Book Excerpt: 8 Habits of Love by the Rev. Ed Bacon
OWN TV | August 16, 2012
The day Love was illumined,
Lovers learned from You how to burn, Beloved.
The flame was set by the Friend to give the moth a gate to enter.
Love is a gift from the Beloved to the Lover—
I invite you on an adventure. It is a lifelong journey that will take you to the deepest, most sacred place within yourself. That powerful inner sanctuary resides in each of us—every human being on earth—and when we access this sanctuary, it grounds us in love, giving us the courage and resilience to stand up to fear. When we open our hearts and minds to love's abundance, we can transform not only our own lives, but also the lives of those around us, making the world a more just, peaceful, and caring place.
It has taken me a lifetime to understand that learning to embrace love and practice its habits at every turn are the deepest responsibilities we have as humans. I invite you to take a place by my side on this long and eventful journey, so that we may travel together, along with many others, toward a better life and a better world.
Those who fly through the sound barrier report that the cockpit shakes the most just before breakthrough. Similarly, the Habits of Love described in these pages took form for me through some shaky times: deciding to become a minister; leaving the religion of my childhood; working in different parts of the United States with very different congregations; learning to be a father and a grandfather; sharing my life with Hope, my wife. But the first glimpses of what would lead me on this turbulent and wondrous journey came when I was still just a little boy.
We were living in the small town of Jesup, along a historic railway stop in pine-studded, rural Georgia. My father was a Baptist preacher, school principal, and later the county school superintendent, and my mother was a teacher. Our home was a busy and comfortable one, its walls decorated with religious art, its shelves housing countless prized knickknacks. Hanging above the chest of drawers in my childhood bedroom was a simple framed picture of Jesus praying. For 18 years, I laid my head to sleep each night and opened my eyes each morning gazing at this image.
I remember every detail vividly. Jesus, dressed in a humble tunic, kneels in the grass in a lush garden by a rough-hewn boulder, his face open, upturned, and serene. Coming from above is a bright beam of light that bathes his features in warmth. Though he seems to be welcoming that light into himself, his expression suggests that he already knows it exists inside him. He is already home. Infused by the spirit of love, he recognizes the inner sanctuary that allows him to base his life in the force field of love. And so I, too, felt safe and consoled and empowered, night after night, dwelling in the constant light of love and acceptance.
Yet there were other messages I was receiving as a child that contradicted this deep and growing understanding that all humankind is connected by the energy of love. A version of God that I heard preached about from my father's pulpit was one who was wrathful, punitive, and condemning. All around me I saw people who were marginalized and suffering, in particular African Americans, and I often struggled with a sense of inner confusion that left me feeling isolated, unknown and unknowing. There was another image I encountered during those years that only emphasized for me the conflict between these differing experiences of reality. One summer afternoon, I wandered into my parents’ bedroom while they were away. On a table by the window lay the family Bible. The stories inside were illustrated with exquisitely detailed etchings, in all the colors of the rainbow. I loved leafing through the pages and looking at these pictures—except one day when I landed on the pages of the book of Revelation.
There was a glorious green field filled with people. But beneath their feet, the ground was opening up to reveal the orange flames of hell, reaching upward to consume all those who had not been saved. The field was crowded with men, women, and children, some of whom were being lifted up toward light-filled, billowing clouds—these people were supposedly Christ's elect. Others had flames lapping at their ankles and expressions of horror on their faces—these had been denied Christ’s love and were destined to burn in hell.
What I remember most clearly was that certain families were torn apart by this division between good and evil, those to be saved and those to be damned. Some children fell to their demise while their happy parents were lifted up. The reverse was also the case. It was traumatizing not only in respect to myself—where would I end up?—but also in respect to others I knew and loved. Where would they end up? I grasped that even in my small town there were some individuals I knew whom I would never see again, without knowing ahead of time which ones. I felt nauseated, slammed the Bible shut, and ran from the room.
