Conscious Relationships and signs of love
Moral and spiritual transformation through conscious awareness
“The most important thing is to polish the mirrors of hearts in order that they may become illumined and receptive of the divine light.” (Abdu’l-Baha)
At the root of problems in ourselves and with each other are thoughts (beliefs and motives) and emotions that live in our bodies (in particular in our hearts) without our knowing. They run our lives and create conflict and suffering for ourselves and others, as they make it difficult for us to give and receive love.
How can we be more conscious of the dynamics that operate in our significant relationships? What can we learn from those? What skills can we develop?
We have the tendency to repeat familiar relationship patterns over and over again. Our unconscious mind has been influenced through past experiences and sets the blueprint for the present and the future. It is as if we had been programmed a certain way in the first 6 years of our life, when we were most receptive. Experiential learning as we grow up, provides the parameters for the way we make sense of the world.
What we expect, we draw to us. Usually, we expect the familiar, which we then experience over and over again. It becomes a self-reinforcing pattern, a self-fulfilling prophecy, a closed loop. And since it is buried in our unconscious or subconscious mind, we can easily feel victims to whatever we experience.
The only way out of this predicament is to be conscious of our mind process and to bring the light of awareness to the darkness of habitual familiarity. In this darkness, I feel to be the victim of a situation and fail to see that I have a part to play in what happens to me. With the power of my expectations I draw certain experiences to me. These expectations may be conscious, yet more often they reside – unknown to us – in our subconscious or unconscious mind. According to new findings in neuroscience, it is estimated that approximately 5 % of our brain activities are conscious, the rest, this is 95%, is not directly available to us.
In our process of experiential learning we draw conclusions that form core beliefs. We learn that the flame of a candle is hot and can burn us, so that we don’t have to test it over and over again. This becomes part of our knowledge, part of our world-view. We make assumptions based on experience that give us orientation and a sense of knowing.
In relationships, we learn from our encounters with significant people, like parents, siblings and teachers. These give us a sense of the world, whether it be a safe or dangerous place, whether we can generally trust people or need to be cautious and alert, sceptical and worried. We gain a sense of what it is to be male or female from our first encounters.
Often, we waste our time by focusing on what should be. However, the only chance to change, to further ourselves, is when we realise what is, and what is our part in this. To embrace our programming, our “shortcomings” with honesty and humility provides the opportunity to move on.
Another trap is to believe that when we know something intellectually, we can change our behaviour arrordingly. Just because something makes sense to us theoretically doesn’t mean that we can put it into practice. It is the practical application of knowledge that helps us to contribute to the betterment of society. Here, my own personal development and the furthering of society go hand in hand.
The area of relationship is a very practical area where I can make concrete practical changes that impact on others. Or as Mahatma Ghandi says, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Love is central in human relationships. Ghandi says, “Where there is love there is life.” Tom Price describers love as a universal life principle. It is represented by coherence, attraction, and unity in all forms of existence. This can be seen as the life principle per se. As soon as a living creature, be it human, animal or plant, dies, it begins to disintegrate. As long as there is live, there is attraction between the atoms and molecules. The life force keeps everything together.
What is it that stops me on a practical level to be alive to the degree that I give and receive love easily?
If I have been lucky enough to grow up with an abundance of love around me, it will probably be easier. When I was programmed in my early childhood differently, it will be harder. It is my frame of reference that determines how I behave in the world.
Now I want to refer to the 12 signs of love, as described by Tom Price, to show how this principle applies and to ponder how, through conscious action, we can become more the authors of our lives rather than remain victims to situations that seem out of our control. To be consciously aware of my inner process gives me the opportunity to invite and eventually co-create new experiences.
The twelve signs of love are very practical and show us in more detail and on a practical level the ingredients of love.
I have grouped them in 3 clusters of aspects that go together.
