The author of What Are You Hungry For? shows us how to face down our inner critic -- and start accepting (and admiring) ourselves for who we are.
By Deepak Chopra
A mother loves her newborn child without reservation, and romantic love, in its first stages of infatuation, can make the beloved seem perfect. But most of us doubt that love without reservation, love completely forgiving and accepting, exists in our everyday lives. Looking in the mirror, all of us see too many flaws and remember too many past wounds and failings to love ourselves without also putting a limit on that love.
In order to expand the love you experience now into unconditional love, you need to involve a spiritual element. There is a path to unconditional love, as with any spiritual aspiration, and on this path there is a beginning, middle and end. Let me describe each a little to give you an idea of how the path unfolds.
Beginning: You see yourself as wanting and needing love, usually more than you are receiving. You feel insecure about being lovable, but your ego is there to boost you (or not). You love others, for the most part, according to how much they love you or appeal to your sense of romance, sexuality and compatibility. Relationships involve a constant negotiation between what you want and what your partner wants. The words that apply to this love include the following: passion, attachment, dependency, merging, romance, mutual need, liking and compatibility.
Middle: When you aspire to a higher kind of love, ego and neediness begin to count for much less. You feel that love can be a healing force that binds everyone. You can love someone else without needing anything from him or her. Such love begins to be less personal and attached. Your awareness expands, and you feel less insecure. Love becomes more mature and peaceful. Relationships involve mutual appreciation; there are fewer conflicts between two defensive personalities. The words that apply to this love include the following: idealistic, calm, unselfish, giving, empathic, forgiving and accepting.
End: When all limitations are left behind, love becomes unconditional. You feel that it emerges from a spiritual source inside yourself. This is more than a feeling; you've tapped into a universal aspect of Being. No longer do you have a personal stake in the people you love. Pure compassion is possible now and a sense of belonging to the human family. Relationships involve no struggle or contending needs and wants. Love becomes a self-sufficient state of fulfillment. The words that apply to this love include the following: blissful, transcendent, saintly, luminous, ecstatic and boundless.
As you can see, the term "unconditional” is about a process that reaches an exalted goal, while, at the same time, there are glimpses of bliss and joy along the way. As with all genuine spiritual aspirations, unconditional love is natural. It can be felt in a baby's innocence or the sight of a sublime sunset. What's challenging is to hold on to these passing moments, to turn them into a permanent state. Yet, every step on the journey is worthwhile, just as any aspect of healing is always worthwhile.
Looking at the beginning, middle and end of the path, you don't need to judge where you belong. All of us have felt at least a few instances where we were perfectly loved and completely lovable. For most people, these times go back to childhood or a first romance. How, then, do we regain such a state? By walking the path that lies ahead. The world's spiritual traditions have provided many road maps, but here I'll offer a few common elements without religious overlay.
Step 1: Making contact with your inner self
This implies paying more attention to self-care. Through meditation, self-reflection or contemplation, and the experience of quiet at least a few minutes every day, you make contact with your inner world. You learn to appreciate and enjoy it.
Step 2: Honestly facing your inner obstacles and resistance
Most people don't like to face their weaknesses and flaws because they judge against them. But you are only human, and you will find that your sense of insecurity and anxiety represents feelings from the past that can be healed. In fact, they want to be released if you will give them a chance. The first step in healing is to look inside and let the process of releasing begin. Healing can proceed along many avenues, from therapy and support groups to energy work, massage, mind-body programs and various Eastern medical approaches.
Step 3: Dealing with old wounds
One could also call this advanced healing. As old residues of negative emotions are released, you find that you are stuck with resentments, hurts and scars that must be dealt with. Beneath the scar, such wounds feel very fresh. It takes help from someone else who understands the situation to go into these dark places -- it could be a close friend, mentor, confidant, priest or therapist. No one can do this work alone, I feel, but I'm not underlining any sense of danger or fear. The work can be done safely, without anxiety, and once you start, there's a tremendous sense of exhilaration, even triumph in the process. Just find someone who has walked the path successfully and sympathizes with you fully.
Step 4: Forgiving your past
You shouldn't jump too quickly into forgiveness. It's all too easy to pretend to yourself that you forgive old hurts and abusive treatment, when, in fact, what you are eager for is to escape the pain. The absence of pain, achieved through healing, gives you the right foundation for deep, lasting forgiveness. Self-acceptance is required first, and the realization that you -- and everyone around you -- have been doing the best you can from your own level of awareness. This can be quite a challenge when someone has hurt you deeply, but you can't fully separate from wrongdoing until you accept that others are trapped inside a reality they can't escape.
Step 5: Accepting where you are right now
This, too, is a stage you shouldn't jump into too quickly. The present moment isn't free of the burdens, memories and wounds of the past. They must be attended to before you can look around, breathe easily and love the moment you are in right now. A good beginning is to catch yourself when you have a bad memory and say, "I am not that person anymore." For the truth is that you aren't.
Step 6: Forming relationships where you feel loved and appreciated
The path to unconditional love isn't meant to be lonely. You should walk it with people who reflect the love you see in yourself. You are likely to look around at some point and realize that not everyone among your family and friends is in sync with your aspirations. Without rejecting them, you have the right to find people who understand the path you're walking and sympathize with it. They are more likely to appreciate you for who you are now, and who you want to become.
Step 7: Practicing the kind of love you aspire to receive
Long ago, around the time I wrote a book called The Path to Love, I encountered many people, most of them women, who were constantly waiting for "the one" to show up and sweep them off their feet. But the only way to realistically find "the one" is to be "the one" yourself. Like attracts like, and the more you live your own ideal of love, the more your light will draw another light to you. This single point, I am told, has helped the most people find their love.
If you spend time every day with one or two of these steps, you will find a practical road that takes you to more love than you have in your life today. The steps unfold naturally once you begin to devote attention to them. You were born to be perfectly loved and you are completely lovable. The loss of that status is what's unnatural, not wanting to return to it, and the return means reconnecting with your true self. The path has been walked successfully for centuries, so I hope you take heart and join the fortunate ones who aspire this high. There is no better time to begin than now.
Deepak Chopra, MD, is the author of more than 75 books, including 22 New York Times best-sellers such as Super Brain, co-authored with Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD. Join the WeightlessProject.org to eradicate obesity and malnutrition. For more interesting articles visit The Universe Within.