In one of my January blogs last month, I mentioned my delight in discovering that my new daytimer included a unique commandment for each month, and we explored that month's missive: Seek Peace. I was both happy and humbled to watch that blog message become one of the most well-read on this site. Thank you for taking the time to read that message and in your thoughtful and kind comments.
This month's message is Cherish Love. Given that February includes all things chocolate, roses, and (often over-priced) hyped up Valentine's day activities, this seemed pretty predictable. In considering this topic, I wanted to expand from the usual Valentine "couple" messages and take this blog in a slightly different direction.
How do we demonstrate to each other that essence of deeply cherished love? In a world full of vapid, superficial gestures and trinkets claiming to be love, what then has meaning?
In ancient times, both the Hebrew and Greek languages had different words to describe different types of love. Of those, the Hebrew word "racham" (pronounced rakh'-am) was used to refer to a romantic love, as well as the act of showing gentle kindness and compassion.
I love that.
Racham is further described as a form of complete, or pure love. It is a love that is reciprocated. It is differentiated from another ancient Hebrew word, "chav" (pronounced keev) which refers to a love that flows from just one person and is not completed.
Love can exist if it is not returned, but it cannot sing until it is shared, and when it is shared, that is racham.
It is not just possible to experience racham in your life, it is necessary for your well-being and that of others! Developing love and compassion is the most important thing you can do in your life. The quality and endurance of your relationships depends on how much love and compassion you have in your mind. The more love and compassion you have, the more you enjoy your connections with others, the more you feel gratitude, appreciation and happiness. Like the heart shaped tear drop in the picture above, each act of love and compassion -- racham -- radiates out and its ripples impact still others.
Compassion must begin with ourselves, yet we often find that we are harder on ourselves than anyone else. I have struggled to practice self-kindness instead of self-loathing many times throughout my life. Does this happen with you as well? It may be helpful to recall author Marianne Williamson remarks,
"One day I looked at something in myself that I had been avoiding because it was too painful. Yet once I did, I had an unexpected surprise. Rather than self-hatred, I was flooded with compassion for myself because I realized the pain necessary to develop that coping mechanism to begin with."
Paul Gilbert, author of The Compassionate Mind, wrote,
Compassion can be defined in many ways, but its essence is a basic kindness, with a deep awareness of the suffering of oneself and of other living things, coupled with the wish and effort to relieve it."
Meditate on love and compassion. Practice replacing negative thoughts and emotions with positive ones that can help you feel happy, fulfilled, and content. Some people keep a gratitude journal to help them stay focused on the positives in their life. Once learned it is a mindful simplicity to how you prioritize your interactions with those around you.
Brené Brown writes,
“Compassion is not a virtue—it is a commitment. It’s not something we have or don’t have—it’s something we choose to practice.”
Wherever you are, choose to become aware of those around you and think, “They are just like me. Just like I don’t want to suffer, they also don’t want to suffer.” Do this as often as you can to build your capacity for compassion and love. When we focus on wanting others to be free from suffering, we increase our compassion and our positive energy. We become happier, more content, more able to listen and to respond. As Victoria Moran, author of Lit from Within: Tending Your Soul For Lifelong Beauty" writes,
“Because I was more often happy for other people, I got to spend more time being happy. And as I saw more light in everybody else, I seemed to have more myself. (250)”
Over the last couple of weeks, I have attended memorial services twice. Both my former co-worker in a different organization and my high school classmate passed away suddenly from undiagnosed heart conditions at very young ages, leaving behind their stunned families and friends to mourn. In such cases, the need for racham is clear. What may not be as clear is that their need for that kindness and compassion will be necessary through ongoing loving contact in order to help them work through their pain and grief long after the services have ended and the company has gone home. Painful "firsts" without their loved one are ahead. Theirs is a well of need and we must be able to bring water back to that well to help sustain them. Let's support each other through this.
Therein lies our legacy to one another. Practicing kindness and compassion -- racham -- within your relationships, intimate, casual, and with strangers, results in a reciprocity. As John Joseph Powell, author of The Secret of Staying in Love" wrote,
“It is an absolute human certainty that no one can know his own beauty or perceive a sense of his own worth until it has been reflected back to him in the mirror of another loving, caring human being.”
That is the power of love and compassion, and the best news is that we all have this capacity! Now go out and make your world a little more beautiful today with your gift of racham, reciprocated love.