’t it? You probably feel like saying, “Yuck. I would never eat cheese with mildew all over it. . .and I don’t see how continuing to keep someone in my life who has betrayed me is like eating rotten cheese.” Oh, but it is like that. Just as your body is precious and requires certain types of food to nourish it, your heart and soul also require certain things to remain well nourished. One of the things your heart and soul both need is loyalty. Another essential need is unconditional love and acceptance. If someone betrays you, even if they say they love you, the type of love they are capable of giving you is not worth very much. Never imagine when you are betrayed that you are at fault. I mention this because I have noticed there is a tendency to blame ourselves when someone we care about mistreats us. Yet, we have the choice not to blame ourselves. We can make sure we look at the situation with a clear-headed and analytical vantage point. We can say, “The person who hurt me is the one with the problem—not me.” Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of this, particularly if we tend to be too benevolent or generous. I must admit, I have to consistently strive to make sure that I don’t allow myself to feel guilt over someone else’s mistreatment of me. Why? Well, I always think that if I had done or said something differently, they would not have betrayed me, lied to me, or treated me cruelly. In a way, this is what is called “if only” thinking.  I’ll speak about this more in future posts, but I must at least caution you now: the “if only” mind-set is dangerous. It’s the sort of mind-set that people have who are eighty years old and have chosen to let all sorts of opportunities pass by them over the course of their lives. It reminds me of my grandmother, who chose to marry a man other than her great love. She can now look back over her shoulder and say, “If only I had married so-and-so instead.” As hard as it sometimes is, we have to accept the decisions we make once we make them. If we use poor judgment, we must profit by this and use better judgment next time. I tend to poke fun at myself, saying that it’s unlikely I will ever use better judgment, when I rarely use good judgment *wink*. Yes, I am a diva who rarely takes herself very seriously. And, in a way, it’s a wonderful way to live because you don’t let yourself get too overwhelmed by those things which are relatively insignificant. If I ever am dramatic, I can assure you that  something major has happened in my life as I am generally a pretty level-headed lady. I won’t say that I can’t be capricious and even volatile at times, for I am a spirited diva, too. But, I think it’s essential for us to all be able to laugh at ourselves. If we let ourselves cry and castigate ourselves for every dish we break or every purchase we make that we didn’t really need, we’ll end up feeling rather worthless. I think that we tend to forget, too, that the only way we will ever feel truly worthwhile is a person is if we have a strong sense of self-worth. This is the complete opposite of conceit or arrogance. Conceit or arrogance is a state of mind in which a person believes that they are superior to another person—or, to people, in general. A strong sense of self-worth, on the other hand, is a state of mind in which you understand that you have something unique and valuable to contribute to the world and to the lives of those around you. It is when you begin to embrace yourself, flaws and all. A friend of mine asked me recently, “How do you love yourself?” Well, I think it begins with creating a deep and dynamic sense of self-worth. It doesn’t matter how many mistakes you have made or even keep making, for if you learn something from each one, you are succeeding. You must guard your heart, though, and make sure that the people in your life do not have a negative effect upon your well-being. Although Eleanor Roosevelt said “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent”, I still think that as long as we keep toxic people and predators of the heart in our lives, we’ll never feel as valuable as we should. Even when they tell us how wonderful they think we are, we shouldn’t believe them. As I said, predators of the heart will tell you anything they think you may need to hear in order to keep controlling your life. Although they may not always tell you what you want to hear, if they sense that you are slipping out of their nefarious clutches, they’re capable of saying the most beautiful and flattering words.  After all, they must seduce their way into your heart. . .and seduction is an art in which many tactics are used. So, when you begin to hear exquisite phrases from someone whom you don’t entirely trust, be very careful. Even though you don’t think it is doing you any harm to listen to them, sooner or later you may notice that you become addicted to their flattery.

Since the main subject of this post has to do with when you should not let someone who has hurt you remain in your life, I want to make a few more points about that. There are several different kinds of wounds that others can inflict upon us. Some of them are unintentional, and some of them aren’t. Betrayal, by its very nature, is intentional. The cases in which betrayal is unintentional are very rare. We all know that, if we say things that were confided to us by a friend in private, and we broadcast these things to other people, that we are betraying our friend. Right? Did we know we were doing something we shouldn’t do? Of course, we did. This being said, we can safely assume that if someone does this to us, they were fully aware of what they were doing. Also, if a man or woman who is a friend goes out of their way to pursue a friendship or relationship with someone who has mistreated us, we can feel pretty certain that they realize they are betraying us. I do think it’s crucial to forgive those who hurt us, even if they hurt us in some way that seems unforgivable to us. To forgive is something we do not for the person or persons who hurt us, but rather for ourselves. However, keeping the person or persons who hurt us in our lives is something else entirely. It is accepting what they have done—not merely forgiving it. And I do not think that accepting mistreatment of any kind can benefit us. Thus, your diva’s final word on this subject is this: if someone hurts you unintentionally, keeping them in your lives might not be an unwise choice. However, if someone hurts you intentionally, you should carefully examine whether that person deserves to be in your life because only those whom we can trust are worthy of our friendship, our love, or our affection.

Thanks to those who have told me how much my last post on predators of the heart meant to them! It always inspires this diva so much when I feel that I have helped or encouraged someone. Please know that I will respond to any personal mail that I receive at successdiva7@yahoo.com And, if you aren’t already a member of my mailing list, consider joining. It’s free and lots of fun!

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Until next time, friends. . .live with passion and guard your heart! Remember: there are times in your life when you have to close your heart to someone, and you must always be willing to do so when it is necessary, no matter how difficult a decision it may be.

Your Success Diva

This page and all written material at The Success Diva pages is written by Alexis Wingate.  All rights are reserved. (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate. The Success Diva