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Nelson Mandela quotes: 'Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people'
Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president, has died. Here are his thoughts on freedom, equality and how he would like to be remembered
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Email, Friday 6 December 2013 12.30 GMT
Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela: 'I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days.' Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters
Nelson Mandela, who led South Africa from apartheid to democracy, was a humble, eloquent and inspirational figure who advocated peace, democracy and human rights. Here are some of his quotes which mobilised a movement and made him an icon to millions.

On dreaming big

"One day I will be the first black president of South Africa." 
- 1952

On freedom

"There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires." 
- 21 September 1953. Presidential address to ANC conference, adapted from a statement by former Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru

On resistance

"The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days." 
- 26 June 1961

On sacrifice

"If I had my time over I would do the same again. So would any man who dares call himself a man." 
- November 1962. Mitigation speech after being convicted of inciting a strike and leaving the country illegally

On equality

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." 
- 20 April 1964. Rivonia trial

On adversity

"Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end." 
- 1 February 1975. Letter to Winnie Mandela

On authority

"I have never regarded any man as my superior, either in my life outside or inside prison." 
- 12 July 1976. Letter written to commissioner of prisons while on Robben Island

On apartheid

"Between the anvil of united mass action and the hammer of the armed struggle we shall crush apartheid and white minority racist rule." 
- June 1980

On compromise

"Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts." 
- 10 February 1985. Reply to an offer to release him if he renounced violence

On being a man of the people

"I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I, and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated." 
- 10 February 1985. Message from prison, read by his daughter to a rally in Soweto

On sacrifice

"I am not less life-loving than you are. But I cannot sell my birthright, nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free." 
- February 1985. Response to the offer of freedom from PW Botha. Remark quoted in A Part of My Soul Went With Him by Winnie Mandela

On his release

"Friends, comrades and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all. I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands." 
- 11 February 1990. Speaking on his release from Robben Island from the balcony of Cape Town city hall

On humanity

"Since my release, I have become more convinced than ever that the real makers of history are the ordinary men and women of our country; their participation in every decision about the future is the only guarantee of true democracy and freedom." 
- 1990. The Struggle is My Life

On lost time

"I never think of the time I have lost. I just carry out a programme because it's there. It's mapped out for me." 
- 3 May 1993

On vigilance

"If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government." 
- July 1993. Speaking to South Africa's trade union congress

On the anti-apartheid movement

"I had no specific belief except that our cause was just, was very strong and it was winning more and more support." 
- February 1994. Visit to Robben Island

On a free press

"A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens." 
- February 1994

On the South African elections

"Years of imprisonment could not stamp out our determination to be free. Years of intimidation and violence could not stop us. And we will not be stopped now." 
– 26 April 1994. Press conference

On becoming president

"My fellow South Africans, today we are entering a new era for our country and its people. Today we celebrate not the victory of a party, but a victory for all the people of South Africa." 
- 9 May 1994. Speech following his election to the presidency, Cape Town

On the future

"The task at hand will not be easy, but you have mandated us to change South Africa from a land in which the majority lived with little hope, to one in which they can live and work with dignity, with a sense of self-esteem and confidence in the future." 
- 10 May 1994. Speech at his inauguration as president

On death

"Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity."
- 1994. Interview for the documentary Mandela

On poverty in South Africa

"In South Africa, to be poor and black was normal, to be poor and white was a tragedy." 
- 1994, Long Walk to Freedom

On morality

"Man's goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished." 
- 1994. Long Walk to Freedom

On life's obstacles

"I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."
- 1994. Long Walk to Freedom

On his legacy

"It would be very egotistical of me to say how I would like to be remembered. I'd leave that entirely to South Africans. I would just like a simple stone on which is written 'Mandela'." 
- 1997

On wisdom

"It is in the character of growth that we should learn from both pleasant and unpleasant experiences." 
- November 1997

On leadership

"Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people." 
- April 1998

On being remembered

"There will be life after Mandela. On my last day I want to know that those who remain behind will say: 'The man who lies here has done his duty for his country and his people.'" 
- 1999