1) Praise, Gratitude, Acceptance, Overlooking other’s fault, Seeing good in other people
Is praise in your life? Does praise come easily for you? Are you familiar with giving and receiving praise? Is praise part of your blueprint? Did you grow up in an environment where praise was given?
I grew up with criticism and complaints. The focus was very much on what was done wrong. Even at school, a red pen was used to mark any mistake. Mistakes were given attention, and they were highlighted. No wonder, criticism is very present in my psyche. So present that I sometimes hear it or feel criticised even when this is not the case. On the other hand, I might not notice when I am praised, I might feel uncomfortable with compliments or I tend to diminish any praise. Or I might be suspicious: “what do they want from me?”
Being critical with others goes hand in hand with being critical with myself. The inner critic can be very limiting and tends to deaden life force, as I hesitate in following my impulses.
How now can I move out of this world of criticism? How can I develop space for praise?
A good way to start is to learn to praise others. Where, in the past, I would be critical with what I don’t like, I learn to shift my focus on what I do like, and I make it a habit to note it and to verbalise my appreciation. This is a shift of perspective, to move from noticing the negative to paying attention to the positive, from the dislike to the like.
This sounds easy enough to do. However, do you catch yourself when you fall into negativity? Can a close friend or your spouse help you to notice? Can you be generous with compliments, with giving positive feedback?
First, it might feel strange and unfamiliar. Yet, with time, it can become a new way of being. Changing a deeply seated pattern requires practice. And also, it requires patience, mercy and compassion with oneself.
The most difficult challenge then is to not exclude myself and even embrace and praise my inner critic. Whatever we learn in life as a coping strategy in difficult situations initially serves us. For example, I learned to be self critical as a protection. If someone was to criticise me, I had already been there and done it myself. This way it hurt less.
Love is a unifying force. It doesn’t work if I reject any aspects of life. The goal is integration. It cannot be about fighting or obliterating criticism, complains and attacks, rather see them as signposts. Marshall Rosenberg (Non-violent Communication) describes them as “tragic expressions of difficult feelings or unmet needs”. They are tragic because they don’t help us express our feelings or meet our needs. Feelings and needs are the driving force in life. Whenever I experience criticism or feel critical myself, a good strategy would be to ask “what do I feel?” and “what do I need right now?”
The more I get into the habit of giving praise, recognizing praiseworthy actions and to express my appreciation, the more I include it into my relationship pattern, the more I will also receive it and recognize it as a sign of love.
Gratitude is closely related to praise. It is “a constant attitude of thankfulness and appreciation for life as it unfolds” (Virtue Reflection Cards). “We contemplate the richness of our life. We feast on beauty. We notice small graces and are thankful for daily gifts. In life’s trials, we seek to understand, to accept, and to learn. … Gratitude is a continual celebration of life.” (ibid.)
Gratitude is also connected with abundance. According to the “law of attraction”, as I am grateful, I attract more abundance in my life.
The opposite is thanklessness, condemnation and being unappreciative. Again it is a focus on what we don’t want, on the negative. It is like a spoilt child who is never happy with what is being given, always wanting something different or more. We expect things to go our way and when they don’t we are incensed at any mishap, we throw a tantrum. Any kind of problems would floor us. This is an attitude of discontent.
Realistically, we can expect things to go wrong at times. Therefore we can be grateful and thankful for all the good in life. It is helpful not to take anything for granted, but to appreciate all the gifts and blessings that we receive.
Unfortunately, often we can take things for granted and only learn to appreciate them when they are taken from us. When I was in hospital, I remember looking out of the window, and wishing that I could get up, walk over the lawn, be in nature. Something that I mostly took for granted, all the sudden was valuable when I was not able to do it. Sometimes, we value and miss people when they are gone or have died. We can easily take life’s blessings and each other for granted.
Is there anyone in your life to whom you haven’t expressed your appreciation yet?
After overcoming hardships, people might find it easier to be grateful, like the early settlers in America who invented the festival of Thanksgiving. Is it possible to cultivate gratitude without needing to experience hardships? Does the development of gratitude give meaning to hardships?
