One of the unlikeliest places I find love consistently is at the traffic signals in Bangalore. At one of the busiest signals, the auto I was travelling in stopped at the middle of the lane behind a row of vehicles waiting at the red light. I saw an old woman with dishevelled white hair, wearing a torn oversized shirt over her saree sitting on the pavement watching the vehicles that had stopped. She stood up and went to a two-wheeler and put her hand out. I didn’t wait to see if she received something or not, I secretly hoped that she would come near my auto and immediately dug into my bag for some money. When I looked up, she was crossing the road and heading towards my auto. I handed her 20 rupees with a smile on my face. She took it, cupped my chin in her hand and looked at me with her eyes full of affection. She blew me a kiss and walked away. That moment my heart filled with so much warmth, affection and love. I felt so happy, thrilled and loved by her display of affection.
That feeling of being loved carried me through the day. The thought behind that feeling was, “I am worthy of love too.” I was stunned when this thought came into my sphere of awareness. I hadn’t realised that I carried this belief that I was unworthy of love. Perhaps I knew it in my subconscious, but when this thought lifted to my conscious awareness, it took me by surprise. This made me investigate my beliefs around love, and a few interesting ones cropped up. One of the beliefs was “I had to work hard/do something to earn love”. Another one was “I am a challenging person to love”. One more was “I have to change myself to be loved”.
As I examined these beliefs, I uncovered a meta belief that was underlying all these, which was “Love is something another person gives you.” Of course, if you ask me in the normal course of a conversation about this belief, I would have given you an intellectual insight that “If you don’t love yourself, no one will. Loving yourself is the start of any healing/transformation.” But then the chasm between my head and heart is enormous. Logically, intellectually I know the right things, but living with my head and inside my head can only take me so far in my journey. I wanted to live with an open heart, a courageous heart that is willing to be vulnerable, loving and daring.
Self-love has been an abstract concept for me. When I ask a few people about self-love, they tell me that it is about trusting themselves, believing in them, taking care of themselves. I still wasn’t sure what self-love meant and how could I begin that journey of loving myself and having an open heart. There are three experiences which made me understand what love is, and what it means to love someone and oneself.
Empathy = Love
Once in a session with my teacher, we were discussing a topic that was really challenging for me. It wasn’t a traumatic event that changed the course of my life. It was nothing horrific or scary about the topic. We were talking about my feelings. She wanted me to recognise what I was feeling inside. I couldn’t check in with my body, so I couldn’t recognise the physical sensation that went with the feeling. I was trapped inside my head with this thought that kept running into a loop, “I don’t want to go there”, “I don’t want to go there”, “I don’t want to do this”, “I want this to stop”.
I couldn’t lift myself out from my head and engage anymore. I was ready to slump down and go to sleep. I figured that I shouldn’t waste her time anymore, so I was mentally summoning the energy to get out of the chair and go home. She asked me, “Would you be willing to try something?” I looked at her and nodded my head.
She got me to stand up and do some gentle movements to get my energy going again. After one sequence, I sat down. I couldn’t lift my arms or move. She came towards me and put her hands on my shoulder. That gesture was the tipping point. I wrapped my arms around her tightly and started sobbing. She wrapped her arms around me, and we stayed there. I was crying uncontrollably, and she was holding and soothing me. This went on for more than an hour.
What was remarkable about this experience for me was she was there for me the entire time I was crying. She didn’t tell me, “Don’t cry”, “What happened”, “It will be okay”. She just let me cry, and she was there for me all through. That’s the first time in my life I have experienced someone being there for me when I have been in pain without flinching and creating the space for me just to be. She didn’t try to fix my pain, offer solutions or invalidate it. She just let me be.
That empathy she showed gave me the space to feel safe, express, accepted and be loved. I’ve brought that experience to my mind numerous times when I needed to feel safe and loved.
Acceptance = Love
I don’t like posing for pictures. I love candid photos — the liveliness of the moment, the honest expression, spontaneous and genuine. A few weeks back, I was browsing through some of my picture albums which had photos from when I was a kid. As we were going through them, I was surprised to notice that there were multiple albums containing just my pictures. My mother mentioned that my dad used to take my pictures every month. I took photos of some of my favourite pictures. One of them is me dressed in a pale pink spaghetti top, black pleated skirt with my short hair carefully parted in the centre and pinned on both the sides with pink clips. I have an expression of delight on my face, and it was a beautiful candid picture.
One day when I was quite overwhelmed with my moods, I was giving myself a tough time. I wanted some love, reassurance and comfort, but I couldn’t bring myself to acknowledge that I needed it. After all, I am an adult in my mid-thirties, I shouldn’t be needing things that a child needs. Needless to say, all the fighting exhausted me, and I started fiddling with my phone, hoping for a distraction. I had saved this picture to my favourites, and I opened it.
I felt a wave of love and tenderness wash over me when I looked at that picture. I dawned on me that I was that little child. Would I say no to a child who would want love, assurance and comfort? Definitely, not. That child was within me. I imagined her with outstretched arms looking at me, and wanting to be hugged. I gave her a hug in my heart, wrapped my arms around myself and went off to sleep giving myself the love and comfort I needed.
It is easier to love a child than an adult. As I write this, I have that picture open, and I keep glancing at it to remind myself that no matter how old I am, what choices I have made, who I am, I am still deserving of the love from me.
Presence = Love
One of my favourite people in this world is my little nephew. I get to spend a few days with him twice a year, and he teaches me a lot about love and acceptance. Everyday morning, he would come up to my room and start waking me up at 7 am. I am by no means a morning person, so I would keep telling him to give me a few minutes and then I would come up and play. One morning he climbed onto my bed, stood up and looked at me, “Wake up, Aunty.” I was very sleepy, so I told him to come and sleep next to me. He came next to me, fit into the space between my body and arms, snuggling rather comfortably. The gentle touch of his body and how he made space for himself is a memory that is imprinted into my mind.
Just being in the moment with him, feeling the touch of his skin, breathing in his scent was love like I have never experienced before.
I’ve gone through a lifetime of believing I am not worthy of love, not deserving and people who love me, don’t really love me. There are a lot of beliefs underscoring this. I am working to carefully examine these beliefs and see if I have experiences to the contrary. I am choosing to work on committing these experiences to my memory so that I can redo the wiring that I am not worthy of being loved.
Love is not a person. Love is connection, empathy, acceptance and presence for me. I am realising that I can get it through a variety of experiences. All I have to do is remain open to life and receive what comes my way. Bah, easier said than done is what my head is saying. My heart is saying, yes, it is easier said than done. But try it out, you don’t know what you may find.
“Love yourself first, and everything falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” — Lucille Ball