I’ve been thinking about Love a lot lately. A friend asked me, so what is Love, really? How would you define it? She felt that appreciation embraced the concept of Love, which is very true.

When I think of Love, I always think of loving ourselves first. If we don’t feel that, it’s hard to feel it for anyone else. And that takes a long time to learn. We are given innumerable opportunities every day to practice, to choose, to be kind and loving to ourselves. And the more we practice that, the easier it is to extend that to others.

One of the ways we don’t love ourselves is by doing things or acting in ways that do not serve us. We may take a rigid stance in a discussion with a loved one. Being rigid and unbending, being unwilling to see how our behavior hurts or affects another, even if we don’t understand it, ultimately denies us closeness and intimacy. That is being unloving.

We all have our own ways of not being loving to our Selves: some of them might be working too hard, ignoring the Four Pillars of Health (Right Rest, Right Nutrition, Right Movement, Right Relationship within and without), holding anger, not staying on our path (not minding our own business), ignoring the messages our body and Higher Self are giving us, not making space and time to be present with our Self, holding ourselves to an impossible standard of perfection, and thus doing the same to others, telling ourselves stories about a person or a situation….these are some common ways we all can be unloving to our Selves. Any of them sound familiar to you? I certainly can relate to them….

As I’ve been working with releasing some of my own unloving ways of being and thinking, I reached out to my Guides for help – which I do for practically everything. They answered me immediately, clearly and unequivocally. Bring Grace to Bear, they said. No matter what the issue or situation, Bring Grace to Bear. Another way of saying this is: Bring Love to Bear. Bring kindness to Bear. Bring your Highest Self, highest integrity, to every situation. Bring ease, bring compassion, willingness. These are all facets of Grace and Love.

One way we love is by expressing our skills, talents, faculties and abilities; expressing who we are and what is within us in our own inimitable way. We are expressed, birthed by the Universe, and we also want to express in some way, birth something or someone. It is said in metaphysics that the Quality of the Universe, of Life, is Love. And Love wants to, needs to, be expressed. the Quantity is Perfection. Not being perfect, but the perfection of everyone and everything expressing itself in its own unique way.

When it comes to relationships, sometimes Love is being willing to love someone in the way that feels loving to them, if it doesn’t compromise us. We can compromise, we just can’t compromise our integrity, ourselves. When someone we love tells us what would feel loving to them, we can decide if we can do that, if it would be for our highest good. If we are being loving to us, it will be loving to the other person. If we do something out of obligation with resentment, it will not feel loving to us or the person with whom we are in relationship. This is being willing to do what serves us, as we love another. When we are not willing to do what serves us, what is for our highest good, that is also known as getting in our own way. When we are unbending and unyielding, we are not flexible enough to put our arms around ourselves, much less another. We often get to experience and practice this in relationships. Relationships are the vehicles to really learn about Love, whether it be friendships or more intimate relationships . Or we may think we have it all figured out and it’s hard for us to admit we still have issues to work on – another way of being rigid and unyielding.

Ram Dass says it well: If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.

Love is also Willingness. Love and Willingness are the Keys to Healing. And the willingness is always – remember how we started – willingness to do what is most loving for ourselves, so we can then fill up and spill over that love. As Richard Rohr says: ….grace cannot enter without an opening from our side.

Sometimes the willingness guides us to let go. We can love by letting go of expectation of ourselves or another. We can be willing to see how people actually are and, not what we would wish them to be or the story we are telling ourselves about them. In that clarity, we can decide what is most loving for us. Remember the old saying, Friendships (or relationships) are for a reason, a season or forever? Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to leave a relationship. If we can’t be loving, we won’t circulate love or good feeling, to ourselves or other….and that is our primary mission in this lifetime.

It’s not enough just to say we love ourselves or someone else. This is why the expression, the quantity, of Love is so important. That expression will be individual….but there must be an expression of our Love. The Universe didn’t stay unexpressed as an idea; it burst forth expressed in infinite ways. As part of the Universe, we too must express the Love we are, in our own ways to be sure, but express we must.

Make no mistake: loving oneself is not the same as being selfish or self-absorbed. If something is only good for us and not good for others, then it is not loving. If we cannot look beyond ourselves and be mutually loving with the appropriate people in our lives who are truly loving, then we must ask ourselves, how much do I really love and care for myself – how good do I really feel about myself, if I can’t return pure love when it is offered – from the right person?

If we put all of our love to others and deny ourselves that same care and love, it is not a measure of how loving we are but how much we need to love ourselves…. because ultimately we will empty our vessel giving all of our love away and not giving any to ourselves. We need to receive the love as well as give it. If we continually give but don’t think we are worthy of receiving that same love we wind up emptying the vessel and scraping the bottom of the barrel and then feeling resentful about those that we are supposedly loving. We think we aren’t getting enough back but truly we didn’t give enough to ourselves in the first place. We need to give from a full reservoir, you can’t give from an empty place. When we are truly filling ourselves first, receiving the love that’s always available from the All first, and then love others, it enables us to recognize whether we are in a mutually loving relationship – or not. Then we can make a decision about what’s the most loving thing for us to do. It truly is All About Love.

And then we have to remember….everyone is truly doing the best they can. What does that mean? Even if someone is unwilling or unable or seemingly incapable of loving themselves which then expresses in being unkind to another, that is what is possible for them at that moment. Even if they are making a choice to be unloving or mean or cruel…..even in that choice, they may know better, intellectually – or not – and still justify their unloving actions, indignantly and righteously. Until we find and feel the love within ourselves, we can’t express it. Not that we sanction, condone or accept this behavior…..we don’t love bad behavior. But we need to remember that every human has a Divine part of us, our Higher Self. And, we have free will. So while our Higher Self is pure love, and that is what we love in everyone, our human self is very capable of exercising free will to be cruel and unloving in a myriad of ways….and we don’t love that hurtfulness. We may understand they are choosing not to change anything, or may not know they can change or know how. Our responsibility is to love ourselves, and we may need to remove ourselves from their presence, in love for ourselves. No one else knows what is loving for us the way we do.

If all this sounds like a lot of work…..well, loving and loving well is an effort. It’s part of the grand adventure that life is. We are human, as well as divine, so we’re not going to love perfectly. Remember the Quality and Quantity? We already are inherently, intrinsically Love. We already are the Quality of the Universe since we spring out of the energy of the Universe. It is up to us to express the Quantity of Love, which is our individual expression through all of our facets of the jewel that we are. And different facets are “lit up” and expressed at different times of our Life. That expression is what brings us joy. And feeling joy is the purpose of life. That is why we Love. There’s no better work.

The truth is, this is what a lifetime is for: to be aware of and work through all of these issues: What we are (Love); Why we are here (To Circulate that Love and Good Feeling, to ourselves first. This is done through the expression of our skills, faculties, talents and abilities); For the purpose of being in Joy.

James Finley, a contemplative teacher and writer and a retired clinical psychologist, often says, “You are not what has happened to you. Only Love has the final word in who you are.”

And then when we’re done with what we’re going to do in this lifetime, well, we’re done! But until then…..we’re still doing the work, every day. Right up until our very last day on this Earth.