Category Archives: Love

What is Love, Really?

This is something that has shown up in my sphere recently: confusion and a little annoyance about the use of the word Love. In wellness circles we’re taught to “Be Love.” But on more than one occasion I’ve had a client turn to me and say, “What does that actually mean? How the heck am I supposed to DO that??”

It can definitely be frustrating. So, I thought it was time to have a discussion about Love. Capital L-o-v-e. What is it? Some common phrases:

Love is what makes the world go ‘round.
Love is all there is.
Love is the absence of fear.
Love is the source of all creation.

But, what is “Love” really? Do we not understand it? Or do we simply not have enough words for it? The Greeks had four words for Love. They are:

Storge        Philia        Eros        Agape

The first, Storge, is about empathy, or I prefer: compassion. Storge is the love that is presumably at the base of human interaction and connectivity. It’s about a shared humanity and a foundational understanding of one another. We may not all have experienced the same loss, but we’ve all experienced loss. We can relate.

Philia is a bit more involved. It’s friendship, loyalty, and affection with mutual respect. Philia seems to involve an investment in one another that includes compassion and pleasure in each other’s company. However, while it can be intimate (some of my dearest relationships with friends are deeply emotionally intimate), it does not involve physical intimacy. That is reserved for Eros.

Eros is intimate physical love. There’s a reason “erotic” stems from the word Eros. But here’s where it gets interesting. Eros, according to some philosophers (think Socrates and Aristotle), is also the gateway to transcendental soul love. Eros is the door through which we must walk if we wish to know the Divine personally, deeply, and return to the knowledge of who we are at our core. It’s a passionate, fire-breathing, active love. It’s Love in action. Eros is how we express ourselves most deeply and authentically with another human being. Eros is human Love. Raw, exciting, deep, and the source of creation. It’s how Divinity comes to life on earth. The union of souls in the midst of the physical union.

And then there’s Agape. Agape is considered by many to represent the unconditional Love of God. The God-love. The capital “L” in Love. Agape transcends everything that is human – it takes no notice of gender, race, nationality, age, etc. Agape is simply Love. It encompasses the energy of all that is, was, and ever will be. Agape is Love transcendent.

Agape is what I believe most people are referring to when they speak of capital L – Love. Love is the energy behind everything, therefore, it’s the source of all. If we can live from that space – Live Love – we are most closely aligned with our soul, who we are inside.

Love has many faces. It runs a spectrum from basic humanity to Divinity, and interestingly, those two are more closely related than the others. In my mind, the four types of Love reside on an ellipse, like this.

Love typesThough equidistant from each other on the line, Storge and Agape are closer to each other than the others from across the ellipse. For me, that’s the essence of who we are: Human and Divine; And this dance, on this planet, is about marrying those two elements and experiencing life in the entire spectrum of Love.

So, what is Love? And how do we “do” Love?

I think Love is both personal and contextual. Love is deeply individual, as well as global. It speaks to the tiniest piece of us while it also speaks to universal peace.

For me, Love is everything and nothing, simultaneously. It is the basis of that which is human and Divine, and its presence is in everything I see, touch, hear and feel. So, it’s everything. And yet, Love can never be contained, held, measured, or controlled. So, it’s nothing.

Love is the depth of what’s tangible, and it’s the breadth of what cannot be seen.

Love, therefore, is. And that’s probably the best definition, which is the good news. Because it means that by being true to who you are, you are DOING Love. By walking your path, constantly aligning with your authenticity and rediscovering what that means for you – you are doing Love.

In a more tangible way, though, doing Love can look like:

– Saying good morning (even when you don’t want to)
– Choosing kindness (over judgment)
– Breathing (instead of reacting)
– Helping somebody in need (no matter how small)
– Enjoying your food (not numbly eating)

I think you get the idea. Doing Love is about holding space for each other’s imperfect humanity, while also recognizing each other’s inner Divinity. Including for yourself.

 

What Are You Doing With Your Life? (Or How I Reconnected to My Verve.)

When people are doing what they’re meant to be doing, it’s evident. They have a certain glow about them. A radiance. They’re aligned with the infinite power of the Universe and it simply can’t help but pour out through every inch of them.

It’s in how they walk and how they talk – how they’re most human – that they express this pathway to the Divine.

