“All it takes to feel loved is to love. We always have the power to feel love. As soon as we stop loving we often don’t feel loved anymore.” -Betty Peralta
For all the years that I have thought and written about love, it is remarkable to me that I only just recently learned how my own thinking has prevented me from seeing the love in my own life for decades. We all create a storyline that our life mirrors and although it is hard to tell whether the events and circumstances of our life create the story or whether the story attracts the events, the story line becomes so deeply ingrained in our personal history that we often don’t witness its operation. For me, as for most of us, this history began in childhood with my emotionally dysfunctional family, which only grew more overtly unhappy as I aged. By the time I was 13 and the divorce escalated the collective pain into impenetrable defense mechanisms my storyline was set and the filter of my experience of life was measured by an ever present sense of being excluded, abandoned, and alone. These emotional drivers of my life were powerful forces of attraction, as well, and it took years for me to see the choices I continuously made to keep the filter intact.
This emotional history also had a lot to do with why I built Good Clean Love. I had witnessed how the destruction of loving promises wreaks havoc inside of us as well as in our ability to relate for years. This remains the painful legacy of my original family, which only cements itself into more isolation over time and so I began a journey on a different life path, learning and teaching the skills that sustain loving relationships. Yet, for all my years of teaching, I could never quite let go of my own story line. The nagging experience of being excluded remained largely operational with friends, business relationships and, most seriously, in my marriage. I interpreted every event through these guiding fears. All of my husband’s introverted tendencies felt like a million ways that he didn’t really want to be with me. We lived with this space between us for years until recently when I did some of Byron Katie’s thinking work and realized that each and every time I perceived him not wanting to be with me, I was actually not wanting to be with him first. Herein lays the surprising and invisible limitations of our own thinking patterns.
Every time I have felt unloved, I was not loving. Every event that built my childhood story of exclusion began with my inability to include myself. I grew up in the years that Whitney Houston sang, “The greatest love of all is happening in me,” but for all of the thousands of choruses that I heard, I couldn’t choose to want to be with myself. And it was easy to find hurtful friendships that mirrored my inability to choose myself. It seems incredible to me that it could have taken me this long to recognize that each time I got lost feeling excluded or invisible, I am at the same moment unable to connect to or witness the people around me. This is especially and most painfully true about the people I live with, the people who have loved me all along.
Here is the real epiphany: Hurtful, persistent thoughts are not really true. We repeat them and continuously find them in our life over because they are a sign post, trying to get us to look deeper, to turn them over and look at them from the other side, where there is greater wisdom held in them. For me this developmental leap finally came to at 50 years old, when I learned that the soul-soothing truth lived within the fact that I want to be with myself. Whitney Houston was right all along… The greatest love of all is inside of me and being able to choose that single thought released years of painful doubt about everyone else wanting to be with me, especially my husband. Finding what Byron Katie calls the turnaround to your painful thoughts frees you to begin within yourself, which is the first place that deserves your compassion and the only place that opens you to truly focus on loving.