On the power of words

"It is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die." 
- July 2000

On a meaningful life

"What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead." 
- May 2002

On HIV/Aids

"When the history of our times is written, will we be remembered as the generation that turned our backs in a moment of global crisis or will it be recorded that we did the right thing? 
- June 2005

On integrity

"Those who conduct themselves with morality, integrity and consistency need not fear the forces of inhumanity and cruelty." 
- July 2003

On humour

"You sharpen your ideas by reducing yourself to the level of the people you are with and a sense of humour and a complete relaxation, even when you're discussing serious things, does help to mobilise friends around you. And I love that." 
- August 2005

On success

"Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do." 
- December 2009. Letter to cricketer Makhaya Ntini

On female attention

"I can't help it if the ladies take note of me; I am not going to protest."

On personal weakness

"That was one of the things that worried me – to be raised to the position of a semi-god – because then you are no longer a human being. I wanted to be known as Mandela, a man with weaknesses, some of which are fundamental, and a man who is committed, but never the less, sometimes he fails to live up to expectations."

A post I made about unconditional love on the “Life Is A Fork In The Road” Facebook page has raised the question about whether humans are capable of true unconditional love. Here is how the quote that lead me to write this true love story: “Love is unconditional. It is a spiritual state, not an emotion. It’s not a choice you pick at a fork in the road….it exists forever.” Is this just an ideal we strive for but can never attain or is it possible for a human to actually love someone unconditionally, love them even if they do something we hate or they decide to leave us?


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The human condition is affected by all types of pushes and pulls from our emotions, upbringing, personality, temperament, ego and experiences. This makes us who we are and it also makes us imperfect and fallible. Of course, that’s what makes life interesting. Can we rise above all this and actually love someone unconditionally? The post I made was not just something I pulled from the sky because it sounded nice. It was based on my own personal experiences and observations. Now, for the first time since I started collecting stories from others, I am going to share an inner voice experience of my own that first awakened me to what true unconditional love means. This is a true love story on many levels.

I Was Not My Wife’s True Love
The year is 1986. After being happily married for 11 years, my wife suddenly and without warning told me she was divorcing me to go back to a man she had dated before we met. There were no obvious problems in our relationship. No arguments. Nothing was going on to indicate any trouble brewing. Even after she told me this, she never said there was anything wrong with us. She just said that she had come to realize she loved this other guy in a way she didn’t love me and that’s all it was about. Two days after she told me this, she moved into an apartment. The guy left his wife of 25 years that same day and moved in with her. They got married within the year and are still together.

Hearing this completely out of the blue crushed me. It was like I was run over by a steam roller. I have never before nor ever sense felt pain like that. I had imagined we would spend the rest of our life together. I didn’t want anyone else. I loved this woman with all my heart. There is no way to describe the hurt and pain I felt. It was like every cell in my body was being torn apart and run through a food processor.

Unconditional Love Isn’t About What the Other Person Does
Yet, within hours of hearing this something else from deep within me spoke loud and clear. This was my true inner voice of wisdom. I still loved this woman as much as I had before she broke the news. I still wanted her to be happy. I still cared about her. If she would be more happy with someone else rather than me, that was her choice. I realized at that moment that if you truly love someone, you want them to be happy, you want the best for them even if that means not being with you.

This realization did not make the pain and hurt go away. It was so severe and intense that it took me over three years to finally get back to being me. All my friends told me she was no good and would say unkind things about her. They thought that would make me feel better. They simply didn’t understand. The way I saw it, how can someone go from loving someone to not loving them overnight just because they did something you didn’t want. That would negate the previous 11 years as if they never existed.

A Love Song About a True Love Story
A couple months after she left, I did a very strange thing which was the next step in helping me move forward with my life. Once again, my inner voice of wisdom came through loud and clear. Suddenly, I started thinking about this guy she went back to and how he must be feeling. I literally began to look at this through his eyes instead of mine. That inspired me to write the lyrics to a love song written from his point of view.

