I have a special friend. We began as acquaintances, because our daughters were good friends. Eventually we began to spend time together socially, and although we were quite different our connection grew.
I’d say we had a pretty strong friendship, sharing our hopes, fears, and dreams, as well as the everyday details of life. One weekend we decided to take the kids on a weekend adventure to the mountains. While there, I talked her into canoeing 12 miles on the Shenandoah River, which was a new and challenging experience for her as she was not a great swimmer.
Canoeing is an almost meditative pastime, as it has the effect of bringing you completely present in the moment. Everyday worries and pressures fall away and you become immersed in the beauty of the mountains cradling the river, the splash of a turtle leaving the log he was sunning himself on, the fragrance of the flowers growing wild along the shoreline, and the next draw of the paddle that keeps you afloat as you glide through whitewater rapids. So there we were, enjoying the gorgeous weather, stunning scenery, and the company of each other and our children, when something unexpected happened.
For a brief moment, all of her normal pretenses and defenses dropped away, and she let out a delightful laugh. One that came from somewhere deep in her soul, as if she had re-connected with the innocent, carefree child she once was.
In that moment, I SAW her.
I saw who she most truly is in the core of her being. A seeing that came not with my eyes, but with my heart and my intuitive sense. Something deep in me recognized myself in her. It was Love seeing Love. In that moment, I fell in love with her. Not in a romantic or sexual way, but more of a profound recognition of our interconnectedness, a celebration of the truth of who we are under all the false layers we have accumulated over the years. In that moment she ceased being my friend, and became my sister.
That was years ago, but the experience profoundly changed me. Our children have grown and gone their separate ways and we don’t see each other as frequently anymore, but the bond of love remains unbroken, unchanged. Once known, love cannot be unknown. Since then, I have had other experiences similar to that one, with other friends, intimate partners, clients, and even total strangers. Each time I am graced with such a moment, I fall in love. And the more I release my defenses, my masks and pretenses, the more capable I am of seeing another with the heart.
Have you ever seen someone, really seen them, through the eyes of your heart?
Did you experience the love that overflows with the ecstatic recognition of itself?
Such love doesn’t depend on shared interests, identical political or religious persuasions, mutually reciprocated favors, or anything at all. It doesn’t require a great sense of humor, a high IQ score, or an attractive body. It just is, and it delights in recognizing itself.
We spend so much time and effort in our society hoping to be finally worthy of love, improving our “picker” so we choose the “right” loved one, learning strategies to maintain or reignite the love relationship we are already in, striving to improve our self-love, and seeking to defend against the loss of love. And all along it is living inside us, as our true nature, patiently waiting for us to drop our defenses, our strategies, and our masks so that we can embrace it in ourselves, and in each other.
I believe we all have a deep need to see and be seen. To open the eyes of the heart. To delight in the love that we are, and that is all around us, waiting to be recognized.
This February, the month that we celebrate love, it’s probably too cold to go canoeing. But it’s always the right season to get emotionally naked, and go swimming in love. Real love. The kind that can never be destroyed, because it is who we are.