Jen Pastiloff is doing what she is meant to be doing.

jenpastiloff-me

Post-workshop glow.

She’s one such example that I had the good fortune to spend three hours with this past weekend at her ‘Manifest-Station: On Being Human’ workshop at Moksha Yoga in Chicago.

It was one of the best workshops I’ve ever been to. Hands down.

How do you define what Jen does? How do you explain what she accomplishes in the time span of 3 hours, or about the length of your typical NFL football game? She herself has asked this question. In many ways her workshop defies explanation, though there are many adjectives to describe it: amazing, miraculous, transformative, beautiful, stunning, to name a few. It’s easy to gush about it, but hard to actually explain how it all happens.

And yet, it is also quite simple:

Jen reconnects you with your humanity.

In fun, engaging, provocative, and thoughtful ways, Jen combines music, movement, and moments to open you up to that which you are and that which you’ve been hiding.

Through a series of writing prompts Jen invites you to explore obstacles, beliefs, patterns, and love. Through basic yoga movements, Jen gets your body (and soul) up and engaged in the process. She has developed a workshop that takes you on a journey of the heart through the doorway of the body, using the physical senses of touch and sound.

As a person who has done a lot of work on herself (a LOT!), I admit to being somewhat skeptical (but hopeful) as I walked through the door. I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect, emotionally or physically. Physically, because I have a less-than-awesome foot right now and haven’t really done any yoga in about 8-10 years, I was more than a little scared about what lay in front of me. The good news is: you really don’t have to “do” yoga to do the workshop – which was exactly what I needed! Jen has said it repeatedly, but I was unsure if it was really true. (It is!)

But what about the emotional?

It was nothing that I expected, and everything I needed. Between the yoga poses we wrote, explored, and shared. Between writing we moved, laughed, and sang. We even had a hug fest and a dance party! We held each other up as we sat alongside one another, connecting at the most human of levels. It truly is a workshop that opens you up to see, feel, and understand yourself in new ways.

I have followed Jen on social media for about a year, perhaps less, maybe more. Even though I had heard about the workshops and read the glowing reviews, I still thought: “what could I possibly do that I haven’t already done?” (aka: all my aforementioned “work.”)

In my life, I have walked through my long tunnel filled with obstacles, suffering, and fear. I have turned over every stone and pebble along the way and fought hard to reclaim my life, create my life, and live my life; and I have come out the other side of that dark musty tube with a full and ever-expanding toolbox. So, I honestly didn’t expect too much. And yet…

And yet, it wasn’t necessarily something “new” that I learned, but rather a new way to look at that same thing, and thereby explore it differently. This led to understanding it differently and ultimately, embodying it differently. Embodying my truth differently, with more presence, joy, and VERVE. (Yes, I said verve. When was the last time you heard that word? Lol)

And that’s what Jen does: she reconnects you to your verve, your humanity, to humanity, in general. She creates a space in which it’s not only safe to be human, but celebrated. It’s a gift. Jen is a gift. She is walking her path with grace, love, and joy. And the joy is contagious!

When I find something that I feel is extraordinary, I have to share it. Jen is extraordinary, her workshop is extraordinary, and the fellow attendees are extraordinary, no doubt because of who Jen attracts and supports by simply showing up in life.

To Jen, my immense thanks and deep gratitude for showing up, walking your path, and sharing that presence with those around you. You are the real deal. It was a gift and a pleasure to share that space and time with you. I look forward to our paths crossing again.

To learn more about Jen, please visit her website at jenniferpastiloff.com and check her out on social media, where she posts regularly.

FINAL NOTE: This is important. Jen is expanding her workshop to reach the younger generation of girls. Can you imagine how different your life would have been as an adult if someone had taught you as a teenager to know you are enough, just as you are? Jen is doing that. You can tell it’s her passion. So, if you have or know any girls ages 13+ near Princeton, NJ and 16+ in NYC who could use this experience and learn at a young age that they are enough, check out Jen’s upcoming workshops in September, titled ‘Girl Power: You Are Enough.’

Are you Intense?

Are you Intense?

This is a question I’ve asked myself, mainly because I already know the answer: I can be.

It all began after a series of different meetings I had with my doc over a couple of months. During one of the earlier sessions he had said to me, “You’re intense, and you need to be with someone who not only understands, but appreciates that in you.” I listened.

