ver the past 50 or so years, a particular type of group-healing experience has grown popular.

Although these healing groups differ in their focus, purpose, and populations served, they all share core characteristics. The most important and consistent of these is the ability of the group to offer unconditional love and acceptance to each participant. Whether people are coming together to “grow,” or to heal from addiction or trauma, whether they are coming together for a spiritual purpose or business matters or to improve a relationship, the common denominator of the life-changing, transformative experiences they undergo is the powerful, all-encompassing, all-embracing sensation of unconditional love.

“...And after I told my story, everyone — I mean, everyone — in the room was crying with me. And they came up to me, one by one, and hugged me and soon there was a gigantic circle surrounding me, everyone hugging, and the love was palpable, unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since....”

Every Soul’s Desire

Every soul craves the feeling of being seen, celebrated, acknowledged, approved of, and otherwise “loved.” It brings completion and wholeness to our otherwise fragmented, hurting sense of self. We search for this feeling our entire lives, looking for someone special to hand it to us — a parent, a future spouse, a current spouse, even a child or a best friend.

But our dream always falls short. There is no one who actually knows us, who is real in our lives, who can deliver this perfect sensation.

Each potential bearer of the lamp of love is, him or herself, flawed. Love cannot flow evenly out of his or her cracked vessel; there are blockages and impediments. “The group,” on the other hand, can become a perfect vessel of love. Hearts that are connected create a powerful container for love, allowing it to flow freely. “The group” can love a person without knowing anything about her; the person can be loved by a group without knowing its members personally.

The Barrier of Imperfection

The faceless group has no flaws. It sends out love to a fellow soul — not to a human being who leaves his used bath towel on the floor. When a spouse is responsible for loving the messy partner, matters become much more challenging. How does one imperfect person celebrate, acknowledge, approve of, and love another imperfect person?

What the soul craves is unconditional love, the love that allows for error. “Love me without limit, towel in laundry basket or towel on floor. Accept me as I am: flawed, vulnerable, broken, and human.” It’s a tall order.

In parenting, the need is much the same. Now it’s a child who neglects to hang the towel and a parent who greets the mess with a scowl. The look says it all. “You displease me.” The child gets the message, “I’m not lovable.” And so begins the breaking of a heart and the intense yearning to be whole again.

Conveying Love

Disapproval is part and parcel of intimate human relationships. When we live with people there will inevitably be moments of frustration, disappointment, and hurt. Because of this we cannot create a pure container of love, one untainted by even fleeting negative emotion. What we can do, however, is create a very good container, one that’s approving, accepting, and loving, even if not perfectly so. This will give our loved ones the closest experience that human beings can have to complete love, the love that is even beyond the love of the faceless group, the love that belongs only to Hashem.

How is this accomplished?

It’s accomplished with restraint. We hold back. We hold back our negative judgment, our negative facial expressions, and our negative comments. We express negativity intentionally, carefully, only when absolutely necessary. We focus on accepting, celebrating, encouraging, adoring; we set boundaries quietly, minimally, and firmly so as not to interrupt the flow of love.

Smiles, humor, praises, and other positive expressions fill our mouths and our homes, even if they feel fake at first. And as we continue to increase our capacity to channel love we will notice that we ourselves become increasingly filled with love. Squeezing love from our hearts builds the heart’s capacity to hold love, like a muscle that becomes stronger from use. No one will be harmed from our reduced negativity, least of all ourselves. On the contrary, we and our families will flourish as we immerse ourselves and our home in love.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 574)