Every once in a while, you’re sent a reminder that the only boxes that exist are the ones you make for yourself.

On Friday night, I met a paradox of a person. She was a Native American woman who wore a frilly, white sundress and had a deep, gravelly voice. She cursed freely, yet her dainty handshake barely touched my palm.

After a brief conversation wherein I learned her strong distaste for coffee, she lurched off the brick wall she had been leaning on and limped away. Her left foot dressed in white flats dragged lifelessly. Her parting words: “Let’s all love each other.”

Everyone has a story, but sometimes all you learn is that 1. They hate coffee and 2. They love you.

One day later, I pick up The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton because it was on one of those “30 books to read before you turn 30” of which I have read maybe 10 percent and have four months to go.

“Love demands a complete inner transformation — for without this we cannot possibly come to identify ourselves with our brother. We have to become, in some sense, the person we love. And this involves a kind of death of our own being, our own self.”

For no reason at all, this seems like my dog Willow who, whenever I let her out of her crate, acts like it’s the very first time she has ever been free.

The one exception

Yoga strives toward the death of the “self” daily. Give up the judgements, the attachments, the thought patterns. Maybe believe that a complete stranger can love you — and that you, in turn, can love a complete stranger.

But there’s always that one person who drives you nuts and with whom you think you’ll never get along. So you make an exception to love everybody in the world but them and call it okay. Because, you know, you tried. (Did you?)

Except loving others isn’t an external endeavor and you can never quite get that one out of your head. You can orbit many souls in this world, but the gravitational, emotional pull of that one grounds you every time.

You can come to love this one, but it takes lots of reframing. That transformation comes down to your answer to this: Are you okay with holding on to dislike, irritation — and maybe even hate — forever?

Loving doesn’t mean you have to be best friends and see eye-to-eye with those who challenge you. But it does mean that in all your tiny boxes this “one” gets the status of “person.”

Love is an inside job

But what if that one person… is you?

You’re probably making concessions with loving yourself if:

  • When you constantly strive toward “better…”
  • When you guilt trip yourself about eating the second cookie…
  • When you see a stranger mistreat a person or animal and say or do nothing about it…
  • When you’re not making as much money as you’d like…
  • When only a few people show up for your yoga class…

If there’s one thing that we can spend our entire lives trying to break free from, it’s the pattern of not loving ourselves. Every once in a while, though, someone comes into our life who’s radically different yet reminds us that we’re all seeds.

Planted in the dark, growing separately, we have everything we need to germinate. But when we push through, it’s the environment that determines whether or not we’ll thrive.

Like busting of your own personal crate, never forget the rush of freedom. Love — of yourself and others — starts when you cultivate an inner and outer environment that makes no exceptions.

As Ram Dass writes in the foreword of One Soul, One Love, One Heart:

“When you give up being who you think you are, this is who you will become.” In other words, “When you finish being your ego, you will be Soul.” And the Soul is Love.

Try it: Half Moon Pose, Ardha Chandrasana

Half Moon Pose, HappyMomentum.com

Everything gathers to center when you’re in Half Moon Pose — it has to, or you’ll topple over. When you’re radiating through your heart to the tips of your hands and toes, you’re in the full expression of this pose. The same can be said for the truest love.

Modification: Use a block to support your hand that’s on the ground, or try this pose with your back to a wall to take out the balance and experience the twist more fully.

  1. In the center of your mat, bring your fingertips to the mat, step your left leg slightly behind the right and bend your knees, like a runner taking off from a block. Now plant your right fingertips about a foot in front of the right foot, and an inch or two to the right. (Optional: Place your block here and palm on the block.) Bring your left hand to your left hip.
  2. Keep your gaze down on a fixed point. Inhale and straighten the right leg as you lift the left leg up behind you as you twist your heart open to the left. Exhale and flex the left toes, extending long through the leg as if you were stamping it against a wall.
  3. On another inhale, firm up the right standing leg by lifting the knee cap and hugging navel in toward spine. Breathe smoothly as you revolve the left hip more on top of the right hip, without falling over. And if you do? Set back up and try again.
  4. Finally, lift the left hand up, palm face forward. Lengthen through the fingertips and energetically lift up from the abdomen to grow long in both side bodies.
  5. Slowly turn your gaze forward, then maybe up at your fingertips if it’s accessible for the neck. Or, keep your gaze down if it challenges your balance too much to enjoy the pose.
  6. Stay for five deep breaths. To come out, gently bend into the standing leg and lower your back leg down to the mat. Return both your fingertips to the mat and roll up to standing before trying to pose on the left side.

Your turn: What exceptions do you make when it comes to love?