Gratitude is the attitude to appreciate life in all its abundance. In prayers, we can thank God for all the blessings that we receive. With gratitude, we delight in all the splendours of life rather than let ourselves be submersed in a bog of misery.
Is gratitude part of your relationship blueprint? Do you regularly express your gratitude? Are you thankful for who you are and for what you have in your life?
In every given situation, I have the choice to wish for something different or to be grateful for the given. Byron Katie called her book “Loving what is”. This takes us to the next sign of love: Acceptance.
Acceptance is the willingness to be with what is. “Acceptance is embracing life on its own terms.” (Virtue Reflection Cards).
Even though it is a fruitless effort to fight ‘what is’, it still is a common experience. Byron Katie states: “When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time.” In actual fact, we really have no choice but to accept and surrender to the given. Acceptance is not resignation, it also includes my response to a given situation. It is an act of embracing what I am confronted with.
“Life is not the way it’s supposed to be, it’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.” (Virginia Satir)
In relationships, acceptance is expressed as tolerance. To tolerate the difference of another is a growthful exercise. When it comes to people, there will always be difference. No two people are alike. The task of our time, “unity in diversity” asks of us to even welcome difference. It is the other side of unity. We could not have unity if there was no diverseness. All we would have is sameness. In unity the diverse parts come together. This reminds me of the definition of mutuality as “mutuality is when differences add.” (Shem and Surrey). Both voices are heard and responded to.
“Please God, that we avoid the land of denial, and advance into the ocean of acceptance, so that we may perceive, with an eye purged from all conflicting elements, the worlds of unity and diversity, of variation and oneness, of limitation and detachment, and wing our flight unto the highest and innermost sanctuary of the inner meaning of the Word of God.” [1 The Báb.] (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 160)
With acceptance and tolerance, we honour the fact that we have different reference systems, based on our different childhood experiences. And also we honour the validity of both. Rather than looking at the world only through my eyes, I understand that someone else has a different perspective. Individuals in a group of people, sitting together in a room, would all describe the same room differently. There is only one truth, yet no one has the whole picture. We all have part of it. Acceptance and tolerance helps us to allow for this difference, to make space for it. It protects us from prejudice.
We judge all the time, whether in the negative or the positive. It is a way of orienting us in the world. Do I like it or don’t I like it? On numerous occasions during the day, when we need to make a decision, we judge. Often we judge others. “Judgment can become a process of separation or a process of inclusion and intimacy. … Three words are the difference between separation and oneness. You can’t stop the mind from judging. Add three words and that judgement becomes a different world.” (Arjuna Ardagh, in Reisefuehrer ins Erwachen, 42”) What are these three words?
“Just like me.”
If you think of someone being impatient, say: “he is impatient, just like me.” If you consider someone beautiful, it’s the same, say: “she is beautiful, just like me.”
I can only recognize in others aspects that are potentially part of me, that are in my frame of reference. “Just like me” moves me out of separateness, into connecting and linking with the other. Just try it out!
Acceptance makes it possible to also let go. Fighting keeps me stuck, unable to move on. This becomes possible, once I accept.
How did you grow up? Was diversity tolerated or even encouraged in your family? Is it easy for you to tolerate difference? Is it possible for you to hold on to yourself in face of difference or do you easily succumb to peer pressure? Can you accept and tolerate difference in others?
Overlook other’s faults
It is important to realise that everybody has faults. No one is without limitations or errors. Ultimately, faults don’t even exist. They are like the darkness with the light. Darkness itself is no entity, it is the mere absence of light. We cannot turn off darkness in a dark room, we simply turn on the light. Even a single candle in a dark room makes a difference.
