I have just re-read one of my favourite children’s stories – The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams. Through chronicling the adventures of a young boy’s toy rabbit, the story describes how love makes us real.
It’s an inspiring and heart-opening story that has got me thinking about love both at work and in life… For example, what is required of us to love an organisation to life, so that the brand becomes truly real for staff and customers? I suspect The Velveteen Rabbit can shed some light on this question. And also, what is a “real” relationship anyway?
How often do we discover that rather than providing a loving presence, we have hidden agendas for people we love to meet our needs, to change, or to provide something we believe we lack? How often do we note that our own fears, prejudices and insecurities stand in the way of our spontaneity, whole-heartedness and authentic connection with others? How often do we see that rather than love setting us free, we can’t resist the urge to try to control our experience? Time and again we find ourselves wanting our experience to unfold in a different way than it is – and sadly, this is especially so when we feel love for someone…
Yet trying to control and shape our experience to safeguard us from disappointment (because there is seldom love without fear) means that we are not being whole-hearted and present in our relationships. Hanging on to love has the opposite effect to what we intend - it creates suffering as it holds us back from a full expression of what is true for us. Yet even in our suffering it is hard to feel compassion for ourselves (Buddhist writer Tara Brach says that compassion is the form love takes when suffering occurs).
How do we break out of this negative spiral? Well we need to ask ourselves what it means to have a real relationship. In his book The Power of Divine Eros, spiritual teacher A.H. Almaas says that the secret is to see people we love anew in each moment. He asks, “What does it mean to come together and not be defining your friend, partner, wife, by the experiences you had of them last week? What would it mean to actually see, with fresh eyes, who they are right now? This doesn’t mean that you forget what has happened, who they are, or what their name is. It begins by taking the chance to open into the new, in the same way we do when we enter into our own experience and open that up.”
So if love is to truly make us real, it means we have to open to what is unfolding right now in the relationship, without trying to fix, control or shape anything. This opens us to our vulnerability, and in so doing, creates a moment of authentic and wwhole-hearted connection with the other that is transformational.