Overview: Adam Williams, creator of Humanitou, gets into a topic that he’s really not comfortable talking about: love. In this solo episode, he starts with an odd little story that finally got him to speak on this issue he’s got with love. He explores why he’s not comfortable having this talk with you today, why that’s got to change and how he’s changing it. He also briefly digresses into the nuances of karma, what it really is and what it really isn’t. And he shares some other things that he thinks you’ll find useful in your own relationship to love. This and more on the Humanitou Podcast.
EP 104 SHOW NOTES, LINKS & TRANSCRIPT
Ruben Rojas: rubenrojas.com
Dr. Gary Chapman, “The Five Love Languages“
Jessica Patterson, rootdownandgrow.com
Adam Williams | Humanitou
Humanitou on Instagram: @humanitou
Humanitou on LinkedIn
Media Kit for Humanitou
“Tupac Lives” by John Bartmann | freemusicarchive.org
Today, I’m talking about something that I’m really not comfortable talking about: love.
I start with an odd little story that finally got me to speak on this issue I’ve got with love. I explore why I’m not comfortable having this talk with you today, why that’s got to change and how I’m changing it.
I also briefly digress into the nuances of karma, what it really is and what it really isn’t. And I share some other things that I think you’ll find to be useful in your own relationship to love.
Here we go.
I was hiking with my 8-year-old son, Jasper, the other day. We were on one of my favorite mountain trails near where we live in the Colorado Rockies.
We had summited this trail, coming out on granite dome, with views that sprawl across miles and miles of forest and gorgeous stacks and outcroppings of red rock, and alpine lakes in the distance.
Nearby, the famous mountain the indigenous of this land call Tava — more commonly known to many others as Pikes Peak — rose a few more thousand feet into a bluebird sky.
While we were up there, a Canada Jay, a gray and white bird with cool nicknames like camp robber and whisky jack — not small, not big — had swooped down at me not once, but three times, flying directly at me as I ate an apple. It was as if the bird was trying to figure out how to snatch the apple right out of my hand. But he’d pull to my right and glide past me each time.
When Jasper and I were a couple miles into heading back down the trail, another of these gray jays sat on a pine branch only feet away, staring at me. It hopped once, to get further out on the branch, and Jasper jumped back. He started to duck behind me.
He’d been a little nervous at the summit, between the bird that was dive bombing for my apple, and the more than several chipmunks that were clearly very comfortable with humans, that also were trying to get at our food.
I told Jasper, “There’s nothing to worry about. The bird’s not going to hurt us.” And to put him at ease, I looked the bird in the eye, reached out my hand and I talked directly to it, “You’re safe with us. We love you.”
And then I instantly recoiled internally at having said out loud, and to a bird, the word “love.” And before I could look around, this question shot through my mind: “What if someone else is within earshot and heard me — and they think I’m weird?”
Now, that is the most absurd reaction to myself in that moment, is it not? A bit too junior-highish, wanting not to run afoul of others’ perceptions of me? The most innocuous, most necessary of expressions in our lives — love — and yet I’ve found myself in my mid-forties, feeling an awkward, and even sometimes fearful relationship with it.
On top of that, in that moment I had that general self-conscious kind of fear that imagines an onlooker judging me as nothing but a hippie tree hugger — or bird hugger — like that’s a bad thing. Like loving nature and being immersed in my love of it is a bad thing.
Saying the word “love” out loud — whether to birds, to myself, to other humans … like, speaking of it to you right now — feels uncomfortable to me in almost all circumstances, at least when it’s not directed to my wife or sons.
And I don’t want that to be the way of it. I want my connection with love to come from that inherent, naturally flowing place that exists within each of us — for myself, for other humans, for all nature — though for many of us, I think it has been covered over, buried, hardened and hidden.
I want to be one of these men I occasionally see in the world who seems to confidently speak of it openly, as if there is no other way. Because why shouldn’t they? And why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t all of us speak of it?
Let me ask you: Is love part of your daily vocabulary … beyond those closest to you, those you might have a daily habit of saying it with? Is it the lens through which you view yourself and your actions, others and their actions, and the whole of life, and this shared experience and this planet we share?
