Love As a Practice
By Tomas and Joan Heartfield. Ph.D.
Some time ago I was talking with a friend who had just returned from visiting her daughter’s family in California. She commiserated with me that she used to enjoy being Grandma, but this time all she could see was a lack of love. Her daughter and son-in-law never once expressed affection towards each other. As soon as her daughter entered the door from work she lit into her husband. The TV was always on. It was a battleground with screaming kids and parents trying to cope and make enough money to keep their beautiful house. She wanted to help and didn’t know how. She felt she was seeing herself at her daughters age, in that same state, but felt helpless to “make it better”.
I shared with her I had heard this story a number of times. Her experience is all too common. In a home where the feeling of love is absent it is difficult to feel comfortable. Many people were raised in homes where feelings of anger, sadness and pain obscured the love. It is easy to be overwhelmed and taken over by the frustrations relaionship, family, work and life bring to us on a regular basis.
I suggested she focus on giving love as a practice and have a heart-to-heart conversation with her daughter using a combination of telling the truth without blame or judgment and empathy. It might sound something like this.
“When I see you come in the door with so much tension and I feel the energy of frustration in your home, I feel sad. I’m aware that all of you need more positive energy. I know you feel overwhelmed. I remember how I felt when I was where you are now. I was the same way with you, and I feel sad I didn’t know how to be a relaxed, loving mom. I see how much you have to do and how little time you have to yourself. With all my heart I want to support you by learning from my past mistakes. I love you and want to make a difference in your life. May I share my awareness, and support you in finding a way to feel less stressed?”
She acknowledged it was challenging being the grandma who contributes her wisdom without meddling. I suggested she look beyond the drama of the situation and see where love was needed and give it as a healing for herself for all the times she didn’t know how to do it when her daughter was small. She could now choose to give it not from guilt for not giving it, but as a gift to the world she is helping to create. She imagined feeling love streaming out of her heart into theirs. She decided that even if she didn’t feel it coming back she would remember that this is her spiritual practice!
When I saw her next, she had returned from her Christmas visit. “It was a completely different experience. I shared my feelings and really was able to be empathetic. I just kept beaming everyone love and really listened to their needs. It was the nicest Christmas we’d had in a long time. The very best thing was how I felt about myself in doing this practice. I now trust I can show up as the loving person I really am. I know how to give love in the way it is needed.”