As I write this I am evacuated from my home in Carpinteria, California due to the Thomas Fire. We are safe, but flames fill the landscape on three sides of the hill where we live. The picture below was taken from my back door shortly after sunrise on the day we left. Everywhere you look people are wearing face masks to filter smoke and ash from the air they breathe.
Even with the masks, you can feel human connection in moments of eye contact, in nods and in raised eyebrows that acknowledge the massive uncertainty. If you look closely, you can see evidence of gentle smiles under the masks that acknowledge that we are all in this together.
Outside the grocery store, people hug and then break into conversations about their admiration and gratitude for the courage of the firefighters and first responders that step right into the path of the flames to protect others.
Thousands of brave men and women have dedicated themselves to the brutal effort needed to keep others safe. It is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The picture below was taken from my front door. The trailers carried bulldozers that have been dispatched to cut firebreaks in the hills of the backcountry.
The sky is dark and the sun appears an unnatural red — there is an apocalyptic tone to it all. And, the miracle of life continues — even in the face of tremendous anxiety and uncertainty. As we were putting boxes of baby pictures and important documents in the car to evacuate, I saw this poppy in bloom at my feet in the midst of all the chaos.
Driving out of town, I was struck by the handmade sign in the picture at the top of this article. “The love remains.” It’s so true. It’s not always easy to keep in mind, but it is always true.
How do we connect with unconditional love when life feels so challenging? We practice — one breath at a time. It is possible to accept the sensations of uncertainty and anxiety while connecting with the sensations of love that are not dependent on what is happening around you. The more we practice, the more easily we can access these sensations.
The goal is not to suppress or avoid the discomfort that comes with uncertainty and anxiety. The goal is to be still enough to connect with the unconditional love that can include the discomfort. As far as I can tell, we all want more love in our lives. The shortest path to love is the act of being loving. We can be loving toward whatever falls into our awareness.
Even if we have made a lifelong habit of waiting for circumstances or people to trigger our internal experience of love, we can practice — right here, right now — connecting with unconditional love. Some people use prayer, others have a gratitude practice, and still others use meditation. There are many ways to connect with the miracle of unconditional love.
I feel strongly that this is not pollyanna idealism. In fact, I think that cultivating unconditional love is the height of pragmatism. It is an incredibly powerful internal resource. We cannot control what shows up in life, but we can choose what we practice. And this choice has an enormous impact on the quality of our lives. In fact, this choice shapes the physical structure and function of our brains. We have been given the ability to consciously practice unconditional love, why wouldn’t we strengthen it every chance we get?