Am I intense? I can be.

Fast forward a few months and at another session he said in passing, “I couldn’t live with you.”

Ouch.

It wasn’t meant to hurt, or to be a barb, but it did. (And don’t worry, there’s no discussion of anything remotely unethical going on.) It hurt, because I found myself not measuring up to some random externalized standard that had absolutely nothing to do with me.

Of course, that’s the truth of what happened, but in the moment I didn’t have access to that absolute truth, I just knew that it stung a little. Subsequently, I found myself asking, “What’s wrong with me?” and “Am I not livable?” Which ultimately evolved to “Am I not lovable?” And finally, the mac daddy of them all: “Am I destined to be alone?”

I suspect it took only about 5 seconds to go from his statement to the fear of being alone. It’s a well-worn path that is very easily navigated. Almost effortlessly, in fact. But here’s the beautiful thing: because I have done my work, because I have spent years forging through the dark tunnel and excavating the debris that was forming obstacles to my life, and because I have raised my awareness to the habit of negative self-talk, it took about another 5 seconds for me to access the truth behind his statement.

Just because HE couldn’t live with me does not mean that NOBODY can.

And there it was. Truth. Absolute truth. And it allowed me to go even further, which was like flipping through the most wonderful album of memories and joy you’ve ever created. Once I acknowledged that his external measurement had nothing to do with my self-worth, I was able to explore why he might feel that way, and that’s when it occurred to me: He only knows 30% of me. Perhaps more, maybe less, but 30% feels like a good number.

The fact is that he only knows that which I present to him, and since he’s my doc, I present my problems. He’s my “expert” for helping me sort through that which I cannot do alone. Therefore, it stands to reason that he couldn’t live with me (and finds me intense), because he only knows that side of me. He knows the percentage that is seeking assistance or a safe place to vent. While I suspect he might have inklings of the other 70%, it has been a rare occasion when I have presented it to him.

This got me thinking: What IS the other 70%? Here’s where that lovely virtual photo album of memories came into play. I suddenly found myself immersed in the joy of being me. It was decadent, blissful, and loving. It looked a bit like this:

  • He doesn’t see me dancing in the rain, or laughing so hard that I fall off the bed.
  • He doesn’t see me when I’m the image of bliss immersed up to my neck in a hot bubble bath, or how I get teary eyed during a commercial for animal rescue.
  • He doesn’t see the me that giggles at sexual innuendos like a school girl, secretly hiding my wry smile because I actually know what’s being talked about and the sheer pleasure it can bring.
  • He doesn’t see me singing like a dork while I dance in my car to my favorite song.
  • He doesn’t see me baking something for a friend that’s hurt, or taking pictures of butterflies on my daily walk.
  • He doesn’t see me when I’m so immersed in writing that hours can go by without my noticing it, and the smile on my face becomes semi-permanent.
  • He doesn’t see me talk to strangers and offer them a smile, or as I hug my dog during one of his seizures late at night.
  • He doesn’t see… me.

He doesn’t see the me that I know. Which means: he doesn’t know me. Well, not all of me.

He doesn’t know all this, because he’s not meant to. This is the breadth and depth of me, and it’s still only a glimpse. He knows the me that needs his expertise and his help. The me that comes to him feeling broken or worn down by life, in search of a tincture of assistance and support. And that’s the me he should be seeing, because it’s the me that he knows in relation to himself.

I was then reminded of an old saying that I often share about how we go through life comparing our insides to other people’s outsides. It will never match up. And this is true for almost everybody we come across in life. There are very few (if any) people that we share 100% of ourselves with. Every interaction falls somewhere on the spectrum from 1-99%, and I’d argue that most daily interactions fall somewhere between 1-35%.

People show us, and share with us, what they’re comfortable with, and we receive and share in return what we’re comfortable with. I would suspect that we are sharing about 30% of ourselves with the outside world at any given moment. And how we receive that is directly affected by our relationship to that person. That means that if I am your sibling, I will be receiving what you are showing very differently than if I were your boss, or your employee. We see and know people in relation to who we are to each other, and people only know what we choose to show them.

Which brings me back to the idea of being intense. I can be.

