Unconditional love. A love that comes without any conditions, expectations, constraints, or parameters; a love that just IS. A love that is so perfect and so pure that it’s given freely — no matter what.
Does it exist? And if it does, is it possible to practice in the context of a relationship? Can we truly love someone unconditionally?
Each and every interaction we have with our fellow human beings can be challenging, even with those that we love. In fact, especially with those that we love.
When we have strong feelings for someone, it means that we have wants or needs that we want met in the context of that relationship. For example, say you’re having a terrible day and you approach your husband affectionately. He shrugs it off, and your love was rejected, causing you to feel unloved.
But maybe your husband was upset about something at work, and you were so focused on your own needs not being met that you didn’t recognize his need for space. As this pattern continues, you get angry, upset, or pull away emotionally to protect yourself from being hurt.
Your need for love comes with conditions, because we are human. We have needs.
This human part of ourselves is what is often called the “ego self.” Some spiritual traditions claim that we need to banish the ego, or get rid of it, but I don’t agree with that. Instead, it’s more about learning to transcend it. And we do this by realizing that there is another part of us that is not the self, but rather is the soul.
“Spiritual love” has no conditions, no boundaries, and is an energy that permeates us and everything in existence. This love is unconditional love.
So how do we practice this in our own relationships? You first have to learn how to navigate past yourself to find the spiritual “self” so you can experience unconditional love. One way this is done is by practicing mindfulness.
Before you flip the channel on me because I just used a super new-age term associated with people who meditate, and therefore you can’t relate, stay with me, just for a moment.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be this great achievement that you make on your meditation cushion under the instruction of a guru — mindfulness is simply the act of paying attention.
We learn to pay attention by slowing down, looking, noticing, feeling and recognizing. This is the difference between acting unconsciously (the auto pilot mode we’re in when we react without thinking) and being fully conscious.
To love unconditionally is to not only look, but to really see someone else and recognize the essence — or the soul — of the other. When we see the soul, we notice that the human self and the spiritual self are separate. The actions of the human self do not come from the spiritual self. The human self makes mistakes, is filled with imperfections and will behave in ways that some say make them “unloveable.”
The soul is perfect, as is the unconditional love that comes from it. This is the “love” that is completely without conditions.
Finding unconditional love involves compassion as well.
By dropping the wants of your ego self and shifting your focus onto the needs of the soul, you naturally tap into this space where unconditional love can be found.
For example, you call your brother because you really need a kind, listening ear. When he answers the phone and lends this to you, he is practicing love for you. If, however, he answers the phone crying, you would have to put your own worries aside to focus on what made him so upset.
In that scenario, both you and your brother are practicing unconditional love. This is not always easy to do — sometimes it’s actually quite difficult — but that is why I am calling this a practice, not a perfect.
The goal here is to learn to practice unconditional love in each and every interaction you have with every person you meet. But let’s face it — relationships of all types are really hard work. In fact, the reason we incarnate on this earth is so we can learn lessons about love — and we are beings that learn by doing.
In his classic book The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm reminds us that the practice of love requires discipline, concentration, and patience, just as it does in learning and developing any art form.
So along the way, as you learn and grow, don’t forget to practice this same mindfulness, compassion and understanding with yourself, because unconditional self love is the highest form of art there is.
This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: This Is What It Really Means to Love Someone Unconditionally.