inside out love

© Amelia Coffaro

© Amelia Coffaro

Today I am celebrating and remembering extra, the practice of unconditional love from the inside out. 

I’ve always felt that my experience into the land of cancer starting on Valentine’s Day was a gift. Yes, as trite and cliche as it is about the experience of cancer being a gift, how could I have ignored this giant tap on the shoulder from the Universe? From my tumors shaped like hearts, to moments like the one in this photo when I stood up from my chemo chair to draw the blinds, only to turn around and see this shadow right over the spot where my heart would be when I sat back down (I can still hear my nurse, Patti, gasp in awe when she noticed this and the complete mystery of all the other heart cut outs on the window not appearing on the chair), the last six years have offered the opportunity to reflect on greater meaning and purpose in my life. What does it really mean to love myself -- what nourishes me and what depletes me? Am I kind and loving to myself in moments of joy and moments that are not joyful? How can I try to be in true service of others? Am I making intentional time to express love enough to those around me -- to those who are challenging and those who continuously love me even when I myself am challenging? Am I allowing myself to receive that love from others, too? 

Some days all of this is easy and some days it is absolutely not. Having cancer certainly doesn’t make life’s challenges disappear -- I wrestle with attachment to outcomes from time to time, anxiety and depression are real, and loving this perfectly imperfect body asks me to practice non-judgement towards myself daily. I am under routine and frequent care in a system designed to make me healthy, but where the parts of the whole and the whole itself are entirely stressed. I am a young woman living in a culture where self love and care are branded and sensationalized as green drinks, bucket list travel to places in tiny bikinis, and managing the challenges and pains of life with toxic positivity instead of softening into emotional acceptance (what we often confuse as “giving up”, but is rather, an active choice to respond in a way that is more helpful.)

Over the years, I’ve been so inspired by those who have dedicated their lives to understanding love. I am reminded of the work of Dr. James Doty who shows us how the brain and heart talk to one another -- how positive emotions like gratitude and self compassion allow the heart and brain to produce the chemistry that supports the body in coming out of stress, into relaxation and a deeper sense of connection to self and others. I rest in the wisdom of Krista Tippett who reminds me that compassion and love are not finite -- they are rich with complexities and invite us over and over again to bear witness to exactly who we are and what the moment brings, and to perhaps consider the act of trust and faith themselves as a practice in compassion. She says that love is “muscular, resilient.” That “Loving is also supremely exacting, not always but again and again. Love is something we only master in moments - an evolution of care.” 

I feel hopeful for the incredible potential this offers us as one way to create the foundation for a kinder, different world that challenges the systemic causes of dis-ease and injustices that contribute to everyone’s health and wellbeing. In all of this, the chance to practice deeper embodiment, connection and understanding -- of moving through the world from inside out.