I mostly feel fine considering love intellectually. By that, I mean I can stand back from it and talk about it like it’s an emotionally distant academic topic. But how love is the love if I don’t allow myself to get into it and feel it, for fear of how it’s received and judged when I express it?
I also can work with the thoughts and ideas of love privately, internally in my spiritual practices, like meditation and chanting, writing and reflective thinking. But then, it’s like it’s just my little secret … when really it’s meant to be given, shared, to be made known.
When it comes to putting love out there out loud — again, other than to my wife and sons — I struggle. The world needs more of us to act with compassion and thoughtfulness and love, right? Less division, more connection? To place more value on listening, allowing and accepting than on dismissing, judging and overriding? But I struggle to feel safe and able to take that on directly. Why?
Why do I fear rippling that good in the world? Why do I feel blocked up and disconnected from this most human, Platonic expression of care and compassion and connection — of love?
I look at Humanitou as a way I can serve good in the world. Service is a form of love. The author Gary Chapman even included that in his widely known book, “The Five Love Languages.” Humanitou has meaning for me as a spiritual practice and a service of good for all of us. And, of course, I hope it has value for you.
Still, what I’m mostly talking about here today is the overt, full-throated use of the word love, and directly looking it in the eye and declaring publicly a step in my practice to be about that in this world.
If I — if collectively we — can be or get comfortable with that being in our thoughts and vocabulary, then I think it will show in our work and in our body language, in our daily interactions with others and our more lasting relationships, in how we listen to each other, observe each other, trust each other, respect each other.
But, again, I’m still cultivating my comfort and ease with this, with this ease of showing and being, and certainly talking about love, at this point. This is something I think about and practice, something I wrestle with, something I am trying to do and be.
And I know it is doable and be-able. We see people who are those examples. But to me, sometimes that love-for-all ideal feels aspirational. Again: Why? Why is love so tough to say, do and … just be?
Well, I have some theories on this to toss out here for exploration. And candidly, I also have some real questions about the validity, or accuracy anyway, of these theories in my head. Like, maybe I’m full of it.
Because lately, it’s been more difficult to recognize for sure what’s clear thought and insight, and what are clouded and incomplete perceptions based on my own fears and skewed interpretations.
After all, love has been the subject of countless songs, movies and poems put into the world for-seemingly-ever. It seems others feel completely adequate and capable in being all about that in their lives.
I probably have long built up this story in my mind that those people have somehow been above the fray, somehow have been allowed to get away with something that I can’t, allowed to be human in a way that I’m not. Of course, that’s ridiculous, right?
And more recently, further clouding my sense of clarity about things I think I think is that reason itself — and shared understanding of truth and facts, and trust in each other’s versions of reality — feels like it’s been destabilized. It feels like we’re currently inhabiting a world of chaos, confusion.
It has made even the basics difficult for me to keep straight. What day of the week is it, anyway? So the thoughts that I think make sense on love, or any topic, today might look different in the light of tomorrow.
But I’ve come to this working understanding of why it’s still important to get these things out now, and not wait for some shining instant of perfect clarity: that moment might never come; this moment of now is all there is. So I’m facing it. Out loud.
I think that’s useful in part, because I think there is a connection between love and humility, and putting these ideas out there out loud on this podcast, being willing to expose myself, my inner thoughts and wonderings, to be willing to be off-the-mark and uncertain but to move ahead anyway with intention, is a serious ego-check. It’s an exercise in vulnerability and letting go, of owning where I am without insisting it’s where I stay and or have to be boxed in.
To love, to love oneself, let alone others, is an act of setting aside the ego, of setting aside expectations and demands and criticisms, of letting go of a need for control and perfect assurances, and saying, “I love you as you are.” “I love me as I am.”
Obviously, you don’t need to have a public platform like a podcast to practice this form of humility. But this is a tool that I am using to explore what’s what within me, and then to do what I do as a means of reaching out to connect with you, and to facilitate connection beyond me and you.
