What is Love? Deep Acceptance of the Other, and Opening to Vulnerability

Yoga helps us learn to be ok with feeling vulnerable

Yoga helps us learn to be ok with feeling vulnerable

by Kara-Leah Grant, Musings from the Mat

I’ve been pondering the nature of Love over the last year or so, holding many deep conversations with my wonderful girlfriends and reflecting over two decades of short and long-term relationships. I’ve got plenty of material to draw upon!

And you know what?

I think I’ve got it.

I know what love is – and what it is not.

Love is a deep acceptance of the other person. Out of that ground of deep acceptance arise actions that create one’s day to life as loving partners.

Acceptance is the fuel of the action, and both are wound tightly together to create love. Without acceptance of the other, there can be no love. And without action, there is no love either.

This was brought home to me a few months ago when I was in Blenheim and spent time catching up with a dear friend.

We’ve known each other since we were teenagers, when we flirted outrageously with each other for the thrill of it. Later, in our twenties, we become lovers. We decided one Sunday night out clubbing – and yes, well under the influence – that if we weren’t married by the time we were 35, we’d marry each other.

I always delight in seeing this friend because the length and depth of our friendship means there are no pretensions, no walls, and no messing around. Over dinner one night it struck me that this deep affection and acceptance I felt for my friend was love. There was no mistaking it – I loved him deeply. And he was a man, who I was sexually attracted to… yet we weren’t together.

I pondered that for awhile – yet despite the love, it was also clear why we weren’t together. He works in the wine industry, I’m passionate about yoga and self-realisation. Our world views are different. And while we can connect easily over dinner here and there, there is no reason to build a life together.

It’s something I’ve noticed about many of my old friends – the male ones. Because we’ve known each other for so long, there is this deep love and affection for them – a total acceptance of who they are.

It would be silly for my view of them to be anything else. How could I not love them for who they are, faults and all? It’s just… them.

Yet I look back and see with a romantic partner how easy it is to notice their faults, or the things one doesn’t like about them and use that as a reason to not deeply accept them, and therefore love them.

Something else I’ve noticed about many of my long-time male friends is what upstanding men they are – they’re good husbands and fathers. They’re good men, full stop. While all of the men I’ve been involved with have been good men in their own way… they haven’t always been good partners or good parents.

I realised, spending time with my male friends, that I needed to pay for more attention to the character of men I was getting involved in – not so much the personality or the romance of it all.

I’ve long laboured under the romantic delusion that love is this blinding thing that strikes two people down before you ride off into the sunset together. I’m a stimulant junkie and love the high of it all. However, this romantic delusion isn’t necessarily conducive to successful long-term relationships.

It’s easy to get swept off your feet by sometime who has serious character flaws that make maintaining a successful,loving relationship impossible – like addictions, childhood issues not yet dealt with or acknowledged, a closed heart. Hell, I know because I’ve been that person myself!

All of this has been percolating around for the last few months, and some insights are starting to surface.

Someone mentioned to me – and I have no idea if its true but it suits my theory – that arranged marriages have a high degree of success. The implication is that thoughtfulness by the families over the inherent compatibility of two people is more important than cupid’s arrow. And that if we are paired with a compatible person, we have the ability to choose to love them deeply, and act out of love, therefore creating love in our lives.

This is the crux that I’ve often wondered – is it actually possible to ‘fall in love’ with anybody, if we so choose? Is love ultimately a choice?

I know it sounds ridiculous… but if love is a deep acceptance of the other, and love is an act of service made up of the actions we take every day… it is possible to actively choose to love anybody. Whether or not they’re loving us back is an entirely different matter. And whether or not they are compatible with us is also another question.

You can love someone (anyone), but it doesn’t mean you can build a life with someone (anyone) – like my friend in Blenheim.

I like that idea – of letting go of the notion of cupid’s arrow and instead waking up to the concept of love always being there. It’s there between every two people who ever interact. All that matters is whether they are drawn to each other and share similar values, views, goals and dreams, and whether they are open to opening to each other.

I have this clear memory of one boyfriend, who I loved dearly. After we broke up – he left me – my mind began to catalogue all the things I didn’t like about him, all the ways in which we weren’t compatible, all the mean things he would say or do to other people or to me. When we were together and ‘in love’, none of this had mattered. I’d loved him regardless.

After he’d left me, I needed to unlove him so I could move on. Cataloguing his faults was my process of unloving him.

Later, as we became friends again through Facebook, it took me some time to let go of the unlove and learn to love him again as a friend. It was too easy to pick him apart, or create a false sense of separation between us.

Where has all this led me?

I’ve realised that not only do I need to break my pattern of choosing emotionally unavailable men – because it’s safer that way – but that I need to pay more attention to a man’s character, not his personality. That’s what ultimately matters to me – how a man responds under pressure, what choices he makes, how he treats those he loves, how he treats those who have harmed him, how he treats the underdog and the weak.

It’s not about how he makes me feel in the addictive swooning sense of a romantic high as he seeks to seduce me – oh how gullible I was for that one… but about how he treats me when I’m down and out and in a really bad place.

My heart’s  been broken by the men I’ve loved, and I’ve broken it myself – walking away from men I’ve loved because I didn’t know any better.

For the last three years, I’ve been mostly single, and while I’ve had short-term relationships, I’ve never risked my heart.

