Love is the most powerful emotion we will ever experience—even greater than fear. From infancy, many of us learn that love is something we must earn. As babies we learn that if we behave in certain ways, we will get a loving smile from our mother, so we do more of what brings on the smiles.
On the other hand, if we toss our food on the floor or otherwise misbehave, we receive a disapproving frown or a scolding word. Even the youngest of babies can read the tone of their mother’s voice. We learn that approval means we are loved, and disapproval means we are not loved. Since we are small and completely dependent on adults, we begin to believe that our very survival is at stake if we do not conform to the behaviors that bring approval and a loving smile.
When we associate love with approval, we will do almost anything to earn the love and approval of people we look up to or are attracted to. We will even do things we do not truly believe in and compromise our values and our being in ways we will later find despicable.
As we grow, we discover that we can control others by withholding our approval in exchange for a loving glance or word. Some of us confuse love with sex or with submitting to another’s will or agenda. Or we believe that receiving material gifts from someone means they love us. We then search for someone who will love us without a list of conditions that we must satisfy, without exacting a terrible price for their affection.
When we wake up from and transform the dream of love that is unconditional, we discover that love is who we are, not what we feel. We have love without conditions. We no longer need someone to love, or to experience love through, because we become love.
I once asked Don Manuel to speak to me about love, for I had never seen his people be affectionate with each other like we are in the U.S.
“Love is like a batán,” he said, pointing to a flat stone with a shallow depression in it used for grinding corn, “and we are like the corn—each kernel full of light that must be set free. When you are ready, love will separate you from your husk, crack you open and break you out of your shell, so Spirit can knead you into a new being. Love will place you on a hot stone by the fire and cook you until you start crisping a little at the edges, like corn bread.
“Love is what allows the luminous warrior to live without enemies in this world or the next. It does not mean you do not have battles. Sometimes you cannot avoid conflicts.”
“So what do you do when you meet a nasty creature in one of the shamanic netherworlds?” I asked.
“You love them,” he replied. “Once you have been baked by the fire of love, you can offer them a feast of your own light. They have no defenses against love. But you can only do this after you realize that your light cannot be taken from you, that it is infinite, because it is the Primordial Light.
“Then you can love your neighbor like you love yourself . . .” He smiled. “Your maestro taught me that. I think it is a good maxim, don’t you? But if you want a Laika practice, try to love your enemy as you love yourself. Every morning when the sun rises over the horizon, I say a prayer for the conquistadores. This is love; everything else is barter, like in the mercado where the women sell vegetables. I give you potatoes, you give me carrots.”
“But what if I do not want to become like corn bread?” I asked Don Manuel. Somehow the image was not very appealing to me, even if it brought to mind the poetry of Rumi, where he writes that love will hollow you out, so you become like a reed for the wind to blow through to make the music of God. Hollow reed sounded so much better than a corn tortilla.
“Then you will decay on the husk,” the old man replied. “Or become food for the birds. The grape must be turned into wine. Otherwise, it rots on the vine.”
Next week, you’ll learn what it takes to break free of and transform the dream of unconditional love.