Transforming the Dream of Love That is Unconditional: Discovering Fearlessness

We all want to be loved unconditionally by another, and we search for this other all our lives. But the love of another always comes with a long list of conditions.

Several years ago, I asked Don Manuel to speak to me about love, for I had never seen his people be affectionate with each other like we are in the US. From what I observed, the Indios did not hold hands or kiss in public, even though mothers doted over their babies, whom they carried bundled up next to their bodies. But I had no idea what love meant for grown-ups.

“Love is only for the brave,” he said. “Frankly, I recommend you stay away from it. You are too soft to endure love for very long.”

I disagreed with him, explaining that I had been in love numerous times in my life, and knew the pain and the ecstasy of the feelings.

“That’s not love, that’s romance,” he said.

“Love is like a mill,” he explained, pointing toward the entrance of a dilapidated adobe cottage. In front of the house was a batán, a flat stone with a shallow depression in it that had been used by the owners as a mill for grinding corn. The moon-shaped handle, the uña, was nowhere to be seen. We were in an abandoned hacienda that had thrived perhaps 50 years earlier. The roof of the structure was long gone, the clay tiles taken by neighbors, and all that remained were the crumbling walls.

“We are people of the corn. This is how we thrived for millennia.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a few purplish kernels.

“We have hundreds of varieties of corn: blue, black, yellow, red . . . and we are like the corn. Love comes to harvest us and pluck us from the dry husk, which is fed to the pigs. Each kernel is full of light. But the light inside has to be set free. So we take the corn to the batán.

“Love grinds you down,” he explained. “It cracks you open and breaks you out of your shell, so you no longer recognize who you are. You become like a fine dust that can be blown away by the wind if you are not careful. Love then mixes you with a dash of spring water and pummels you, kneads you, and then places you on a hot stone by the fire to bake, so that you can become like the corn bread in the sacred feast of the Inti Raymi.”

“But what if I do not want to become like corn bread?” I asked Don Manuel. Somehow the image was not very appealing to me, even if it brought to mind the poetry of Rumi, where he writes that love will hollow you out so you become like a reed for the wind to blow through to make the music of God. Hollow reed sounded so much better than a corn tortilla.

“Then you will decay on the husk,” the old man replied. “Or become food for the birds. The grape must be turned into wine. Otherwise, it rots on the vine.”

The First Love

Love is the most powerful emotion we will ever experience—even greater than fear. From infancy, many of us learn that love is something that we have to earn. To survive our childhood, we learned the tune we had to dance to in order to receive approval and recognition. As we grew we were delighted to hear our father say, “I am proud of you,” and we worked even harder to hear those words again. And that felt good. And then we wanted more.

Because love is such a powerful force, when we learn early on to associate it with approval, we will do almost anything to get it. We will do things we do not truly believe in and compromise our values in ways we later find despicable so we can get approval, which we think of as love, from people we look up to or are attracted to.

It happens to all of us. Our love becomes conditional, satisfying a need to know that I am real, that I exist, and that I am okay. We later discover that we can control others by withholding our approval, and to demand exacting payments in exchange for a loving glance or word.

It’s amazing how early babies discover they can control their world by throwing a tantrum. Have you ever met a friend’s three-year-old who is the bully of the family, and whose frown or laugh sets the mood of the entire house?

Love that is accompanied by a long list of conditions—often lying just beneath the surface—has shaped our upbringing. The love you learned from parents who were not in touch with their own feelings, and from adults caught in the dream of “I am angry, lonely, hungry, or afraid” is not real love.

Transforming the Dream

Transforming the daydream of love that is unconditional requires you to discover fearlessness. You become fearless through taking three actions:

  • Give up the fantasy of finding your perfect soul mate.
  • Love who you are, even with that nasty streak.
  • Give up the idea of a god who loves you only when you do “what’s right.”

When you no longer need to experience love through a lover or a mother or a child, when you can love the people you disagree with, and when you can celebrate yourself with all your gifts and faults, when you no longer need to barter for love and can bask in the love of Spirit, then you have unconditioned love. Then you no longer need anything to make you happy. You can be happy for no reason at all.

Then love simply is. You recognize it as the warp on which the fabric of the universe is woven. You are the weaver, Spirit is the wool, love is the weft. Long before we used the metaphors of science, of vibration and frequency, we used the metaphors of weavers. The weft are the long threads on a loom over and under which the threads of the warp are passed to weave a fabric. Even the Greeks personified the Fates as weavers who spun the threads of your destiny.

Love is not only a feeling. The sages believed that love is the singular force in the universe, that all of creation arises from love, and that every beautiful thing you create in your life comes from love. Love is a force that you cannot escape, like gravity. It is ubiquitous yet invisible. It exerts an irresistible pull on us, leading us to acts of courage and foolishness beyond our wildest imagining. But unlike gravity, which you cannot do anything about—you cannot easily levitate, for example—love is a force that you can use to co-create with the Primordial Light. When you discover this, you can go about dreaming the world into being.

For the shamans, love is not a feeling, although most of us experience it as such. It is a force. It’s what the flower feels for the morning dew, the jaguar for the deer it hunts to feed her cubs. It is the rainbow after a rain.

Love is the force that can help us see the truth amid the lies.

And above all, love is the power of the Primordial Light, which is cognizant, intelligent, wise. We can interact with the Primordial Light, what we call Spirit, and it responds to us. This is the contract that the Laika has with Spirit. You call, and Spirit responds to you every single time.

Experience the Great Shamanic Initiation with Alberto Villoldo at Kripalu.

Reprinted with permission from The Heart of the Shaman: Stories & Practices of the Luminous Warrior by Alberto Villoldo, published by Hay House (July 31, 2018).,

Alberto Villoldo, PhD., is a neuroshaman, medical anthropologist, psychologist, and shaman who studied the spiritual practices of the Amazon and the Andes for more than 30 years.

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