Lyrics by Don Shapiro

Courtesy of Rykristo Music Pubishing

You told me we were through

It was what we had to do

We made our beds before we met

When our love’s fate was set

Our homes blazing oh so bright

With anger and more in plain sight

So we sought solace as one

Embraced away hurt on the run


It wasn’t right

Oh, no

It wasn’t right

To fly away in the night

To believe we could unite

So you hid our love

Deep inside of you

Tucked away from view


Just ticking

Ticking for too many years

Ticking through a thousand tears

You locked your love far away

Deep in memory so they say

We became friends for many years

Saying hi without any tears

The years have taken flight

Family chains wrapped so tight

As our seedlings grew up, oh wow

You’ve come back for my love no

(chorus repeats)

(bridge to finale)

You couldn’t keep your love locked away

Just ticking til judgment day

So you threw away that old bed

And came back to me like they said

How was I able to still consider her happiness as being of paramount importance after what she had done? How could I go through the most devastating pain and hurt imaginable without having any ill feelings toward her? How could I possibly write a song lyric that was a love song written from the other guy’s point of view? There is one and only one answer to these questions. I loved this woman unconditionally regardless of what she did. I am living proof that it is possible for a human being to love unconditionally.

It’s one thing to wax philosophically about what we believe is and is not possible concerning the human condition until we are thrown into the fire and discover how we respond in the moment. I wasn’t thinking about the meaning of love or the concept of unconditional love before this happened. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before so I was not prepared for it. Maybe we never are. If you had asked me a year earlier what I would do under such a circumstance, I’m sure my answer would have been different than what I actually did. How I responded to this situation came from deep within my heart and it was as real as it gets. My reaction surprised me and inspired me.

What Unconditional Love Really Means
Since then, I have given a lot of thought to the meaning of love versus how the word is thrown around all too easily. From this experience, I came to learn what true love means. The test of true love, unconditional love is this: would you still love the person even if they did something awful or left you for another? Would you still care about them and want the best for them? If you can answer that question yes, you love unconditionally. If you answer that question no, what you are feeling is not love. It may be a very strong emotion and feeling of attachment but it is not love

The state of true love occurs when the love that is inside of us aligns at a deep energy and frequency level with the love that is inside of someone else. This connection isn’t about desire, attraction, enjoyment, similar interest, common values or emotions. It is something that simply happens outside of human control. Once that internal love alignment occurs, it will last forever. It can never be broken. Our spirit is forever connected to the other person’s spirit regardless of what happens with us on a human level.

True Unconditional Love Is Not a Choice
I honestly don’t know why some people have the capacity to love unconditionally and others do not. It is still a mystery to me why I was able to act and feel this way through such a nightmare. I have my doubts whether anyone could go through this true love story if they wanted to. From my experience, this was not a choice. It simply reflected the state of love that existed inside of me and my natural and normal response due to that state of love. It may be just fine for many people to exist in relationships based on strong emotional ties that they call love even though, in reality, it is not love at all. Unconditional love may sound like something wonderful but it appears we have no control over its occurrence though it would be something that I would hope all people would strive to find.

Relationships Are Conditional. True Love Is Not.
Relationships are conditional. True love is not. We can and will place all kinds of conditions on having a relationship with someone based on a laundry list of human issues. We may decide we don’t want someone in our life anymore, even one of our children if their behavior is too awful for us to handle. Most parents love their children unconditionally, even step children and ones they adopt. If we truly love, love unconditionally, then regardless of what someone does, we will still love them whether we want them in our life or not or whether they want us in their life or not. True love never dies. Love is a spiritual state, not an emotion.

More About Love
The Power of True Love Can Only Be Understood When We Realize It’s Not an Emotion
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54 thoughts on “A True Story Of Unconditional Love”
Reply ↓
July 3, 2010 at 4:29 pm
Lovely. Possible. Timeless. Holy. A beautiful and touching letter.