Actually, I think we all can be. And just as I can be intense, I can be light-hearted and soft. It’s part of the full spectrum of who I am, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Then, just a few days ago, I read this piece by Kate Rose on Elephant Journal, and it summed up my notion of intensity so perfectly I wanted to share. Intensity is not something to be ashamed of or dialed down – it’s something to be celebrated. And when it’s admired and supported it can fuel almost anything, including (and especially) Love.

Painting Within the Lines

This past weekend, my 6-year old niece was in town visiting for the holiday. We had a great time together, from blowing hundreds of bubbles in the backyard to taking a long walk and teaching her about all the flowers along the way. We even got to spend some time in the local park/playground where she got to try out her first tire swing. (She LOVED it, by the way. And truly, what’s not to love?)

Anyhow, we also did some arts and crafts together. On one such occasion, we painted side-by-side. It was a Disney item that provided its own paints, brush, and 2 pictures to lovingly adorn with color as you watched them come to life.

We laughed while we painted, sharing paint pots and even the brush. It was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend. The two of us sat in the garage at the small table, with the small chairs (my knees are still mad at me), and spent an hour or so chatting and painting princesses. Again, what’s not to love, right?

When we were done, my little niece looked at both paintings, turned to me very seriously and somewhat dejected, and said, “Yours is more beautiful than mine.”

Meanwhile, I was looking at the paintings and thinking ‘Wow, hers is so much brighter and more colorful.’

princess paintingOf course, my response to her was “Neither is more beautiful than the other, they’re just different…and that’s awesome!”

And what’s important about that simple statement is the fact that it’s true. Beauty will always be subjective. I preferred her colors, she preferred my tidiness. We were both admiring each others work, feeling like ours could have been better.

The truth is, as I’ve said so many times before: Nobody wins in the comparison game.

Had the acknowledgment stopped at admiration, it could have been a spark for inspiration, creativity, and imagination. But when we take it beyond that point, into comparison, it becomes the birthplace of judgment, shame, and lack.

Both paintings were, indeed, beautiful. Both a wonderful expression of who we each are, as well as where we are in the chronology of our lives. Both paintings are happy, creative, expressive, and joyful.

Finally, it’s worth stating that what truly matters most out of the entire experience was the experience. The time spent together. The chatting, the laughing, the sharing. I’m sure the paintings will end up in the bin, but the memory of spending time together will stay with both of us for the rest of our lives. And that is the most beautiful thing I know.

Sickness, Death, and Love

Almost everybody I know has dealt with or is dealing with some level of sickness or death in their lives. If you’re human and you haven’t dealt with some measure of illness, or even death, I think THAT’S when you can count yourself among the richest 1% in the world. And that’s ok. Nothing to feel guilty about. Celebrate it, enjoy it, and offer up some big gratitude.

But for the rest of us, the 99%, here’s what I’ve noticed.

Almost 9 years ago when my dad had his massive stroke, many people came to wish us well and offer prayers and hope. So many friends and family members sharing phrases like, “it will be ok,” and “he’ll be fine.” But there was one – one person who dared to say something different.

I’ll never forget it. We were standing in the hallway outside the family room of the ICU almost in a reception line as a few friends were arriving, when Danny walked up to me. He put his hands on my shoulders, looked me straight in the eye and said, “This sucks.”

In that singular moment, I felt all the tension in my back and shoulders release, and I felt myself start to laugh a nervous laugh.

“Dare I agree with him?”

He hugged me tightly, and I felt like I would collapse since I no longer had tension holding me up.

“It just sucks. I’m so sorry,” he continued as he pulled back and looked me in the eye again.

By now, tears were welling up in my lower lids, and I realized I TOTALLY agreed with him.

“Thank you.” (hug) “Oh – THANK YOU!! You’re right. It sucks. It sucks big time, and it hurts, and it sucks.”

He smiled at me and didn’t offer the traditional phrases of comfort and condolence that many would interject at this point. Instead, he simply said, “Yeah,” and allowed me to have my peace, my reality, my truth.

And that was it. That one moment changed the way I look at life, death, and illness. More to the point, it changed the way I offer support to those around me who are experiencing challenging times. Yes, I still offer words of comfort and hope, but not to the exclusion of validating the sucky-ness of the situation. Nor to the point of negating the person’s experience.

