Someone emailed the following:
There is such a great need in me to be appreciated by other people, by my friends for example, and I am never satisfied. I never get enough appreciation, and because of that I suffer a lot. I can be so sweet and nice, giving my all attention to a person, but behind that is such a great need to be loved and appreciated. And once I get that feeling of being loved, I want it to repeat again. But then one part of me does not want to depend on the source of love and attention, so there is a big conflict. What can I do?
Here is my response:
This is a very good question. It is very difficult even when we clearly see our conditioning at work and how much suffering it causes to then just stop. So I would offer two suggestions to help you actually shift this way of acting and feeling.
The first possibility is to experiment with truly giving love to everything and everyone. True love is simply open acceptance or space, and a fullness of attention or noticing. What we really want from a lover is someone who completely lets us be the way we are, and yet who also wants to see and know everything about us. So I would suggest you give this quality of acceptance and noticing to everything you experience. It is easiest to start with neutral or pleasant things, and you can also start by practicing on simple objects. Notice a piece of furniture and then give it a lot of space to just be the way it is. Or you can notice that there is a lot of space for it already. And as you notice the space around the furniture, also notice everything you can about it. What are all of the qualities of that simple object? How does it reflect light? How does it feel if you can touch it? What are all of the specific details of its construction and appearance? Just shower it with attention and see if you can even notice subtle aspects of it that you never noticed before.
Then move onto another object and then another experience after that, perhaps the sound of the wind or sensation in your body. Again it is easiest to start with simple and neutral aspects of your experience and then gradually add in the more challenging things for you to experience, like an object that has a lot of negative associations or a sensation that you tend to not like. Finally you can experiment with giving this free flowing space and attention to other people.
As you do this you can notice how you feel. How does it feel to give the most precious thing you have, awareness, to other objects, sensations and people? Do you ever run out or can you just give and give simple awareness and then still have more to give? Even if you come up against something you cannot love in this way, then you can simply give love to the sensation inside you of being blocked or resistant. The only trick is to give love to whatever you are experiencing even if it is a judgment or feeling of resistance. Accept and notice your judgment of the other person, and then you may find you can go on to simply notice and accept the person also.
In this way you can discover that all of the love that you want from others is already here inside of you. We are filled with love when we give it to others and not when we receive it from others. But to really trust this, you must have many experiences of this limitless flow of love.
The other surprising suggestion is to also really feel the lack of love inside of you. Even when you know that you can give and give love and more love, there will still be moments where you do not experience the flow of love. In those moments, what you experience is the empty source of love. The place all of this love comes from inside of you is completely empty. And so we tend not to want to feel it as it does not seem very promising to feel something so dry and empty. And yet what is that empty space you have been trying to fill up with attention from others actually like? Is it dark or bright? Is it heavy or light? Is it clear or foggy or obscured somehow? How deep is the emptiness? Can you find a bottom to it?
This emptiness at your core is the source of everything that really matters in life: love, peace, joy, wisdom, clarity, strength, and ultimately satisfaction and existence itself. What a surprising place to find everything you ever wanted: in the emptiness at your core. And yet that is the only place you will ever be satisfied from. It is by discovering everything about this emptiness, every quality it has, every nuance of its expression, that we can finally be content. You will never be done discovering its endless nature, but at some point you will be able to trust that everything that really matters is already here inside of you.
By returning again and again to the emptiness, you keep your attention on the true source of what you seek. Sometimes you find an even deeper sense of emptiness when you look within yourself, but then is emptiness really a bad sensation? Or is it just empty? Does emptiness ever really hurt? How can "nothing" ever hurt?
And other times when you look within you will discover one of these precious qualities of your Being arising like love, peace or joy. What a surprising place to find them! It is by returning again and again to your own empty nature that you finally learn to trust that you have all that you need, and you do not need to look for it from others.
Your seeking of love from the outside is an old habit that you were taught to do by everyone around you who was doing the same thing. The best way to counteract an old habit that no longer serves you is to develop a new habit or even several new habits that work even better than the old one. In this case, the new habits are to give love to everything and to look within the emptiness at your core. Once you have done this often enough for it to be even more of a habit than the old way of trying to get love from others, then check if you have enough love, and enough peace, acceptance and joy. The true source of these things is within you.