Is it Possible to Love Unconditionally?

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Is unconditional love between people really possible, or do we all place conditions on our love?

All close relationships begin with loving, open-hearted feelings flowing freely between people. Time passes, events happen, people disappoint each other and the love lessens. In some cases, it just grows a little dimmer, but sometimes it can turn to strong feelings of dislike or disdain.

We have all experienced this hardening of our hearts, shutting down in an effort to protect ourselves. Even though it doesn’t necessarily feel good, we find ourselves slipping into this place where we set limits on how much love we will show to another. Sometimes we want to define this closing of our hearts as setting healthy boundaries.

Of course we all need to set appropriate boundaries with a variety of people in our lives. Setting boundaries doesn’t have to mean harboring anger, resentment or bitterness towards another being, even if they hurt us directly. Great beings in history have already set this example for us.

We can release hard feelings and enjoy a more neutral relationship even with the most difficult people in our lives. This is the first step on the path to healing. We can hold our hearts open unconditionally in a loving way even with those whom which we choose not to spend time.

What happens to your heart when we shut down a part of it that used to be open to another? Do we suffer from hardening of the heart in a similar way to the pain and dis-ease we experience from hardening of the arteries?

Regardless of our philosophical beliefs, the fact remains that we are born and we die. During the time in between, we get to choose whether or not we want to keep our hearts open fully to all beings, past and present, and enjoy the experience of living joyfully.

We gain nothing by choosing to shut down. Even if we believe that the other person doesn’t deserve our kindness or good will, there is a way to release fear and negativity. We think that it gives us a bit of control over the situation to hold back our lovingkindness, when in fact, we have just surrendered our own power to an idea. If we have closed our heart to even one other person, we are the ones who ultimately suffer.

We can set our intention to keep our hearts open regardless of the actions of others or the events of our life or our world. We can process fully our negative feelings and then choose love, forgiveness and happiness. We can make it a practice and get better and faster at doing it.

In my travels, I have been fortunate to hear all kinds of stories and what I have learned is that people are the same all over the world. There are definitely cultural differences, but in our hearts, we all feel similar things. Everywhere I go I see that people are waking up to this possibility that a shift of heart is necessary. Grace moves so much more freely through people who have learned how to open the doors of their hearts towards others.

Our spiritual work is learning to live ever more skillfully in a way that helps us to manage negative stress, fear or melodrama more gracefully. I am grateful to have become connected to all of you who read this newsletter. You have touched me, I have grown. I am proud to be associated with you and will continue to support your expansion, unconditionally.

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React or Response?

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I became acutely aware of the difference between these two ways of being while on a Buddhist retreat in the year 2000. I was going through a divorce after a long marriage and was finding myself being constantly tested in this arena. Being of Mediterranean descent and having been raised in a way that it was perfectly fine for me to speak my mind, I found it easy to get things out in the open and off my chest verbally. Having several planets in Mars, my communication style has always been absolute and direct. It never seemed necessary to go through formalities when talking to people, such as asking them personal questions before delivering my message or asking my question. I would simply launch right into whatever it was I wanted to say and I felt good when I used as few words as necessary to get my point across.

In some ways, I suppose this was a good thing. I had a reputation for being honest and upfront with people, and yet it didn’t feel good to find out that my brutal honesty was sometimes also hurtful. I felt proud that I could “take it” when people were direct and confrontational with me, but I also noticed a big difference in the way I felt around people who were kinder, softer and more tactful.

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E-mail is, I believe, a great way to practice learning these skills. It is better than the telephone because it gives us time to think before we press “send”. And yet e-mail is notorious for being misinterpreted and in addition, it can be in existence for perpetuity as it is the written word.

I have suffered this reality when people have dug up my old e-mails and sent them to me. It is undeniable, and indisputable.
Now that I am a bit older and perhaps wiser having learned so much the hard way, I give myself more time when I feel my emotions stirring in reaction to what another person is saying to me. Is this an attack or an opportunity, I ask. Most of the time, if I wait and breathe for awhile, I find it is a wonderful opportunity. It is as if Spirit is given a human voice, attempting to get through to me so I can wake up to something I am not yet aware of.

What is the deeper message and how is it really about me and not about them vs. me?

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Lessons from deep loss

October 18th. It marks the anniversary of the death of my son, Brandon, who was age 20 at the time, in 2003. I don’t need the calendar to remember because I never forget.

Yet the day marks time and reminds me that it happened. An unresolved murder case, forever an unsolved mystery.

Nine years later, I look back, as I do every year during this month and many days throughout each year. I can see how my feelings in relation to this deep loss have morphed and changed through the year. Though grief still pays her unannounced visits, they are usually less traumatic now.

