Far from being a doormat, unconditional love is about being who you really are, without conditions.
"Isn't unconditional love really about being a doormat?" she asked me with tears in her eyes, meticulously dabbing her cheeks with Kleenex so as to not ruin her mascara.
I paused before answering Lynn because I had never thought about it in that way. But I understood immediately where she was coming from since in her early 30s she had had to leave a very abusive husband and take her kids with her. Loving that man unconditionally to her meant she would have had to stay in that vile situation, allow him to throw her up against the wall and slap her until she was bruised and broken, and control every action of her and her children's lives.
Now at 38, she was still shaken and struggling to feel safe in her relationship with life.
"Loving unconditionally isn't about being a submissive doormat, subserviently throwing yourself underneath the muddy boots of rage. On the contrary, it's about the strength, honesty, and resiliency to be who you really are, regardless of the obstacles that throw themselves in your way. It's about respecting yourself and your children enough to get to safety when conditions are dangerous.
It's about accepting the evidence that your husband isn't in any shape to be around his family. It's about doing what needs to be done for every member to thrive, no matter the conditions that unfold. Even if that means divorce." I started to explain.
I went on to describe how when she allows herself the life conditions in which she thrives, she will be living her authentic nature. In being, simply being, love has the chance to unfold through her in ways only she can love. She will feel herself naturally intuitive, joyfully creative, quite resilient, and deeply fulfilled. Thriving is flowering, and is not to be confused with selfishness or greed.
Living in this way, she will find herself attracting just the people who truly love her for who she is. She will come to know and trust the intimacy she now craves, for intimacy will always be found where two souls meet within the nature and collaborative power of who they are - as mates, as fellow dreamers, as creative partners.
She will be an inspiration to her children, for they will learn from her the ways of unconditional love for self and others. They will learn how to take responsibility for their own being and inherent power, how to align with their highest selves, and how to treat others with the same respect they themselves enjoy.
They will learn to be courageous, to do what love asks them to do regardless of its popularity with fear. They will learn to forgive those who mean them harm, while they step out of the way of such harm. They will find compassion in their hearts for the imperfections within mankind. And they will continue steadfastly in being the power of love, despite the forces that loom large and threatening, like the blackened gray clouds of a storm in May.
When we live authentically to our own soul nature, as comes easily to the innocent hearts of children, we will indeed feel strong and resilient, creative and faithful to being itself, the true essence of unconditional love. But as we all know that doesn't imply it is always as easy to do for a well-seasoned adult, even in situations much more mundane than what Lynn had to contend with.
Several weeks ago I was at a meeting of leading edge professional therapists. The facilitator of the group is an "Ivy League" PhD psychologist, well intentioned yet a bit too eager perhaps to point out her credentials in a display of her peacock feathers.
It was easy enough to smile as she led with this customary introduction of herself to newcomers in the group, well aware of how quickly each of us do something similarly when we fear we are "not enough". But as she continued to assert herself at the smallest opportunity left open by the main speaker that day, it did grow tiresome.
When she outright squashed ideas thrown out to the group, before anyone else had a chance to comment, I did feel myself grow hot. When she did it again and again to many of us there that day, my body clenched and I found myself withdrawing into myself for safe haven.
By the end of the meeting, she had become aware of the reactions she was getting. She initiated an apology and asked for feedback. As did others, I described what I thought would be a more helpful approach to the group, rather than elect to focus on the negative. None of us acted like doormats. We cleared the air with honest and constructive communication, each taking responsibility for our part in the problem.
The following week, I could have come into the meeting with an air of defensiveness. I could have avoided her, or the group altogether. And it did cross my mind. But I chose to forgive, as I would have wanted to be forgiven. And instead greeted her with the innocent enthusiasm I first had when I had no preconceived notions of who she was.
I could tell she was relieved and she opened her arms for a hug. I hugged her back. And I meant the silent words it spoke.
Such is the power of unconditional love to change each of us for the better.
It was interesting how differently she conducted that meeting. I could tell she had taken to heart the feedback she had been given by the group. I felt glad for her and for me. Glad for her that her leadership went more smoothly that day. Glad for me that I was able to love, unconditionally and despite the less than perfect circumstances of that salty day the week prior.