The thing is, illness sucks. Death sucks for those left behind. So many books and teachers out there want us to focus on hope and find the positive in the situation, almost to the exclusion of the difficulty.

I’m a believer in how our thoughts change and create our lives. I know this to be true. I believe in finding the positive and living from that place. And yes, the positive is always there, can always be found, and helps us through the darker moments… but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t ALSO suck to live through it. Sometimes it just sucks. It’s hard, and it hurts. And that’s ok.

It means you knew Love.

The Little Things

Love and Life are found in the little things.

I had a conversation with my mentor recently in which we discussed the meaning of Life. As we were talking, I came up with an image, of sorts, to represent what I was trying to convey.

In much of Western medical thought life begins at the top of a pyramid, which is represented by the functionality of the heart, lungs, and brain. Life. From there it trickles down to the rest of the human experience, widening as it goes.

Life pyramid 1

Life as a top-down approach.

Indeed, Life can be defined scientifically like that, but I tend to disagree. Life, it seems to me, is a bottom-up proposition. Life is defined by all the little things that make it worthwhile for the heart, lungs, and brain to keep working. Life is found in the broadest expanse of the pyramid, comprised of tiny events, feelings, and experiences.

Life Pyramid 2

Life from a bottom-up approach

For who is to say that Life doesn’t continue in the hearts of others when one’s body has decided to leave? I think it does. We have a word for it: Legacy. I call it Love.

Love is all the little things. It’s the knowing smile from across the room that makes you feel instantly relaxed, assured, and at peace. It’s the tiny hand reflexively reaching up for yours as you go to cross a street. It’s the wag of a tail when you come home after a long day. It’s the whisper of the words “good night” when you’re too tired to speak. Love is a million little things that make it worthwhile to wake up the next day. Love is also the memories we hold in our hearts allowing others to live on in us.

Love is found in the little things. It’s the immeasurable moments that collectively create Life.

Speaking to Joy

Recently, I was speaking with a client that is venturing into the online dating world, and this came out of my mouth:

Find someone who speaks to your joy, not your fears.

So often in life we look for a mate who meets certain criteria, because it’s what we think we want or are told we want. We look for things like: successful, attractive, sense of humor, tall, etc. All of these things are great and not necessarily fear-based. But if we scratch beneath the surface just a little bit, they actually are. Here’s why:

All of these criteria are externalized to your joy. Therefore, the criteria themselves are based on some internal fear that you are experiencing for which you want someone else to fill the void. Another way to say that is:

When a desire is based in the energy of lack, rather than joy, we are setting ourselves up for future disappointment.

It’s an idea worth exploring, because nobody (nobody) can fill an internal void. What a partner CAN do, however, is help to expand your existing joy to where you end up filling the void yourself.

That’s what I mean by finding someone who speaks to your joy. Now, what does that look like?

If you think about people (friends, family, etc.) who already exist in your life and make your heart smile when you’re around them… that speaks to your joy. It’s not about external attributes. It’s about recognizing how someone makes you feel.

Therefore, the question isn’t:

  • Who are they?
  • What do they do? or
  • How do they look?

The question should always be:

How do I feel when I’m with them?

If you can answer that with a smile, you’re more than halfway there. 🙂

Labels, Limits, and Love – part 2

Last week I told you about my experience saying “I love you” to someone who isn’t categorized as lover, family or friend. I likened Love to a pasta sauce (yes, I did!), and shared that we would explore the idea of expectations and Love this week. So, let’s do it!

Here’s the thing: when I said “I love you” to that person, I had no expectation of a return. If we go back to the pasta sauce for a moment, ask yourself these questions:

Do you expect anything in return from your pasta sauce? Do you expect it to do something for you, validating you in some way? Or do you simply enjoy it for all it is in the moment?

That’s what happens when we love openly and honestly from our heart: we enjoy it for all it is in the moment. Some call it “being in the flow” others refer to it as “being in the now” – more labels. It simply is.

When we hold expectations for a return of our sentiments – our love – we are actually in a space of not-loving. We are in fear, or lack. Our energies are tied up in wanting. We are offering our love from a place of need, rather than a place of integrity, and that’s never good. It’s a false love, a caged love, a love that is bound and tied before it ever has a chance to be felt and shared.

There are many examples of this, but one I saw recently was a mother talking to her child. I was in a store and she put parameters on her love, saying something like, “How will I know that you love me, if you don’t do this for me?”