At first, grief’s waves hit me like a tsunami. They left me sobbing, shaking and sad to the point of depression. Now they are more like rainshowers or waves that ebb and flow with the tide. Losing someone so close and so dear feels like losing a part of oneself. We are never the same—we are permanently shifted. We know firsthand that even though we are eternal spirits living in human bodies, these human bodies are very fragile.

I miss my son. I wonder what he would be like no, approaching age 30. I cherish my daughter and stay very close to her. In the back corner of mind there is a place where the fear of losing her lurks and peeks out from time to time. And yet I know that worry is wasting precious time possibly attracting future unwanted events.

Here are some of the lessons I have learned:

Lesson 1
If events are going to happen anyway, our worrying does nothing to prevent them from occurring.

Lesson 2
Death is natural, even when it is tragic. Everyone dies. Perhaps not in the order or in the way we would prefer, but then its not up to us. I see now how egotistical it was of me to be angry at Life for flowing as it did, but I am human.

Lesson 3
Empowerment is uplifting and inspiring, victimization is a downer.

From the day I received the news, I decided to focus on how I could see my family in a light other than victimhood. With the aid of wise counsel and patient friends, I came to choose to see my son as a separate soul, not really mine as in “my son”. Separate souls are allowed to come and go freely to and from this plane. It is not up to us to decide. I was able to synch my mind with the understanding that even those who are murdered, like my son, on a soul level, attract that to them as an exit plan for a reason mostly impossible for us humans to understand.

People told me from the beginning that time would eventually help me. It did and yet the event changed me for life in a positive way because I allowed it to.

I now see the preciousness of all my relationships in more vivid technicolor than I ever imagined possible.

I have a deeper appreciation for ordinary days. I am never bored, nor do I see any activity, even sitting in a traffic jam or waiting for a flight delay, as a waste of time. I honor my son by living my life fully and I know he takes great delight in seeing this.

“If your daily life seems of no account, don’t blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its treasures. For the creative artist there is no impoverishment and no worthless place.” ~ Rilke

Special days of remembrance like this anniversary, birthdays or holidays are especially difficult after a deep loss. It’s understandable and pretty much universal. I would have preferred never to celebrate another holiday again after losing Brandon.

However, consider this: what if every single person who ever suffered a deep loss refused to participate in holidays or celebrations? The gatherings would be smaller each year!

I found great comfort in sharing my story because it gave me a connection with so many others who have also learned deep life lessons in this way. Yes, it is a course that on one wants to take, a club that no one wants to join, but after you do, through no choice of your own, you have the opportunity to gain deeper insights that you ever knew were possible.
Our sorrow may have been self-chosen at some level of our being to bring about an enlargement of our self. Without struggle we would learn nothing about life.

On Joy and Sorrow (by Kahlil Gibran)
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.And how else can it be?The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater thar sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

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Articles In Print

 

Cover: Jan/Feb 2008 Yoga Journal

Inside is her Master Class article “Reach for the Sky.”

 

Yoga Journal Master Class, “Bare Your Heart,” page 81: May 2008

Yoga Journal Interview: Queen of Heart, June 2006
Devastated by the death of her son, Desirée Rumbaugh found solace
and strength in yoga.

 

A Fine Balance: Extend your energy and feel your balancing poses come to life with this Anusara sequence. Yoga Journal Online, “Practice.” March 2006 issue of Yoga Journal.

 

Follow Your Heart, Yoga Journal San Francisco 2006 – Conference Blog, Jan. 13, 2006

Episode 30 is an interview with Yoga Peeps founder Lara Cestone and Yoga Instructor Desiree Rumbaugh, of Chandler, Arizona. Lara and Desiree talk about teaching as a mirror, fostering community, yoga as a seriously playful practice, and being open to change. Yoga Peeps

 

“Yoga Mentor” Teaching Methodology: Core Purpose,  July 2006 Newsletter.

 

“Armchair Yogi” in the April 2004 issue of Yoga Journal, page 20

 

 

“Ask the Expert” column for the June 2005 Yoga Journal, page 113

 

“Ask the Expert” Practice: Opening Tight Shoulders Yoga Journal, March/April 2005

 

“Ask the Expert” Practice: Roll Call Yoga Journal, March/April 2005

 

The Longest Goodbye: Losing someone you love is one of the most difficult challenges you can face, but yoga’s healing power and wisdom can help you heal. Yoga Journal Online, “Wisdom.” By Phil Catalfo, page 84 of the Yoga Journal December 2005