What does it mean to love and to live unconditionally?
It’s a big topic, I know. And it somehow seems to be what I signed up to ‘major in’ this lifetime. Almost fifteen years ago, when I started to develop the curriculum of Guts & Grace, I wrote a blog called ‘Unconditional’, which found its place as the last section of the last module in our year-long training program – and eventually Chapter 12 of Guts & Grace the book.
In it, I share about some early lessons I learned while beginning to raise and train my dog Sheba, a headstrong and beautiful white Shiba Inu. For years I joked that she was my spirit animal guide incarnate – not only because she moved with the grace and power of a wild wolf (to which I have always felt drawn), but also because at every turn she seemed to be here to school me in letting go of how I thought my life SHOULD go, in favor of responding deeply to what actually worked in the present tense.
Sheba and I walked together for sixteen years and (without me realizing it fully) our relationship influenced nearly every facet of my life. When we decided to move from our home in Oakland to a cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains, it was in part her declining health that inspired me to invest in a property in the redwoods that would support both of our ongoing healing.
Sadly, over the past year, here health continued to decline. As aging beings do, she slowly lost many of the functions that made her Sheba, including the use of her legs and also, quite often, her mind. Ironically (or not-coincidentally perhaps), these were two functions that our daily connection rested upon… and the two functions that – given my work and my gifts – I cannot imagine living without.
As we closed out 2022 and went into the holidays, I knew that an end would come.
But I could not have begun to predict the impeccability of her timing, and the exquisiteness of the lessons I would be offered in the process of letting go.
Or maybe I could have.
You see, in parallel to this sixteen year love affair, I had also been falling in love with another equally unique being (more on this relationship soon)…and perhaps Sheba was waiting for the right moment to make her earthly exit.
To share a very long story in just a few words, it only took Sheba a week to die. When she was ready, she was ready. It happened on the heels of a torrential Northern California rainstorm that filled the drought-ridden reservoirs, closed roads and took our mountain home power out for days.
And, it happened while I was in the final planning stages of planning and orchestrating a marriage proposal (yes, I asked) that had been eleven years in the making.
They say that when one door closes, another opens.
I believe that this couldn’t be more true… and now I think I finally understand why:
Because in order to get through some doorways, your heart has to be stretched SO WIDE OPEN that there’s truly no opportunity to contract, resist, or hesitate. You have to be so far gone that there’s no going back.
Because “Unconditional” isn’t about forever. It isn’t about ‘till death do us part. Even deeper down, it’s about being willing to be broken and to be opened to the moment – whatever it is and just exactly as it is – so that the pure and unadulterated form of life-force that we happen to call love can come pouring through your human vessel while you get out of its way and make space – agenda free –
For the truth.
For meeting the moment.
For what is real, and what is now.
And so, within forty-eight hours I found myself holding my dear friend, companion and guardian on my lap in my bedroom as her spirit quietly slipped out of her body… shedding a thousand silent and not-so-silent tears that emptied me out heart, body and soul… then gathering my broken heart and my courage to stand in front of my community, to tell a profound and vulnerable love story that has never been told in public, and to ask for my partner’s hand in marriage.
For me, this is what living ‘unconditionally’ is all about.
The truth is, I have no idea what’s going to happen next.
I think it’s what Sheba was trying to tell me all along: that in the great drama of life, there are no guarantees. So you might as well be kind, take yourself less seriously, and enjoy the ride.
If any of this speaks to you at all – even just the tiniest little bit – then I invite you to practice your own form of unconditional self-love as you move through the highs and lows of your own life this week.
With hope, with love and with inspiration,
PS – The art of unconditional living – and self love – is what the Guts & Grace approach is all about. You can find out more about our coaching & programs HERE.