What does it mean to choose love?

“Love, community, and connection are the only things powerful enough to overcome fear and terror. In the face of fear I choose love.”

This quote is extracted from the article “Love versus Fear” recently published in OpenDemocracy-Transformation. Yesterday, I laughed when the Transformation email popped into my inbox and this was the first article listed. That morning, I had been writing to a dear friend about how I’m no longer going to frame my personal story as about being a woman who has had a lifetime struggle with anxiety and depression. Instead, I see my life to date as a heartbreaking dance with fear and love.

Once upon a time, I found solace in the clinical labels of depression and anxiety – “Oh, that’s what I’ve been doing, why I have suffered so much in a life that in many ways ought to have been a life of ease, grace and joy.” Now, I find them constraining. At the root of anxiety is fear and at the root of depression is loathing or what Freud deemed “anger turned inwards.” I’ve been moving about in the world afraid of life and being angry with myself, sometimes to the point of being hateful. [As an aside,  I’m not exaggerating when I write hateful. I am aware it is the kind of statement that can shock people. I am also aware that many people grapple with self hate or self loathing and it isn’t something we talk about out loud very often. I think it would do us some good to be more honest about the prevalence of this in the USA.]

The result has been a great deal of suffering – I became a kind of mini-terrorist in my own life. Most of my aggression was directed inwards, though it of course impacted on people around me and sometimes was externally targeted. I never went to the extreme of physical violence, let alone murderous violence. Yet, I believe my behaviors have sat somewhere along the same spectrum which at one end has the extremes.

The author of the OpenDemocracy article is pointing towards a collective choosing of love to respond to the fear-inducing and perhaps fear-based actions around us – to shootings, to bombings, to terrorism. I wholeheartedly agree with this perspective. A critical question for us as humans beings is “How do we respond to fear with love –  both our own fears and fear in the hearts of others?”

And I speculate that the vast majority of us – at least in the United States, where I grew up – know what it is to react to the feeling of fear with hate, blame, judgement and aggression. I know I have done this repeatedly  in how I relate to my self and how I relate to others and to life. Where there is fear, I often have found there is also loathing or hate.

I am increasingly hearing that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. Thus, an article titled “Love versus Fear.” I’m not so sure it is that clear cut. I’d like to see us – collectively – engaging with the anger, rage, loathing and hate that is woven into our dances with love and fear. I, too, aspire to choose love in the face of fear. For me, this entails holding the fear, the rage, the pain in a container of love. Eventually love will triumph and the fear, anger, rage, pain will dissipate.  Yet, for a spell we find ourselves standing in all of it trying to figure out what a loving response to being in the muck and the mire looks like in practice.

And life is like this. Over and over again, we are faced with feeling the fear (and anger, rage, pain) in ourselves and bearing witness to it in others. Over and over again, we must call on our capacity to be loving in the face of the seemingly unbearable and unacceptable.

Thing is, as a human being who has been in a heartbreaking dance with fear and love for decades (I’m 45), I will readily attest to how challenging it can be to choose love. Right now I feel more able to do so than I ever have been. Particularly in the past year, I’ve come a long way on this front. The journey to get here, though – to a meaningfully expanded capacity to choose love in any given moment – has been long and hard and continues to require much vigilance and discipline on my part.

Julie Quiroz’s (author of  Love versus Fear) wrote: “Does this mean we are nice but weak? No. It means we are smart enough to understand that our collective existence on this planet depends on our mutuality and the humanity of each and every one of us. It means we are courageous and bold enough to lead and love even those who aren’t yet seeking our love and leadership.”

I’m not sure, to be honest, about the last line – something feels patronizing about it – ‘love even those who aren’t yet seeking our love and leadership.” Who are we to know who requires our leadership? And why should anyone seek our love? This bit of semantics notwithstanding, I embrace what I understand to be the underlying intention of Quiroz’s words.  I take away  a call out for us to be bold enough to practice the art of love because life itself depends on it.

It also requires compassion, which is not the same as being nice.  As the women of Bioneers’ Cultivating Women’s Leadership advise, we need not be nice, but we can aspire to be kind.

And I add, at the risk of repeating myself, that this practice is a tough one. Choosing love takes strength – strength of conviction and often a firm hand. The practice requires discipline to not confuse being kind with being nice and to make choices which – in following the path of love – can seem unfamiliar, give rise to much criticism and feel outright uncomfortable.

Until the other day, I would say to people that in the USA we generally aren’t well equipped for this practice. However, I was rightly corrected by New Mexico- based filmmaker Miguel Grunstein who said to me “We are equipped. The challenge is that we don’t know how to work very well with the equipment.”

Indeed.

The vast majority of human beings are wired to love – to be loving in our relationships.  Many of us, however, are not well-versed in what this means in practice, including in our relationships with our selves. In this way, the calls for courage, boldness and strength are in my mind tied to acknowledging the ways in which we have forgotten how to work with our intrinsic capacity to love. And to acknowledging that it is a tall order to root community and connection in love (noting that community and connection are not themselves inherently positive  – think Jim Jones/Jonestown).

Thing is, we have the capacity to meet this tall order. What we need is commitment to the daily practice of working with our inbuilt equipment. Though we might like to think love is effortless, we get to the effortless through a lot of hard work (the details of which are the content for a future post). For now, I’ll end this with saying that to me [r]evolution is a daily practice of rooting our creativity, power and imagination in love.

Though it isn’t easy, we CAN do it.

 

 

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