Early in life we get taught to seek love outside of ourselves. It is probably inevitable because our initial phases of being in this human body involve us being completely dependent on others for several years. It gets hard-coded into us to get things from others just to survive. And it is always going to be true that for sustenance and shelter we need to rely on the external world to a large degree. That’s why the search for independence (which is a whole other topic) is ultimately futile. There is so little that we ever do on our own. We truly are interdependent beings. Even within our own bodies, we live in a huge, complex set of systems, most of which we have zero control over. If our endocrine system shuts down for whatever reason, we are in a world of hurt. Sometimes, I hear people discussing the spiritual path as if it holds the key to eternal physical health, but that is not the case. The spiritual path embraces all levels of physical ease and dis-ease, and so many of us find ourselves quite humbled to know that we have no control over our bodies and a limited amount of “independence” in terms of what we can physically do.

But in the space of love, we all have that. We don’t actually have to depend on anyone else for that. In this way, we have this one shining moment where we can have a kind of “love” independence, which is ultimately a profound realization of interdependence. When everything within and around us is love, what is there left to search for?

With that in mind, I’ll talk about how love gets watered-down and polluted into the murky waters of validation as well as discuss how to come back to the purity you already are.

The Lie of Needing Love

As I mentioned to start off this post, we spend a lot of our formative years heavily dependent on others (usually a family, but not always) for survival. Love and survival are quickly mixed up together, and one of the core messages many people receive is that to receive love and the means to survive you need to do what you are told. A certain kind of obedience and loyalty to a larger individual or group of individuals (the tribe) is often developed, and this becomes one of those cornerstones that build up a whole network of lies in terms of what relationships we seek, how we choose to engage with them, what companies we work for, and so forth. As pretty much every psychologist knows, childhood is a critical phase of human development, and many of the mechanisms for living our lives that grow up from those years continue into other phases even if they are no longer useful.

Because we need things from others, love naturally joins with those needs, and depending on how conditional the love is that you experience growing up, you will create a variety of avenues and decisions in regards to how to get it. Most of this is extremely unconscious because a child is simply responding from what is being presented to him or her. S/he doesn’t really understand what options are before her/him. So if a parent is very neglectful, the child learns to act out to get “love,” which has been diluted to simply a kind of attention. If a parent is overbearing and abusive, a child may learn to be quiet as a way to get what she or he wants without also receiving pain. For the children who are abused, pain and love tend to become deeply intertwined, and this becomes the basis for many people who continue to seek abusive relationships because love and pain are taught through experience to be a package deal.

The lies keep building up from there, and still the truth is that you have all the love you could ever desire.

Watering Down Love

Most parents aren’t conscious enough to teach a child that they have all the love they could need. They don’t know how to love unconditionally because their own sense of love is so intertwined with conditioning. Even those who think they can love unconditionally have very rarely done the inner-looking and inner-listening to understand what love means to them. As a result, the first forms of love that most children receive are already being watered-down no matter how well-meaning they are.

Let me be clear, that for most people this watering-down is not malicious or ill-intentioned. It is simply ignorant. That is one of the cornerstones of illusion in this world that has created all this pain and suffering. Ignorance is not being able to see or know something, and of course, some forms of ignorance are willful (like how most people don’t really want to know how their cell phones are being made–they just want to pay less for them). Because parents don’t know what love is for them, they pass all that ignorance, kindness, and general confusion onto their children. It is only when we start to unwind the mess do we begin to understand the profundity of our own love. Until then, it gets watered-down into a search for validation through things, attention, experiences, and so on.

Fame and Attention

One of the most basic forms of watered-down love is attention. If someone pays attention to you, they are directing their energy towards you. Women tend to play this game by trying to be beautiful according to cultural standards. Huge industries have been created out of this need. This drive for attention can be built up into the grand-scale of fame, where tons of people are directing their energy at someone. However, by this level, what is being directed at someone is pretty polluted with all kinds of assumptions and agendas going towards the person (think tabloid newspapers and TV shows if you need an example of the filth other people say about “famous” people they’ve never met). That’s why more than a few famous people have so much difficulty. They’re catching all kinds of weird energy that they have no idea what to do with, and at the same time, they are probably confused as to why they are not happy at all with all this fame. What they have been searching for is love, but especially with fame, a lot of the attention being sent their way does not validate them. Some it may be directed to tear them down. Because someone in this position has been searching for validation within that attention, they become increasingly unhappy. This can lead towards all kinds of excesses (drugs, sex, etc.) to try and make themselves feel better.

