Showing up as our best self in relationships is extremely difficulty work! Many of my prior blogs have helped to explain why: we are wired for survival and so over-attend to threats; we have needs for safety, belonging, and fulfillment, which will always be driving our behaviors; we have existential fears—and confuse what is dangerous from what is scary; we are all, to some degree, insecurely attached; our empathy is limited so it’s impossible for us to truly understand what it feels like to be anyone else; we crave control, while being provided daily with evidence that our control is limited. No wonder we fear love!
I have posted three blogs on Pausing (see link for first one). Pausing is necessary for bringing our best selves to relationships, particularly in emotional or conflictual moments. Pausing is a necessary, but not sufficient, practice. And, it’s not an easy practice.
I have developed a four-part practice: the LovePOEM. When we practice the LovePOEM, we are able to respond, rather than react, in all situations. The LovePOEM came to me, unbidden, on a Thursday morning at 6:00am, August 23rd, 2018, as I sat in my living room journaling. The fall of 2018 was a time of transition and transition preparation for me—a true litmus period. My only child was heading off to college and I was completing my final year as department chair, to be followed by a yearlong sabbatical. What was I going to do with myself? How would I renegotiate my relationships with my daughter, my spouse, colleagues, and others? How would I be perceived (by self and others), given that some of my definers were being removed? How did I want to contribute to THE WORLD? That last question was the biggie for me.
I was gifted with the LovePOEM. I was, and still am, unprepared for the enormity of this gift. But, as I am learning to trust, the Universe loves me infinitely. The Universe loves you infinitely also. (If you follow a religious tradition, please insert your word for “Universe.”) I repeat: THE UNIVERSE LOVES YOU INFINITELY. With the exception of “the,” each of these words is difficult to grasp: Universe, love, me/you, infinitely. Put into one sentence, it’s a mind-blowing concept. I believe our work is to gracefully acknowledge and accept this love—even if we do not fully comprehend the gift. When I acknowledge and accept that I am loved infinitely—am, therefore, infinitely lovable—I can be a conduit of infinite love. When I deny the love, I block the flow. I can be either a love-stream or a love-dam. I can glide down the path of least resistance or I can bang, bang, bang my head against the dam. No wonder I get headaches!
It turned out that the 2018-2019 academic year was a much more difficult time professionally than I had anticipated as I sat journaling in the quiet of my living room that August morning. I turned repeatedly to the LovePOEM to help me be the person to whom I aspire and to find solace in my pain. I also started, tentatively, telling those I trust about the LovePOEM; their enthusiasm for its utility in their lives and relationships emboldened me to want to share it further. During my sabbatical, as I dove into the literature on the aspects of the LovePOEM, I was amazed both by the neurological evidence for the LovePOEM sequence and the lack of empirical understanding of love—even of a good definition! The more I read, the more convinced I became of the imperative of love to address our personal conflicts as well as the complex needs of our divided, fractured planet.
The best way to learn how to be our authentic selves is in relationship with others—our greatest growth occurs through practicing being who we wish to be as we relate to others. I first thought the LovePOEM was to help me behave towards others in a manner more consistent with what I would wish—and, it is, indirectly. I’ve come to see that the main gift of practicing the LovePOEM is for the practitioner: it is a means for us to be the person we wish to be. Of course, this will have consequences for others, and even ripple out beyond our relationships. As Buddhist teacher Gregory Kramer notes, personal change leads to relational change, which leads to societal change.
The LovePOEM is a deceptively simple practice consisting of a love orientation and four steps. Holding love at the fore of our consciousness, we practice the four LovePOEM steps:
Pause: with love, we stop so that the slower parts of our brains and bodies have a chance to catch up with the speedy autonomic responses of our brain and body; we orient ourselves to the present.
Observe: with love, we notice as objectively as possible what is going on internally, with our beloved, in our relationship, and around us.
Empathize: with love, we empathize with ourselves and our beloved, seeking to understand why we and our beloved are having these reactions.
Message: with love, we determine what we wish to communicate to ourselves and our beloved; we decide how we wish to respond. With love, we deliver our message(s).
I call this a ‘deceptively simple practice’—it is simple, but not easy. And, no practice while being learned is simple. As I did with pausing, I will be spending the upcoming blogs diving into each subsequent step of the LovePOEM.
Relationships are our greatest opportunities to become the people we want to be and were meant to be—but this is really hard work. It’s so hard that many people avoid the requisite introspection, instead deluding themselves and trying to delude others as to why they are behaving as they are. These delusions are a heck of a lot of work to maintain and create distance in relationships, as we are not presenting our authentic selves to others. So, either way, life is a lot of work. It’s a choice between working to be authentic or working to be false. There are many pressures towards falsehood, but we can choose the radical alternative of living honestly, guided by Love. As psychotherapist David Richo says, “Nothing can divest us of our capacity to love. We were designed for love, and with practice, we can display it.”
In short, I LOVE YOU. This blog is my LovePOEM to you; may you find it useful on your pilgrimage through life, love, fear, and relationships.
We can spend our lives ‘writing’ LovePOEMs!