adventures in making stuff with Daniel Higginbotham

Loving Without Fear

07 November 2012

I was sitting at the Cambridge Public Library, and for the first time in months - years? - I felt at peace. In my journal I had just written what's become a kind of mantra for me: "Love without fear."

At the time I was going through a very difficult breakup. My relationship of 6 years had been slowly and painfully dissolving, in part because of my own inability to end it decisively.

Part of my difficulty what was that I had a lot of guilt over wanting to end the relationship because the person I was with had a long-term illness and I was supporting her both financially and as a kind of house helper or ersatz nurse. I had watched her suffer terribly.

I'm not sure how to convey what that was like. How do you share the experience of watching someone you love get a spinal tap? Of wheeling them out of the hospital and to the hotel next door, trying to do it quickly but smoothly because every bump causes excruciating pain? Or how about cleaning the vomit out of a mixing bowl because antibiotics are causing her nausea? Or giving the antibiotics shots yourself, night after night? Or knowing that there was no end in sight? How could I leave someone to face that on her own?

After six years, I was in a state of chronic exhaustion and stress. Often I would start my day by sitting at my desk for a couple hours and just staring, not really able to do anything. I knew that something had to change, but I felt too guilty to leave.

And, to be completely honest, I was scared about what it might say about me if I left her. Would it mean that I was a callous, heartless person? More, I was scared to live without her. We'd been together for 6 years, and the life I knew was familiar and provided comfort in a way. In the state I was in, I did not feel confident that I could make a large life change. Michael Singer said it well:

You will get to a point in your growth where you understand that if you protect yourself, you will never be free. It’s that simple. Because you’re scared, you have locked yourself within your house and pulled down all the shades. Now it’s dark and you want to feel the sunlight, but you can’t. It’s impossible. If you close and protect yourself, you are locking this scared, insecure person within your heart. You will never be free that way.

-- The Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer

But those words, "love without fear", helped give me strength. Beneath the fear, beneath the raw ache of being a perpetual witness to suffering, I could still feel the beating heart of love. I felt it there, ready, waiting for me without judgment. I felt the desire to open up again, to build honest and meaningful relationships with others. I felt like I had nothing to fear from embracing every moment of life whole-heartedly.

The months that followed that day at the library were messy and painful in many ways. But despite many mistakes, I knew that basically I was on the right path, that my heart was opening up more and more and I was learning to love myself and be myself without giving in to my fears of what other people might think or what vague disaster might befall me.

Now, more than two and a half years later, I can say without reservation that I took the right path. My life has not been problem-free and I don't ever expect it to be. In embracing love, though, I've learned that freedom and joy can be found in every moment, even when problems do arise.

My life has improved as well. Actually, that's a major understatement. My life is freaking awesome right now. About a month ago, I got engaged to the girl I love. A few days ago, I moved out of a drafty, gross old apartment into a beautiful new house that's close enough to my brother and mom to allow me to visit them much more often. And my latest project, something I put together with the idea of lifting up other people, is almost ready to ship.

And through it all, I keep telling myself: Love without fear. Love without fear. Love without fear.