The experience of gazing upon these two imposing, contradictory images of love and fear launched me on my own life-changing journey toward self-discovery, healing, and ministry. It registered in my soul that these two conflicting narratives could not coexist, and that I would have to jettison one in order to fully embrace the other.
After that, in countless seemingly ordinary incidents I began to recognize the critical role of love as a liberating, joy-filled, and guiding force. This growing awareness embedded in me an unshakeable certainty that within each and every human being there lives a core of love and goodness. To be sure, the world and its inhabitants suffer from real evil. Yet at the same time, the world is not divided into persons who are good or evil, blessed or damned. Rather, each of us carries within us a core of sacredness that no evil can damage or distort.
We have the ability to change the course of our lives when we become aware of that core of sacredness—which I call the Beloved—and begin to live with it as our guide. Whenever we have a flash of love, innocence, acceptance, inspiration, awe, or wonder, or we’re moved to tears or filled with joy, we must remind ourselves: this is the real me. We must not let such moments simply pass us by. We must stop and appreciate those moments and act on them—and ask that we receive more of them in the future. This book is my call to you, asking you to embark on this never-ending adventure, as I have done, and take your own steps with this book as your guiding force.
Beneath our wounds and resentments, our fears and insecurities, our neediness and addictions, we are all loved deeply and unconditionally. We therefore each carry within us the capacity to love deeply, unconditionally, and fearlessly. It is through practicing the Habits of Love that we can transform our lives by freeing ourselves from fear. In every concentric circle of human interaction, we can be instruments of bringing people together instead of drawing lines of enmity to separate us.
When we embrace the eight habits I lay out in this book, we recognize that our tired and reflexive responses to our loved ones, and even to strangers, fail to take into consideration their intentions and dreams and our shared goals. We realize that with our children, we can better embrace spontaneity and adventure once we’ve stepped back from constrictive fears and expectations. In our communities, with our hearts open, we instinctively become less reactive and more responsible. At work, with our minds open, we are less prone to misunderstandings and more likely to feel deeper connections. Our interactions with others become infused with grace and kindness.
When we employ the energy of love, we are leaving fear behind us and choosing instead to make our way toward a new, inspiring goal: living our lives with open hearts.
The Habits of Love
With this book, I am seeking to meet you exactly where you already are in your life and offer resources so you may find your own answers to the following questions: How do I live the most meaningful life I possibly can? What does that life look like for me? How do I find the voice of courageous creativity within me and trust that voice in the face of harsh realities that swirl around me—and around those I care about? What does this mean for my relationships at home or at work? How do I move forward in my life? How does a family or business or staff or board of directors—or nation, for that matter—leave behind the force field of fear and enter one of love? And what difference does all of this make in the lives of those who are suffering?
This is the tremendous, transformative journey upon which you embark when you embrace these 8 Habits of Love. As immodest as it may sound, it is my earnest hope that over time the Habits of Love will change your life and that of your community in profound and exhilarating ways. I truly believe that by integrating these habits into our daily lives, we make the world a better place. In opening our hearts and our minds, we ultimately change not only ourselves, but also—over time—those around us.
When practiced consistently, these Habits of Love can in fact become habitual and thus change the way we think and behave, fundamentally altering our interactions with those we love most dearly, those we barely know, and with the world at large. They help us see ourselves and those around us with entirely new eyes, as I did when I came to understand that every creature in the world is loved.
In some ways, each Habit of Love is stunningly simple. None requires any deep academic knowledge or religious commitment, but each asks that we look within ourselves so we may open our hearts by identifying and accessing our loved and loving selves. Yet for many, recognizing our inherent goodness—referred to here as the Beloved within or our inner sanctuary—is the most difficult hurdle of all. Each of the eight habits within these pages will offer you the vision, energy, and inspiration to help you make that leap.