Reply ↓
December 23, 2011 at 11:39 pm
I understand you more than you can imagine. I have been going nuts trying to know why i am having conditions to some significant persons but none for others like my child who doesnt even know i exist untill recently.
Love and couldnt have used better words.

Reply ↓
Jo Lucas
July 3, 2010 at 4:44 pm
Don, I applaud your ability to hear and to follow the wisdom of your inner voice. It has led you to be the person you are today, a fuller, more feeling, more compassionate, and more completely developed human being.

I have only one small difference of opinion regarding love, and it may only be one of semantics. While I agree with you that unconditional love should not be regarded as an emotion, I feel that to describe it as a ‘state’ or a state of being, minimizes the force which expresses itself in unconditional love.

I regard love…or ‘true love’…or ‘unconditional love,’ as spiritual, to be sure, but I regard it to be a spiritual POWER. I believe it is, in fact, the true power of God.

What else can sustain you through the agony you described? What force of will could possibly compel you to write the song you wrote, or resist the temptation to condemn your ex-wife? It must be a power stronger than any state of being.

While we may sit serenely as this awesome power inhabits us, it is a power that can transorm people and change lives, should we choose to use it.

It is the power which enables us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and to write the song you wrote of such profound understanding.

Thank you for sharing your insights and your gifts with us, Don.

Reply ↓
July 3, 2010 at 4:53 pm
Much gratitude for sharing with us this amazing story. I, as you, am learning love on another level. I now hold much higher standards for myself when it comes to loving someone and myself. I am seeing love can exist in any given situation, if I allow it and get out of my stories that this “shouldn’t” have happened, or someone should live up to “my” expectations. We are love and therefore, it is not about giving or receiving, as much as it is about just Being love. I am seeing how true love is much larger than the stories we tell ourselves.

The song is amazing, would love to see it on YouTube. You are an exception to the rule, good to know you.
I love you! <3  :-)

Reply ↓
Reya Mellicker
July 3, 2010 at 6:04 pm
Wow. I think of love as a force of nature that cannot be controlled by we puny humans. The fact that you could let it flow is truly incredible. Wow.

Reply ↓
Ruth Besser
July 3, 2010 at 9:56 pm
Wow! What you did with your pain was a tremendous ‘coup de force’. I would not be capable of it, nor do I know anyone who would be…
Perhaps love is an expression of ourselves..
and perhaps ‘true love’ expresses itself in many many forms, even forms that include violence.
I am not saying this is what we wish, or that it is desirable, but I think love and hate, can go together just as naturally as tears of laughter conjoin tears of sorrow.
It feels like you had to have developed an almost zen like place within yourself, as place where you practiced the big “I” as opposed to the little “i” and could rise above your personal pain and see this from afar..There is a Hindu verse in the Upansishads (I think) which talks about being both “the bird that eats and the bird that looks on from afar”.

To really feel the essence of this story I would need to have more context. What was she like, how had you met, what was going on in your life?? How did she receive this gift of ‘unconditional love’? You describe her as just leaving while you were in a state of complete incomprehension that anything like this was possible. Did you have children? Did you know this man, or anything about her past with him?

Reading it I find myself not liking her or him for doing what they did…but they don’t come alive to me as flesh and blood people. Only as the perpetrators of actions that caused a great deal of undeserved pain…

On a very deep psychological level I would even have to ask whether a part of you didn’t need to turn this story around, so that instead of being a victim, you appeared as a hero who through some gift or force was able to overcome a very powerful adversary…and that would be more familiar to me of what I know of humans than actually continuing to love her, even identifying with her new (old) lover, and letting her go and making her happiness paramount, putting it way above your own need and pain, and calling it unconditional love.
Would you have had an equal dose of unconditional love for yourself that if you had acted as she did, you would have been able to forgive and love yourself as much as you loved her??

I don’t pretend to know..and I believe you. But I also wonder, and would want to know more of the story..

Yes, Christ tells us to love our enemies. And I am sure there are one or two people who can do that…they are called saints!