“On no subject are the Bahá’í teachings more emphatic than on the necessity to abstain from fault-finding and backbiting while being ever eager to discover and root out our own faults and overcome our own failings.” (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 88)
“If any differences arise amongst you, behold Me standing before your face, and overlook the faults of one another for My name’s sake and as a token of your love for My manifest and resplendent Cause.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 315)
A focus on someone’s fault reinforces their defect, their blemish, their shortcoming. In fact, we are all complete, perfect in our own way, as we contain the capacity to develop the divine qualities, the virtues. This connects us to the next sign:
See good in all people
As I see the good, I see ‘God’ in my fellow beings. My focus on their good qualities, their virtues, reinforces these. The more we look for good qualities, the more we find them. We can see people as a mine. Somewhere deep inside is the gold. We look for that and discard the rest. In the same way we look at the night sky and notice the stars, ignoring the blackness between.
Tom Price stresses that God goes past everyday. When we look for the good in people we find it. Everyone can be considered an unopened letter from God. Everybody has good qualities. Sometimes they had not been recognized or sufficiently reinforced in the past. As I focus on them, I reinforce them and help them to manifest more readily.
Did you grow up in a home where the focus was on the good, your virtues or on your faults? What was emphasised? What is part of your relationship blueprint? What is easier for you, to affirm virtues or to criticise faults?
2) Listening, Forgiveness, Never cause grief to others
“It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.” Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809 – 1894)
This sign of love stands for the attitude to seek to understand the other. It comes from recognizing that the other is different from me and from a genuine interest to want to get to know him/her. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is what Stephen Covey calls the 5th of the “7 habits of highly effective people”, a principle of empathic communication. It points to the importance of empathic listening, which is “listening with the intent to understand” (Covey, p.240).
More commonly, people “listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak” (ibid., p.239).
Listening allows for dialogue to happen. Sometimes, people only appear to dialogue, when in actual fact they get involved in what Martin Buber calls “dialogic disguised monologue”. This is based on the difficulty to simply be with another person for their sake, to make space for their world, their reality. More often we seem to have the urge to bring forth our thoughts and ideas before it is appropriate. Sometimes, verbal exchanges in groups can become competitive and hectic. It seems that I have to fight for my space if I want to get a word in.
Sometimes people debate and try to convince each other. Yet, this is an unnecessary attempt. Unless someone asks for advice, it often serves more the one who gives it than the one receiving it.
Tom Price points out that everybody is right according to their frame of reference. It is pointless to argue someone’s point of view, to try to convince them to change their mind. If someone tries to talk me into something, I notice that all it does is to increase my resistance. It is where communication can become violent (Marshall Rosenberg). All we really can do is to say, “this differs from my frame of reference” and understand that they have a right to their position. And it is as valid as mine.
When we feel very dogmatic, are rigidly fixed and want to convince others of our position, it usually comes from a place of insecurity. We then need others to join us, so we feel more secure. This is the case with anyone who holds a dogmatic point of view. The forcefulness of an opinion is then not a position of strength, it only disguises insecurity.
The spiritual law of “independent investigation” of truth honours everyone’s individuality. It invites and fosters maturity and the freedom of choice. I am who I am because of my past experience. Your life experience is different to mine. You may have grown up in a different culture, with different parents, a different gender. All our past experiences provide the ground for our position, the way we view the world.
Empathic listening is a way to create an inner space for another, to put ourselves in others’ shoes. We learn to look at the world from their perspective. We learn that in diversity, two realities can stand next to one another. I don’t have to give up my perspective, nor do I have to try to coerce or convince someone else to give up theirs.
Virginia Satir puts it this way, “whatever a person does, thinks or says, makes sense in the context of their life”. Our view of the world is shaped of our unique life story. If someone doesn’t make sense to me, I simply do not know enough about this person. There is no need to prejudge. As an expression of love, we listen with the intention to get to know the other better.
This form of listening that constitutes a sign of love, is not easy to do. It requires to give up my narcissistic sense of self-importance and the habit to relate everything to me. Listening with the intention to understand gives a warm feeling of being loved.