The Habit of Generosity is the practice of opening our hearts so we may give and receive. This habit allows every gift that flows into each of us to flow through us to others. In this process we become affluent in the real sense of that term. Stillness is the habit in which we experience how richly, completely, and unconditionally each of us is loved and how every other person on the planet is loved in the same way. When we feel lost, frantic, scared, or inadequate, returning to Stillness can restore calm confidence and a vision for the next step. Contrary to what many of us believe, the Habit of Truth is not something we can ever fully possess, but is something that leads us, step by step, during the course of our lifetime. It sheds light on those stories we have inherited from our families, cultures, and religious traditions, and shows us which stories need to be abandoned in order to have an expanded life of freedom.
The Habit of Candor is significant because it is so often misunderstood, yet it is a habit that can be life changing for all the parties involved. It is about having the courage to engage in difficult conversations. In practicing Candor—with those with whom we work and socialize, not only those with whom we are intimate—we deepen our relationships more than we put them at risk. When we are overworked or stressed out, fear breeds like a virus. The joy that comes from allowing the Habit of Play into our lives rescues us from hurting ourselves or others because we were too tense and closed minded.
Forgiveness is something that we do within ourselves as a way of moving forward with our lives. But its benefits are not for us alone. After inviting the Habit of Forgiveness into our lives, our feelings about others and the way we relate to them also change, thereby positively affecting the lives of others within the larger community. Surprisingly to many, the Habit of Forgiveness is, in actuality, about releasing ourselves, not others—whereas the Habit of Compassion is about revealing to others the goodness that is inside them. And finally, the Habit of Community teaches us a truth that beats at the very heart of the universe: each of us needs other human beings in order to become fully human. I am because we are. We cannot be humane or human alone.
The practice of these eight habits expands the space within us and within our relationships, where love's sacred power can actually be felt overcoming and dispelling fear from inside our being. When love is the summit toward which we are headed, fear is our biggest obstacle. Yet when we open our hearts to love, we are at the same time opening our minds and choosing love over fear as a guiding force. No matter how many inspiring texts, stories, lectures, or sermons we receive, none is as inspiring as discovering the richness of love in our core. I call this love inside all of us the Beloved. The 8 Habits of Love outlined in this book help us access that core of love and power within each one of us.
We Are All Beloved
On a Sunday morning some years ago, Ellen introduced herself to me after a worship service. "Good morning. My name is Ellen. I'm Jewish and I thought it important to tell you why I'm here."
As a Christian priest who preaches and celebrates the Eucharist each week at All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena, California, I was intrigued. "Please," I said, "go ahead."
"My psychiatrist gave me a prescription to come to church here. He said that every time you mention 'Jesus,' 'Christ,' or 'Christianity,' I should just bracket those words and focus on what you're saying about life."
I was both amazed and delighted. In the same way, rather than write a book on spirituality and religion I have tried to write a book about life. In place of a book about "God," which could be read as some form of theological treatise, I ask you, the reader, to enter into a discussion of a unifying, healing, and encouraging energy that I call the Beloved. Like the word God, the Beloved points to something much more profound, mysterious, and life giving than words alone can adequately express.
A wise and dear Muslim friend of mine says, "God does not belong to any religion; every religion belongs to God." The Beloved dwells in every human being and every human being dwells in the Beloved.
Some who hear or read the word God are involuntarily flooded with associations—sometimes bad, sometimes good—in their mind, body, and spirit. Too frequently these connotations do not promote either inclusion or reconciliation. Religious history is tragically blemished by practices that hijacked the idea of God for the purpose of creating enemies or infidels, classifying them as evil to justify violence so the group seeking power could be "saved" and ultimately dominate. No wonder millions embrace a noble position of atheism out of a sense of intellectual, spiritual, and moral integrity. I myself am an atheist about that particular concept of God.
