Undefended Love. Looks like something you’d find in your divorced auntie’s downstairs toilet. Or wouldn’t look twice at in a charity shop, with that cover.
YET, wise af!
Especially when it comes to how you relate to and grow alongside your fellow humans. For me, this book challenges everything we’re (never) taught about love and happiness.
Here are my ‘best bits’; those pages you fold over at the corners. Instead of stuffing it back on the shelf, I thought I’d share in case anyone’s out there reflecting on relationships, love and how you’re developing as a human. I know I am, after a bumpy summer… p.s. I have NONE of this sussed.
Before we dive in, here’s a nod to my pal Anya Pearse who recommended this book; the big heart and brain behind https://anhourofkindness.com/
Here we go…
Your identity is cracked. Mine too. All of us. You might have heard it called ego or personality – these are defensive strategies to protect us from pain. Ego wants to avoid certain feelings that remind us of unresolved pain (usually from childhood). It has needs, wants, demands, expectations – all to avoid getting hurt (and/or gain pleasure). Beneath ego is essential self. This is undefended, raw you. It’s pure and innocent. Some call it soul, essence, true or authentic self, god, love – whatever you like. It’s totally free. Ephemeral and wanky enough for you? Because there’s more to come. Without realising, we often form relationships from ego. This means we go into relationships where our broken bits meet another person’s. Cue years of wrangling as everyone tries to reconcile competing needs, and NEVER feel any hurt. Eeek!
Counterintuitively, those strategies your ego uses to defend you from pain, bring about exactly what you want to avoid. Baffling, right? For example, if your cracked identity thinks people need rescuing, you’re going to be attracted to and attract those who want to be saved (with fragile esteem of their own). Your ego needs to know it’s right, so it affirms itself like this. Alas, people can only save themselves, so your need to rescue inevitably goes unsatisfied. Ever worried you’ll never be happy? That you’re better off alone?
In any relationship (friend, lover, sibling, parent etc.), if our focus is getting something we’re only ever going to end up disappointed. Even if that need or want is temporarily met. Love isn’t a transaction or competition, yet how many of us keep score, or monitor ‘fairness’ in terms of give/get? This book is all about connecting more deeply with people, undefended. Our cracked, defensive identity, with its focus on fulfilling wants, will only ever limit how deep we can go. IF we keep believing and identifying with ego (rather than undefended essence, which is inherently ‘whole’ and self-satisfied). The best we can ever hope for in this context is closeness. And that’s enough for most people. Depressing? Perhaps you’re ready to go deeper than closeness…
We can choose a different way to relate to other people. Rather than getting, wanting or making up for what we lack – we see each other as fellow travellers. You and your partners, lovers, friends – whoever they are, are on independent journeys seeking your true self. We do not depend on one another. This is our individual responsibility, as is handling our shit when we’re triggered. How’s that for provocative? As travelling companions, we help and support one another in rediscovering our true self. Like calling out our bullshit behaviour, spotting ego traps, noticing essential qualities and drawing our attention to it, cheerleading. We deepen and un-defend. Sound good?
According to the book, relationship is a crucible or laboratory for noticing and exploring strong reactions, triggers and all the other stinky junk that emerges when egos knock together. When the nasties happen, your attention moves towards to what this tells you about you, rather than the other person. This isn’t self-blame, flagellation or introspection, it’s healthy curiosity about what this situation or lesson might teach you. So we go inwards (curiosity, patience, honesty) instead of outward (blame, recrimination, anger). The exception of course is abuse and violence = NOT OK. The tricky bit in all this is resisting old habits; contending, attacking, defending, winning. Instead, how might we see conflict and disagreement arising from ego as healthy, non-violent exploration and experiment?
For undefended intimacy to happen, we need inner resources. Another person can help us develop this through both emotional support and closeness, AND withdrawing support too. We must be OK with the feeling of absence, abandonment and other discomfort. Scary, right? Closeness comes and goes though. It is only one stage on the journey towards living more undefended, and ever deepening relationships. For example: if you’re having an ego meltdown, the other person might meet you there, not with ego, but with their true undefended self (open, kind, aware). They kind of ‘hold’ you safely until you move back towards essence (calm the fox down). And vice versa. Doesn’t that sound all deep and nice and lovely?
To live and love (and laugh) more undefended, and handle those tricky egos, the book recommends the technique of interrupting. This means there’s nothing new we need to learn or do; we don’t need to be different. Only NOT respond how we’d usually respond. Perhaps you’ve heard this called awareness, or noticing yourself notice. You can become an internal witness to yourself, observing, rather than getting sucked into the drama of ego. Ever tried mindfulness?
This last bit stings. Only by exposing ourselves to the pain we fear most, over and over again (safely!) can we soften and become undefended. Yet the more we do, the more we realise that the tender bit inside that ego defends (essence) is actually rock solid and unshakeable. It’s pure. Already enough. THEORETICALLY. All this is easier said than done. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable, yet the reward is delicious depth, as you support one another in growth. The book reckons this deepening is limitless. You’ll never get bored of this, or each other. YUM. Partners, friends, lovers, relatives may come and go. They’re on their own journey. That feels a bit daunting to me, if you thought love meant depending on other people. My suspicion is that if we learn to trust and depend on our inner, essential self, those (undefended) times when we’re supporting others (and being supported) will become all the more sweeter and deeper. Much as I’d like to get this sorted yesterday, becoming undefended sounds like a life’s work. We can’t let go of ego and rediscover our true self overnight. Ego isn’t ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ – it got you this far, after all. I took the book to be inviting us to explore a healthier way of relating, one you already have capacity for, in there, somewhere. So perhaps the first challenge is meeting you where you are now? How curious are you to let your true self have a say in running the show, instead? Hope that was helpful. Reckon it’s worth buying and reading? Did you even get this far? Drop a comment below x
Undefended Love on Good Reads