Travelling is learning. Whenever we venture into foreign lands, some part of us wants to grow. We want to expand our horizons, test our edges, and experience greater unity with our global human family. Sometimes this connection comes in obvious ways – in a smile, a kind gesture, in the convergence of a pod of people standing together in awe of a rainbow or a sunset or a soaring bird, in the laughter or tears of a child, in something given, in something received.
In my experience, this learning rarely comes in the ways I expect… Human beings are preferential creatures. I, like just about everyone, am a creature of habit. We gravitate towards what is comfortable and easy. But, travel can be testing. It’s a shake-up of the norm. Growth often comes when I don’t get what I thought I wanted or intended – when a bus gets delayed for 5 hours in the heat of an Indian afternoon, or the tickets to Machu Pichu are sold out, or I get stuck in the Brazilian jungle for an extra week with two strangers and a misanthropic Royal Parrot named Ed. I find that, if I allow space in my heart for the bumps and the kinks, I always get what I need to soften and open more fully to love.
I’ve been travelling in South and Central America for two months, now. I’m saturated in the colors, flavors, smells of this land of mysterious and diverse cultures and climes. Like a stone in the river of life, my edges have been polished by the rolling, sometimes disjointed, rhythm of constant movement. I started this trip in the windswept Sacred Valley of Vilabamba, Ecuador, then headed North up to the technicolor lakes, jungle volcanoes and tribal textiles of Guatemala, Belize and Southern Mexico for a 20 day tour of the Mayan Heartland and a week at Lago Atitlan. Then, I flew back down to Peru, where I am now, high in the mountains above Cusco, at over 11,500 feet above sea level (wow!). I’m travelling with a Peruvian friend and staying at the home of one of his mentors and teachers. We are living life en Español… a language I’ve never studied and am only now beginning to stutter into. What a challenge. What an opportunity – an opportunity to let go of all my ideas about what I think love and loving is and to live more quietly and wholly into something real and practical and responsive – something I recognized this morning as unconditional love. It’s really ridiculously simple… and very worth taking note.
Given that we are, by nature, preferential beings. It seems to me that living unconditionally is about shaping my preferences according to the natural patterns of unconditionality. God, I love paradox!
8 Keys to Living Unconditional Love:
1.) Love who you are with.
The person or people in front of you are your opportunity to love. Period. Right now, there is no one else with whom to give and receive that mysterious currency called love. So, turn towards who ever you are with and give them your eyes, your awareness, your listening, your curiosity and compassion and see what happens. You don’t always get to choose your company, but you always get to choose how you attend to and respond to them.
2.) Let love be it’s own language.
Giving and receiving requires no words. Presence requires no language. Gestures form a complete language. And, in the absence of language, it is easy to feel the heart. It’s as simple as a smile, a gaze, a giggle, an exhale in the face of stress. Let it be light. Let it flow. It will grow!
3.) Learning is a way of loving.
Whether traveling internationally or connecting with a new friend or lover in your hometown… everyone has a different language of love. We ALL want to connect, to share, to understand and be understood, and we all do this differently. So, love motivates us to learn how to observe and to communicate. It’s really helpful to learn the language and customs of our new friends so that we can more fully understand and be understood, give and receive. And, regardless of shared language, we can observe the habits of another with curiosity and respect to discover the non-verbal and gestural language beneath language. We can also ASK QUESTIONS. With observation, communication and questions, we can respond more coherently to our friends day by day. Love invites us to rest into observation and learning BEFORE imposing our own ideas, opinions and preferences on a person, a people and a place.
4.) Love is a stillness.
Sometimes there is nothing to do. Have you ever noticed those old couples who sit together in easy silence? Non-doing is a place where shared peace, contentment, presence and delight are available. Chill out. As an American, I can be rather obsessed with optimal experience, with getting somewhere and gettingh things done. In these South American (and many indigenous cultures) the value of not doing is penultimate. People value relaxation and enjoying the moment above achievement and efficiency. This can really confront the ego program that says “I am valuable because I achieve.” Yeah! By sitting still… we simply are OK. Tranquillo….
5.) Love waits.
“Patience, my love.” In the absence of shared language, we have to be patient with our selves and our companions. Relaxed, patient presence is one of the greatest things we can give or receive. It takes time to look up that one key word in the dictionary… it’s worth it. The greatest suffering when travelling generally arises through our impatience, the frustration of not being able to communicate or immediately get what we want, and the shame that we don’t have all the answers. Travelling sometimes implies the bumpy process of communicating at the level of a 5 year old. It implies letting other people do things for you, which means not being in control. It’s a fantastic opportunity for ego death – for letting go of more ideas, opinions and preferences and being grateful for what is available in the moment. Patience then, becomes a foundation for peace and enjoyment.
6.) Love does not need to “be understood.”
Words can really get in the way of loving. Our obsession with understanding and being understood is often the biggest block to simply sharing love. I’ve been recognizing that I generally enter into relating with a perceived need to “be understood” as a prerequisite to that relationship working. And, that what I really mean by this is that I want to have my worldview and my private inner world affirmed. I’m realizing that this perceived need is more a function of insecurity than of love and loving. If I am secure and grounded in myself, sharing is easy. And, I don’t project an imagined need to be affirmed into the space of the relationship. I mean, really…. It’s not the responsibility of my friends to understand all my little distinctions and the specific details of my perceptions. This is just a projection of my ego desire not to feel alone. Understanding can come in the silence, in the patience and in the gestures. It really isn’t necessary to “be understood” in order to love and be loved.
7.) Love acts/responds.
It’s the little things. Every mother in the world is overworked. Everybody appreciates getting a little shoulder rub, or having a cup of coffee poured. Every person in the world appreciates a humble bit of help. Whether you speak the language or not, you can clean the kitchen, do the laundry, hold the baby, fold the towels or give an old man a ride down the hill. Love is a poetry of action.
8.) Love let’s go.
“If you love someone, set them free.” When travelling, we often love more freely and fully when we know that the connection is temporary. We’ve all had that experience – the fierce, beautiful and fleeting love that will not last but that fills us with memories to last a lifetime. This, in and of itself, is delicious. But, the grace here is the capacity to hold lightly and wholly the object of our love. If I can translate this to ALL of my relationships – to hold and to let go, to pour myself into the precious moment and hold the outcomes loosely – then I can really love!
~s.s. November, 2012