Instead of keeping my definitions narrow or relying on one ideology, in this book I lean on a diverse constellation of scholars, poets, and other thinkers. I draw on wisdom from such ancients as Lao-tzu, the Sufi poets, the great prophets of Hebrew scriptures, the Buddha, as well as Jesus. I have also been guided in my spiritual journey by such modern-day thought leaders as Gandhi, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King Jr., and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Despite our varying and unique conceptual frameworks, we all regard the experience of the Beloved as deeper than any religious identity or division. Here, I am seeking to describe the universal dynamic that runs through every tribe, sect, and ideology. A core issue of life is negotiating the forces of fear and the forces of love within our own being and relationships. As each of us gains awareness of the power of love—the Beloved—working inside us to dethrone fear and open our hearts and minds, matters of religion and theology take care of themselves.
Embracing the Habits
There's a man I know named Don, an attractive, stocky accountant with jet-black hair and a timid smile. Ten years ago when he first arrived at All Saints Church in Pasadena, where I have been the rector for 17 years, he was contentious, skeptical, and tentative. He had been through a long and acrimonious divorce from his first wife, Sara, and he could not shake his feelings of rage and disappointment. Custody arguments kept him away from his firstborn son more than he desired. "I was paralyzed with the fear of the unknown, and I found solace dwelling in the resentment and regret of my former life," Don said.
Eventually, he met another accountant named Angela, whom he adored. Though he was somewhat anxious about remarrying, he loved and trusted Angela and wanted to build a new life with her. They married at All Saints and had a child together, joining Angela's young daughter from a previous marriage. Yet Don still felt lonely and unmoored. Late at night when he couldn't sleep, he lay in bed wondering how everything had gone so wrong. His accounting practice was financially successful, and he had a loving wife and beautiful, healthy children—surely he should be happy. But he was not. Something foundational was not working in his life.
During this time, Don was attending All Saints with Angela each week. In my Sunday sermons, I often talk about the Habits of Love, and I always emphasize the immense, liberating power we feel when we are able to open our hearts and our minds to love.
Don was listening. He heard the call of the Beloved, and he responded.
First, he worked at opening his heart to being more generous, so he could return to feeling a genuine and liberating sense of appreciation. "It takes hard work not to be drawn into what paralyzes us or makes us forget why we should be grateful. It is in gratitude for what we already have that we are reminded that we are beloved," Don said. His life is a busy one (as so many of ours are, too), full of responsibilities and activities, but he found ways to incorporate Stillness into his daily routine. Over time, he made a conscious effort to change the way he managed his relationship with Sara and their son. He tried always to choose love over fear. Instead of only talking about logistics with his ex-wife, he would ask Sara how she was doing—and when she answered, he listened. The anger in his heart began to dissipate. He tried to approach her with an intentional attitude of love.
"More and more, I opened my heart and myself to the possibility of love," Don explained. "Angela and I found ourselves hopeful and emboldened. The fear retreated." He also looked inside himself and saw where he had been giving too much of his energy over to fear. Knowing that it was now within his power to make different choices, he found peace with those choices he had made in the past: he forgave Sara, and he forgave himself. Joy began to seep into his life again. When he spent time with his children, he was often infused with a child-like spirit that allowed him to enjoy their company in a new and enriched way. And most important, through that process he began to recognize the Beloved in himself and in his first wife again. He released his fear and embraced the love within. Over time, Sara, seeing the change in Don's stance toward her, began to respond in kind. Don credits this transformation to the work we do at All Saints of incorporating the Habits of Love into our lives. Naturally, the family dynamics are still complex and evolving, with daily challenges that each person tries to address with love rather than fear. Don emphasizes that his difficulties are not totally in the past. "Angela and I struggle daily to live in love with our former partners, and I don't want to suggest that it is perfect." As with all families, their lives are a work in progress, yet Don and his family’s burdens have been lessened through their sincere and ongoing efforts to open their hearts.
