(Note: I am reposting some blog posts that are included in my newest book, Everything Is Included.
Q: You talk about loving what is here, now. However, I have found I have become addicted to doing things I like and totally avoidant to doing things I don’t like. I tried letting go of desire, but that hasn’t worked because I still want the thing I am after. I am finding it really hard to love what is when I don’t like it. I'm getting stuck and spinning in my head! I have not been able to let go of wanting a relationship, so the pain worsens. I am confused and wondering if you could shed some light.
A: Your confusion is natural and not uncommon. And yet, it is possible to love something you don’t like. Certain things can make that easier to do:
First, remember that loving something you don’t like doesn’t in any way take away your ability to choose something different. If you don’t like your job, you can look for another one. If you want a satisfying relationship, you can take actions to find someone and also to learn how to be healthier and happier in your relationships. Loving what is doesn’t mean you become a doormat to unpleasant people or experiences or that you cannot move towards what you want in life. Loving what is just means that you don’t need to suffer or experience a lack of love when you aren’t getting what you want. It is part of life that sometimes we get what we want and sometimes we don't. So why not be filled with love even when you aren’t getting what you want?
Second, it can help to simplify your definition of love to its most fundamental components. We may equate love with a feeling of attraction, affection, or appreciation, and yet the core of love is simply awareness and space. The simplest way to love something or someone is to give them lots of attention, curiosity, and awareness. Just touch them with your awareness and give them lots of space and acceptance. Giving space is simply a matter of recognizing that they are the way they are right now and letting them be that way. You don’t have to like or feel good about the way they are, just be present to things as they are and let them be.
This is the essence of love, and it is the most satisfying way to be with the things you like and the things you don't like. You can give love in this way simply because it feels good to give spacious attention and acceptance to things, not because you want or need anything from them. You may still want something to be different or not like something, but in the meantime, why not allow yourself to be filled with a sense of fullness and love? Why wait for things to change to start giving this open attention to your experiences? It doesn’t cost you anything, and you will never run out of awareness, so why not experiment with just giving love away freely? You may find you enjoy being curious and accepting for its own sake, even when you aren’t getting what you want.
Last, but not least, the most helpful key to loving what is, is to include yourself in the equation, and especially to include your dislikes and dissatisfactions in this spacious awareness. If you don’t like something, the easiest way to love what is, is to give attention and acceptance to the feeling of not liking it. That is part of what is, so why leave that out? If you don’t like the feeling of not liking something, then start with giving space to not liking the feeling of not liking something!
When we start with loving our own feelings just the way they are, this can start the flow of loving acceptance and make it easier to go ahead and give space to the original thing that triggered our feelings. Even if you find that you can’t give space to something you don’t like, then at least you are experiencing some love and acceptance in the moment by loving how you don’t like it.
The key to loving what is, is including yourself and your genuine feelings. By including more and more of what is already happening, experiencing and expressing more love becomes easier. In contrast, if you feel you have to get rid of your dislike for something before you can love it, then that just creates more internal conflict. That makes loving what is seem like a chore. But if you start by loving how much you don't like something, then there is no conflict; there is just some love beginning to happen. This can lead to loving the original experience, since it is easier to love something else once you have some momentum going.
One more thing about loving how much you don't like something is that most of the time you are already loving how much you dislike or hate something. When you are busy disliking something, you are usually already paying attention to how you feel and what you think, and you aren’t trying to change the fact that you don’t like it, so you are already accepting it. So the reason why this approach of including all of your likes and dislikes, feelings, reactions, and preferences can make it so much easier to love what is, is because your awareness is already flowing to these things. Before you think about it too much, there is even a de facto acceptance of your feelings. Awareness and acceptance are actually natural qualities of your Being that are always already here. It turns out this pure simplicity of love is not really something you do but who and what you really are.
The real gift of practicing giving love to people and things and also to your own feelings and reactions is when you notice that this acceptance is always already here. Loving is more natural and automatic to your Being than breathing. In every moment, you are loving (giving awareness and space) to something. By consciously giving this attention and curiosity to whatever happens to be here, you can begin to notice the constant flow of spacious attention that is at the core of your existence.
When we really start to sense how love and acceptance are always already here, then it may even seem like the problem is that our Being is too damn accepting and aware! Our Being accepts and is aware of everything, including all the ways we suffer and struggle. Yet, it is in the conscious recognition of this deeply unconditional love that is always here that the dilemma of our desires and suffering is finally resolved. If in a moment you truly sense the depth and completeness of this loving awareness of Being, then suddenly there is room for every thing and every feeling and everybody, including you.
For a long time, we think the way out of our suffering is to more effectively manage what happens. Then when we discover spiritual teachings, we decide instead to try to more effectively manage our desires. When none of that works, the only option left is to notice the place in our Being that already enjoys everything that happens, including all of our desires. At first, this can seem like an overwhelming defeat, but once you have lost all of your defenses, all that is left is this genuine spacious aware love. What a blessing—to be defeated completely by overwhelming love!