Posted by: silverliningsblog | April 25, 2011

The Ripple Effect: To Love and Be Loved

Warning: This topic may cause tearfulness, bloodshot eyes, and the sudden urge to hug people.

OK, so this is a pretty big, mushy subject. It tends to make people giggle nervously, squirm in their seats, and pretend they are too cool, tough and independent to need it. But what is more basic or universal than the need to love and be loved?

It’s actually kind of funny that we want it, need it and wish to express it, yet we are more comfortable uttering profane four-letter words than saying “love.” So why the big secret … who are we trying to fool?

I’m going to out myself here and declare that I enjoy loving people. And not just romantic love, but the love I feel for my friends, family, children and even strangers I pass by. I feel their pain, their hope, their humanity and recognize my own spirit in their eyes. Suffice it to say, I am a mush-pot.

What is Love?

So what is this strange, ever-present, yet at the same time elusive thing called love?

Love is a hard thing to define. Scholars, musicians and poets have philosophized about the true nature of love since the first stirrings of emotion were felt in human hearts.

“Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.”
—Aristotle, Greek philosopher (384 BC – 322 BC)

 “There is no mistaking love. You feel it in your heart. It is the common fiber of life, the flame that heats our soul, energizes our spirit, and supplies passion to our lives.”
—Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, psychiatrist and author (1926 – 2004)

 “For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.”
—Judy Garland, American actress and singer (1922 – 1969)

While we have all probably felt love at different points in our lives, I think most of our thinking about love tends to revolve around experiences of conditional love. We love someone because of what they give us, or how they make us feel. If they change or stop giving us what we need and want, we stop loving them. That, by definition, is conditional love. It’s loving someone for a reason. A good reason, perhaps, but still … that kind of love can be taken away, can dissolve when life rains on it. I would call this little “l” love.

Unconditional love (big “L” love) isn’t about wanting something from someone, or expecting another to make us happy. And it’s not about finding someone who is without flaw, or perfect for us. It’s about wanting to share life, love and happiness with another, from a place of fullness, not from a big gaping hole that needs to be filled. It’s accepting the whole person, warts and all. It’s about wanting what is best for our loved ones, and helping them to fulfill their dreams and be the fullest expression of who they really are. It is seeing ourselves in the other, and wanting to do no harm, since harming another is ultimately harming ourselves.

Here are a few quotes about love, which I think capture the spirit of unconditional love:

“We are made by love, we are made of love, and we are made for love. Everything is love anyway. Our hate is love turned sour, jealousy is love turned bitter, our fears are love standing upside down, greed is love gone overboard, attachment is love gone sticky.”
—Khurshed Batliwala, blogger

“Your task is not to seek for Love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
—Rumi, thirteenth-century Sufi poet

“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”
—Robert A. Heinlein, author (1907 – 1988)

“Don’t settle for love of this or that, he or she; that is all so, so small. Stubbornly hold out for love itself—beyond everything.”
—Bruce Allen, spiritual counsellor

Love Is All There Is

We tend to look to others to “bring” us love. But we do not need to look outside ourselves to experience love. At the risk of sounding corny, love is what we are made of. We may physically be 99% water, but spiritually I believe we are 100% love. The reason we don’t always feel that way, or we do things that aren’t good for ourselves or others, is because we forget who we really are.

In Love for No Reason, Marci Shimoff talks about how we attach our love to things and people. She suggests trying this exercise to help us experience love without attachment:

  1. Think about someone or something you really love. Let your mind wander to all the things you love about this person or thing.
  2. Now take your focus away from the person or thing you were thinking about, and focus entirely on the feeling of love.
  3. Notice how you feel – the sensation of warmth in your chest, the smile that probably comes to your face, the light-heartedness.
  4. You are now experiencing love as love itself. That love really comes from you, not from something or someone else. It is always there within you, ready to access whenever you choose.

Choose to Be Loving in Every Situation

This brings up an important point. Love is, essentially, a choice, not something you get from others. It is a practice, something you choose to bring to the world. Really, the success of our relationships with other people is determined by our own capacity to love. It is what we give to others that determines what we get back.

At this point, you may be thinking, “But I give a lot to the people I care about, and they don’t give it back to me.” I know I have had that experience on more than one occasion. But that is, again, because we are thinking about conditional love. Unconditional love is giving love without expecting it to be returned. It is loving the person anyway, even if they don’t act the way we want them to.

This does not mean we have to stay in a relationship that is not good for us. After all, unconditional love also requires us to love ourselves. And sometimes the most loving thing we can do for ourselves and the other person is to leave a relationship. For example, is it love to stay in an abusive relationship? Of course not. It is not loving to you, and it is not loving to the one who is treating you that way. Leaving in that situation is an act of love, because it teaches the other person that their behaviour is not loving, and encourages them to change for the better.