And there's been another significant benefit too: in choosing to live in the consciousness of love, Don has not only improved his life but also, in incremental and meaningful ways, the lives of his family, colleagues, friends, and neighbors. His fresh outlook on life is stealthily and steadily transferred to everyone he comes into contact with, just as the beam of love in the picture hanging in my childhood bedroom transferred to me an all-pervasive sense of love and belonging. Without even realizing it, Don has taken his own important steps on the journey toward making our world a more harmonious place.
Open Your Hearts and Your Minds
If we can access the inner sanctuary living inside us and be brave on behalf of freedom, be brave on behalf of emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual health, be brave on behalf of unearthing the Beloved in every one of us—then we will know what we are called upon to do. The key to life, I think, and the most beautiful thing in the world is to know who we really are. We begin this journey by recognizing that we are deeply loved. We can live with an open heart and an open mind; we can be instruments of peace, reconciliation, and justice.
In preaching about the Habits of Love, I have had the honor of learning how everyday people gain joy and freedom from choosing love over fear—and now I seek to share those lessons with you. Living with love and methodically embracing its habits have changed many lives for the better. The Habits of Love helped Kathy find common ground with a friend from whom she had been distanced for many years. "I began to see her differently—to recognize her sincerity and her passion, although so different in direction from mine, was nonetheless rooted in a desire for good. Our relationship began to slowly change," she said.
Jerry and his brother Tod had not talked in many years, and when their mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he considered not even sharing the news with Tod. But instead, Jerry chose to embrace love over fear and reach out, warmly and without bitterness, to his brother. Tod reconnected with his dying mother, and they began getting together weekly to engage in what they lovingly called "Swing Therapy" by making music together. "My mom was so filled with joy at the end of her life because our family was so close," Jerry explained. "And the best part of all is that my brother is now my very best friend."
When Carla attended her son’s wedding, she had to deal with panic about having to face her ex-husband’s new girlfriend for the very first time. Pulling over for a moment of Stillness in a parking lot before facing the crowd, she remembered that she was loved, and in so doing her fear retreated. "I felt comfortable enough to honestly smile and extend my hand, and realized that she too must have felt uncomfortable at that moment," Carla said. "I enjoyed everything about that beautiful evening, especially because—even though I was willing to fake it—in trusting love, no faking was necessary!" Over the years, Adam has introduced the terminology of the loved and loving self versus the fearful self into his home. "An awareness of fear as love’s opposite gives my wife and me, and our children, greater understanding of why people turn on one another, why exclusion, violence, and hate are so prevalent in our world," Adam told me recently. "Everyone knows fear, and if we believe fear is at the root of much misery, we can and should pledge to do our part to help dissolve that fear."
On a daily basis, practicing the habits expressed in this book will help you live a life grounded in the energy of this love. It isn’t enough to know these things intellectually or to put them into practice sporadically. What is needed is experiential, trial-anderror practice. These are habits designed to help us forswear the reactive and fear-based thinking that causes us to make destructive choices—and leads us to avoid making important, transformative changes in our lives. As you will see, I came quite close to missing my own calling in life, and only by implementing the Habits of Love was I able to shift my perspective and find the courage to make the changes I so desperately needed. After that crucial turning point, I learned that such is the pattern of life: in every moment, some element of our loving self is at stake.
In my line of work, I hear from people with wildly divergent beliefs and from wildly varied places. I hear from those who struggle with personal fear and with abuse from religious and cultural practices. I hear from Christians of all stripes, as well as Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, the nonreligious, and even atheists about how inspired and hopeful they become when they hear the message of the Beloved. There is an enormous hunger and need in the world for spiritual guidance in living a life grounded in love and free of fear. It is this hunger and the power these habits have to change lives that have convinced me it’s time to get this message out. I hear a call to action, and I turn to you and call you to action too. Open your heart and you will be amazed at the transformations taking place all around you.
Come, my friend—will you join me on this adventure? Excerpt from 8 Habits of Love by Ed Bacon. Copyright 2012 by J. Edwin Bacon, Jr. Used by arrangement with Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.