I was listening to a recent conversation between meditation teacher Tara Brach and Dr. Dan Gottlieb. Dr. Gottlieb is a therapist who was rendered a quadriplegic by a car accident over 40 years ago.
His gratitude for life and openness to love is inspiring; he is a model of “accepting life as it is.” In a year when so many of us have faced health fears, listening to him speak offers a healthy dose of perspective.
This conversation is filled with wisdom nuggets. There were several moments when I had to pause the playback to let something sink in.
Today I want to share one snippet from part of their conversation that I found particularly relevant.
It’s about how to let love in, and it begins around the 15:39 mark.
So many people have a hard time letting in love … how do you practice letting in love if it feels so threatening, scary, or just impossible?
Gottlieb’s response had me laughing, pausing to take it all in, and reflecting. It felt relevant to share.
Here’s what he said and what I’m taking from it.
There’s No Magic Formula
Here’s how Gottlieb responded to Tara’s question:
I spent a long time not letting it in, because of shame and unworthiness.
He paused, for what feels like a very long time.
Tara, I don’t have an answer. I really don’t. I mean, I’m a therapist; I could make something up.
They laugh, and Tara remarks that we get enough of made up stuff in this world.
I just love the honesty here.
In a world where everyone claims to be an expert and show you the exact steps to take to find that magical path to transformation, this is a necessary reminder that there’s no universally applicable system or framework.
That said, he did end up hitting on a few tips that can help us open to love.
Give Up Disbelief
After they laugh about the fact that he doesn’t have an answer about how to let love in, he continues:
… I really don’t. My heart just opened. …I gave up disbelief.
I gave up disbelief.
Wow. That packed a punch. I literally paused the playback there just to sit with that for a few minutes and really take it in.
Tara also paused on that, reflecting that
What stops us from letting in love is a belief that somehow we’re not worthy, and something bad will happen. If we let it in then they’ll find out that we’re not worthy or we’ll get betrayed later on. It’s habitual. So you let go of disbelief.
Let go of disbelief.
This feels like a profound reframe.
We often speak about the beliefs that are holding us back, that are creating our fears, leading to misunderstandings or faulty assumptions or discord. How many times have you heard someone speak about the need to “let go of limiting beliefs?”
What if it’s not our beliefs that are in the way, but our disbelief?
It feels so fitting, especially in the context of this year. 2020 has been a year in which even the most “positive” oriented people have struggled to maintain their optimism.
How many times do your dreams need to get crushed before you give up all hope? How many failed relationships does it take before you stop believing in love? How many failed attempts at an outcome before you stop believing in your ability to succeed?
In a culture that conditions us to rely on evidence, logic, and rational thought, we cling to disbelief unless we have irrefutable proof that something will work, that we will achieve a certain outcome, or that we won’t get hurt.
When we come up against repeated challenges it’s easy to stop believing in miracles and good fortune.
We become primed to disbelieve.
But I think that, despite that priming, we want to believe.
Look no further than every Christmas movie — they are all about overcoming disbelief and reigniting the will to believe again.
What Disbelief to Suspend
Maybe it’s time to let go of logic and rationality and suspend disbelief.
But disbelief in what? Or who?
You’ve got to be fearless to love… you can get your heart broken. To love fearlessly you have to be willing to risk having your heart broken, with confidence that you’ll be ok after you grieve.
What I take from this is that it’s not our disbelief in miracles or God or that things will work out that is most in our way.
What interferes most with our willingness to let love in is our disbelief in our ability to recover from heartbreak or disappointment.
We become afraid to let love in or allow the possibility of our success because we are afraid that if our heart gets broken again we won’t recover. We don’t trust our innate ability to heal from our emotional wounds.
That’s the disbelief we must suspend: the disbelief in our ability to heal.
If we want to fully experience life and love, and the prosperity that awaits us, we must be willing to risk getting hurt. And we must trust that we will heal from whatever wounds we sustain along the way.