I think when someone hurts another person (deeply hurts another) we look at that person almost the same way as we see a person who has committed a crime. Even if we are not the victim, we want to see some justice..
we at least want to see some remorse or acknowledgment by the transgressor that they have done a very cruel thing. It satisfies our moral urge.

Didn’t her actions give you pause and make you wonder why you loved her??
I might well think that a person who would do such a thing would not be worthy of my ‘unconditional love’.

This story is deep..but it leaves me with a lot of questions.
And maybe, and hopefully my kernels of doubt are unwarranted, and it is just what you said. an example of ‘true love’.

Reply ↓
April 21, 2012 at 6:30 pm
Good questioning

Reply ↓
Pooja Pasricha
July 4, 2010 at 5:15 am
Don i have experienced the same…a couple of days back i almost wrote my story to you and i just had an OMG moment when i read this

Reply ↓
July 24, 2010 at 12:12 pm
So interesting! I was about to do the same.. and.. I don’t know.. there is more to being human than Don seems to be writing.. life is not about some issue you have with ONE person only.. People in the eastern world are routinely unconditional.. and this is just beginning to happen in north america. Hello folks.. Wakey! Wakey! Cheers to you.. :-)

Reply ↓
Don Shapiro Post author
July 4, 2010 at 1:28 pm
Hi Ruth,

As always, you look much deeper into what has been shared and ask great questions. I would expect no less from you especially after having read your marvelous poems.

The trouble with Blogs is that they are not books. I can’t write a 20 page typewritten piece that includes all the details about a single event. For Blogs, I’ve learned I need to focus on one aspect of an experience that will make a point. I realize this can leave people wanting to know a lot more.

First, the back story. She was Hungarian and a member of the Freedom Fighters that fought the Soviet Union in the Budapest uprising in 1956. When she didn’t see any opportunities for herself in Hungary following the Soviet response, she decided to come to America. To do that, she walked across a 50 mile stretch of land all by herself leading up to the Austrian border that had been planted with mines by the Soviets. Upon reaching Austria, she was taken in by the U.S. rescue mission and brought here. She did have family in the U.S. that sponsored her.

She arrived in the U.S. not speaking a word of English and began by peeling apples in a factory then graduated to pulling the excess threads out of shirts for a garment manufacturer. Instead of staying around her Hungarian family and friends all the time, she spent a lot of time around Americans so she could master our language. When she left me in 1986, she had worked her way up to being a Vice President of a publicly held corporation (and she did not have a college degree). By the time I met her, she spoke better English than most Americans.

Soon after arriving in the U.S., she married a Hungarian and they had a daughter. He turned out to be extremely abusive to both her and her daughter. That marriage lasted 9 years until she finally divorced him which may have coincided with her reaching a level of confidence and work success.

The last job she held while still married to him was as an inside sales representative for a large company where she won honors as their number one sales person. It was here where she became close with her boss who was also in a marriage that had problems. They began an affair that lasted until shortly after she divorced at which point she realized she couldn’t spend her life seeing a married man who had a wife and kids to raise. So she ended that relationship and started dating.

Go back and read the song I wrote and you will see the complete story in that song. I guess I figured the song would explain it in short hand form from their side which is why I didn’t devote more space to the back story. The song is a true story. Now you know the full story behind that song as well as more about both of them.

She dated for many years until we meet in 1974 when she and a girl friend came to dine at a restaurant I was managing and we struck up a conversation. She was 9 years older than me and her daughter was 13 at the time. When we started dating, both of us told each other we didn’t want anything serious. Our falling in love was a complete surprise to both of us.

From her background, she was wise way beyond her years. I was never really young even when I was chronologically young. We were on the same wavelength. Our relationship was filled with a lot of joy. Everyone thought we were the perfect couple.