Do you know the difference yourself? Do you remember situations where you felt truly listened to? Did you grow up in a family where this was practised?
“Forgiveness is overlooking mistakes and letting go of resentments. Forgiveness frees us from the needless pain of reliving a hurt over and over again. Forgiveness doesn’t make a wrong choice right; it brings generosity of spirit to release it. Forgiveness can heal even the most grievous offense. It brings a blessed opportunity for a clean start.” (Virtue Reflection Cards)
Tom Price calls this the hardest to do of the twelve signs. He quotes Martin Luther King as saying “He who is devoid of forgiveness is devoid of the power of love.” Obviously, forgiveness is a central sign of love.
Forgiveness requires to let go of an old hurt. Often, we find it difficult to let go, just in case it might happen again. We use our non-forgiveness as a kind of protection. This is a way to justify our closing off to someone, our keeping alert and expecting a repeat of the same painful experience. We build a fortress with strong walls around us to keep out the enemy, oblivious of the fact that the enemy that could attack us is already inside.
It borders on cruelty when we are merciless towards someone who has hurt us. Bert Hellinger points out that there needs to be a place for making amends, for reparation and restorative justice. Otherwise, the one who had been hurt initially becomes the guilty one.
What we often don’t see is that it actually hurts us even more. A painful experience becomes frozen in time. It is like time has stopped and we are forced to relive the same painful moment over and over again. There is no way out, unless we soften in forgiveness.
“Forgiveness is an inner correction that lightens the heart. It is for our peace of mind first. Being at peace, we will now have peace to give to others, and this is the most permanent and valuable gift we can possibly give.” (Gerald Jampolsky)
Our reluctance to forgive is also an indication of our own attachment. Our pride has been hurt or we are stuck in the attempt to hurt back, to punish the one who apparently has done us wrong. Yet, without knowing it, we end up punishing ourselves.
Sometimes, we don’t forgive ourselves. Then we are both perpetrator and victim. “Self-forgiveness moves us forward, ready to do things differently, with compassion for ourselves and faith that we can change. Forgiveness opens the door of hope.” (Virtue Reflection Cards)
There are sad stories of families and countries being in feud with each other for generations and generations. The grief continues. Cruel actions are justified and perpetuate and reinforced so that it ultimately ends in war.
In the end, all we need is to accept Divine forgiveness. It “transforms our hopeless guilt into resolve” (Virtue Reflection Cards). There are many prayers that ask to invoke forgiveness:
“I beg Thy forgiveness, O my God, and implore pardon after the manner Thou wishest Thy servants to direct themselves to Thee. I beg of Thee to wash away our sins as befitteth Thy Lordship, and to forgive me, my parents, and those who in Thy estimation have entered the abode of Thy love in a manner which is worthy of Thy transcendent sovereignty and well beseemeth the glory of Thy celestial power.
O my God! Thou hast inspired my soul to offer its supplication to Thee, and but for Thee, I would not call upon Thee. Lauded and glorified art Thou; I yield Thee praise inasmuch as Thou didst reveal Thyself unto me, and I beg Thee to forgive me, since I have fallen short in my duty to know Thee and have failed to walk in the path of Thy love.” The Bab (Compilations, Baha’i Prayers, p. 62)
Did you grow up in an atmosphere of forgiveness in your family of origin, or did you inherit old family feuds? Is it easy for you to forgive? Forgiveness has always to do with giving, as the word says. Are you open to give or have you closed your heart to some people? Do you engage in the flow of giving and receiving easily?
Do you see yourself as a victim of circumstances? Or do you take some responsibility for your triggers? If someone hurts you, you can recognise this as a trigger of a sensitive spot and consider that they might not have had the intention to hurt you.
Never cause grief, this means never cause another person’s unhappiness or grief. In the same way, as you don’t want to be hurt by others, don’t deliberately subject them to that either. Do your best to be a blessing for your fellow humans and not a curse.
