The Ladder to Unconditional Love
Over the last year, I’ve uncovered an extremely powerful tool to eliminate suffering and cultivate love, compassion, ease, and enjoyment. I call it The Ladder to Unconditional Love. It’s based loosely on the Hawaiian prayer Ho’oponopono.
When we're dealing with a situation, person, or thought that leaves us with a stuck or uncomfortable feeling - like fear, anxiety, despair, frustration, anger, resignation, or hatred - we can place ourselves on one of the rungs of this ladder to increase our awareness and open us to a more compassionate and loving feeling.
It doesn’t matter which rung we go to, though I find that the lower rungs are easier than the higher rungs when it comes to dealing with stronger emotional reactions.
Here’s the ladder and the reasoning behind the first few rungs (there's an example of my use of the ladder at the bottom of this post):
“Forgiveness of Other”
We hold onto things that cause us suffering! We feel crappy, and then we blame others for it. It’s like drinking a poison and hoping the other person dies. This rung of the ladder loosens the grip on us of our judgments of others, and allows us to put the past in the past. A powerful result is that we open up to compassion no matter how other people show up. This creates space for us to engage with others intentionally by being responsible for our own feelings.
“Forgiveness of Self”
We hold ourselves to high standards, and we beat ourselves up in small and large ways when we don’t show up the way we think we should. We don’t realize it, but throughout our lives we’ve been building a stack of evidence for how we’re not enough. This rung of the ladder opens us up to self-compassion no matter how we've shown up in life. This creates space for us to show up authentically and responsible in our lives, and it gives us access to living a new narrative.
(Here’s a slightly deeper dive on forgiveness that I wrote last May.)
Most of us can imagine the value of gratitude. It not only opens us emotionally to a more loving feeling, but it also triggers our brain to release dopamine in even the most challenging situations. It trains our brain to associate challenging experiences as a reward, and it warms us to others and ourselves while moving us from being a victim to being a creative agent in our lives.
(Here's a slightly deeper dive on acknowledgment that I wrote in April 2021.)
This ladder isn’t meant to condone inappropriate actions. It’s not meant to let others or ourselves off the hook. It’s not meant to make things easier and more positive (though that usually happens). It’s not meant to avoid dealing with uncomfortable, awkward, or inappropriate situations. It’s not meant to keep us small and safe.
This ladder is meant to put us in a place of personal power. It’s meant to help us let go of what bothers us so we can access the deeper parts of ourselves - what we really want, what we really value, and what we’re really committed to.
As long as we live our lives as a reaction to situations, people, thoughts, or feelings, we are living our lives at the effect of our circumstances. Living at the effect of our circumstances is living a life of suffering.
The Ladder of Unconditional Love puts us in the driver's seat of our experience, and it invites us to generate positive emotions. Our mood affects our perception, so loosening the grip our circumstances have on our mood is a way to bring more of ourselves - our brilliance, our creativity, and our innate wholeness - to our circumstances.
Pick a rung, any rung. There's no right place to start. No rung is better than another.
The people in your life are worth it. You are worth it. Unconditionally.
Thank you so much for reading. ❤️
Here’s an example of how I might use the ladder:
The other day, my son H said that his haircut looks terrible and that it’s my fault because of something I said to the barber. I immediately got defensive and angrily told him to stop blaming me.
(The irony of this - me blaming him for blaming me! 🤦♂️)
Forgiveness of other:
I forgive H for blaming me.
I forgive H for getting upset.
I forgive H for directing anger towards me.
I forgive the barber for cutting his hair shorter than he wanted.
Forgiveness of self:
I forgive myself for getting mad at H.
I forgive myself for taking his behavior personally.
I forgive myself for judging H.
I forgive myself for judging the barber.
I forgive myself for judging myself as weak and immature.
I forgive myself for being defensive.
I forgive myself for modeling a blaming attitude to my kids.
Thank you, H, for showing me this growth opportunity
Thank you, defensiveness, for seeking to protect me.
Thank you, anger, for seeking to protect me and to teach H a lesson.
Thank you, barber, for providing us this opportunity.
Thank you, life, for always giving me insights into myself and others.
I’m glad that happened.
I’m glad I got defensive.
I’m glad I got angry.
I’m glad H got upset.
I’m glad I got angry.
I’m glad that I now see how I’d rather behave.
I’m glad that I know how to apologize and leave the past in the past.
I’m glad that I know how to grow in any experience.
I love H.
I love that H reacted that way.
I love H’s perspective on his life, on me, and on his haircut.
I love myself.
I love that I got defensive.
I love that I got angry.
I love that we both got upset over something small in the big scheme of things.
I love that life continually shows us where we have room to grow.
I love that I’m a dad who’s committed to unconditionally loving my kids, my wife, and my life.