A quid pro quo for love is not Love. It’s enslavement to someone else’s needs, fears, and insecurities. It’s love as a possession, which isn’t love.

Expecting an “I love you, too” in return for your “I love you” is no different. Hollywood has hit on this as it’s a common theme among rom-coms. We’ve all done it – I’ve done it! (Many times.) So, this post is not about being perfect, but about raising awareness. Awareness invites change.

I experienced this myself most recently with the story I’ve shared. I said “I love you” because I did. I do. There is nothing more to it than that. Being able to convey my Love without strings, expectations or attachments was a gift I gave to the other person, but more so it was a gift I gave myself. It was liberating and empowering… and fully aligned with who I am.

It was the BEST pasta sauce I’ve ever had. 🙂

P.S. For more on how to communicate love effectively in existing relationships, I highly recommend the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman (www.5lovelanguages.com)

Labels, Limits, and Love – part 1

I don’t define love. Defining puts limitations on it. I love. Pure and simple.

I recently had this experience:

I said “I love you” to someone who was neither lover, nor family, nor friend. (Well, ok, maybe friend, kinda sorta, but not in the common sense of social interaction.) It was someone who touched my heart deeply in a given moment, and I love him. Anybody overhearing me could have been shocked, and quite possibly could have made up their own (gossipy) stories about what they heard. Which makes me sad, and caused me to think a bit more about the limitations we put on love when we reserve it for specific (labeled) relationships.

You don’t have to be in a defined relationship with someone to love them. In fact, I would argue that you can love many (many!) people with whom you are not in a specific relationship. We all do.

And that’s the beauty of love: it simply is what it is. It defies definition.

The minute we choose to define it as “platonic/familial/romantic” (or any other definition you can think of) is the moment in which we choose to limit love to one aspect, to the exclusion of all others. 🙁

Think of it this way: It would be like knowing there is a beautiful pasta sauce on the menu, filled with myriad flavors and ingredients, and asking for only the pureed tomatoes. When in reality love encompasses all aspects. It’s the entire pot of sauce, and then some!

The “then some” are all the intangible benefits that come from enjoying a beautiful, robust, full sauce: the joy, the memories, the warmth, the aroma, the pleasure, and the nourishment. That is what Love is. It’s everything, all at once, defying definition or labels.

Love, therefore, is not a possession. It’s something you can give, something you can receive, and something you can never own.

Like the sauce, it’s an experience in a moment, followed by another, and then another… intangible, tangible, and wholly delicious. It multiplies as it is shared. Like the sauce, in being shared it connects us with one another in a moment, an experience, and a joy.

So don’t worry about what someone might think (or what label they might attach) if you say “I Love You.” Focus instead on the joy you feel at sharing your truth in a given moment. It will come through.

P.S. Next week we’ll explore the expectations we have around saying “I love you” and how they undermine the very essence of Love itself.

Why Love?

Why love?

This holiday weekend got me thinking. Love is the answer to so many questions. So I thought it prudent to ask another question: Why Love? It seems a simple enough question, with an equally simple answer. Right? But let’s look at it from a different angle.

Why not Love?

Well, the opposite of love is fear. It’s not hate. Hate is a byproduct of fear. Fear is love’s nemesis. When fear is present, it does everything it can to keep out love. If life were a bus and fear were driving, you can bet the passenger list would look something like this:

Insecurity
Anger
Envy
Jealousy
Greed
Loathing
Despair
Loneliness
Low self-esteem
Low self-respect
Self-centeredness
Hate
Bullying

And the list goes on and on…and on. Fear drives, loads up the bus, and picks up more passengers as it goes, constantly edging love out.

But here’s the good news: Somewhere on the bus, perhaps in the last seat, pressed against the window, searching the passing scenery for inspiration is a passenger that never leaves. It’s a passenger that is on every bus, everywhere, all the time. Eventually it makes its way to the front of the bus and slowly redirects fear to the stop where love can get on board once more.

That passenger is Hope.

Hope is the often silent, but ever-present passenger on the journey. Thankfully, hope never remains silent for long. Hope restores love when fear has taken over.

hope restores love

So, to ask the question again: why love? For so many reasons, but mainly because with love, there is always hope. (Yay!!)