If someone gets triggered by your action, there is little you can do, but to feel sorry for the impact that you had on them. Show them your care by hearing their perspective, instead of self-righteously justifying yourself. Even if it was not your intention in the first place to hurt them, it is a loving gesture to feel empathy for their pain.
One way that many people get hurt is by criticism. It is best to focus on praising the good deeds of others and to refrain from criticism. Tom Price is very adamant that “constructive criticism doesn’t exist”. Criticism always hurts. If you mention someone’s fault or shortcoming to them, it always hurts, since the focus is on the negative.
I remember Barry Brailsford sharing his process of writing the book “Song of Waitaha”. The elders had shared their orally transmitted wisdom and he compiled it all, sorted it and then presented his product. They never criticised him. They always focused on what he had done well. He felt himself that he was not quite there, and kept rewriting his drafts. When he finally arrived at the final version, they just sat in silence and he saw their tears in their eyes, as they saw the result. He then knew that he had completed his task.
Also to give advise is not helpful. It is a way to take a superior position towards someone else. Only advise someone if they specifically ask for it. And even then, it is more skilful to let them find the answers themselves by providing helpful questions.
What, according to Price, we should definitely erase from our vocabulary is the phrase: “I told you so”. This would again be a condescending behaviour of showing off how smart you were and not an expression of love. Even if you had, it is more uplifting to celebrate their insights with them.
Be mindful that “every word that flows out of your mouth can either be honey or poison” (Tom Price).
Have you experienced this sign of love in your upbringing? Did you experience the warmth of the focus being on you and your well-being?
C) Unconditional, Joyful radiance, Service, Receiving love
Unconditional is the selfless love of a mother to her child, as it was described by Erich Fromm (The Art of Loving). It is a selfless love, one that gives and doesn’t want something back in return.
Tom Price contrasts this with “the love of a butcher for the lamb”. Here the love is not real. The lamb is fed because the butcher wants to have a good return when he kills it.
The same kind of “love” exists in circles, where people fall easily in and out of love. I love you as long as you meet my needs or give me something that is useful for me. As soon as this stops, I might discard you like an object that had lost its value. It is a common attitude of replacing people in our life when they no longer serve us.
Unconditional love is more concerned with the other. It is focused on their essence. I love you because of you being you. I love you for your sake, not for mine. Of course, in intimate relationships, I end up benefitting too from a loving relationship. The point here is the intention.
John Welwood contrasts the “modern marriage” where partners are there to meet each other’s needs with “conscious relationships”. Here the goal is personal development. Difficuties are then viewed as necessary opportunities for personal growth. Rather than judging my partner, I can explore the question: what is asked of me in this situation? How can I best develop myself?
Have you experienced unconditional love? Do you know the difference between conditional and unconditional love from experience? How do these two feel to you?
“Joyfulness is an inner wellspring of peace and happiness. … It is a deep sense of wellbeing that fills us with delight and hope.” (Virtue Reflection Cards)
To experience joy does not depend on external things. It is an inner quality. I can feel joyful in all circumstances. Nobody can take this away. It is my choice.
What makes the joy you feel so valuable to others is your ability and willingness to be radiant with it. The sun benefits the earth through its radiance. Or as the saying goes, “shared joy is double the joy (and shared pain is half the pain)”.
“Cheerfulness is seeing the bright side and looking for the good in whatever happens. It is maintaining a positive attitude of optimism and confidence.” (Virtue Reflection Cards)
To feel joy and cheerful within lightens not only your life. “A cheerful smile can light up everyone’s day.” (ibid.) This is a skill that I can learn. I can become what Tom Price calls a “smiler”. He suggests to notice people in your life who tend to do this naturally and learn to imitate them. In the end, I can express my smiles freely to everyone who I meet.
Did you grow up amongst smilers? Do you know people in your life who are good at radiating their joyfulness? How easy is it for you to be joyful and to express it freely?
