“Has it ever occurred to you that you can only love when you are alone?” ~Anthony De Mello
I was sitting in my therapist’s waiting room when I looked over at an assortment of books sitting on the coffee table. One caught my attention right away: The Way to Love, by Anthony de Mello.
“This looks like something I should read right about now.” I giggled a little with that thought.
I was, after all, sitting in a psychotherapist’s waiting room because he was the only thing keeping me from a nervous breakdown. My marriage was falling apart and I felt so utterly lost. Perhaps a book about love would help me navigate this painful period of my life.
I finished my session and hurried home to my iPad. Within seconds, the book came alive on my screen. I perused the chapters at first but stopped dead in my tracks on page 137:
Has it ever occurred to you that you can only love when you are alone? What does it mean to love? It means to see a person, a thing, a situation, as it really is and not as you imagine it to be, and to give it the response it deserves. You cannot love what you do not even see.
“This makes no sense at all! How can I love only when I’m alone?” I put the book down.
I had no idea what De Mello was saying, but that first sentence stayed in my mind and heart.
Then came some alone time. A lot of it.
For the next two years, I lived in solitude. My days were filled with meditation, long hikes in nature, writing, introspection, and at times, a deep loneliness.
I accepted all that life was bringing me. I embraced the hours upon hours of silence and no human contact. In fact, this solitude was self-imposed.
The disintegration of my marriage had brought some ingrained subconscious patterns to light.
In the past, whenever life sent something painful my way, I would take refuge in my outer world—friends, bars, alcohol, sex, traveling. They all served as distractions because I was deeply afraid of looking inward. My inner world seemed too complex and dark to even touch.
Yet, distracting myself with things on the outside hadn’t protected me from pain. In fact, I finally realized the opposite was true: life always mirrors your internal environment back to you.
If you want to keep your pain, anger, and darkness hidden, life will bring you painful, angry, dark events.
It’s really that simple.
With that realization, I decided to resist the temptations that often follow a break-up, hence my self-imposed solitude.
I didn’t move to the jungle. I still saw family and some friends. But I made a conscious decision to spend the majority of my days alone, in silence.
And then one day I got it. I understood what De Mello said in that book. I was living it.
Solitude had taught me how to love, and with an intensity I never thought possible.
I learned to love from the inside out. And that love took three forms.
Love of Myself
Self-love came first. I had always used people or things outside myself to sustain my dismally fragile self-esteem. Being alone forces you to look inward and see what lies in your inner world.
Make no mistake: this can be a difficult and painful process.
But seeing and accepting your inner world is the only way to love the glorious being that dwells beneath all the mental layers.
This may take some time, and it may bring a swirl of emotions to the surface. That’s okay. Just let them be.
Let it all see the light of day, without judgment. No matter what lies in your inner world, always remember to put your hand on your heart and tell yourself “I love you.”
We’re all trying the best we can at any given moment. Cut yourself some slack and let go of the “could have, should have…”
See your inner world. Accept everything that lies within, without judgment. Through it all, put your hand on your chest and tell yourself “I love you.” That’s it.
I realize that seeing and accepting our inner world may not be easy at first. For me, the trick was daily meditation.
This quieted my mind significantly. Since it’s the mind or ego that judges, once the internal chatter calmed down, it became easier to use my awareness to see the beauty of my heart.
For you it can be different. Perhaps your mind quiets down with exercise or a walk in the park. Just remember: a quiet mind is the foundation for self-love.
Self-love then becomes an internal light that you shine in all directions as you walk through life. And that is how you end up loving others.
Love of Others
Even with all that alone time, I still managed to fall in love again. This time it was different. Because I loved myself, the love I could give another was purer, stronger, and completely unconditional. I loved without attachment.
I also felt a different love for my family and friends. I began to love people for who they were. I loved them in freedom.
Loving people without attachment was a monumental milestone for me. It was the process of self-love that had enabled me to reach this milestone.
In learning to love myself, I realized I used people as emotional crutches in order to sustain my sense of worth.
Once I recognized this pattern and sat with the temporary guilt it elicited, I began to feel lighter. The lighter I felt, the more I loved myself. And the more I loved myself, the more I loved others.
I no longer needed them. I was now standing on my own, without crutches. In this newly found independence, there were no conditions. My happiness no longer depended on what others did or said.
Without crutches, your hands are free to extend to others. And that’s really what it means to love without attachment.
Love of Life
Solitude showed me the beauty of the present moment. I realized how life was glorious, intense, and alive!
The little moments became memorable. Seeing a bird fly or a flower bloom was a miracle. Because I no longer focused my attention on mental drama, I could experience the fullness of life.
Experiencing this fullness meant that I trusted life. I knew that what came to me was there for my evolution.
Loving life meant that I loved everything that came my way.
Can you learn to love without being physically alone? Yes. Fortunately, solitude can be experienced without running off to a deserted island!
You can experience solitude in your heart. That is essentially what De Mello was referring to in his quote. In my experience, solitude is a synonym of non-attachment.
Experiencing solitude in your heart means that you do not depend on anyone or anything in order to bring you happiness or love. You live with the knowing that what you may desire from another is always available to you.
What you may desire from the outside world is already within.
This knowing is then naturally reflected in your outer world. You can live solitude in your heart while surrounded by people.
And it is this solitude that ultimately allows you to genuinely love. Love yourself. Love others. Love life.
Love image via Shutterstock