If you want to experience unconditional love, get a dog. There is no better living example of this quality than seeing a dog, who has just been ignored or reprimanded or worse, coming back with its tail wagging, as if to say “I’m sorry, all is forgiven, I just love you!” I have to admit I am in awe – and I don’t quite get it.

Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves, without any insistence that they satisfy you.” I totally believe in this concept of Unconditional Love. I even like to think that I live it. But my dog puts me to shame. His example of loving makes me realize that I practice something more akin to “unconditional love, conditional liking”. I may love you, but not like your behavior. This is not necessarily a bad thing. As Elizabeth Earnshaw, LFMT, says in her article, Unconditional Love: How to Give it and How to Know if it’s Healthy, “The term unconditional love does not mean love without limits or bounds. It means, ‘I offer you my love freely without condition.’ This means that when we offer our love, we offer it without expectation of repayment.” In other words, it’s good to have standards and boundaries. They keep us safe and healthy. But where and when do the boundaries morph into “conditional liking”, crossing the line and diluting the unconditional loving?

June has been a month to raise my awareness on this issue. First there was the dog. Then it was Father’s Day. As you may know, I lost my father in April, and continue to work through truly understanding our relationship. It doesn’t take much for me to conclude that my father loved me. I don’t think I ever really doubted that. As a child I knew this, based on his actions. As a man of few words, he let his actions express his unspoken feelings. And even without saying a word, it was also absolutely clear what behaviors were expected of me. A shake of his head or a disengagement were all he needed to make his displeasure known. The problem for me was that I had I hard time remembering the love, when the “like” was not there. And, thanks to my dog, I can see that pattern being repeated in my own behaviors, even to this day. 

June also brought awareness of the need to focus on #BlackLivesMatter. This concept of loving/liking has implications in this discussion. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” I can say, as a white woman, that I love all people unconditionally. That I love Black people unconditionally. And I believe I do. However, if I am truly honest, I have to ask myself, “Where do I add the conditions?” When I say “I love this person, BUT I don’t like when they xyz”…you name it… haven’t I diluted, or actually negated my love statement? I can see where I hold expectations for behavior that force someone to make it EASIER for ME to love them unconditionally.

That is what I am learning about love from my dog. Unconditional love is not easy. It’s loving someone completely, regardless of their thoughts, actions or beliefs. If my dog had a Facebook account, he would be putting hearts all over everyone’s posts – even those obnoxious ones that might cause me to unfriend someone. He’s so much better than me. 

So, how do I learn to move into this truly unconditional loving space? The answer comes in learning to unconditionally love myself first. As Alaric Hutchinson said, “Unconditional Love is the outer expression of Inner Peace.” When I am in a place of inner peace and serenity, things just don’t trigger me. I can allow people the dignity of their process. I know what works for me, and what doesn’t, and if someone disagrees with me, so be it. I know my intentions and motivations and I release expectations. Truly knowing and loving yourself: It’s the only way to make Unconditional Loving easy.

In other words, when I am experiencing inner peace, I’m a lot more like my dog: in the moment, experiencing life as it unfolds, open to adventure and loving it all, including those who cross my path. I’m open to learning and growing and loving for no other reason than it makes me and others feel good. 

And right now, my new teacher is taking a nap. I think I have a lot more to learn.