What does it mean to act unconditionally?
This is a concept that most often arises in conversations about love and relationships. While unconditional action does not always come in the form of romance, there is an inextricable link between our concept love and unconditional action.
To understand we must define unconditional action. I find it most easy to do so by first defining conditional action; black and white is always simpler.
- Conditional action: Action that which is done in exchange for something already done or with the expectation of receiving something in the future.
- Unconditional action: Action that which is done without expectation of receiving something in the future or done without having received something in the past
Why does this matter?
Whether you are religious or not, this dichotomy has been the core of most spiritual and ethical teachings for all of time. However, it comes in the form of different language. For example, a prerequisite enlightenment in eastern teachings is oneness; a prerequisite of oneness is universal love. In Abrahamic traditions, god’s love is unconditional (Christianity); Allah bestows earned love, but provides unconditional mercy (forgiveness). There is something to be said about a theme that has existed in the most come spiritual teachings for thousands of years.
In biology, we commonly refer to a mother’s love for their child as being unconditional; unwavering regardless of circumstance. A dogs love….etc, etc.
However, love is a feeling. When unconditional love is felt, it will be manifested in action. These actions include taking responsibility, renouncing expectations, forgiving, and being altruistic. But, you may be thinking, many people have acted in these ways, are they acting unconditionally? Yes, they are. However, unless they are always acting in these ways for all of their lives, they are also acting conditionally, which is completely normal. We as humans tend to be selectively unconditional, one day acting selflessly, the next expecting something in return.
Further, we often feel unconditional love, but can that feeling eventually expire? Can unconditional love be temporary? It is common, in new relationships to be completely smitten with a partner and act without regard for reciprocity. Then, get frustrated when, after some time and effort, we are not treated in the same way. We become bitter. Our unconditionality expired.
Why does this happen? I am uncertain. However, it might have something to do with desiring a change within ourselves. If we desire nothing, then we don’t feel an expectation for anything and we don’t get upset when we are not treated in a certain way. Like all great yogis will say, it starts inside.
Obtaining eternal bliss and loving unconditionally to all beings is hard, to say the least. I have spent some good time in rural Myanmar with monks who have devoted their entire lives to obtaining this unwavering mindset through daily mediation. Most never get there, which is the sad truth.
However, just like the monks who are trying to get there, us normal folks can practice unconditional action as well. We can practice acting without expectation. Today’s my birthday and I am going to try.