My 7-year marriage ended a year and a half ago. The relationship was not abusive, but it was dysfunctional, and neither my spouse nor I were happy. But it was still very hard to leave, because I felt a lot of guilt about ending a commitment I took very seriously, let alone disrupting my children’s lives. But staying would not have been an act of love. It would have been an act of fear – fear of the unknown, of hurting people, of what others would say, of being alone, of being wrong.

In the end, the most loving thing I could do for my spouse was to admit I wasn’t treating him the way he deserved to be treated because I was miserable. The most loving thing I could do for my kids was to give them an opportunity to see both their parents happy, and hopefully eventually in healthy, loving relationships. And the most loving thing I could do for myself was to let go of the guilt and fear and believe that I was deserving of the kind of love I knew in my heart was possible. So my former spouse and I chose to end our relationship, not out of spitefulness and anger, but out of love for everyone involved.

“It’s easy to love things that are charming and attractive, but the real challenge is to experience love in difficult situations and with people you don’t even like. To maintain an open heart when your spouse is being difficult, your child is throwing a tantrum, or your boss is making what seem like unreasonable demands requires a commitment to love as the number one priority in your life.”

—Marci Shimoff, author, Love for No Reason

Be Open to Love

I am still trying to sort out what love is, and to be more loving with the people in my life. But this much I know for sure: to experience unconditional love, you have to be willing to give it. To receive love, you have to be open to it. It is very difficult to feel love with a closed heart. We cannot simultaneously protect our hearts from hurt and experience real love. Fear is the opposite of love.

I have been hurt before. I could choose to close my heart off to protect myself. But I know that doing that will prevent me from giving love to others, and ultimately from receiving love too. So I choose to live with my heart wide open. It makes me vulnerable, but also allows me to share my happiness with others and opens me to the wonderful experience of love. While we all fear pain, there is a tremendous strength in the softness and vulnerability of love. We can survive being hurt. We cannot survive without love.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

—Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam:27 (1850)

Make Love-Based Decisions

But what should we do when love goes awry?

Let’s face it: human relationships are complicated. It is so easy to lose ourselves in them, and to find it hard to know what to do. When I feel stuck about a situation (whether it involves a relationship or not), my two favourite questions to ask myself are:

  • Who do I want to be in this situation?
  • Is this decision coming from a place of love, or a place of fear?

I know when I make decisions out of fear, I am filled with anxiety and I almost always live to regret them. When I make them from a place of love, things turn out well in the end and I am left with a feeling of peace and light-heartedness.

Attract Love

You may still be wondering, “But how do I attract more love into my life?” Well, the truth is, you will attract more love when you give more love. Like attracts like. But to break it down into a practical process, this is what I have learned from my research and personal experience:

  1. Let go of past hurts. Your heart cannot give or receive love if you are hanging on to pain, or judging the actions of others. Do what you need to do to process your feelings. Then let them go. Realize that most times, people don’t mean to hurt us. They are simply human and doing the best they can. Release them with love and move on.
  2. Fill your own cup. You can’t give love if your glass is half empty. And if you try to receive it in this state, you will end up draining the other person’s glass. It is important to fill your own cup first. Learn to love yourself and believe you are worthy of love. Do nice things for yourself. Try something you’ve always wanted to do. Spend time doing things you love. Your life will automatically become richer and fuller, and you will be able to approach new relationships from a place of fullness instead of lack.
  3. Be grateful for the love you already have. The quickest shortcut to getting more of what you want is to be thankful for what you already have. Look around your life and see how much love is already in it. Make a list of the wonderful people you know, and the experiences you have had that make you feel alive. Really stop and appreciate them. Look at this list whenever you are feeling down or lonely.
  4. Keep your heart open. Stay positive and loving no matter what the outcome. If you don’t immediately get what you want, trust that the process is working and that something better is coming your way. If you get hurt, look for what you can learn from the situation, and choose to keep your heart open to love.
  5. Give love to others. Choose to be loving with every decision you make, word you say and action you take. Send love out into the world, and like a boomerang it will come back to you (often when you least expect it!).

See the Love Around You

“When who I really am sees who you really are, all there is, is love.”
—Marci Shimoff, author, Love for No Reason

Love really isn’t as elusive as we think. Real, unconditional love is everywhere when we stop and look for it. I see it in many places in my own life:

