The following is a quote from the book "No Man Is An Island" by Thomas Merton: "The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them."
This is an interesting quote, and I understand what its writer is trying to say, but the words don't fully convey the meaning I think he had in mind.
"The beginning of love..." I like this because it clearly states that whatever has come before was not love, because it would have been conditioned and have come with an agenda.
"...is to let those we love be perfectly themselves," Yes...and, this can be a hard one. To let someone be who they are and love them for it, or in spite of it, can be difficult.
"...and not twist them to fit our own image." It's a rare person who doesn't do this. We're always trying to tell others how to do any number of things, or how to be, or what they should or shouldn't do. Or, using the horrifying, "If you loved me, you'd..." Or, the old, "I love you, but..."
"Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them." The problem with this part of the quote is that everyone is a reflection of ourselves, whether they do what we want or not; whether we've been able to affect their behavior or not. If we've managed to influence someone enough that they've become what we want them to be, we might enjoy their compliance, but it makes them no more a reflection of us than if they'd ignored us completely.
We all hold all the aspects of humanity. Some of us exhibit certain of those characteristics more strongly than others, but we have them all. The purpose of relationship is for us to be reflections of each other so we can see on the outside what we're often not able to see on the inside. We often don't want to own a particular aspect of ourselves and so deny its existence, but by our relationships showing up with those who embody our denied aspect/s, we are being shown what we need to address within ourselves, the places we need to heal and love free.
If someone has a quality that annoys us in relationship, we would do best to look at that quality in ourselves. If it annoys us in the other, then it most likely annoys us even more within ourselves. But, like it or not, it's there. If we can let go of our denial and resistance to it, and look at it and give it its space, we will learn more about ourselves and why we are the way we are. What is that annoying aspect? Why is it an issue? Are we willing to love that part of ourselves yet? When we're finally able to love ourselves, even though we have an issue with that aspect, we will be able to accept that it's there and it will start to lose its affect on us, we'll be less afraid of it, we'll relax in regard to it, and it will annoy us less and less in those around us as it dissipates within.
Letting someone be perfectly who they are and accepting them for that without trying to burnish the image is indeed the beginning of love. When we're able to really see someone in the truth of who they are, it's hard not to love them. They become endearing, our hearts open, and we feel joy in their presence. Losing the filters through which we see others is an important part of healing ourselves. To see others without illusion, to take them for who they are, releases all expectation and agenda. We allow them to reveal themselves and enjoy the unfolding mystery of their being. We might like what we find, we might not, but at least it's real.
What is it that draws us to another person? Sometimes it's because we see something in them that we like in ourselves. Sometimes it's because we see something in them that we wish were stronger within ourselves. We love them for the thing they exhibit that we want. We want to be around them because maybe it will rub off onto us. By being around them we are somehow elevated. Or, by being around them, we can trick ourselves into thinking that we're what we want to be. But, when we get into relationship with someone in order to get something from them, it's doomed to failure.
Relationship based on truth is the thing for which we all strive. To see someone clearly; no veils or illusions. To love them for who they are without trying to change them into some distorted image we have of who we think they should be. To just see them...warts and all...and love them. To not judge them for their shortcomings, but to have faith that they're doing the best they can and will change and grow as they are able in their own way. To love someone for who they are, not who we think they could be, or who we think they'll become.
Loving someone for who they are doesn't mean we have to be with them. We might decide we are better off not being with someone who we see clearly. But, we won't need to make them wrong in order to not be with them. They are who they are. It's not what we want to be with, but that doesn't make it wrong. The fact that we don't want to be with them doesn't make them less. We see them, we accept them, we make a decision. It's not about being wrong or assigning blame.
We can love people and know we are not the best for us to be with them. We can love them for who they are and move on. We can be grateful for them and hold them in love. We can let them go because it's the thing that benefits us the most. We don't have to feel sorry for them. We don't have to fix them. We don't have to be responsible for them. We respect them enough to know that they're fine the way they are and are able to be responsible for themselves.
I have not personally achieved this ideal of love and relationship yet, but I do strive for it. Every relationship shows me more about where my veils, illusions and denials reside. Every attempt brings truth that much closer. Every mistake teaches me. Every revelation helps me to know myself better. And, as I know myself better and accept who I am, I'm able to love myself more. And, as I'm able to love and accept myself, I'm able to love and accept others. As I can see the truth of myself, I'm able to see the truth of others. And, the beautiful thing is, that Life just keeps bring us people with whom we are able to fall more and more deeply into love.
When we are able to fall in love with ourselves, we'll be able to love everything and everyone else.