I was sitting in a coffee shop with a fellow yogi sipping chai and discussing my latest interpersonal frustration. I was feeling discouraged and lost, and I was looking for some honest advice about what to do next. I knew my friend could be counted on to cut through the crap with her laser-like perception and ability to say the right thing. I looked at her over the cardamom scented steam, waiting for some words of wisdom.
“Choose love,” my friend said.
I sat there, feeling stunned by this basic suggestion truth. I knew she wasn’t trying to push my concerns aside or wave some positive thinking bullshit in my face. Rather, she was telling me that the loving path is the path the shows up, faces fear, states the facts (even when they’re hard), and exposes the soul when it’s the right thing to do. It’s the path that Brené Brown describes as the courageous path:
What we know matters, but who we are matters more. Being rather than knowing requires showing up and letting ourselves be seen. It requires us to dare greatly, to be vulnerable.
To choose love is to choose the audacious and most daring path; the path that requires being willing to be seen and to swallow the needs of the ego (to be right or to be perfect, etc., etc.). For me, choosing love demands that I stay present rather than closing off. When I’m stressed or sad or hurt, I tend to defend myself by acting like nothing happened- all along having the expectation that ignoring the problem will cease all conflict (often, however, this creates conflict, in myself and in others).
What I’ve noticed in my week of dedicating to choose love is that showing up and being loving might seem harder at the time, but it almost always makes things easier overall. It’s a basic principle in yogic philosophy, too- the idea of Satya, or commitment to truth. I notice all too often that I hold back telling someone my irritation/ disappointment for fear that I will hurt their feelings or that I would be judged for my own feelings. I don’t give others the benefit of the doubt that they can take care of themselves. I know I’ve said it before here, but it’s worth saying again (and I’m speaking as much to myself as I am to anyone who needs the reminder):
You do not always have to take care of other people. They are more often than not able to take care of themselves.
Agreed- there are always exceptions to the rule, but the basic principle is that human beings are resilient and capable. Most people grow best when challenged to show their radiant selves through hard work and dedication rather than over-nurturing. Think about it: those times in your life when you worked hard at something and had something to show for your effort are often the most pride inducing times. Yes, maybe you had guidance along the way, but you had to strike out on your own and often times had to face fear and failure before success happened (I’m thinking of my most recent love of handstands- never would have happened if I had my legs held up every time or if I didn’t topple over a few times). It takes a loving and supportive person to give us the space to grow.
Moving from Choosing Love to a Guerrilla Love Revolution
One of my yoga teachers, Molly Lannon Kenny, reminded me lately that love can be a revolutionary act- that we can actually step outside of our normal way of loving and being in the world to expand love in the community. She created a Facebook group dedicated to this mission, where people can post their acts of “guerrilla love”, and I took it as a personal assignment to spread as much love as I can through the month of December (and possibly- hopefully- beyond).
I began by chanting “Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu” out loud on my bicycle all the way home (a mantra meaning, loosely: may all beings everywhere be happy and free of suffering and may my own words and deeds contribute to the happiness in the world). I loved it. It made my bike ride feel joyful and lighter than usual. It also helped me to feel connected more positively with everyone along the route- even the cars felt less intimidating and more a part of my community (that’s really saying something, because I often find myself praying for safety from them rather than wishing peace and happiness for them).
My next act of guerrilla love (also bicycle related) was to wish everyone along my route to work a good morning. I started by smiling at the people at bus stops, but I realized that most people don’t look up at people passing by. I felt a bit deranged, straining to smile at people looking down at their smart phones or staring at the street where the bus would be arriving soon. I also noticed how much of a cultural shift it was for me to try to make eye contact with people in a city where that doesn’t happen a whole lot. I decided instead to say “good morning” to the people I could, and it turned out to be stunningly enjoyable connecting to fellow bike riders, construction workers, and people waiting at crosswalks. A small act, but something I wouldn’t normally do without a nudge.
This weekend, my partner and I enjoyed time away at a cottage on a beach. Because it was just the two of us, my guerrilla love act was to pick up trash as we wandered along the shore. I held the idea of loving the planet and doing my small part to care for the sea birds and animals that live in that ecosystem. I assume nobody will notice the lack of bottle caps or plastic junk that littered the driftwood lined beach, but it felt good to me to know that the next person to walk the beach might not be distracted by trash and could instead focus on the beauty that is naturally there.
Loving is a choice: it’s about connecting, nurturing, and growing as human beings. I like the way Hafiz says it best (translation by Daniel Ladinsky):
So that your own heart
So that God will think,
I got kin in that body!
I should start inviting that soul over
For coffee and
Because this is a food
Our starving world
Because that is the purest