Now, I don’t know if I trust myself at all in choosing a man. At least, I know that I don’t know anything anymore and I have to pay close attention at all times. I can’t trust my mind – I have to listen to my body and the sensations that arise in my belly, in my heart, and in my throat.

This feels incredibly vulnerable – like I’m a butterfly emerging from a cocoon and I’m not sure if my wings have yet solidified.

I also have a sense of responsibility for any man I get involved with.

As I become aware of the vulnerability of my own heart, I can sense the vulnerability of his heart. I’m terrified of misleading a man as I explore uncharted territory to define how I feel.

One summer many moons ago, I met a lovely man at an all-night dance party – and yes, we were well under the influence.

We connected at that deep heart level of all-night dance parties and had a passionate love affair for about a week. He was on cloud nine but as the week wore on I realised with a sickening thud that I had mistaken his feelings for my own.

Ever the highly sensitive empath, I had no boundaries and often had trouble discerning whether what I was feeling belonged to mine, or the other. I’d spent most of the week coasting along on his love for me mistaking it as mine for him. He was devastated when I walked away.

I’d like to think I can more easily discern the feelings that belong to me, and those that  belong to the other now… but I can’t be sure. There is nothing I can be sure of. Except that I don’t know much anymore.

It’s an open and vulnerable place to be stepping into the possibility of relationship – it feels like completely new terrain. And this is a good thing. I knew the other terrain well and it was never leading me in the direction I wanted to go in – a heart-centred relationship that would go the distance over time and through the natural ups and downs of two peoples lives.

Yes, this is a far scarier place to me. But I’m finally ok with that. I can handle feeling vulnerable. I can handle being open and loving with no guarantee of anything coming back to me. I don’t feel the same overwhelming need to “know” straight away, or the same need to control the outcome.

Do I sound like I’m trying to convince myself? I am – vulnerability is a new experience for me and it’s shaky ground.

My wings are wobbly and I don’t trust them to carry my weight. Yet if I want to experience something radically different from anything I have before, this is where I have to go – into the new, into the unknown, into the fear, into the vulnerability.

The ways we relate to our romantic partners and to love are learned patterns of behaviour based on keeping ourselves safe. If those patterns haven’t worked for us – if we’ve made it into our thirties or forties without establishing a long-lasting, loving relationship – it’s worth seriously inquiring into our patterns of behaviour and seeing if we need to change.

Because our external circumstances will never change until we change on the inside – until our patterns change. Otherwise, we’ll keep attracting and being attracted to the same emotionally unavailable men and women, we’ll keep self-sabotaging our relationships, we’ll keep getting stuck in the same destructive patterns.

It takes courage to look deeply within the Self, and it takes courage to notice the patterns arising, and choose to think different thoughts and take different actions.

That courage is what I find on the yoga mat.

Every time I stay in a difficult posture, every time I release another pocket of fear, every time I don’t react to old thoughts in the middle of a posture… I build my courage. I learn that I can stay with emotional difficulty, that I can feel uncomfortable, that I’m strong enough to handle whatever life send my way.

Even love.

Yes, I’m strong enough to handle love, and the deep vulnerability it asks if we want to experience real intimacy.

Phew – now that is bloody scary!


  1. leighton james says

    This without doubt is the best article you have written (and that I’ve read from you KL). Lovely to read, open, honest and scary at the same time.
    Much love an emotional reading man x

  2. says

    Hey Kara-Leah,

    Well. A beautiful article for sure, and one that rings most resonantly true for me, as I too am re-assessing all that I thought I knew about love (I believe thinking was the problem, when really I should have been feeling…). I too have pondered why I can have a deep acceptance of my friends with all of their faults, but hold every little fault of my partner under a microscope. Is it because we have to live with these faults, whereas we can leave our friends and go home at the end of the day? Or do we actually have a higher standard for our partners? Or a bit of both maybe :). I am working on deep acceptance without expectations, but most of all I am working on feeling. I noticed how stripped bare my heart was yesterday. My partner was staying over, and woke up cranky, as he nearly always does (he suffers from insomnia). In our relationship pre-breakup, I would have ignored him, or responded by becoming angry myself. But in this new post break up me, I felt sad and heart broken that he was not behaving lovingly, and felt so devastated by this apparent rejection that I was in tears (while cooking the pancakes :)). He was horrified that his mood had such an effect on me, and I was amazed to realise that this was how I felt all along – I had just covered it up with anger – I had hardened my heart. ohh, sorry about the super long comment there. Thanks for your awesome writing.

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Sara,

      Oh I feel your heartache! I know that heartache too… I’ve lived with a partner who was always grumpy in the mornings and it broke my heart. I’d be happy and joyous and ready to share the day and feel so shut down and shut out by his grumpiness.

      I suspect that we start with that deep acceptance of the present moment and our partner as they are – and then that might generate deep heart-ache in us as we’re not being met in that moment – as you experienced while cooking pancakes. From that place – we’re staying with our feelings and sharing them, but not asking our partner to do or be anything else. They then have space to choose how they respond. We then choose our response to them… so everyone is owning their own feelings and making their own choices and there is no drama or angst… At least, that seems to be the next step after the deep acceptance… where that leads, I don’t know yet.

      Thank you for your heart-felt comment!


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