By Sumitra Burton.
While looking back over my life recently to see what kind of “credentials” I had gathered along the way, I recognized a core thread that has permeated my experience from the very beginning: a passionate longing for love. Somehow I had never been aware of it in quite this way before.
As a little girl, I was deeply moved by a picture in our church’s entryway of Jesus in his long robe with children around his feet. Jesus was looking at the children with deep love. I can feel now the sense of longing that arose in my heart to experience that kind of love in my life.
Early on I somehow got the idea that pleasing others was the best way to find the love I so dearly wanted. I tried to make them happy, so that they would love me. My mother once said to me that I was selfish, which struck me deeply as I took this to mean that “I” was selfish, rather than simply my behavior in that moment. The desire to not be selfish translated in my young mind to mean that my own personal needs and desires must be subdued in deference to others.
I married very young (19) and was excited to feel loved by my young husband and the support of a dream that we would somehow live happily ever after, loving each other unconditionally (those were the vows we took when we married – through sickness and health, joy and sorrow, etc. – right?).
It wasn’t long, though, before this dream started falling apart as I often experienced a lack of love in our relationship. We were both so young, and my husband had had a traumatic childhood and needed lots of support. Neither of us had the skills to communicate our feelings and work through the difficulties that arose. Over the years we had four children together, were separated many times, and actually married and divorced twice.
By the time of the second divorce, I was totally devastated – confused, grieving and alone. I had tried so hard to love him, and had failed, and my longing for love (still very strong) seemed to have reached a dead end. The harder I tried, the worse things became. I had given my all, and it wasn’t good enough. Something was deeply wrong, and I was convinced there was something deeply wrong with me – I must be unlovable!
I stayed alone for the next 30 years after the second divorce, practiced yoga and meditation as best I could while being a single mother, eventually living and working in an ashram retreat center for many years. I found a sense of peace while I would sit to meditate, but in my daily life there was still much confusion and even desperation as I tried to make others happy so that I would feel loved in return.
One day I remember so clearly, a spiritual teacher remarked, “We have to love everyone, including ourselves.” I was shocked to hear the part about “including ourselves.” Of course, this made perfect sense, and why had it taken so long for me to realize this?
From that moment I began wondering what it would mean to love myself – and very gradually began to explore how to do this. There wasn’t much support in those days for this kind of endeavor. I found myself eventually gravitating towards a philosophy of relaxing more into who I already am, rather than the old paradigm of disciplining myself to become a better person. I began to have glimpses of being okay as I was.
When I finally discovered the Living Inquiries and the tools of resting and inquiry, the old beliefs of “unlovable” and “not good enough” arose dramatically to be explored, and slowly began to unwind. It’s been a dynamic process over the past seven years of working to unravel these old beliefs and learning to relax into my natural sense of being-ness. A main component of this quest has been the gradual shift from looking outside myself to looking inside for the love that I long for.
While there is a sense that the inquiry process will always be needed (no end in sight!), there is also a deepening awareness that innately I am okay and lovable. Any time I notice I am looking for love outside, I recognize the old feelings of unworthiness creeping in. Deep inside there’s a growing understanding that not only am I lovable, but that I am actually Love Itself. No separation.
This morning I am taking time to simply allow the longing to be felt. The intensity of the longing is immense, filling my whole inner torso like a vacuum in a cavern. It feels like I will be engulfed by it if I allow it to be fully felt. Go ahead, I say. Let me be consumed by that longing! As I sit with the sensations, an image of a gate appears. And as it opens, Love is Here. Love is calling me Home.
To read more about Sumitra Burton, click here.