One of my commitments to myself is to be conscious of life’s opportunities for deepening growth and meaning. I’ve missed many prospects for valuable learning, bonding and enjoyment by being caught up in the past or the future, focusing on the negative things around me, or incessantly checking my texts and emails. I now set intentions for every experience, so that I won’t miss out on life’s most extraordinary gifts.
Sitting in my airline seat waiting for the rest of the passengers to board and settle, I thought about my intentions for this trip. I was heading to Scottsdale, Arizona for a spa vacation with six women, some I’d met only a few times, others I’ve known for more than a decade. When I asked myself what my intention for this trip would be, the answer came quickly: I want to give them love.
My seatmate arrived. He was a tall, round man, with thick, hairy arms. He plunked into his seat, inadvertently knocking my arm from the armrest. He apologized and then said, “There’s enough room for both of us,” in a way that sounded more like a hopeful affirmation, than a fact. I smiled, pressed into the wall beside me and continued to craft my intention for the trip.
How could I give them love? My brain, a hyper-logical wonder, offered the following answer: Show them love by being nice to them. My heart, a rose layered with velvety ruffles of intuition, empathy, and wisdom, chimed in: Loving is not about being nice.
You can be nice and unloving at the same time. Nice is something people do to make others happy and gain their favor, or approval. Most warring leaders, politicians, and opposing lawyers are usually nice to each other, thankfully. Nice has a payoff, it’s superficial and sometimes manipulative. It’s also conditional; if the object of your niceness disgusts, rejects, or harms you, you may withdraw your niceness.
Loving is seeing another’s essence and inherent value without trying to change them, or get anything in return. It’s forgiveness in advance, it has no strings attached, and requires nothing from anyone outside of the lover.
My seatmate’s arm was compressing mine now, and his head began lolling from side to side. The plane’s wheels had barely left the tarmac, and he’d already collapsed into a deep sleep. I pulled my arm out from beneath his, resting it in my lap.
Nice would sit here quietly frustrated and inwardly complaining about this man, I thought. Love looks deeper. It recognizes his exhaustion and feels the discomfort of being almost too big to fit into one seat. It sinks beneath the surface situation and acknowledges that something painful, fear-based, or stressful has a hold on this man, and it’s led to his current physical state. Love understands.
Yet, love has boundaries too. If the man attacked me, or fell over into my lap, self-love would defend, or correct it. Loving is never self-harming. Love takes intelligent action and removes a threat, while continuing to love.
In the context of my spa trip, love would be in its ideal climate–one where it could flourish. I could offer myself in service to it, without the need for setting boundaries. Love would manifest in my willingness to listen, understand, acknowledge, encourage, connect, and compassionately confront, if requested and helpful. Love would not require me to agree, or approve of anyone’s choices; it would call on me to surrender judgment for empathy. It would also demand that I become emotionally naked when my life’s mistakes, pain, or suffering could serve.
Genuinely loving is much richer and challenging than being nice ever could be.
My seatmate started snoring, laboring to pull oxygen into his body. I put all of my attention on my heart center and sent him wishes of restoration, peace, emotional healing and radiant health. I visualized putting my arms around him and telling him that he was worthy, lovable, and here on purpose.
I loved him.
I left the plane feeling light-filled, alive, and grateful that I hadn’t settled for just being nice.