“I define love thus: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” ― Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth
I love Scott’s book. I’ve read it twice (both times by my friend Doug‘s recommendation), with about three years between readings. Each time I found a little something else in it, based on the degree of awareness I have of myself and how I operate. I agree with his definition of love being the willingness to extend one’s self into something expansive whether for your own growth or that of another.
We hear a lot about self love these days but often from the perspective of ‘outside in’. We have come to associate the phrase with the idea of doing nice things for ourself, or adding something else in to our already hectic lives. We add ‘self love’ as something to an already over burdened ‘to do’ list, yet seem to still procrastinate over that action over all the rest.
Real self love is an inside job.
It is not frantic, it is not stressful and it is definitely not striving to be something other than that which we truly are. It is the deep, delicious feeling of calm when you make choices that are aligned with who you are, how you want to be and your moral compass.
We all have a deep wisdom within that cannot be learnt as it has always been there, it can only be exposed by washing away and discarding the things that have contributed to the disconnection.
Real self love is therefore often less about what we add in, but more about what we take out.
Removing things that no longer serve us from our lives can be one of the most painful things of all, and therefore is likely to be something that we conveniently avoid doing. To successfully do so may well mean experiencing pain to some degree, and the experience or even idea of that pain can feel so overwhelming for us that we choose to abort the mission and stay just as we are.
Love is therefore the opposite. Love means being prepared to step into that pain and to put in the work to get us where we want to be. Extending ourselves beyond the confines of our comfort zones takes real courage and commitment.
Let us consider what that courage and commitment to extend might look like in real world terms.
- It could be the more introspective examples like embarking upon a voyage of self discovery whether in the form of therapy or self education.
- It could be learning how to meditate and finding a way to slow down and connect.
- It could be learning something new; something children often do so well. I watch my nieces lap up and apply each piece of new information that comes their way and experiment limitlessly with how they might apply that new data.
- It could mean taking on a project that you are scared of doing but is well within your capabilities. This is different to striving to be something other than who you are, this is about stepping into your power.
- It could also be something seemingly benign like driving on a motorway, and that was me recently.
I am still a reluctant driver, due to the stories I tell myself about my capabilities as a driver throughout adulthood. As soon as I get in the car and start moving, I realise I love it. To me it symbolises a form of freedom, yet I still hold myself back from stepping into that power and therefore that freedom. To overcome it, I am pushing myself to do it, pushing to learn a new normal and to step into my power.
In doing so recently I felt a sense of expansiveness, a sense of breaking free of self imposed shackles. Right up until I turned the key in the ignition as I set off, I was trying to find excuses not to be there and reasons to make it okay for me to cancel the plan and take the train.
Instead I turned the key and set myself free again. It really is that simple. What are the limitations that you are placing on yourself right now? Where are you ‘taking the train’ instead of hopping on the motorway?
Are you taking up all of the space that you should be in the world? Are you keeping yourself smaller than you are? Are you making choices that extend you in the direction of spiritual growth? Are you really loving you?
Love is not something new to us. We are born as the very embodiment of love, embraced tenderly as infants (at least for the most part) and have no question at that time of what love is and what love isn’t. It just is.
As soon as we get a little older and more physically robust, the world changes its interaction with us to become less tender, and we grow harder to meet it. That can often spell the beginning of the end of love for us, until hopefully we find some way to make our way back to our default setting: LOVE.
Having gone on an expansive, invasive journey through my own experiences and learnt behaviours I’d be lying if I said the journey was without peril.
But I can also tell you first hand that the joy that is left in its place once the real calmness of your innermost is uncovered, is quite literally the stuff that dreams are made of.