In the wintry month of February we’re still in the season of hibernation, introspection and energy turned inward.While the candy-heart overlay of Valentine’s Day certainly is a cultural rather than seasonal phenomenon, it’s well-suited for late winter. After all, when the weather and still-short days drive us indoors, we tend to find ourselves in close quarters with our fellow humans. And when our attention turns within, there we are with our own hearts. Love and relatedness bloom, or we become acutely aware of their lack. Sadly, or fortunately, depending on your perspective, a scarcity of love is more a state of mind than of opportunity.
I became profoundly aware of the connection between love, healing, and attitude, as well as the incredible capacity for any two people to give and receive the gift of healing love, in my work with the attitudinal healing movement. In 1983 I started a Center for Attitudinal Healing, modeled after the original Center founded by Jerry Jampolsky, for people dealing with life-challenging illnesses. Rather than using professional counselors, we paired clients with volunteers who’d received training in how to listen compassionately, see everyone as a teacher, and define healing as a process of joining in love with others rather than fixing them. The healing that resulted between these volunteers and clients was miraculous and deeply moving.
Not only did these nonprofessionals seemed to know just the right thing to do or say when coming from a place of love, the traditional roles of helper and client quickly disappeared and the learning and healing flowed both ways.
That we are all students and teachers to one another is a foundation principle of the Attitudinal Healing movement and, in my experience, a fundamental truth. It’s one that doesn’t require the high intensity of catastrophic illness to manifest. It’s our true relationship to one another at all times, though we’re often blind to it. Everyone we encounter has something to offer us and the more we seek it out, the more we’ll find it. Believing in the goodness and wisdom of others helps to call it forth, even from those who didn’t know they had it to give.
But even if we appreciate this notion in theory, we may still go through life thinking only certain people have the love, support, approval, wisdom and gifts that we need and that others are unattractive, annoying, invisible, or have nothing we want. This is what makes life lonely.
To bridge the gap between theory and experience, here’s an imagination game I occasionally do in my classes. Imagination is the doorway into intuition, so what starts out as something we’re just “making up” can sometimes evolve into profound truth. Whether you believe you’re in some way transcending time, distance, and separateness to connect with the highest wisdom of another, or simply connecting with a wiser part of yourself, you may find unexpected insight through this exercise and it can’t help but change how you look at people which, in turn, has a way of changing what happens between you.
Begin by bringing to mind someone whom you think of as a wise teacher. This could be a person you know or someone you only know through their work, such as an author, world leader or historical figure. It could be someone either living or dead.
Now, picture the person in your mind’s eye and take a moment to simply open your heart. Imagine you’re sending an outpouring of gratitude for all that you admire and appreciate in this individual. The power of love is well documented. It keeps us healthy; it empowers our prayers; it’s a gift that, when given unconditionally, is always received, even when it’s not registered consciously. Imagine that your love is awakening and calling forth the best in this person.
Many philosophers and cutting-edge scientists have speculated that all minds are part of one consciousness. So, even though you’re not physically present with this individual and may never be, imagine there is, none the less, a reality where all minds meet. Picture yourself visiting with your teacher and imagine that a real meeting is taking place in this realm of pure consciousness. Your mentor may speak to you, or show you something, or simply radiate love and healing.
You might imagine yourself in the role of your teacher,seeing yourself from this other’s view. In this role, speak to yourself. Offer wisdom, healing and whatever gifts are most needed. If you have a request for specific assistance or a question, ask for these and allow the teacher to respond.
But this isn’t the end of this exercise. While it’s easy to imagine a favorite mentor as having the gifts we most need, the truth is that everyone is a being of profound complexity, wisdom, and depth with gifts to give. That includes our friends, family, coworkers, complete strangers, even the people who thoroughly annoy us. So, bring to mind now your most intimate peer relationship. This could be a spouse or romantic partner, or it could be a close friend. Repeat the previous exercise, this time letting your intimate peer come to you. See past the person you’ve become so familiar with to perceive the rich, complex being that includes but isn’t limited to the personality you know. Imagine this individual as having facets you’ve never seen, and wisdom and love you’ve never experienced. See what new gifts this person has to give you when you open your mind and heart to them.
Now that you’re warmed up, do this exercise one more time—this time with the last person you’d ever imagine as having “gifts” for you. Just as with your mentor and peer, imagine this being has important wisdom, guidance, healing and love for you. And just as you did with the other two, let yourself open to receive it. Bring to mind the most important question of your life, perhaps one you posed to your mentor. Imagine that the higher mind of this person has something significant to contribute to this matter; something you would have missed had you not opened yourself to it. See what it is and don’t be surprised to receive an unexpectedly different view with a new perspective worth considering. End by thanking this person for their gifts.
If you do these exercises deeply, you may see changes in how people relate to you. You may never be able to look at people quite the same way again and, before you know it, you might even notice your world has become a lot less lonely.