Deciding to Love
I grew up in New York City, in the borough of The Bronx. Even way back then, when I was a child, the crowded living made for very many aloof, cold, angry and hate-filled people. I tired of trying to smile and say hi to even people I knew were my neighbors, living in the same building as I. I would look at the closed, unhappy, angry faces in the elevator, on the street, the bus and in the subway I was about 8 or 9 years old and I wondered; "what makes people be this way instead of loving and joyful?"
Then I started to notice that every time someone spoke rudely to me, or snapped at me in anger, or I was ganged-up on and beaten for being Jewish, my reaction was first to feel sad and hurt, then to feel anger myself. And I realized that is how people get their closed, unhappy, angry faces.
I could see from my own natural reactions to being treated badly, that the easy way to handle it would be to shut off my feelings or to strike back in anger. If I did not allow myself to be open to caring and feeling, I could not be hurt; if I struck back in anger as a response to verbal or physical abuse, I might have my hateful revenge (but then I would be no better than my abusers).
So having figured out that the way to being unfeeling and hateful is to just react to being treated badly, I also figured that the way to remain feeling and loving is to overcome my initial reactions and to decide to be loving anyway. Thus, I could break the cycle of anger and hate generating more anger and hate, and perhaps begin a positive cycle of loving that might generate love. I could see that it takes more strength to be loving, and promised myself to always make the extra effort to be who I choose to be, rather than just a result of what happens to me.
As time went on, I continued to train and strengthen myself by examining what I was thinking and feeling. I always ask: "Is this the kind of thought or feeling I choose to have, or is this a simple and easy reaction to something or someone else?" And if, for example, it is an angry thought or feeling, I ask myself: "Is this how I choose to be?"
It is good that I figured this out very early in my life, because being who I choose to be takes a lot of strength and practice. After awhile it became just the next level of my reaction to everything and everyone the thinking and "choice" level.
The reward for all this effort is that I found that many people even those who take the easy way out by just becoming their reaction to life tend to react positively to the loving kindness that comes their way. And while my choice to retain feelings means that I sometimes experience deep emotional pain, I can even in the midst of that pain remember that this choice to have feelings allows me also to experience times of great joy. In fact, I am able to feel love and joy in my daily life most of the time shining my strong light on the darkness that many people allow themselves to fall into.
The practice of responding to life with an additional level of choice comes in handy in dealing with all of Life its minor ups and downs as well as its major traumas. I will never experience, for example, feelings of road rage. I will instead always seek to feel caring and understanding of the dangers that await the poor driver who just cut me off fervently wishing him or her a more peaceful and calm day ahead.
By "deciding to love" I am transformed from the leaf that blows in the wind, into a strong positive force that can make a difference in the world.