We are moving into that “giving” time of year – giving thanks, giving gifts, giving kindness to others. It feels good to give, even fun. A festive mood is in the air, and we seem drawn into a collective consciousness of cheerfulness and being kinder to others.
Recently, however, life has challenged me to dig deeper into the practice of giving a more difficult gift, one that costs nothing and can be given at any time of year. It is the gift of unconditional love and acceptance.
We’ve all heard these ideals before; most religions, including Eckankar, promote the concept of unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness. In psychological terms it is called “unconditional positive regard.” It is the ability to let go of our judgments and criticisms, to give ourselves and others the grace of a wide margin for human error.
We know how wonderful it feels to receive the gift of unconditional positive regard and acceptance. We’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives, either from a pet, a small child, or if we’re really lucky, a wonderful friend or partner.
So, if we know how good it feels to receive it, what stands in the way of our ability to give this healing gift to others and ourselves? Why do we find it so hard to move beyond our judgments, critical opinions and rigid belief systems?
For me, I have discovered the main emotion beneath my judgmental thoughts and actions is fear. Basic fear. It may manifest in many ways such as jealousy, criticism, gossip, or believing I am right and others are wrong, but as I dig down deep through the layers of justification and intellectualization, I always find fear.
While an exploration of these questions can be useful on an intellectual level, a mere understanding of why it is difficult to give unconditional love and acceptance is not enough to change behavior. Insight is the booby prize. I can understand perfectly why I’m being grumpy and critical to my husband, but that alone will not stop me from doing it.
How do I change my behavior? How do I translate these admirable beliefs into daily actions that reflect these beliefs?
There are many different spiritual and personal growth practices available to a seeker. I am not an expert in this area, just a spiritual traveler on the road of life willing to learn and grow.
I offer the following three tools as a starting point.
The first is a visualization technique that can be used by itself or as part of a meditation. Visualize your heart center being filled with such brilliant white light that it illuminates all the dark corners of your heart. You can include a simple mantra such as the words “love” or “peace” or any other word or phrase that has meaning for you. Practicing this technique for even 3 to 5 minutes a day can create profound changes in the way you approach life and others.
The second is during periods of quiet reflection or prayer, ask a power greater than yourself to help you be willing to give up those beliefs and behaviors that harm others and yourself. Asking this source of wisdom and knowledge to help you change will open the doors to resources and power far greater than your own.
And lastly, a simple but powerful yoga pose to help stop harmful or unkind words. Years ago, one of my wisest yoga teachers said the most difficult yoga pose was “open teeth, insert tongue and bite down firmly.” In other words, just don’t say it.
Try giving the gift of unconditional love and acceptance today. It costs nothing, it’s something everyone can use, and there are no crowds or long lines.
• Wendy Hamilton is a Clergy member of Eckankar, the Religion of the Light and Sound of God.