Experiment here with me for a moment…
I want you to imagine someone you love sitting in front of you. Now imagine sending love towards them. How do you send those love vibes out? Do they come through your eyes, from your heart space, from your gut? Does it feel easy to do this? Familiar? Reassuring? Close your eyes for a moment and really get into the sensation of sending love towards another.
Eyes open again? OK, now try this – Imagine you are the one receiving the love now. How do you let it in? Do you open yourself in some way? Do you shift your energy to feel loved in the moment? Notice what it is like to consciously imagine receiving love from another. Does it feel more challenging, less familiar? Do you feel that there are blocks within you? Do you have thoughts of doubt?
If you felt the receiving exercise was more challenging for you, you are in good company. I have found many people have never given themselves the experience of consciously letting in love. Although many of us have been aware of love coming from us to another person. Some of us do this regularly as a spiritual practice, some feel this when they pray for others, some have noticed this feeling spontaneously in those remarkable moments of early love. Many of us have been encouraged to concentrate on loving others as a moral code and a key facet of being a good person. And after all, we cannot control who loves us can we?
It is true, we cannot manifest love for ourselves from another, and most of us have suffered unrequited love at some points in our lives. And many of us have been disappointed in the love offered us, from parents, friends, lovers, children. And so we guard ourselves against the yearning for love. We guard against future resentments and possibly naiveté. And in doing so we can forget how to let love in.
One of the great surprises for me as a couple’s therapist has been that the work is less about teaching people how to effectively love one another as it is teaching people how to be brave enough to consciously let someone love them. I have seen people in sweetness of relationship, flawed no doubt but vital and nourishing, who are closed to the possibility that this person really loves them. People who are terrified to trust in the sensation of received love.
I am betting there is a part of you who is afraid too. Or simply hasn’t considered that receiving love is something we might need to practice being aware of so that we can do it better.
Why is this so hard? For one love ebbs and flows; it is not static. So those moments of feeling loved intensely can feel so darn good, but they can’t last – at least not at that intensity. Even as we bask in the afterglow of truly connected sex, we will need to get up and clean up and go back to other obligations and distractions eventually. And so we prepare for the let down. In the face of the inevitable moments of disconnection from our loved one, we may even start to doubt that the love was really there at all. Walls go up.
One of the gifts of humans is our ability to recognize patterns and therefore learn from experience. The problem is that our mind tends to take the pattern making too far. One jerk of a boyfriend who didn’t respect you does not mean you are set up for a lifetime of that. Neither does having a selfish parent who never honored who you are, or a mean group of friends when you were in your twenties, or any number of possible experiences with people were simply not equipped to love you well at that point in your life. But these experiences are so painful that we mark them, deeply in our minds and hearts, and we strive with everything we have to avoid that happening again. A part of us decides that bases on past experience love is not available to us. Walls go up.
Also, we are mean to ourselves. Acutely aware of our own flaws, we have been trained by a consumer culture to believe we are not lovable as is. We might be lovable if we crafted perfect meals, or told brilliant jokes, ran marathons, volunteered in disaster areas, or always had energy to go out and have an amazing time (worthy of Instagram posts). Oh, and of course, if we lost weight. But this is frankly bullshit. We are all much more worthy of love than we think. And I have witnessed many people whose partners obviously think they are incredible who deny this attention for themselves because they think they are undeserving. You have to respect the love coming your way which means grappling with the fact that to some select people, you are wonderful just as you are.
So I invite you to get more curious about how you let yourself receive love this year. Become familiar with the sensations and mindset that allow love to come to you. Recognize that this is something we need to relearn and practice. Little ones know how to receive love effortlessly so you might watch them and mirror their openness to being cherished. It is okay to let yourself have this. In fact, it is necessary. The missed opportunities that come when we shut down to receiving are poignant.
There will be plenty of opportunities to give love out this coming year, to those close to you and to strangers. Prepare yourself by basking in the warmth of receiving.