What can you do when there’s nothing you can do?
Sometimes something happens. Perhaps your sweet old cat takes a turn for the worse, or there’s a money problem, or your son waves goodbye as he gets on a plane to start college on the other side of the country. Sometimes it’s on a larger scale: maybe there’s been an election and you’re grappling with its consequences (see my last post on this topic: Take Heart).
Or you might be dealing with something ongoing, like a dead-end job (or no job at all), life after divorce, chronic pain, or a teenager who won’t talk to you.
Whatever it is, at first, it’s normal to feel rattled, frozen, or unclear about what to do. After awhile, you do what you can to change things for the better. But often there’s not much you can actually change and sometimes nothing at all.
Still, there is always one thing you can do, no matter what.
You can always find someone to love.
Besides the benefits for those on the receiving end, as Shelley Taylor at UCLA has shown, “tending-and-befriending” others can lift your own mood while lowering your stress hormones. Also, at a time when you may feel powerless about the wider world, at least locally, here and now, you can make a real difference. Love is never defeated. Heart after heart after heart.
By “love” I mean a wide range, including compassion, support, friendliness, encouragement, appreciation, and cherishing. It can be expressed in simple or subtle ways, such as a call to a friend, more patience with a partner, saying what you liked about a co-worker’s idea, or seeing the being behind the eyes of a stranger passing on the sidewalk.
And if love is not expressed, it’s still real and it matters. For example, when things happen at any scale that are or could be awful for others – from your daughter’s friends turning against her to a turn for the worse in a country to the planet overheating and species dying – it’s natural to feel a sense of moral outrage on behalf of other beings. This is a kind of love, even if there is no place to put it. Or you might sense the weariness in the person sitting across from you in the subway and feel some compassion and goodwill. Perhaps you think about a friend with appreciation or smile to yourself at what a goofball he is.
It’s all love.
It’s been very important to me personally to claim an inner freedom to love. I’ve had frustrating struggles trying to get others to love me or to receive my love. But no one can stop us from finding and feeling love inside ourselves.
Love feeds us as it flows out of us. Soothing, calming, centering, strengthening.
Slow it down. Listen longer. Make room for the heart.
Who else could you love?
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