Which leads us to another aspect of watered-down love–the feel good story.

The Lie of the Feeling Good and Pleasure

A lot of people also associate love with the sense of feeling good. Pleasure can become a goal. It is a kind of physical and/or emotional validation of sorts to feel good about oneself. There are all kinds of ways this plays out. This includes the spiritual path, where people are seeking high state experiences to feel good all the time. But they neglect to look at why they are feeling bad. They neglect to see how placing their joy in others and experiences and hoping that they get some sort of good feeling or compliment back is the very genesis of their misery. So the seeking continues. Whether it’s doing tons of charity work, trying lots of drugs, having lots of sex, going to long meditation retreats, or something else, there are many ways we attempt to get the world to make us feel good about ourselves.

But love embraces all experiences, and it is our own preference for feeling some way in particular that creates more and more resistance to whatever is here in this moment. Embracing the moment as it arises is the only sane way to be with life. Otherwise, you will keep looking for the next rollercoaster ride. You may enjoy it for a little while or not. Then it will be over, and you will be back to facing yourself.

Combing the World for Validation

There are still many more games for getting validation. Good grades, payraises, fast cars, exotic vacations, large mansions, having children, trophies, and awards all can be part of the search for validation, which simply says that you are okay. Interestingly enough, the search for validation does not necessarily mean that you’ve done well at something for the deeper parts of us. We’re usually just seeking this feeling of being okay. The pressure is over. We’ve won the big game. What a huge relief? You might pay attention to this feeling of victory if you are into sports. See how much of it is relief that the the fear and tension of losing is gone versus the actual joy of winning–if there is any.

The nasty thing is that survival and validation stay intertwined too. Being validated for your academic work (given high marks) or athletic prowess (winning the track meet) can give rise to money in the form of scholarships and promotional deals, respectively. That develops the ego further, and the identity of being a winner roots in more firmly. The stakes seem to get raised at each step of the way, and in a culture of increasing ideals around perfectionism, the fall from grace seems particularly high. Plus, since you have never learned to love yourself by this point, the fear of having all that validation go away and to become a nobody seems incredibly threatening. Because most people who are in your life are playing the same game, more than a few of them probably would stop giving you that attention and validation. Some might even leave your life if you have this kind of fall from grace (which in truth might be a rebirth and a reclaiming of your true grace). But if this where you are, this is not what it will look like to you. The fall from standing here looks more like the end of the world.

The End of the Search

At some point–if you are lucky–you start to wonder what you are looking for. You start to wonder why you’ve tried so hard to get these trophies, compliments, perfect boyfriends/girlfriends, and pay-raises. You may wonder what it is all about. This can be the start of the end of the search. This may be the beginning of the search for the inner fountain of love. Usually at this point, love is still a very misunderstood idea, and this unease is only a sliver in the mind. It hasn’t turned into a big enough log to bash through all the inner ego barriers that have fortified you from perceived harm. This is why I talk about the importance of building a practice. Your meditation, work with a teacher/healer, journal, reading of spiritual texts, and so forth starts to create a broader perspective. Initially, most of us are too much in the mud of our lives to see anything. We have too much in the way of our clarity, and external help can be crucial to start to navigate the path towards our own love.

And it’s ironic that something so natural and effortless requires external help, and I do want to emphasize that ultimately everything you want is already within you. You don’t need help to get it per se, but it sure can be nice to have a little support. If you do ask for it though, expect things to get rougher and harder before they get better. It’s not because the spiritual path has to be hard; it’s because we’re used to making our lives hard for us. To suddenly not put tons of energy into all these external games to get our validation and attention is a major shift in thinking. Initially, the ego wants to believe that this is insane, which simply shows how much madness humanity has become lost to. But if you want your search to end, you have to initially take a leap of faith into something that is unknown. And true love is always flowing and shifting in the beautiful deep places of the unknown.

For more about love, you can check out this post:

What Is Love?


I'm a spiritual teacher who helps people find freedom from suffering.

Write A Comment