Who wants to be called "stingy"? Who wants to see themselves as a Valentine's version of Ebenezer Scrooge? The whole image of being such a tight-fisted, pursed-lipped, curmudgeony creature assaults our sensibilities. Especially now, as we enter the Month of Love -- that's what I call it, at least.
The truth is, no matter how much we might resist, in the end, holding back only leaves you exhausted. You can tell yourself that love never lasts. We can put armor around our heart and say, "Love ends up in disappointment." You can throw yourself into work, 24/7. You can numb yourself out with any number of addictions. You can convince yourself that you don't need to extend yourself anymore, judging by the number of fans you might have on Facebook. And yet, none of this leaves you with that warm and wonderful feeling of having shared your heart in some essential way and having received the love of another.
As for me, resisting love just leaves me worn out. Maybe we have to get to this place before Love can break through the calcified, atrophied places -- those interior spaces where you refuse to let love touch you or refuse the expression of your own. It's so easy, isn't it? To fall into the trap of telling ourselves that we don't have time?
A case in point: Just the other day, a woman came to the consulting room with the ramifications of cheating herself this way. You might be surprised by the setting. Just returning from Memphis to see her aging parents, Yolanda, a 48-year-old woman, complained:
It was just awful. I spent every waking minute trying to work out their problems. My mother has so many meds; she can't keep one straight from the next. My father is depressed and having problems with his hips. I figured out how to get a caregiver in there who will be good. But I was running from sunup to sundown in so many directions that I didn't know whether I was coming or going. By the time I got on the plane, I was spent. Slept all the way home. Worse thing is that by the time the plane landed, I felt completely empty. I should have felt good. I accomplished a lot. But, in the pit of my stomach, there's just a big fat hole.
The hole is where the whole wants to be found.
Ever been there? Have you, like Yolanda, driven yourself nuts, running here and there in the name of getting things done, leaving the One Thing, the most important thing, ignored? Ever gone to great lengths to care for someone you love in the way that seems best, yet end up feeling disconnected, unsatisfied, frustrated? No matter how many items you may have checked off your "to do" list in the name of love, if you are not more loving in your heart, then nothing really clicks. If you are not present to connection, the rest may as well rot. Eventually, every thing you can name does, with one exception: Love remains. After all our antics have long ended, we've either given the most important thing away and received it, or we haven't and feel the ache. Underneath every single human communication, beneath every child's construction paper valentine, below the fanciest of poems and love letters is embedded eleven words: "I want your love. I want you to have my love."
There is always a greater possibility available to you. More love exists beyond where the ego can reach -- a limitless love that nudges your heart to surrender, to give over to that which is greater than yourself; this love argues for more connection and less restriction born of fear. Until then, you will keep yourself running inside the gerbil wheel.
Eventually, we crack. Something else takes over. It's as if the universe says, "Finally, little missy! Finally, you get that you can fight it all you want, but at the end of the day, what matters most all gets down to love. Surrender, sweet-cakes. It's bigger than you."
Love letters come in many forms. There are the ones you send, the ones you wish you would have sent and the ones you withhold because you are being stingy with yourself. You deserve more love, regardless what you think. Think about the times when love came your way, and you pushed it away out of fear, or a faux sense of unworthiness. Nonsense. Why waste more time? Let love find you however it can. Some Love Letters are written on valentine construction paper, some on stationary and some in the sand. Others are fashioned from visiting those we love, who happen to be having a hard or joyful time.
All I know is I'm with Howard Thurman when he says, "I want to be more loving in my heart." Surely, I am well practiced in excusing myself from the requirements of surrender. I can rationalize. I can react, rather than respond, to what irritates me, with a sarcastic remark. I can "show them" who's boss with my clever, snarky quip. Like one HuffPost reader wrote me, some articles back:
It's easy for me to be sharp and sarcastic. I get in there like the rest of them, to be hip, to impress, to get fans. But I am learning here, on this site, that's my cover-up. I want more. I want the "real meal deal" for my heart. Maybe that's why so many of us die from heart attacks. Our hearts are "under attack" from our own fear of being vulnerable, soft, yielding when there are no guarantees.
She's right. There's no insurance plan to protect us from love's fall-out. No one can tell us how long we have to conduct our own Love Project here on earth. When I asked Yolanda which part of this month's challenge she'd like to take on to be more loving in her heart, she chose to live like there is no tomorrow. Looking back on it, she realizes that what left her empty is that she got so preoccupied with ordering disorder that she was not present to her parents. Tearfully, she told me:
"I was stingy. I was so afraid to face that they are getting close to the end; I dared not meet them in it. I'm afraid. When they're gone, I'll be alone. But, if they were to die tomorrow, I would have missed today. I was holding back my love. That was the hole in my heart. How do I let go? What could move me in a better, more loving direction?"
The following guidelines will help get you back on track. Ask yourself one of the following questions each day for the next week. Afterwards, allow yourself space and time, in a quiet setting to allow a spontaneous answer to arise from within you. I've used them for years with thousands of people. They work.
If your candle were to go out by midnight today:
- What love would you have left unexpressed?
- What regret left unrighted?
- What one little step might you take today, to make a heartfelt shift?
- What connection would you have wished to deepen? How?
- Which one little step might move you best in this direction?
- Who does your heart wish you to thank today for: Something small? Something big?
- What love note needs sending?
- In the Name of Love, what if you seized this moment to become more loving in your heart?
- What if you made that call? (You know the one.)
- What if you gathered courage in hand, and simply said, "I am sorry. Please forgive me."
- What if you let go your resentment, realized that holding onto it is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die?
- What if you trusted your love more this day, feared less, dared your ego to step aside and simply said, "I love you, here and now"?
- What if you voiced the 11 words to someone who has suffered your stingyness and said, "I want your love. I want you to have my love"? What if you walked into the bathroom today, peered into the mirror and said these exact two statements to the one person, more than any other, who suffers self-inflicted stingyness in the love department?
- What if you looked yourself squarely in the mirror and fell in love? Not in that nasty, narcissistic sort of way, but in the way of invitation and self-compassion. For, after all, how can you possibly be more loving in your heart, if you cannot begin with that Greater Love nudging you to open up and be less stingy with yourself?
Your turn: What might help you be more loving in your heart? Where would you like to be more loving? What gets in your way? I'm listening...
For more, see carabarker.net. For updates, contact me at carabarker.net, or dr.carabarker@gmail; to save time, click on "Become a Fan." Stay tuned for upcoming developments on The Love Project, including "Practicing Love."