Years ago, I was in a relationship with a lovely man. The kind of man who heard me clearly before I even opened my mouth, who saw me not as I presented myself, but as I was behind my skin, behind my too-eager laughter and sassy red-framed bifocals. I never knew him to hesitate pulling me onto his lap during a misunderstanding, and he never tempted my inner green monster by being anything but absolutely adoring, true and devoted to me. I think he’d have given me his skin to wear if I was cold and asked nicely, and yet, despite all these obvious indications that I was loved more than I could even conceive, I often felt utterly empty, deeply unhappy, and complacent.
(Trust: I want to hug that sad younger version of me, too.)
During our relationship, I happened upon The Mastery of Love, by Don Miguel Ruiz, and discovered the Magical Love Kitchen.
Behold: in your house, a magical kitchen in which you can make any food you ever desire. You are never hungry, and will never go hungry. Never without an endless supply of Drunken Noodles or your mom’s amazeballs apple pie, and you are always generous with your food — never withholding, never afraid to give it away, because your experience of this endless supply of food is all you’ve ever known, and you can’t even conceive of running out of food.
Someone shows up at your house with some fluffy/gooey/omygawd butter garlic naan, and is like, “Hey, I’ll let you have this if you let me control you a little.”
You’re like, “Don’t be a weirdo. But hey: come on in and have some of this amazing apple pie! What’s mine is yours!”
Now imagine the opposite. You haven’t eaten in days. You’re about to go all 127 Hours on yourself just to survive, when someone shows up with that same garlic naan offering you the same deal: “I’ll let you have this here garlic naan if you let me be a little mean to you.”
And seriously, you’re starving. You obviously agree. And because you’re afraid that tomorrow there’ll be no food again, you agree to more and more suffrage because there is no longer the known fact of Enough; instead, there is likely starvation. And on and on, taking the pain you believe you have to endure because you will otherwise starve.
(It was at this point in my reading that I seriously started considering therapy. Jussayin’.)
Now, let’s take a blessed return to the Magical Kitchen with the endless supply of food. But imagine now that this kitchen sits not within your home, but within your heart. And the magical kitchen produces not an endless supply of food, but an endless supply of love. And all that’s required is walking into the kitchen and being instantly, gratifyingly loved. No begging necessary. No compromising your soul. No withholding out of fear of running out of love, or disappointing anyone because your love isn’t sufficient — everyone has their own love kitchens, and they each churn out all the love each of us could ever need.
I remember coming down the stairs of my sweetheart’s house thinking about the magical love kitchen, and wondering, “What would life be like…?”
• • •
Fast forward. Years later, and I’m reading to my favorite tiny girl human (the child of a friend of mine) a children’s book called, Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You. (Ignore the slightly stalker-y title.) I was taken (attacked by the Sob Mob, if I’m honest) by one line in particular:
In the green of the grass
In the smell of the sea
In the clouds floating by
At the top of a tree
In the sound crickets make at the end of the day…
“You are loved. You are loved. You are loved,” they all say.
Right there, in plain ole’ Times New Roman: the key to the ever-loving Universe. . . .
It’s painful how often our ability live loudly / boldly / bravely / vulnerably has very little to do with how loved or un-loved we actually are — but how loved and loveable we feel. Our ability to love and be loved expands and contracts in direct proportion to how open we are to be loved in any given moment, and our openness to be loved acts as the regulator for how much love we feel.
It’s the perception of un-love that hurts so very much, and the people who are closest to us that get the unfortunate responsibility of providing the anecdote: the love we so desperately want to feel.
But consider, for a moment, the law of thermodynamics:
No energy in the universe gets created or destroyed.
Which means, well, a lot. But when it comes to love, especially a lot. Because that means THE MAGICAL LOVE KITCHEN IS REAL.
It is not within our power to do anything with love but experience it; not take it, lose it, or (even crazier) give it away. All we can do is bask.
But dang: that’s hard to remember, especially when we’re all walking around feeling (occasionally, maybe) more like we have an episode of My Drunk Kitchen inside us than anything of the magical love variety.
• • •
Recently, I took a solo trip to Joshua Tree. I went on a hike. I have a practice when I’m hiking alone, wherein I ask for guidance: to see what I need to see, to experience what I need to experience. It fine-tunes my senses; I walk with my eyes wider, my ears more delicately turned toward the world around me. Everything becomes a sign:
A loud, shrill sound which turned out to be a cicada whose wings were so massive they sounded like birds’ as it came to land on a cactus right as I was passing by.
A shadow passed over me, and I looked up to see three vultures circling overhead — then four, then five, then six.
A hummingbird flew right up to me, then back to her tree, then back again, stopping not three feet from my face, her tiny graygreen body hovering in the air, watching me. (The vultures were perched on a rock outcropping, watching the whole thing.)
A baby desert tortoise was crossing the trail just as I was, too. He course-corrected, turned around, and came to rest in the shade of my body, which was I’m sure a lovely rest from the unrelenting sun….
These, for me, were the not-so-subtle messages that I needed: from the Earth, from the Universe, from the Love that animates us, that breathes us, and moves us to recognize ourselves in one another. The creatures that visited me were all whispering in their separate but unmistakable languages,
“You are so loved.”
• • •
Believe me, my own love kitchen feels like it needs to be stocked all the time. I’m not diminishing the fact of needing other people, needing their love, needing proof that we exist, and are enough. It took me years before I even started to consider that I might be the one controlling how much love I felt — and still takes an incredible amount of consciousness to consider that perhaps, the fear of my un-love-ability, the constant Not Enough-ness that throbbed through me and rang in my ears like an insufferable, cloudy gong was maybe just an old story.
I still have to march myself indoors sometimes, sit still, and allow for proof that I am loved to live in languages that are not of the co-dependent, human variety:
Yoga is a language. Laughter is a language. The planets gleaming bright as stars at night, and the smell of campfire is a language. Nature is a language, and it’s hers I understand most implicitly, with her many many winged, hoofed, slithering, crawling couriers.
I think we have to seek out the languages that are ours, and then listen intently. To what?
That lovely man who loved me so hard years ago? He used to say something to me I’ve never forgotten, especially when I was hard-hearted, stubborn, afraid. It’s become a mantra, has taken up residence in passwords I’ve used and has clouded my hot-headed vision during arguments and taken over my thoughts when it’s the hardest thing in the world to feel. It’s this:
My desert tortoise friend, who liked the shade my head made, and let me take his picture.