I knew the complete back story I have shared with you because she told me all about it. Part of it I knew early on. The rest she filled me in on when she said she was leaving me. This decision was not made lightly on her part. She is a very responsible person of high integrity. It turned out that for almost a year before giving me the news, she had been seeing a psychologist to help her figure out these feelings she was having. She didn’t want to hurt me. She still loved me. But these feelings were so powerful in her that she didn’t know what to do. It took her a considerable period of time to come to terms with what her inner voice was urging her to do and what it would mean.

I believe the purpose of her going through therapy was to deal with huge guilt she was feeling. For her to act on her inner voice would destroy two marriages and she knew how it would affect me. This was not an impulse decision.

Maybe if you put together the entire back story from Hungary forward, you might be able to see how I could step away from my own pain and look at this from other perspectives. She had already lived the equivalent of three lives, faced things many of us will never face, and successfully overcome severe challenge after challenge to create a good life for her and her daughter. At the time of her decision to leave me, her daughter was now married with children of her own.

This story is also about her following her true inner voice of wisdom. She was a responsible and caring person as you can tell by now. At the same time, she was fearless in a way most of couldn’t even begin to understand. I knew that her decision was not made lightly and she had given incredible thought to it. I also knew that once she made a decision, she would stick with it.

Something happened between her and this other man when they had their affair that created a soul connection which can’t be broken. Even though she loved me and cared about me, she came to a point in her life after all she had been through where she knew she needed that connection. He had captured a portion of her heart that I couldn’t touch. She buried those feelings out of a sense of responsibility, respect and integrity and then fell in love with me. But you can’t keep soul connections like that buried forever.

This is why I called this a love story on many levels. It isn’t just about my unconditional love and following my inner voice. It is also about their love story and the many times she followed her inner voice even risking her life when she was in Hungary.

Which leads back to your questions about me. I can understand your raising these questions. Your questions are really more about you than about me. They are a reflection of your own experiences, observations and knowledge of psychology. Many people would have the same doubts you do because they have not experienced what I have nor witnessed it in others.

You say that when someone is deeply hurt by another, they will look at it as if a crime was committed and want to see justice or remorse. You say they see this as a cruel thing to have done.

Maybe those in the healing arts fields encounter so many people like this that they begin to believe all people would respond in the same way. I believe that the therapy fields (psychology, hypnotherapy and the like) can help a lot of people with their emotional and thought based issues. Yet, with 6.8 billion people on this planet, how can you know from your limited experiences and observations that there are not people who are capable of unconditional love just because you haven’t seen it yourself?

The weakness of the therapy professions lies in their inability for the most part (there are exceptions) to understand the difference between what is a part of the human condition that can be addressed by their expertise and what is a part of our spirit and soul which they cannot help with. Many in these fields think that every thought and feeling which occurs inside of us is something they can help with, something that, at some level, we may have control over.

Where this weakness really shows itself is with the term love. Love is the most overused word on the planet earth. Over 90% of people who use this word, use it incorrectly. Anyone that has a strong emotional attachment to another person calls this feeling love. It’s in all our songs, poems, novels, movies and greeting cards. And so the therapy community has come to regard love as an emotion which they can treat. This is reinforced by the fact that most of the time when they hear someone talking about love, it is really only a deep emotional attachment which they are able to help with.

I can’t change the world’s use of the word love at this point. But let’s be very clear about what is really going on. Love is a spiritual state. It is something that exist inside of us from inception and stays with us after our bodies pass on. It is our connection to the creator, our soul, our spiritual essence. We have absolutely zero control as humans over the state of love. It is not a psychological state.

For me to honestly address your questions, I needed to make this clear. At a spiritual level, we cannot feel like we are a victim. We do not see hurt or pain inflected on us as a crime that calls out for justice. That is because, in a state of true love, we do not judge other people…ever. If someone has acted in a terrible way toward us, that is about them, not about us. I may disapprove of their behavior and even be angry about their behavior, but I do not judge that person.

This is the way I am 100% of the time, not just in this one story from a point in my past. Those who are very close to me know me. I never judge other people. Even when people have done me wrong in a big way, I do not feel any ill will toward them. I have never experienced the feelings of revenge and justice…and some people have done some pretty bad things to me during my life.

