Love by Degrees

Penny Wassman September 2010

I might say, "I love you" to my sister when she and I have been sharing a favorite childhood memory...and, to anyone who might be listening to me, "I love sitting in my neighborhood café with my latte" or "I love ginger cats" or "I absolutely love walking on the beach early in the morning". My partner might hear me say, "I love the way you touch me"...

When I feel love for my sister, I'm often cherishing her instant glee as we share childhood memories or a particular knowing that is unique to us as siblings. The love I express as I recall the neighborhood café and the latte has a different source - perhaps one more aligned with nurture and the welcome ambiance of the café. The love of ginger cats, for me, has something to do with beauty and comfort. And the emotion I feel in the moment of touch reflects the joy of intimacy. All these expressions of love are genuinely and uniquely felt. All are transient - linked to a moment in time... or a memory of a need fulfilled or yearned for.

Quite different in my view is the dynamic force, love - love as energy, love as fuel for life - love as wisdom, love as the wellspring from which all human needs flow - love as the mother (and father) of all needs. Love, though often veiled, is a constant energetic and omnipresent stream, necessary for life. Love reveals itself as I let go of any attachment... any perceived sense of righteousness or judgement or privilege or humility or idea of possession.

The emotion I call love, on the other hand, is usually a transitory and pleasant experience - like a feather stroking a willing cheek. I may yearn for love.... or grieve for a love lost. I may identify underlying needs relating to feelings of love - needs such as those I identified above - sharing, nurture, welcome, beauty, intimacy and so on. But the love force that stirs in me is even more powerful - more life-serving - more real. Love, the energetic force invites me only to be - to notice - to embrace and recognize the symphony playing through me (and others) as I go about my life.

It's hard for me to be gentle with myself when I realize that the solution to fully living life is so simple. How hard is it to just be... to accept.... to know my life has purpose or that I matter at all in the realm of things if only I would notice? And yet, there it is - all I'm asked is to open my heart to the loving energy that is already there. And so I practice exactly that.... over and over again... softly opening my heart to love. Each fragment of pain...each struggle is an opportunity to dig a little - to notice constrictions whether emotional, physical or mental - to invite underlying needs into my awareness.... and then to open my heart to love.

I'm often stirred into such recognition by my body. Some years ago, I was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. I notice resistance in me to be labeled in any way, so I don't like to say, "I have Parkinson's Disease" as if PD somehow defines me. Rather I prefer to share the diagnosis so that people have an understanding about my physiology or coping skills that may be unique for me - no more or less difficult than anyone else's - just different. The funny thing is that the PD tremor is a metaphor for what I feel. The condition is especially vibrant when I am anxious or shaky and critical of myself. When I allow PD to define me, fear stirs in me - usually accompanied by an accelerated tremor in my left arm and tightness in my shoulder.

As troubling as these symptoms may be initially, they are also a wonderful invitation for me to identify the thoughts that accompany them - often a worry about what the future may hold or about my ability to continue my work. Equally often, I'm aware of correlating needs for ease and vitality. I try to be patient with myself as I peel away the surface and get real with what's there. As I give space to the fear, I open into a yearning to be vibrant and alive, to flow easily in life...to know that in the realm of all things that what I offer matters. I allow my mind and my emotions to quiet. In this stillness, I open to the full experience of vibrancy and ease and mattering - allowing the richness of these qualities to spill through me - allowing myself to live - essentially to be those qualities.

And then, there is something more: I'm finally getting that if I'm willing to open myself another degree further - to love - to the bigger, universal love that encompasses and cradles all human needs - to that all-encompassing LOVE - that I'll be okay in life, gibbled body and all. I experience a tremendous and settling peace when I'm "there" (difficult because the more I notice I'm there, the less I am), so this, for me, means entirely letting go and somehow just being with it all. What sustains me is the knowing that arrives with the experience of opening in this way to the innermost layer of my being, and learning to trust that and to repeat this practice over and over again. For me this particular inner layer is THE most important and the most elusive, most begging to be seen - it is, for me, where I know the work is... where I am most pulled to attend...and also, peculiarly, where I know I must be most gentle with myself.

So what is love? I don't know fully - I am pulled to live what I know and to share that. The knowing, at first a recognizable speck, has become through repeated experience a sturdy seed with roots that I trust. Each of us has this seed - these roots. My wish is that we each assist the other to witness and nurture this ineffable, beauteous energy - the elusive, absolutely available quality we call love.



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