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

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~A Quest for Sublimity~

With all the feel-good messages about pursuing our bliss and visualizing our dreams in order to make them come true, we oftentimes forget that even though life is and should be joyful and happy, there is an inherent pain in being human that nothing will ever diminish. We can have the best intentions and the most wondrous goals, but even when we seem to be making what we feel in our hearts are the “right” choices, torment and emotional suffering can still exist.

For me, there is pain in not being able to live up to the image of myself that I want the world to see. To speak highly of virtues such as kindness, compassion, honesty and integrity is one thing. But, to consistently demonstrate behavior that embodies these character traits is sometimes another matter entirely.

We should never attempt to regard ourselves as being more loving, thoughtful, or considerate than we actually are. And yet we do. I find myself making judgments about other people and the choices they make even though I continue to regard a judgmental attitude as one of the greatest causes of suffering in human existence.

What is the difference in suffering and pain? This is a question I am still examining. For now, I will simply say that for me, at least, the concept of suffering seems less transitory than pain, which can be over in mere seconds.  Yet is it not from the soul that has suffered that the well of eternal hope springs? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “Know how sublime a thing it is to suffer and be strong.” Sublimity is not always achieved through joy and bliss. It can also come through intense anguish, pain, sorrow, and grief.

When I speak of grief, I am not talking about merely deeply traumatic events such as the illness or death of a loved one. I am also speaking of the type of grief that comes from having your dreams seemingly shattered into pieces from a wrong choice or a missed opportunity . . . the kind of grief that you feel when you are in an unresolved relationship in which effective communication seems to have become impossible. Grief can be experienced on so many different levels. And the suffering that comes about from this grief cannot ever be measured, even by those who must cope with it.

We will never comprehend the anguish and pain that others experience. And most of the time we find ways to escape from our own pain and sorrow. Do we somehow think that in ignoring pain it will disappear? Or is it that we find the idea of connecting with our pain to be so formidable that we dare not close enough to it to truly feel it?

Life is a gift, but we were never told that it didn’t have a high price tag. We may wish to see ourselves as entitled to the best of everything. But only when we understand that what we get out of life is in direct proportion to that which we give to life will be experience authentic happiness and fulfillment. It is never in possessions, material success, or recognition that we will find joy. We only think that these things give us happiness because they satisfy us on a superficial level.

We want to believe that diamonds or shoes or dinners at five-star restaurants actually lift our spirits. However, oftentimes we are just seeking ways to fill the void within ourselves. But a soul that is hungry can only receive genuine nourishment from food that has substance. In order to be physically healthy, you would never feed your body nothing but candy bars, cookies, and cake. So, why feed your soul, mind, and spirit with material riches that have no eternal value?

If you’re serious about becoming the best you that you can be—if you sincerely do want to live a life of purpose and significance—you’re going to have to develop a level of self-awareness that will enable you to see yourself as you really are. You’ll have to be tough enough on yourself to recognize your weakness while simultaneously treating yourself with a level of gentleness and compassion that enables you to hold fast to your dreams. In releasing yourself from the need to please others, you must make a stronger attempt to please yourself.

Rather then worrying about whether or not you live up to the expectations others have of you, create an image of yourself that you can be proud of and work towards becoming that person. You will find that you have acquired a new level of freedom when you start focusing on your journey and stop trying to control anyone else’s journey. We may choose to define the need to judge any way we choose, but ultimately it’s both a subtle and an obvious way to control other people.

Admittedly, there are many areas of life in which the tendency to make judgments seems so prevalent, so common—and even, to a certain extent, so understandable—that we find the idea of overcoming it to be nearly insurmountable. Yet, if each of us makes the effort to stop judging, although our individual impact may appear to be negligible at first, the lasting impact of our joint efforts might prove to be far greater than we might ever imagine.

There is already enough pain and suffering in the world without our adding to it through cruel, insensitive, and thoughtless words and actions. When we understand that in judging others we are coming from a place of fear and personal insecurity, it puts a different spin on the whole process of judgment. It no longer becomes about just tearing down other people. It becomes a process by which we tear down ourselves.