If we question why we loved someone after they have done something to us, then we most likely never loved them to begin with. We had a deep emotional attachment to them which we labeled love. If you experience true love where the love inside of you, the spirit that you are, connects with the spirit of another, you would never, ever question that love. You might hate the other’s behavior but would never question the love.

Let’s bring this discussion back to the real world. Unconditional love is actually quite prevalent on the planet earth. You have witnessed it countless times and experienced it yourself. Most parents love their children unconditionally. Even if a child becomes an axe murderer, physically and emotionally abuses their parents, or turns out to be an embarrassing liar and cheat, their parents will still love them.

The parent may decide they no longer want that child in their life. They may never want to see that child again. But they will still love their child. Relationships are conditional. Whether we allow someone to be in our life or not can and is based on a long list of conditions that grow out of our emotions, upbringing, personality, values, desires, likes and so on. But most parents, regardless of what their children do, still love their children unconditionally. We can hate the behavior and still love the child.

This is not just about blood relations. Parents of step children and those they have adopted or fostered can also display unconditional love. Take the recent hit movie with Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side, which is based on a true story. That boy was not a blood relation and even came from an entirely different world than the woman who took him in. Yet, she loved him unconditionally and even risked her life confronting gang members with guns in the projects to help him.

While I have only shared one experience from my life in this story, this is not the only time where I have felt unconditional love for another and, as a result, acted in a way that would not be considered the norm. Unfortunately, I cannot share some of those experiences out of respect for others who would prefer these be kept private.

The real question here is not whether a person can unconditionally love another. The question is why is it not as prevalent in adult relationships? If a parent can unconditionally love a child that is not of their blood, why can’t adults act the same toward each other more often?

My personal experience with unconditional love which absolutely proved its existence seems to create doubt in many people. I understand this doubt. It is about them, not about me. It is about their experiences and observations and the conclusions they have drawn from them. My experience creates extreme discomfort in some people because either they accept what I did and then have to change their beliefs or cast doubt on what I did in order to hold onto their existing beliefs.

As humans, we are a jumble of human factors that make us imperfect in many ways. For many, our emotions can so overpower us that they block the love which exist inside of us. This is the same reason people can’t hear their inner voice of wisdom. Their desires, wants, likes, dislikes, emotions and ego overpower their inner voice. The source is the same. When we pay attention to the wise guidance of our inner voice which includes the love that has always been inside of us, we can and will respond to life’s experiences in a far different way than some people have and most people think we should.

Hope this helps,


Reply ↓
Ruth Besser
July 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm
Dear Don,