I also think that love and presence — consciousness, being in the present — are tied together. It’s a practice of not getting lost in the past or the future as reasons to be scarce with our love but to be in the now with ourselves and with other beings, and to trust in loving without attachment to those past events, or to fears about future ones. To let the guard rails down and trust that we’re good, right and safe to be love, regardless of what comes next.
Looking at my past as a place of context and learning, however, I do recognize something that I think speaks to that question of why am I uncomfortable being here right now talking out loud about love.
And I think it’s something that has a whole lot to do with what’s happening in society now, too: social conditioning that is rooted in fear and others’ expectations.
We all have our own version of that conditioning, of course, how we’ve been subtly but consistently trained to behave in line with others’ expectations of our gender, race, finances, education, career and so on.
We’re expected to act in line with what those around us deem acceptable, based in part on how they’ve fallen in line with others training them to be acceptable, to think and do the quote-unquote right things, based on the social norms of who is around us.
So for me, a white, cisgender, heterosexual male in our American brand of macho, or at least patriarchal, society — and for further context, one who grew up in the 80s and 90s in the rural American Midwest — my perception of my social training always has been that I should keep my feelings, certainly my tears, and my verbal, direct use of the word love to a minimum, and probably better yet, to myself.
Out of fear. Keep it locked in. Deny it. And, due to the rules of social conditioning, I should do my part and encourage others to do the same.
Out of fear of being seen as weak, as less than, as prey to bullies in school — or maybe even a little now as a presumably reasonable, thoughtful adult who is living in a climate of intensified ignorance driven by schoolyard bullies who’ve grown into bullies with their hands on the levers of government, religion, business and culture.
And keeping quiet out of fear of — and now remember, as a child in the 80s, a teenager in the early 90s where I grew up, which is like an awful lot of Flyover Land America — being a boy of almost any measure of sensitivity — mercy, compassion, thoughtfulness — also inevitably led to social abuse for being thought of as a boy of questionable … well, everything.
In effect, that social conditioning all was saying that emotions are feminine, girly. Emotions are high maintenance. Emotions are bad. And for many in the country where I am from and live, the United States, society still functions with that perception and expectation of men and masculinity.
Us men, for many of us, we’re bound up, emotionally locked up, living with these disconnections within ourselves, whether we recognize it or not, and then carrying them out to the world, rippling out a lack of truly knowing our capacities for love, for loving, and knowing it as a means of possibility and good.
We see it daily in failures of leadership, in business and politics and religion. We see it daily in how individuals in our own communities treat each other on the street, and in the grocery store or at the gas station, being impatient, indignant, angry, self-absorbed.
Jessica Patterson, my friend and teacher, and a spiritual resource who I’ve featured on this podcast and have mentioned several times before, shares this teaching, and I’m paraphrasing: Everything we do is either an expression of love or it is something we do out of a need for love.
And so these many years later, with all my accumulated social conditioning and internal wrestling with myself, I look at a man like the artist Ruben Rojas, in Los Angeles. He paints bright, colorful murals, creates sculptures and produces clothing, all consisting of one word: love.
I don’t know Ruben. Maybe I’ll get to have him as a guest on this podcast one of these days. But I respect and appreciate his work, and I admire him for it, and maybe even envy him.
I wonder: How did he get to be this way? How did he get to feel like he could not only express his whole loving self publicly in the world, but become sought out for infusing that one word into our cultural environment over and over and over?
We need this love. Individually. Collectively. If I am right in my perception about the patriarchal ways we collectively have come to so much of this disconnection from knowing love, and from empathy and compassion, and from the willingness to listen to each other and trust in one another …
If I’m right about this, for me, socially conditioned through outdated ideas of masculinity, that something like showing love with male friends and to fellow humans at large is considered weakness, a lack of will and dominance, rather than as a guiding force for humanity and life, governing and business, then we need more people — and I think possibly men, in particular — to step forward and be willing to say the word “love” when we speak, to socially re-shape that conditioning to place love into our everyday actions as the common ground from which we all live.
This is why I take being a dad to my two sons so seriously. It’s an opportunity to work through them to make positive change in the world, to have two boys who will grow up and make their own paths in the world, and will know that through thoughtful and respectful behavior, that through compassion and expression of honest self and love, is the truest way to live, rather than falling in line and hardening an exterior against who they really are, hiding that away, for the sake of others who don’t know how or are afraid to be that themselves. My wife, Becca, and I teach them these things. We teach them to be these leaders with hearts.