The world will always find a way to present to you a reflection of your true self. You may see an idealized image of yourself when you look into the mirror. But life will not let you get away with holding onto this fabricated self-concept forever. When you start to notice that the way others react to you doesn’t match up with how you want them respond to you, it may be time to take a long, hard look at who you really are. Similarly, when you find yourself pointing fingers and finding fault with those whom you know, attaching labels to them that represent some feeble effort on your part to define their behavior, just make sure that you are not defining yourself instead. 

Life has a way of giving us back what we have given out, whether it be in a positive or a negative way. Don’t imagine an existence that is centered mostly around you will ever bring you the dividends you seek because it won’t. You must understand the simple law of cause and effect in order to make your dreams a reality. A life that is strictly or even mostly about you may bring you what seems to be happiness right now. But ultimately, you will experience a level of emptiness, sadness, and loneliness that words may be inadequate in conveying.

Many times over the course of our lives, we may be faced with a situation in which we must decide between obtaining immediate gratification or attaining long-term satisfaction.  And developing a strong sense of self-awareness is what will give us the strongest possibility of not making a choice that we ultimately regret.  At the same time, there are probably few mortals who haven’t made a choice at some point in their lives that did not appear to be an irremediable mistake.

Yet, for every fall we take, if we manage to profit from the unwise choice or choices that led to our temporary defeat, we will discover that we are stronger than we were before. To borrow words from the captivating silent film actress Mary Pickford, “If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start at any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

Unfortunately, in this world in which we live, we are not always encouraged to get back up when we fall. This is why we must always remember that we are the ones who see our dreams most clearly and that we are the creators of our own destiny. The reasons behind the lack of encouragement and support that others exhibit may not be something we will ever comprehend. 

In many cases, those whom we might have expected to stand behind us feel threatened by our determination to keep going in spite of obstacles. They assume that if they desert us in our time of need, we will give up out of hopelessness and despair. It isn’t necessarily because such people are malicious or vindictive or hateful that they behave in this way. Rather, it is oftentimes because they are so deeply insecure that they are simply incapable of supporting those whom they perceive might have a greater chance of success than they do.

It isn’t always easy to accept the concept that there is enough success in the world to go around. Some people subscribe to the erroneous idea that success is like a piece of pie and that, in order for them to get their slice, someone else must forfeit his or hers. But ideas such as these are rooted in fear. And there can be no freedom where fear exists. To release ourselves from all fear is to give ourselves true freedom. When this occurs, we will rejoice in the accomplishments of those around us. We may even look for ways in which we can help others achieve their goals more swiftly.

Reaching this level of personal security and self-assurance will enable us to stop competing with anyone but ourselves. It will thereby provide us with the opportunity to become the best version of ourselves instead of a copy of someone else. The more you cease to compare the less inclined you will be to judge for you will embrace your own individuality. You will understand that you are every bit as exceptional as any other human being on the planet.

Why try to hinder anyone else’s journey when you are fully engaged with your own? If you see yourself as exceptional, there is no reason to be envious of anyone else. If you don’t agree with another person’s choices, stop to ask yourself whether or not it is up to you to agree or disagree. For in either agreeing or disagreeing, are you not moving from a place of mere observation into a place of judgment? Since the only thing any of us really has power over in this world is our own life, how can expending time and energy assessing the choices that others make benefit us?

In many ways, life is complicated. If your personal journey is anything like mine, there are plenty of things you have to concern yourself with on a day-to-day basis that pertain to your own life. So, why worry about other people’s lives, too?  The environment that best fosters a sense of self-awareness is that in which everything extraneous is let go of. 

In cutting away that which is not essential you will find both peace and clarity. In this way, life is a lot like love. When you bring yourself out of a place of need and release yourself from all expectations and conditions, you will discover what is genuine and what is false. Even if you experience pain and suffering, the joy you will eventually find in allowing into your life only that which is true, deep, and meaningful will surpass even the most excruciating heartache.

Don’t continue to clutter your life with the rhinestones of temporary bliss when you can have diamonds of happiness, joy, and lasting contentment instead. Allow yourself to acknowledge your pain and to gain strength from your suffering. Release yourself from the need to judge others and embrace the beauty that exists within you.

Be joyful. Be extraordinary. Be the best you that you can be . . . .

Love and blessings,

Alexis, your SuccessDiva

(“A Quest For Sublimity” is dedicated to my extraordinary friends Scot Conway and Dawn Marie Knott) 

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