Showing love and care for another human being in gentle and enduring ways is tough business. Since love is a feeling, an emotion, a commitment with no manual, it can become a gift or a punishment. Love is complex with invisible, and sometimes unfathomable, motives. Behind love is hidden a whole range of raggedy, transient and complex emotions, including pride, arrogance, mistrust, jealousy, lack of faith, greed, self-doubt and stubbornness, to name a few. When driven by negative motives, it becomes hardened or cynical or controlling love.
Hardened love can easily turn into persistent demands that sound like an endless drum roll. The drum never breaks and the drummer never stops. The listener to this relentless drum beat of demands in the name of love aches, fades, withers, and weakens and slowly becomes numb. They ardently pray and hope for the gift of silence so that they may feel free again without the handcuff called love. It is anything but love. The hallmark of hardened love is its debilitating control, lack of empathy, demand for obedience, and a deep-seated expectation of followership, I-say-You-do becomes the mantra. The equation is: I-say-You-don’t-do = You-don’t-love-me. You-are-bad. You-deserve-punishment.
On the other hand, when we watch endearing love in action between a parent and a child, couples, siblings, or friends, we realize that love is soft, flexible, and soaring. It is free from endless rules, do’s and don’ts. It is malleable. It is the gift of freedom that one gives a loved one. It is the art of standing close, yet invisible, in order to catch a loved one should they ever fall. Soft love is like a parachute that opens up when a loved one is in need. At all other times it stays folded, invisible, quiet, reassuring, solid, and very much out of the way.
Marilyn Monroe said in her unique style, “I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” Soft love has Marilyn Monroe written all over it.
Love is rooted in this delicate dance between holding on and letting go – all at the right time in the right way for the right reasons. The goal of love is never to transform another soul into something that we want them to be, but into something they were born to be. The object of love is not to demand submission to our will or our desires, but to give the other the freedom to soar in their own way, in their own time and for their own reasons.
It is listening to the music of the moment and dancing elegantly with the loved one, whether it is a child or an adult, knowing fully well that we will never know when the music may change or crack. It is dancing with your heart in your hands not knowing when the dancer will hold you or leave you, embrace you or stomp you, make an unexpected turn or simply stop dancing. All that we can do is to embrace the uncertainty and enjoy the dance knowing fully well that we are the parachute that will unfailingly and instantly open up should the need ever arise. It is soft love.
Love is not a perfect science. It is simply the story of our lives, the weaving of life’s lessons moment by moment, and the road to our spiritual growth. We must learn to let it be – whatever that Be may be – if we are to ever receive the gift of true love.
A love that delivers
What we learn the hard way is that Hardened Love does not work. Love that insists that it must always win or that it is always right or that it always knows what is best for another is a dead end. Love that is demanding, constricting, and burdensome cages and stumps the growth of loved ones. Children wither away and become lifeless robots. They feel inadequate and disabled and they carry this debilitating feeling of lack throughout their lives. They may look accomplished from the outside, but inside they yearn for approval and carry deep unhealed wounds throughout their lives. And in some cases they pass it on to the next generation. Spouses under the curse of hardened love feel invisible, empty, lonely, and barren. They long for silence and isolation. It is a sad, sad story, no matter what the family background is or who the cast is or their geography.
We live and learn. Each of us has abundant opportunities to take an honest inventory of our love patterns and its root causes. We have an obligation to do so. If we ever find ourselves in the clutches of hardened love, we can look deep within us. We will find that we have an abundance of wisdom, power, courage, and spirit to embark on a remarkable new journey. As E.E Cummings once said, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are!”
For those of us who practice soft love, we realize that when we nudge, instead of pushing and shoving, as a way to impart our wisdom to those we love, they may respond or never respond, but our mission is complete. Our love will nurture the wings of our loved ones so that they may soar high in whatever direction they choose to and we can watch from below and say, “This is what love can do!” and say a prayer softly that may our parachute always remain folded.