One of the finest qualities of being human

"Love opens the doors into everything, as far as I can see,including and perhaps most of all, the door into one’s own secret, and often terrible and frightening, real self."
— May Sarton

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
— Martin Luther King, Jr..


Loving ourselves allows us to more fully love others. In fact, when we accept ourselves completely, including our warts and weaknesses, our love for others grows deeper.

To encourage you to extend love to yourself, the following is an imagery script based on one created by John O’Donohue, an Irish poet, philosopher, and one-time priest. It changed my life. I offer it as a gift to you in the hope that it may lead you to open your heart to yourself and then to others.

Opening Your Heart to Love

Imagine one day that you are feeling stressed out and burdened by conflicts at work and arguments at home. So you decide to drive to your favorite spot overlooking the ocean. There you sit on a rock and ruminate on how hard life has been lately. Half blaming yourself and half blaming others, you feel out of sorts and disconnected from the world. A cloud of depression swirls around you.

As you stare, full of dark thoughts, far into the horizon, you see something that looks like a boat. Yes, now you see that it is. When it gradually comes closer and approaches land, you notice four people in the boat whose skin color and dress indicate they could come from the four corners of the world. Then you notice they are looking at you as though they are very pleased you are there, as though you are exactly the person they have come to see. When they tie the boat to the dock and walk toward you, they don’t say anything. They

only smile. But ah, the smile and the look in their eyes conveys a gentle, genuine love you haven’t felt since you were a small child. The kindness that is streaming from their eyes into your very soul is so full of compassion that it melts all that has grown wounded and hard within you.

No one has ever looked at you like this before. You feel no need to be ashamed or to pretend they must have made a mistake, since you don’t know them. You feel no need to avoid them. No need to flee. In the presence of their gaze upon you, you realize they are allowing you to be absolutely yourself. In that look there is no judgment, no need to feel guilty. There is no burden or expectation, only the simple beauty of love.

At first, it seems strange to accept and take in the love and genuine acceptance they offer. Then you allow yourself to feel the infinite tenderness of that loving gaze looking directly into your soul, and you know that they know all about you and about the conflicts and confusion you carry within your heart. They know who you are and even seem to be proud of being there with you, despite the imperfections that are part of your life, as they are of everyone’s. And so, as you continue to feel their gaze upon you, your intense need to be right—and to win the arguments you’ve lately wanted to win—falls away as you are filled with their obvious acceptance of who you are just as you are.

Then you close your eyes so that you can take in the whole sweep of their love and keep it within the deepest part of you. As you breathe in this compassion, you promise yourself that from now on you will try to look at yourself with the same tenderness, kindness and love.

You are not sure how long your eyes have been closed, it didn’t seem very long, but when you open them, the people and the boat are gone. You wonder where they could have come from and decide it doesn’t matter. Somehow you know you’ve been given a gift that has changed your life. Whether they were emissaries of a higher being you call God, or whether it was just a fluke that you happened to be there when they arrived, you know that their acceptance of you was genuine. Your heart has been changed and you accept this gift with gratitude.

As you get in your car to return home, you carry with you that gaze of love and acceptance. When you see your family, when you go to work, when you walk down the street, you know that something

profound has shifted within you. Now when you look at others, you see them with the same tenderness and compassion you felt from the visitors on the beach. And each person looks back at you with a look of genuine joy in being accepted just as they are.

A Note of Affection for Others

Several years ago, age and health reminded me that I didn’t have the control over my life that I assumed I would have, at least to a greater extent than I did. I was afraid that I would someday be unable to tell a friend how much she meant to me because I would perhaps have a stroke or heart attack. So, I decided to write a note, like this one below, to relatives and friends who were important to me.

The recipients of my note were grateful. They realized how easy it is to not take the time or energy to tell others how much they mean to us.

John and Ruth

After hurricane Sandy hit the east coast last year, I wrote a blog post on the importance of telling others that we love them when there is still time.

Now some of my physical challenges remind me that I can’t assume that I will have time later to tell you how much you have enriched my life. Specifically, I don’t want to be hit by a stroke or the proverbial bus and discover that I couldn’t talk but could think “darn it, I wish I had said something to John and Ruth when I had the chance.”

So in this short note I just want to tell you how much I have enjoyed being your sister and sister-in-law. You have added a great deal to my life and I want to thank you for all you have done for me over the years.

I am counting on yesterday’s Botox shots [for intense pain in my neck] to start working within the next two weeks. And with three doctors taking care of me, I expect to be around for a long time.

Love and thanks for being in my life.


Exploring LOVE in Your Life

What does love mean to you?

As you think back on all the “loves” of your life—from people to activities—what was it about your attraction to that person or event that gave meaning to your life? Even if that person or situation is no longer in your life, how might remembering that love feed you today?

Everyone speaks love with a different accent. To some, love means spending time together. To another, love means giving and receiving gifts. To yet another, it means doing something you aren’t particularly fond of doing but do anyway, because the other person likes that thing. If you are having difficulty with a person you are fond of, how might it be a matter of not knowing how to speak the language of love that the other person understands?

What symbol best represents love—something that can remind you of this important quality when you notice someone (maybe you?) or something that could use a little more of this important quality in everyone’s life?

This exploration of love was created by Arlene Harder, MA, MFT, resident of Villa Gardens, a Front Porch Retirement Community in Pasadena, California. The material is not copyrighted and may be used with attribution. (Photo by Bob Cates, also a resident of Villa Gardens.)