by Killian Noe, Cofounder of Recovery Café and the Recovery Café Network
Most of the time, the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. We fear what we don’t understand, what is different, what might require something extraordinary of us.
How do we who make up the Recovery Café Network choose each day—maybe a hundred times a day—to live from love instead of fear? I would like to offer a few suggestions which are not new to any of you, but which we all need to be reminded of from time to time.
Loving is Our Primary Work
First, we need to name continuously that loving is our primary work. We can get pulled in so many directions and distracted by so many good ways to help others that we sometimes fail to keep the main thing the main thing. The main thing for every Café in this Network is to hold spaces that are radically inclusive, honoring of all people, and profoundly loving. In each of our Cafés there are thousands of ways to hold such a space, but unless our actions flow from unconditional love they will have limited power to heal and transform.
During a Recovery Circle, one I was part of in Recovery Café’s early years, a Café Member shared that he had been bullied throughout his childhood and recalled all the hurtful names he had been called. Another Member of the group, when it was her turn, offered her experience as a gift to her circle mate. She said, “I was called many derogatory names as well. Now I know my name is ‘beloved.’ I refuse to listen to any other name.”
Second, we must take the time to listen, really listen, to each other’s unfolding stories. That requires our being fully present. It’s easy to get so busy “helping” others that we neglect to listen to the deep wisdom each person brings. We all have inner wisdom that can guide us toward our own healing and the path we need to take. Recovery Circles are one of the places that hold this kind of deep listening.
Also, listening to another’s story helps us replace our biases with compassion. We stop demonizing the individuals and groups who are different from us and start standing in awe of all they have suffered, survived, and surmounted.
An individual coming out of long-time incarceration and staying in one of DC’s largest shelters, shared, “Before coming to Recovery Café DC, no one had ever asked me about or listened to my life’s story or my pain.”
Holding One Another to Our Best Selves
Third, we choose love instead of fear when we hold each other to our truest, best selves. Letting each other slide by allowing sloppiness in our Café space or carelessness in our relationships with each other is not loving. Holding each other respectfully and lovingly accountable is the most loving thing we can do. We can practice holding each other to excellence in all we do, especially in the ways we treat one another.
Being Kind to Ourselves
Fourth, and closely related to the third, we love and honor others when we love and honor ourselves. We love others by honoring healthy boundaries and treating ourselves with kindness. One time I called someone by the wrong name and, out of frustration with myself, I said, partly under my breath, “I’m such an idiot.” Those words were wounding to the young man who overheard me being so hard on myself. He remarked, “I love and respect you; if you are an idiot, what does that make me?” That day I committed to being as kind to myself as I seek to be to others.
Finally, we choose love over fear when we choose—many times each day—to forgive. No community can last without rigorously practicing forgiveness. Holding on to resentments not only poisons the persons we resent; it poisons us. Holding on to hurts and resentments is toxic and destroys community. We all know this.
When we practice forgiveness, we give all who make up our community a clean slate each day to be the people we truly want to be; people not weighed down by guilt over something we got wrong yesterday, or last week, or for the past 15 years. We give each other a clean slate to practice being the instruments of transforming love we all were created to be.
One day I ran into a former Café Member on the street who had been shot in a drive by. He told me he had started praying every day for the person who shot him. He explained, “When you pray for someone you take them into your heart. You can’t hate someone who you take into your heart.” Who knows—you might even forgive them.
We truly are changing the world when we embody what it looks like to live from love instead of fear—something our divided world desperately needs to see.
With love and gratitude for each of you, Killian
You might consider gathering and reflecting on these questions:
- Where have you seen forgiveness restore and enliven your Café community?
- What specific ways is your Café community living from love instead of fear?