The month of May is called Bealtaine in Ireland, after the ancient Celtic feast that was celebrated on May 1st. It marks the midpoint in the progress of the sun between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, and announced the beginning of Summer. Hard to believe this year. Here in France it is the custom today to give as a gift the traditional flower for the first of May – the muguet, or lily of the valley. This flower is a symbol of springtime and of beauty, used frequently in bridal bouquets, and has traditionally been associated with the return of happiness after a period of darkness. And yet this is despite the fact that its stalk, flowers, and berries are all extremely poisonous. A strange mix, but one that we find elsewhere in our lives. Often the places of greatest growth and energy, the places we learn most and reflect most upon, are the places where we have been most hurt. And frequently we find most freedom when we move from the places where we have been stuck, or the things that we feared most, without them being able to poison us any more.
Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses, who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. So you must not be frightened…..if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. . . .
Photo: Lily-of-the-valley, Gordon E. Robertson
Stephen Levine has noted that relationship, though not the easiest method for finding peace, is certainly the most effective for discovering what blocks it. The fact that relationships often bring the most painful and unhealed aspects of our life out of the shadows makes them a potentially powerful teacher. But let’s be honest, who actually wants such a teacher? What do we really want from relationships? We want what we want! We want someone to fulfill our needs, someone who will make us feel good, give us security, appreciation, affection, and love.
As soon as a conflict arises and we feel threatened in some way, we tend to forget all about relationships as a vehicle of awakening. We tenaciously hold on to our views, judgments, and need to be right. We protect and defend our self-image. We close down or lash out. And, believing in all these reactions as the unquestioned truth, we perpetuate our suffering. As we continue to do this, the disappointment we cause ourselves and others becomes a pain we can’t ignore. That’s the beauty of relationships as spiritual practice. The pain motivates us to awaken; disappointment is often our best teacher. This is when practice can really begin.
Ezra Bayda, At Home in the Muddy Water
There is a secret about human love that is commonly overlooked: Receiving it is much more scary and threatening than giving it. How many times in your life have you been unable to let in someone’s love or even pushed it away? Much as we proclaim the wish to be truly loved, we are often afraid of that, and so find it difficult to open to love or let it all the way in.
It’s important to recognize that all the emotional and psychological wounding we carry with us from the past is relational in nature: It has to do with not feeling fully loved. And it happened in our earliest relationships — with our caretakers — when our brain and body were totally soft and impressionable. As a result, the ego’s relational patterns have largely developed as protection schemes to insulate us from the vulnerable openness that love entails. In relationship the ego acts as a survival mechanism for getting needs met while fending off the threat of being hurt, manipulated, controlled, rejected, or abandoned in ways we were as a child. This is normal and totally understandable. Yet if it’s the main tenor of a relationship, it keeps us locked into complex strategies of defensiveness and control that undermine the possibility of deeper connection. Thus to gain greater access to the gold of our nature in relationship, a certain alchemy is required: the refining of our conditioned defensive patterns.
John Welwood, Intimate Relationship as a Spiritual Crucible
We can develop a love that is steadfast and universal. We develop it not because we force ourselves to love so fully. Rather, we discover that loving unconditionally is the greatest source of joy, and that we are the loser for any hesitation or interruption in that love, such as “I would really love you if you would just do your share of the cooking, if you would just do this, if you would be like that.”
Whenever we hesitate like that, we lose. This helps me remember not to mortgage away any of my days by having a grudge or a grievance or making myself distant. That would simply cause a rupture in that steadfast, universal love that is so joyful.
Love is an activity, not a passive affect; it is a “standing in,” not a “falling for.”
In the most general way, the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving.