Every day I read from The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. He is a poet, teacher, cancer survivor, and beautiful writer. I have been reading this book daily for years. I don’t know if you have any books you read daily, year after year but it is amazing to me how I gain new insights every year. Even thought I’ve read something before, it didn’t mean to me what it means now. I think it is the ultimate proof that I am always changing and evolving.

A few months ago I read a passage titled Unconditional Love and it starts with this quote from Nepo:

“Unconditional love is not so much about how we receive and endure each other, as it is about the deep vow to never, under any condition, stop bringing the flawed truth of who we are to each other.”

He goes on to talk about how we have twisted unconditional love to mean accepting anything and everything those we love do in the name of love and turn the other cheek no matter how it makes us feel. It is like we have decided that if we love someone we have to endure whatever comes our way because you cannot put conditions on others. You either love them or you don’t. If you love them, you love all of them even the not so pleasant, undesirable crap.

I always felt like I was a bad person if I didn’t accept everything about the person that I loved. It got me into a lot of trouble over the years. In the beginning of every relationship, you don’t see flaws. It is science. Your brain reacts to the new person like it is on drugs. You don’t feel pain, you feel a rush, you want more. Chemicals in the brain prevent you from really seeing reality, at least in the beginning. If you stick around past infatuation, you will start to see that the person you are with might be a little annoying. Now before you go thinking that you are perfect, I’ll let you know that it is at this point that they start to see the things in you that are annoying too.

In my youth, I would get to this point, where infatuation is gone and reality starts to set in, and I would feel disappointed. I had pledged undying, unconditional love to this person, and now I couldn’t take it back and say, “I really meant that I would love you if you stop smoking, stop playing video games, and get a job.” I thought that unconditional love meant that we could both just be however we felt like being, treat each other however we felt like treating each other, and that we both had to accept it, because we said I love you, and you can’t put conditions on that.

That being said, hindsight is a beautiful thing. I now realize that if I wanted my partner to give up smoking I should have been more sympathetic towards his journey to giving up cigarettes. After all, quitting smoking is a huge challenge, which is why a lot of people nowadays switch to alternative products, such as those available online at places like, to help them cut down on tobacco, or even quit it altogether. Another popular option that people choose is to go from cigarettes to vaping, as it is regarded as a safer alternative for people in need of a nicotine fix.

For instance, my best friend is currently trying to give up cigarettes and has purchased some vaping products from a brand called the london vape company. So, I suppose what I am trying to say is that I probably should have helped my partner to give up smoking by suggesting vaping as a healthier option. I could even have suggested that he should check out the Vape Wild vape shop so that he could make some real progress.

Sometimes though you just have to accept that in order for someone to overcome an addiction, they need to recognize that they have a problem in the first place. To be honest, before I knew this I would sometimes be lead down some dark relationship roads. My flawed thinking would allow me to accept unacceptable behavior from others and from myself. This kind of thinking caused me to accept and hand out abuse, feel shame, and sacrifice my well being for the sake of love. I couldn’t understand how if I was doing it right, it was all going so wrong.

Nepo says,

“Unconditional love is not the hole in us that receives the dirt, but the sun within that never stops shining.”

This passage from Mark Nepo jumped off the page at me. It is hanging in my bedroom and is on my telephone camera roll so that I can look at it often. I need the daily reminder that I had gotten it so wrong. That is it more of a personal responsibility than a passive acceptance. Love, unconditional love, means something so different than I thought.

It means that I’m honest with you. If I love you, I am honest with you under any and all circumstances. I don’t get to shut down and be quiet when something upsets me. I don’t get to passively accept unacceptable behavior and then carry around a secret resentment about it for years, never telling you because I’m supposed to love you even when you behave badly. It means that I’m responsible for how my behavior affects you and I need to listen without judgement when you tell me your feelings.

Unconditional love means that I have to first know myself, so that I can share that with another person. Who am I? What am I bringing to this relationship? How do I feel? Am I brave enough to be honest with you about how I feel? Do I know when I’m hurtful? Do I know what it looks and feels like when I’m hurt? What do I do about it? Am I growing and changing? Did I let my loves know that about me or expect them to guess?

It is a big responsibility to love unconditionally. Not just romantically but with family and children as well. Do I show up as my real self with my family? Or do I come as who they want me to be? Do I show my children who I really am? Or do I try to project a perfect image that in reality they will someday resent because kids always know the truth.

The way that I used to think of unconditional love was actually very immature. Anyone could do anything and I had to accept it because that is what you do for love. The personal accountability and responsibility that I am learning in this new view of unconditional love is liberating and terrifying. I feel liberated knowing that I don’t have to passively accept anything that I am confronted with in the name of love by anybody. I feel intimidated by the fact that I have to show up everyday and be totally honest, totally me with those that I love. It is not how I’ve lived my life thus far.

I sometimes want to rip up the page and pretend I never read it because it is requiring me to grow as a person and practice new behaviors everyday. These behaviors don’t always go over so well when they are practiced with people who are used to me living and loving in the old way. When I want to go back I ask myself, what do I want my children to have? They are watching me. I am their model for behavior in relationships. So I clumsily try everyday to do it differently, and I don’t always get it right. But my hope is that I give them a new path to follow when it comes to love and that they can do it better than me.