In NYC with my love last week

It seems we have forgotten one essential truth about love.

We’re told that love should only feel like love, which means good and pristine and holy and alive and erotic – and, most of all, certain.

We’re raised to believe that romantic love is the answer to life’s suffering and messiness, that when we meet “the One” we will be swept off our feet into the horizon of eternal bliss.

So what happens when doubt and fear show up?

We think, “There is no place for fear at love’s table. This must mean there’s something wrong.”

And the normal, healthy fear – the fear that will show up any time we risk our hearts – has no choice but to morph into anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and obsessional thinking.

We have forgotten the most basic and essential truth about love: that there is no great love without great fear.

We have forgotten that fear is love’s consort.

We have forgotten that the people you love most activate the most fear.

We have forgotten that sharing love means bearing all, and bearing all is terrifying.

Poets know this truth.

For decades, this has been one of my favorite Rumi poems:

“Love rests on no foundation,

It is an endless ocean,

with no beginning and no end.

Imagine, a suspended ocean,

riding on a cushion of ancient secrets.

All souls have drowned in it,

and now dwell there.

One drop of that ocean is hope,

and the rest is fear.”

– Rumi

Writers know it.

As Kristin Hannah wisely writes in her novel Coming Home:

“Then she realized he was scared because he cared about her. He was afraid she’d think he’d done something bad. He was afraid of her. Another tiny piece of the puzzle fell into place – love meant always being a little afraid.

Mystics know it.

One of the primary tenets of the Kabbalah and the Tree of Life is that love and fear are partners, and one of our holiest tasks is to unite them, to bring together the opposites. This does not mean banishing fear from the banquet table. Rather, it means learning how to walk through fear’s portal – which can be terrifying at times – so that we can widen our capacity to love.

When it comes to relationship anxiety, if we’re busy trying to solve the unanswerable questions of the anxious mind – “Do I love my partner enough? Is this the right relationship? Is there someone better out there for me?” – you’re missing the root and invitation of this work, which is to learn how to walk with fear.

For it’s through befriending fear, breathing into its dark wing like medicine, that we come to understand that it is not our enemy but an ally on our path to evolving our capacity to love.

One of the mind-and-heart-blowingly wise long-time members of my forum communities is currently the co-moderator for my Open Your Heart course, and one of her responses to a member sent chills through my body (my clue that I’m in the presence of deep truth). Here’s the exchange (shared with permission):

“I’m finding that the more that I acknowledge the gratitude I have for my husband, and focus on the wonderful things about what works well in our relationship and why I chose him, the more the anxiety pipes up to try to tear him down in my mind again. It’s almost like the fear walls want to get super loud to try to remind me of why I “shouldn’t” like him and get me back into the habitual and “safe” negative thought patterns that tried to keep him at a distance for so long. I’m on to you fear!”

And our co-moderator responded:

“I love your last sentence here! You are, indeed, onto fear’s tactics, both in this post and in your beautiful, wise responses to the fear lines above. You are exactly right—fear will try to keep us from our partner, because it feels safe. Real love is beautiful and so worth pursuing, and it makes us vulnerable; we open our hearts to the fullness of beauty and pain in this world. So, yes, when we start approaching real love, fear likes to rear up even more.

“One way to look at this is to realize that if the fear is getting louder, there must be something worthwhile you are seeking after.”

Fear attacks the things we love most – not to torture us (although it feels like that sometimes) but to try to keep us safe. Fear is the protector and messenger.

And it’s a gate into love. When we hold fear’s hands and breathe into its power, we understand that drawing fear into the cauldron of soul emboldens us to keep choosing love.

For those of you who have been on this path for a while, you know what I’m talking about. You’ve had a felt experience of recognizing that working with fear expands your capacity to love.

For those of you who are newer to this work: hang on. This is warrior work, and when you stay on the path, you will be rewarded in gold, for there is nothing more valuable than love on this earth.

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