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There are only four questions of value in life… What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same: only love. – Don Juan Demarco 1994

Love is one of the most sought-after, healing and transformative experiences we can have in our time on this little blue ball. Sadly, it’s also one of the least understood parts of human life.

In fact, it might be the stories that have been built up around it that have made it so hard to attain love in our personal experience of life. We’ve all been raised on stories of bitter-sweet passions and unrequited love, Disneyesque models of “true love,” and other such romantic illusions. Each has painted a picture of love as something so unrealistic and so outside of the realm of human experience, that it’s no surprise we have a hard time getting our lives to match the pictures they’ve presented.

In reality, our love relationships are both the greatest gifts and the greatest challenges we encounter in our lives. Here are a few tips to blow away the fog and bring in a bit of clarity around this mysterious force called love:

1. Love is not exclusive

How about that one true love? The one that saves you and makes everything better? That makes a boring, unsatisfying life somehow magical and perfect? It sounds a bit suspicious when I lay it out like that, doesn’t it?

Love isn’t just something that happens when you’re finally face to face with that one destined person. And it won’t save you. We each have to save ourselves. Once we do, we’re ready to take our relationships deeper, to see others more clearly for who they are and open the door to a real sense of connection. Love is this connection, a sense of warmth and mutual care that can happen between any two or more and at any time. When we’re waiting in an unsatisfying life for that one magical connection, we’re allowing all the beautiful interactions and moments of love just pass us by. All because they didn’t look the way we expected them to.

2.

Ok… Wham! There it is! Your eyes meet and suddenly you know. All the stresses and problems in life melt away, replaced by a golden fog of happily-ever-after. Forever.

Forever has a bit of a ring to it, doesn’t it? Sounds like an awful long time. Plus, how about that beginning? That dramatic first moment. Can’t beat that, can you? Stuff of legends. And maybe only of legends.

The reality of it is that we do have those moments of connection, those undeniable instances of chemistry. Times when we simply know that we have to say hello and find out who this person in front of us is. But once that happens, then it’s time to share moments. To build love and trust, cultivate real connection through instances of thoughtfulness, consideration and acceptance. Our loving bonds—and our lives—are the product of tiny little moments, all strung together. If we want to keep love alive, keep it growing, we need to keep cultivating it one little moment at a time.

3. Love has four key ingredients

Kindness, gentleness, care and contentment. No matter how self-contained or grown-up we are, we all need kindness, gentleness and care in our lives. These qualities are essential for a real bond with real people. And, if we want to have meaningful connections with others, then we need to hold these qualities for them as well. Love is a verb, an act of mutual sharing. When this sharing comes from a place of mutual care and respect, it is a blessing in our lives. Contentment is a bit of a crowning jewel in this list. Without contentment from within, we try to find things that make us happy, that “fix” it, or that make life work, from the situations and people around us in life. But if we don’t know how to be happy in our own lives, no one and nothing outside of us is going to make that “fix.” Contentment allows us to relax into the bond, to let go of seeking and appreciate others for who they really are.

4. Love has presence

In order to connect with others, we have to really be there. Have you ever been at the table with a friend or partner, just watching them stare at the phone? When our attention is elsewhere, real connection isn’t possible. And phones aren’t the only thing that can keep us from being present. Any time our thoughts are elsewhere, any time our minds are full of what we want to say, what happened before, what we’re expecting or hoping will happen later, there isn’t enough space within us to see the person in front of us. Being present, being here clears the mind, relaxes the body and opens the heart, creating space for love to grow.

5. Expectations can kill love

This is one of the most practical things we can ever learn, something that can help relationships to survive and grow in the real world. We all have needs and often we expect others to meet these needs for us. Sometimes, we don’t speak these needs, expecting a partner or friend to play a role when they’ve never even been handed the script. Part of cultivating a real connection, means being responsible for our own needs. And another big part means being able to express the needs that we would like others to fill for us. Dropping the expectation that another will behave a certain way or fulfil some unexpressed desire. Accepting them as they are, for who they are and knowing our needs well enough to communicate them, if they’re part of the equation.

7. Love isn’t just about a lover

Love is a state of being. It isn’t something that enters our lives when we have finally found that special someone. In fact, if that’s what we’re waiting for, then we’re bound to be waiting a long time. Love enters our life when we hold that feeling, when we place ourselves in a place of love for every aspect of our experience. For the sunset we take in, the food we eat, the sensations running across our skin in each moment. Love is an attitude, a feeling that we can allow in. By opening up to this, and by sharing it with those we interact with, we open the door to beautiful, bright, meaningful connections everywhere and in every way.

The real key here is that being “in love” means being open to the beauty and joy life has to offer in every moment. This is where we start and where we come back to. If this is the foundation of your relationships, then they can return to good even after the challenging points. This is a gift that we can give ourselves. In fact, we have to give it to ourselves before we can share it with anyone else.

With hope this has opened the door for more understanding of love and connection, and that it leads to more depth and fulfilment in every aspect of your life.

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