  • I see it when my dad goes to see my 62-year-old mom at the nursing home where she now lives because of her Alzheimer’s. He shows up week in, week out, no matter how hard it is and despite the fact that he can’t exactly be getting what he needs out of their relationship any more. He holds her hand when she gets angry or cries, and says “It’s OK dear.” He looks at her lovingly, remembering who she is and seeing her true spirit despite her now child-like demeanour. And despite the fact that she no longer has any sense of time, she throws her arms around him and when he arrives, saying “Where have you been?” That’s love.
  • I see it in my brother- and sister-in-law, who after many years of life’s ups and downs and several serious physical illnesses, still look at each other like they just fell in love. They still hug and kiss and laugh together. And they share their love and joy with everyone around them, always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone in need.
  • I experienced it first-hand when I met, dated and married a wonderful man twenty years my senior. Members of our small rural community whispered and stared. My father wanted to shoot him. I was closer in age to his 15-year-old daughter than I was to him. We had no money and lived in a trailer. We endured a long-distance relationship while I studied in university. We got married knowing that he had been diagnosed with liver cancer and had only months to live. I withdrew from university and left behind a scholarship to care for him as he died. Our relationship didn’t make sense to many. But we loved each other anyway.
  • I feel it when I look at my kids, and marvel at what wonderful little people they are. I would do anything for them, no matter how crazy they sometimes make me. And they would do anything for each other. They are very close and always look out for each other (even after one steals the other’s toys).
  • I know love is real when my daughter gazes at me with her blueberry eyes and says, “You look pretty,” even though I’m wearing flannel PJs, have no make-up on, and my hair is tossed haphazardly in a ponytail. Kids are accepting in ways we adults often are not. I also know love is real when my son draws me a picture, gives me a hug and says, “I love you Mama,” even though 30 minutes ago I was angry with him and raised my voice. He forgives my parental mistakes, and loves me despite them.
  • I feel love every time I think of, talk to or hang out with my best friend. She brightens my day and fills my life with sunshine. She has her quirks, and I have mine. But she would do anything for me, and I for her. I am also blessed to have many other wonderful friends, who fill my life with joy and laughter.

The True Nature of Love

I believe the true nature of love is generosity – it’s giving everything you can to another because you want to, not because it’s expected. It’s caring just because. It’s acknowledging that people aren’t perfect, but you love them anyway. Love just is, whether it makes sense to others or not. When you see it, touch it and feel it, it is a beautiful thing to behold. And like a ripple across a smooth, expansive lake, it only gets bigger when you share it.

Choose to love unconditionally. Live with an open heart. Let yourself be vulnerable, so people can have the chance to know the real, wonderful you. Look for the love already present in your life. Believe more is possible. And above all, spread this wonderful gift to others.

There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer…
No door that enough love will not open
No gulf that enough love will not bridge,
No wall that enough love will not throw down…
It makes no difference how deeply seated may be the trouble,
How great the mistake,
Sufficient realization of love will resolve it all.
If only you could love enough,
You would be the happiest and most powerful being in the universe.

—Emmet Fox, spiritual leader (1886 – 1951)


  1. Beautiful post, I really enjoyed it! I do see how you have so much love for people and life. The big “L” love.

  2. I have watched you grow over the years and blossom into this incredible, big “L” loving woman. You are an inspiration to everyone who knows you… especially me, and I am proud to call you my best friend. I love you too! sniff sniff xo

    • Aw, you’re making me all sniffly. Thanks GF, love you!
      xo K

  3. Hi new-friend-Karen,

    What a beautiful entry.


  4. Thank You so much for this – I cannot wait to follow more of your writing! I have recently re-connected with an old friend who I am falling in love with, our feelings are mutual, however a friend of his whom I’ve only just met and started a friendship with has told me of her deep love for him, this information is causing me much inner turmoil, as I am finding it difficult to be around them both, not wanting to hurt her but not wanting to waste my chance…That’s a little overboard on the info but this post really helped me this morning! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Hi Tisha! Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m not sure of your exact situation, and am certainly not a relationship expert. But my gut feel is that it would be best for you to be honest / up-front with the two people involved about your feelings. And your old friend will have to decide with whom he wants to pursue a potential relationship, so that no one is left hanging / with false hopes. Good luck!

  5. […] Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Seeing Who We Really Are I want to come back to the notion of unconditional love that I spoke about in my last post, The Ripple Effect: To Love and Be Loved. […]

  6. What a beautiful and well crafted post, I see a book being formed here : )

  7. Hi Karen,

    I was doing some research for an article I have committed to write on ‘Understanding the Ripple Effect of Love’ and found your blog. I started reading your entries and then found about an hour had evaporated, I’d become so immersed in your stories. My father died of complications from Alzheimer disease so I understand fully how difficult it is to get through that kind of loss while also comforting the remaining parent. I love your insights and your ability to find the goodness in so many challenges. So many of these things have happened to me and so many of the emotions are things I have dealt with and still deal with. So – I signed up to get your updates ( you are the only blog I follow at this point) – but I think that I got here for a reason. Best to you!


    • Thank you so much for your compliments Susan, and for sharing your story. I am so happy my stories resonate with you…I think that we are all in this together, and it is always nice to know we do not go through our difficulties alone. Best of luck to you on your journey…

      🙂 Karen

  8. […] The ripple effect: To love and be loved (Karen Strang Allen) […]

  9. […] The ripple effect: To love and be loved […]

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