On thousands of occasions, people have come to me with problems in their relationships that they believed were hopelessly complicated. After blowing away the chaff of all the details of their stories, however, I have discovered that the great majority of their complaints could be distilled into a single question or plea. They're saying, "How can I get more of the love that I want from my spouse, lover, parent, child, employer, friend, or whoever?"
Regrettably, they rarely realize that love is what they want, confusing their demands with words like respect, gratitude, cooperation, communication, listening, help, sex, money, attention, and so on.
Most people are far from satisfied with the quality and quantity of love in their lives, so they reach out and try to manipulate the people around them for more of that love, or they try to outright force love from them. Their questions to me—however subtly they might phrase them—are almost invariably about how they might best squeeze various forms of love from others.
The moment we even contemplate getting love from others, however, we have begun to take steps down a path that is guaranteed to have a miserable ending, which I can illustrate by describing a visit my wife and I recently made with my parents to Callaway Gardens, a lovely resort near Pine Mountain, Georgia.
On the grounds of the resort was a large building dedicated solely for the raising and housing of butterflies. Inside the Butterfly Center, we enjoyed the privilege of walking a path through all manner of trees, shrubs, and other plant life, while thousands of butterflies of many species dance about in the air, displaying both their acrobatics and their spectacular forms and colors.
Throughout the habitat, various fruits were scattered to provide food for the butterflies, and it was fascinating to watch the winged creatures alight to extend their delicate feeding tubes to nourish themselves. The butterflies also landed on every other surface throughout the building, including the clothing and skin of the people walking about. The patrons were all carefully instructed not to touch the butterflies because their wings were quite delicate and easily damaged.
Nonetheless, when a butterfly landed on our arm or shirt, it was so tempting to reach out and touch it, an almost irresistible belief that touching would result in an even closer connection to the wonder and beauty of this living thing. But we knew that if we gave in to this temptation and touched the insect's wing, the surface of the wing would very likely be damaged, which would make flight, feeding, and life impossible for the butterfly. In short, any attempt on our part to manipulate or control the beauty we were observing would result in its destruction.
A similar process occurs if we attempt to control unconditional love. The moment we reach out to manipulate the attention, respect, gratitude, cooperation, or affection of another person—the moment we attempt to get love from anyone—we destroy the possibility that what we will receive will feel as though it were given unconditionally. We can feel Real Love only if we don't grab it, manipulate it, or control it. Love is real only when it's freely given and freely received.
On one occasion while I was at the Butterfly Center, when I was standing quite still, a gorgeous, cerulean blue butterfly descended from the sky and landed on my shoulder. After noticing this unexpected event out of the corner of my eye, I slowly turned my head and enjoyed this amazing sight for some time before the creature sprang again into the air. I was grateful for this precious moment and grateful that I had done nothing to interfere with the butterfly's actions in any way. Had I done anything to control the experience, I would have greatly diminished—or perhaps entirely ruined—the joy of it.
And so it has been with my experiences with Real Love. I'm grateful when people love me unconditionally, but I have learned that I cannot control such experiences. If I try to manipulate people to love me—if I try to get their attention, respect, or affection in any way—I ruin any possibility of feeling genuinely loved.
If, on the other hand, I do nothing to manipulate people, if I am just myself—standing quite still, as it were, allowing the butterflies to land on me as they choose—unconditionally loving experiences will come to me, and the feelings are quite miraculous.
Replace your attempts to manipulate with Real Love and feel loved.
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