Service is to be helpful to other people. You pay attention to whatever they need and you help them. You do what you know brings others happiness. For example, you visit someone who is sick, you pray for them. Service feel good, as it gives you a sense of being helpful and making a positive difference in someone’s life.
The more you are concerned with other people’s happiness, the more you end up being happy yourself. In service, I learn to be empathic, to feel the joy in others. I take joy in serving others. Abdu’l-Baha points alludes that service to mankind is a way to serve God.
Service is at the same time beneficial to the one who serves. Mahatma Gandhi says: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Acts of service has been described as one of the “Five Love Languages” (Gary D. Chapman). People feel loved when they experience an act of service.
“With acts of service, it is important that you take on chores that are important to your partner. It is crucial that these acts of service are done willingly and lovingly, not with any resentment. You do them out of love for your partner, you do them, because they matter to them.”
Have you experienced service as you grew up? Who served whom?
While the former signs of love are mainly to do with giving love, the last one is devoted to receiving love.
The ability to receive love is an important inclusion in the twelve signs of love. Even though, to love mainly means to focus on the other for their sake and not your own, you also need to include yourself in the circle of love. To be self-loving does not mean to be selfish. You include yourself as one of God’s creatures in the knowledge that “love is a chain”. Similar to electricity, it flows in a circuit. It can only flow out as it flows in.
To the degree that you let the love of God into you, it can come out. As you receive love, you can give love.
It is a great joy to be able to love another person and to be received by them in your love of them. The willingness to receive love yourself, gives others this opportunity to feel good to feel their own potency as a loving person.
Receiving love also means to develop self-love. The more you love yourself and take good self-care, the less you become a burden to others. You create fullness for yourself that makes it possible to be there for others without feeling depleted by it.
Narcissitic self-preoccupation that is so prevelant in our times, comes from a place of lack. It is misleading, because people who tend to behave in this way, appear confident and to possess high self-esteem, when in actual fact they are quite insecure. The self-centredness comes from a place of weakness rather than strength and does not make space for empathy of others. It can be driven by a sense of grandiosity to compensate for the deep insecurity that is felt. In its extremes it has been defined as a personality disorder. What is lacking is humility and empathy for others.
The person who loves themselves, on the other hand, loves the self, as a gift from God. There is the metaphor of filling your own cup, so that it overflows. Then others can benefit from what flows out of your cup without you having to worry that you exhaust yourself in the process. You live a life of love, and you include yourself in this stream of love.
On a practical level, self-love is expressed as a loving inner dialogue. You say positive things to yourself, loving and nurturing.
As love is life, it is God given. You know that you can let love flow, as you are sure that you too are in the stream of receiving love and life. As you recognize that you have been created in the image of God, you see the attributes of God in yourself and in others. Love of self and others goes hand in hand.
All the 12 signs of love are the qualities that God gave us humans. These are part of your true nature. All you need to do is practise them.
“Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee.” (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words)
When you read through the different signs of love, are you expressing all of them? What are the ones that are most familiar to you? and which one would you like to develop further?
You can make a difference in the world in a very practical way by being a loving person. The more we can learn to live in love, the more we can contribute to unity in the world, to life, to love.
“The more love is expressed among mankind and the stronger the power of unity, the greater will be this reflection and revelation, for the greatest bestowal of God is love. Love is the source of all the bestowals of God. Until love takes possession of the heart no other divine bounty can be revealed in it.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 218)
The twelves signs of love, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMnJmSQxQxw , recorded 25/10/2013
Virtue Reflection Cards, Popov, Linda & Dan, http://www.virtuesproject.com
Byron Katie (2002); Loving what is – Four questions that can change your life
Covey, Stephen R. (1989); The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; New York: Simon and Schuster
Rosenberg, Marshall (1999); Nonviolent Communication – A Language of Compassion; Encinitas, California, USA: PuddleDancer Press.
Initially presented at the North Island Summer School on 29 December 2013