The woman sitting across from me was radiant. Mirabai Devi, an international spiritual teacher from South Africa, was known for the unconditional love that emanated from her, and I could see why. Her dark eyes sparkled, her smile was both serene and joyful, and I felt a warm glow in my heart as I gazed at her.
I pressed the Record button on my digital recorder, and Mirabai began to tell me about her first experience of unconditional love. It had taken place almost 20 years earlier, when, as a young woman, Mirabai experienced an awakening while traveling through Europe:
“It was as if a dam burst in my heart, and the waters overflowed. The love that came forth was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Like a flood, it was all-consuming and all-encompassing; I could hardly contain it. I felt electrified; my body was tingling all over. I was so in love with the whole creation that I wanted to hug everyone I met. I knew that couldn’t do that because people would think I was crazy. Still, people could feel it. Everywhere I went they would just come up to me and say, “What can I do for you?” “Can I help you?” “Can I give you a ride?” “Can I get you some food?” “Can I . . . ?” They just wanted to be around me.
Traveling through Holland one afternoon, I stopped on the side of the road and looked at a field of cabbages. All the cabbages were just filled with this iridescent, luminous light. My heart was bursting with love for the cabbages.
I felt union with the whole of creation. Everything was pulsing with love.
It was in the walls and in the trees. It was as though it was coming through the sky. I saw that everything is connected and everything is one. And everything is radiant with this exquisite, ecstatic love.”
I sat transfixed, taking in the details of Mirabai’s remarkable story, and asking myself: Is it possible for me and for others to experience that state of unconditional love all the time?
That was the question I set out to answer in my latest book, Love for No Reason: 7 Steps to Creating a Life of Unconditional Love. Taking the same approach I had in my earlier book, Happy for No Reason, in which I interviewed unconditionally happy people to find out how to be truly happy, I went to the experts on love—more than 150 people I call “Love Luminaries,” including scientists, psychologists, spiritual teachers, and people whose lives were rich in the qualities of the heart—to find out how to be unconditionally loving.
In interview after interview, I heard more than a hundred variations of Mirabai’s story. I thought, If so many people, from all different backgrounds and all different walks of life experience this, it must be possible for me, and anyone else.
What I discovered through my research is that each of us can grow in unconditional love, the kind of love that doesn’t depend on any person or situation, what I call Love for No Reason. I found 14 keys that will help you experience this higher state of love more and more of the time. Here are three tips to get you started:
1. Anchor Yourself in Safety. Feeling unsafe or fearful essentially takes love off-line. It’s impossible to activate the physiology of unconditional love when your body is in fight or flight.
One way to relieve the stress response and establish a feeling of inner safety is to mentally take stock of your circles of support: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Review the resources inside and around you that you can draw on to deal with whatever life throws at you—your family and friends, your talents, your faith, your work, your hobbies; whatever and whomever you love and feel strengthened by. Spend at least one full minute savoring each circle of support. Let your mind and body consciously experience the feeling of being supported and safe. When you register and savor the experience of safety, it creates new neural pathways in your brain.
2. Feel Your Feelings. Stifling your emotions or expressing them excessively is equally damaging to your capacity to experience unconditional love. Luckily, there’s a third option: feeling your feelings. This is not the same as “expressing, exaggerating or acting out,” as Love Luminary Raphael Cushnir told me.
“All it requires is a gentle focus, a turning toward what’s actually present.”
Try this simple practice to help maintain openness that I adapted from Raphael’s work.
To begin, think of a negative feeling that you resist (such as anger, jealousy, sadness, or fear).
Next recall how you feel standing in a hot shower—the stream of hot water cascading over your body. Use your felt memory to actually recreate the expansion, relaxation, and openness of that experience in your body. Now, bring this same sense of bodily relaxation to feeling that negative feeling you resist.
Notice how your body relaxes and expands, and in that bigger space, the stuck feeling can now start to move. When you remove the interference to the flow of emotions, like leaves on a river they stay with you briefly and soon move round the bend. Then you’re free to experience the underlying Love for No Reason that’s present all the time.
3. Practice Self-Compassion. Try a simple self-love technique that brings you into your heart and reminds you to treat yourself with care. It comes in especially handy whenever you’re having a rough time or being critical toward yourself or others. Throughout the day, ask yourself, What’s the most loving thing I can do for myself right now? or What’s the most loving way I can be with myself right now?
And then pay attention to the answer and actually do whatever it is.
Sometimes it’s having compassion for the part of you that’s hurting; other times it’s forgiving yourself for mistakes or simply lightening up on yourself. There are also occasions when the most loving thing you can do for yourself is taking a walk or a hot bath or calling a good friend for a chat. Whatever it is, when you love and take care of yourself, you’ll find it inevitably serves everyone.
Practice these simple exercises frequently and you’ll notice more love in your heart. Learning to experience pure love within yourself is the key to living a life of unconditional love. When you fill your own love tank, you bring that love to everything in your life.
Then, as Mirabai experienced, you still love people and things outside yourself, but the difference is that your love doesn’t depend on any of those things, whether people, jobs, relationships, cars, clothes….or even cabbages.
About Marci Shimoff: Based on the NY Times bestseller Love for No Reason: 7 Steps to Creating a Life of Unconditional Love (Free Press, 2010) which offers a breakthrough approach to experiencing a lasting state of unconditional love—the key to lasting joy and fulfillment in life. Marci is also author of the NY Times bestseller Happy for No Reason and co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul series. To order Love for No Reason and get the bonus gift package free, go to www.TheLoveBook.com and follow Marci on Facebook @ MarciShimoffFan.