In fact, Becca and I had a conversation this morning with our sons about the effect of our actions, like love, through the spiritual concept of karma. It was one of our sons who brought it up, actually.
Because these things come up in our house. They’re never one and done topics. It’s an ongoing dialogue, ongoing learning and practicing. And words like love and karma are already in their vocabulary, because of it.
By the way, a quick thing here about karma, because I just re-explained this for my boys in that conversation: contrary to popular understanding, karma is not really the mystical force of retribution it’s often thought to be. It’s not about immediate cosmic punishment for something you’ve done.
Rather karma, the Sanskrit word, means action. Karma, the concept, is about cause and effect. I understand that that is why people often translate that to think that Y must have happened to me, because earlier today I did X to someone else. But it’s more nuanced than that.
The effect of our karma, our actions, is the ripple caused by our actions. It’s about how our actions more broadly and consistently have an impact on others, and the impact of their actions on yet others, and so on, which eventually leads to what we all cultivate together, and then receive in the world.
When we serve good, good ripples to those around us and inspires more good. It then has the power to collectively establish an environment, a culture, a world of goodness. And vice versa, when our actions are not so much about that goodness.
This is why the societal chaos of politics and culture wars continues to be rooted in disconnection and division, to be caught in the chaotic ripples of our actions of distrust, anger and reactive self-interests.
This disconnection from love, and from the easy, free and full expression of it with each other, is a consequence of being disconnected from our highest selves, individually and, by ripple effect, collectively.
It’s a consequence of allowing externals — largely based on fear — to shape and influence us, to condition us. And, ultimately, to take us away from the center of ourselves, where we feel most natural, most grounded, most at ease and most aware of who we really are.
Love is inherent. It is in each of us by nature. The spiritual journey of recognizing it, remembering it, recovering awareness of our innate connection with it, and practicing the application of it is an internal one. It starts at home, the truest meaning of home: within ourselves.
When we establish a grounded awareness of our own love, we can be much better equipped to resist reacting impulsively to the negative ripples of others’ karmas, thereby keeping those ripples from spreading disconnection, anger, hate. And even, then, to reverse the flow through our positive karmas, positive actions and their ripples.
This is who we are, what we offer the world, when we know who we really are.
I’ve long been tired of feeling like I have the capacity to be more honest with myself, and to act in a fuller, more honest way. I’ve been working on it for quite some time. Many years.
As a boy and then man, I’ve been taught to wear a mask, to keep people at a distance, to not be soft with them.
That’s part of my story. You have your own story of learnings and traumas and conditionings. And they all are valid. And those stories factor into all our relationships with love, for self and others.
It will continue to be work for me to break apart that mask I have accumulated throughout 40-plus years of socialization and experience, and to be most honest with myself and others emotionally.
As it will be for you and yours. But this thing of love, this idea of telling you that I know it’s there and I want to do more with it is a step.
In my previous solo episode, the one on chopping wood and carrying water, I talked about life being about putting in the patient, consistent work step by step. This is that.
So, where do you stand with your love? What’s getting in your way of receiving and giving it, of being it, more fully? Are your actions coming from love or from a need for love?
Don’t judge your answers to these questions, just let them come. Honestly. And then make use of the feedback.
Connection — within ourselves, to other humans, to all nature — is our natural state. Being and expressing love is essential to that connection. Love is the connection.
Thanks for listening to my thoughts on love, karma and a moment in time in my spiritual practice, in which I’m always working to be a better version of me for you.
If you have comments or topical suggestions for a future solo episode of Humanitou, you can reach me by email at adam [at] humanitou.com, or by Instagram DM @humanitou.
Information and links related to people and works mentioned in this episode are in the show notes at humanitou.com, where you also can subscribe to Humanitou’s monthly email newsletter, and you can “give a buck” to support and sustain the work of Humanitou.
Until the next episode …
I’m Adam Williams, creator and host of the Humanitou podcast.
Thanks for being here.