Love Is More Than A Feeling. It Is An Act.

How to infuse our society with compassion.

Love in Action

A month ago, an estimated 3 million people from all walks of life around the world were compelled to march in solidarity for social justice. Although myriad human rights and political issues were represented, what was stunning to behold was the sheer size and diversity of peoples, cultures, and voices speaking out.

While there wasn’t a single message, it was clear people who have never marched before were listening to their hearts in standing up for what they believe is right. It was an awakening of consciousness and people were driven to answer the call for compassion.

In a recent TIME Magazine issue, Ann Patchett pens an essay entitled “The President Who Loved,” and she points out that love is not typically a trait we assess as presidential. It is only in contrast to this changing national climate that we are desperate for human kindness and common decency. She concludes her heartfelt farewell to our former president by saying,

“He saw the good in us, he saw the love, and he told us so. Now all we have to do is live up to it.”

In these tumultuous times, it is reassuring to see that we are beginning to come together as diverse peoples to live up to love. It is finally happening on a national, if not global, scale. People are collectively expanding their current definition of love ― beyond romantic or familial ― demonstrated by a willingness to protect.

We are witnessing an urgency to act, as exemplified by crowds gathered at airports across the country to protest the executive order barring many refugees and immigrants from entering the United States. One of the most moving images was of protesters at Detroit Metro Airport pausing their chants, laying down their signs as prayer mats, and forming a protective circle around Muslims for their time of prayer. This is what modern love looks like in our United States.

Daily Heart

It is easy to feel disheartened and helpless during troubling times. In the fall of 2015, I made a conscientious decision to find beauty and meaning every single day, for one full year, no matter what. I set out in search of my heart for 365 days consecutively in order to find love and light in everyday situations. I desired universal truths that speak to our common humanity.

Every day, for an entire year, I kept myself accountable by posting a heart photograph paired with a micro essay on Instagram. My daily blog was a creative fusion of physical and metaphorical heart vignettes. The photographic images of what I saw together with my written expression form a symbiotic message of loving intention in facing ordinary circumstances.

I have been seeing heart shapes in nature for over thirty years. My heart-finding experience began when a good-looking guy in college picked up a heart rock on the beach and handed it to me. Years later, I married that man and we are still together. Our three teenage sons encouraged me to post my heart photographs on Instagram and that began my first foray on social media.

The general project guidelines I mentally established for myself were: write each day, post by midnight wherever I happened to be, do not to post duplicate or old images from backlog, and frame my comments in a positive way as a means of finding a constructive message. I tried to surmise my daily truth in a sentence or two because brevity is the expectation on Instagram and I also included a longer explanation for those interested in reading more about the context.

Who knew it would become such a troubling year for us all? We saw evidence of an increasingly divided nation: rogue terrorist attacks on our soil, protests over police brutality, and the most vitriolic election cycle in modern history. In my own life, I struggled with various parenting issues, questions of evolving identity, and profound tragedy among peers. It was an unsettling year both nationally and personally. Through it all, however, I excavated my heart and cultivated the healing power of a loving perspective.

On Day 109 of my project, I wrote:

“No matter how humble our circumstances, we all have the capacity to extend the warmth of loving-kindness.”

It stems from a somewhat precarious situation I found myself in at the time. I wandered down an unfamiliar alley while walking in our urban neighborhood. I was behind a power plant of some sort and realized that it was a sketchy area to be walking in alone, but I enjoy new settings and continued on anyway.

I stumbled upon a cool heart shape in the cracks of the concrete at my feet and kneeled down to snap some photos with my smartphone. When I got up I noticed a couple who hadn’t been there before walking toward me from the other end of the alley. They were pushing a shopping cart between them.

I confess a feeling of internal uncertainty but I continued on with sense of external purpose. As I passed by them, the woman caught me off guard when she inquired with a warm smile and friendly tone, “Sweetie, are you okay?” She had seen me on the ground from afar and was genuinely concerned about my well-being.

I was startled for second, and then replied, “Yes, thank you. I just stopped to take a picture of a heart!” She smiled back and said, “Oh, good, just making sure.” And, they kept right on walking. In my entry that day, I wrote that it was both heartwarming and humbling because I realized that I was the one who looked like a crazy person, crouched on the ground in a back alley, all by myself.

It was a moment of keen awareness that my gut instinct was one of fear and judgement. The meaning I derived was a profound recognition that no matter how much we possess, we always have the power to express love and compassion.

Halfway through my year, I happened to read Annie Dillard’s The Abundance and she wrote:

“I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from some generous hand... [W]ill you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go on your rueful way?”

My journey of mindfulness and abundance taught me firsthand to answer with a resounding, “No! I will pause.” Once we begin to notice, there is always more to see.

I learned to see, yes. I learned to feel, absolutely. The biggest challenge, however, was taking the extra step to look inward at the things that were stirring something in my heart ― to actually examine my emotions rather than shy away from them or shut them down ― and then glean wisdom to articulate a personal truth into words. Finding heartfelt meaning everyday was the difficult part; it was also the most transformative. Over time, my personal philosophy began to emerge. It is a simple conviction that: Grateful + Mindful = Heartful.

Meaning Motivates

Two months after I completed my 365-day journey, I read Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning and in it he asserts, “man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life.” That message was a poignant affirmation of what I discovered for myself, that there is always meaning. Even in the most unsettling situations we are tasked with discovering meaning, by ourselves and for ourselves. That meaning directly impacts how we navigate life and this epiphany in perspective is life-changing because, as Frankl points out, happiness follows as a natural result.

My project was powerful, enlightening, and timely because people are ready to feel more ― not less. I sense a national yearning to go deeper and connect more genuinely with one another. We are being called to focus on our common humanity, rather than continue to battle over what separates us. As Viktor Frankl astutely points out that:

“[T]here are two races of men in this world, but only these two—the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.”

As we learn to see people and situations as multilayered, this nuanced understanding summons us to act with intentional love. #LoveTakesAction