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“We are all made up of yearning and light, searching for a way out, afraid we will be shut in or cut off or repelled back into the ground from which we are reaching. This is enough to begin: To know, before all the names and histories drape who we are, that we want to be held and left alone, again and again; held and left alone until the dance of it is how we survive and grow, like spring into winter into spring again.” – Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening
The heart is a paradox. It is at once fragile and resilient, both longing for safety and union and yearning for separateness. On the one hand, it can tolerate suffering and rebound in strength, but on the other hand, it can recoil at any perceived slight; once hurt and without loving hands to guide it through the searing pain of loss, it seals over. We open and trust and hurt and close. We want to be held and left alone, again and again. And this is how we survive and grow our capacity to love.
As children, we’re particularly vulnerable to experiences that shake the ground of our being and threaten stability and safety. A move, parents’ divorce, an argument with a friend, being teased or made fun of, being left to cry alone or yelled at: these are the experiences that leave us wondering if it’s safe to trust, to love, to keep opening our tender hearts to the harshness of the world. We long for union and yearn for separateness. Even as babies, we long for union with mother but eventually realize we have to separate from the sweet cocoon of her love in order to establish our own sense of self. We’re caught in the paradox of the heart: We want to be held and left alone, again and again.
And so it is that when we land in the arms of real love that our lifetime of fears, pain, defenses and protections come rushing to the surface. This can happen on the first date, in month three, or twenty years into a marriage. For many people, the subterranean pain emerges through the fissures of transitions – getting married, moving, becoming a parent, retirement – or through the cracks of loss when the force of grief is unearthed and it gathers with it the unshed pain accumulated over a lifetime.
When the heart knows it is in safe hands it can at last break open and fall apart, but it also looks at this human and wonders, “You too? Will you also hurt me? Will you steamroll over my dreams and barrel over my voice? Will you betray me, tease me, walk away? Will you try to tell me how to live my life? Will you smother me until I can no longer breathe?” In safe arms, you dance between the polarity of two archetypal fears: the fear of losing yourself and the fear of losing another. We can chart some of the roots of these fears to our psychological and emotional histories, but it’s also part of the makeup of being human, and when we can recognize this, we can name it and work with it.
So when someone says to me, “You talk about the root causes that live inside the intrusive thoughts that I’m with the wrong partner or I’m not attracted or in love enough. What are these root causes?”, the most basic answer is, “The fear of loss which arises in the face of real love: loss of self and loss of other.” We fear love because we were hurt, but it’s more than that. We fear love because, as Mark Nepo says, “before all the names and histories drape who we are… we want to be held and left alone, again and again.”
As love warriors, we’re standing together on the threshold of a new chapter in our story of love and fear; we’re learning to name fear’s ways with greater precision, and learning what it means to choose love again and again. It could be said that our entire human story is an evolution of love, and if you chart our history you’ll see that we’re moving in the right direction as we all, individually and collectively, grow our tolerance, our patience, and our kindness – the qualities that allow us to fear less and love more. It is because of the paradoxical needs of the heart that we grow, for it is the paradox itself that invites us to push against the polarities until we expand the heart’s capacity. When we practice this on an individual level, it ripples out into the human race, which is why learning to love one human being well is an act of courage, an act of service, and an act of grace.
As we traverse the fears that criss-cross our hearts in a thatched pattern of yearning and aversion, it can be immensely helpful to receive the roadmap of Love Laws and Loving Actions that have helped thousands of people evolve their capacity to love. If you would like to receive this roadmap and study alongside a group of devoted learners, please join me for my next live round of Open Your Heart: A 30-day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner. It begins on Saturday, March 2, 2019, and I look forward to meeting you there.