I did not even realize you had answered my comments. This morning I wanted to share a beautiful album with you, through a FB member Sandor ? from another FB member…
I posted it to my profile, so you can have a look at it if you care actually made me remember that your story of ‘true love’ is NOT so otherwordly, but very deeply embedded in the collective wisdom of our world culture and philosphy.
Remember the ‘murder of the Amish’ school children? And how they reached out to the perpetrator’s family, and practiced what they believe in ‘unconditional forgiveness’ according to Christ’s teaching.
That forgiveness NEVER made the headlines as do other stories of equal horror. And I wondered, “Why NOT?” is this something we collectively really don’t want to hear about?? And isn’t this ‘above and beyond the murders’ a really Great Story and example? I have always admired the Amish, and wld love to be a part of their if one could choose these things..
You are right, it speaks far more about me than about you..this reaction of “I don’t buy it!” But I kept thinking about what I wrote and felt ‘guilty’. From everything I know of you, I realize the last thing you wld be is “disingenuous” and you are not at all out of touch with your own feelings that you wld mistake “unconditional love” for a twisted love that used your own “nobleness” to inflict a particular kind of hell to the guilty party..Knowing the context and the layers of lives, streaming in and out of consciousness like streams that find underground channels only to reimerge with other streams that gain force and momentum as they flow back to the source, makes the story real and understandable… I didn’t really understand the poem, it took reading your comments to understand what you were talking about…
Now this story does expand my capacity to imagine bigger loves and lives than I had before..
And you are right about my reaction saying more about me than about your story.
Quite literally I was in some sense in the same role as your ex-wife. I was fairly happily married with three children, when I returned to Germany and spent time with a good friend in Berlin (someone I first met as a teenager – he had loved me from the time I was 14)…my daughter was with me on this trip..and we were about to leave for Brussels at midnight, when I found I was on the wrong train..So we went back to his place and in one night became became lovers..and my life changed forever..I had not even considered it a possibility prior to this night. (that was ’79). From that day on I was agonizingly tormented…with guilt, with longing..
In ’82 in a very conscious act of betrayal (and my first) he and I took 3 weeks to travel together to Scotland..under lies (on my part) to my husband.
It was probably the happiest 3 weeks of my life..and upon my return to the States, I was in a misery such as I had never experienced before. I simply could not leave my children ( a la Ingrid Bergman) and I cld not live without him.
We had a few more clandestine meetings..and I finally ended up confessing to my husband Dan. Outwardly he forgave me, and was relieved that I was not leaving..but beneath it all, things were brewing. Perhaps the worst betrayal is not the physical one, but the emotional one. He felt the absence of my love, I was not really ‘there’ for him..and while it dragged on for 7 more years (years in which I turned to alcohol and pills to fight my demons), had major depressions, the marriage ended. I blamed everyone, myself, Heinz, Dan, Fate, the damn trains,…
Even after the divorce I was not going to uproot my children, and life swept me along…and I ended up having my 4th daughter with a man I fell in love with (or lust)..into what’s turned into a nightmare relationship..
Always in the back of my mind, I thought maybe Heinz and I would have our time together when Saskia was grown…
It would have had a kind of going back to the place I was two bookends to my life. But fate intervened again and Heinz died on November 1, 2007. He never stopped writing me, sharing with me all the twists and turns of his life..he was a gifted writer, artist and lover of music and poetry..he headed a foundation for the exchange of art between Berlin and many cultures, especially China, Vietnam and revolutionary artists the world over. He was a son of Berlin – that divided city in a divided country, growing up the only child of a war widow (my mother’s close friend, which is how I met him in the first place). If ever there was an ‘unconditional love’ in my life it came from him to me…
There is no corner or all the rooms of my houses that I have lived in..that doesn’t have a trace of him…showered as I was with gifts, and things of beauty..all completely undeserved gifts from someone who loved me, for no other reason than that he loved me..
He never married, had no children…and to this day I do not know what to make of this torturous story..I know it caused my marriage to collapse, my children to go through great undeserved pain…
I have yet to find the meaning…As a way to mourn or exorcize I posted an album and created tribute to him on of all things FB.
I have not even forgiven myself for the betrayal..made perhaps even more powerful because Dan (my husband) was Jewish…
So from these murky waters of my own past, perhaps I was lashing out against your betraying wife, as a substitute for myself…I wronged someone who really loved me, and was a wonderful husband and father. In some ways I wronged Heinz too..and my children.
What makes these loves so agonizing is that they are not just personal choices, they pull so many other lives into their wake.

I think that’s all for this morning…

How do you open so many wounds?? Perhaps it is because you listen, and are non-judgmental, and really deeply listen. “What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.” form “The Little Prince” by St. Exupery.
The culture being the desert, and you being that Well, that is so rare and so needed.
I truly believe you have opened up many hearts almost like a sacred confessional.
Ruth Besser

Reply ↓
July 18, 2010 at 5:08 pm
Don – I agree with your analysis for so many reasons. I try to imagine a world without unconditional love. This is a world that none of us would be very interested in inhabiting, really. Unconditional love carries our hope for a future, our connection with that which is larger than ourselves (whatever we conceive that to be), and begets our current personal inner peace. Without unconditional love as a concept and a practice, the hurts we humans inflict upon one another either blindly and ignorantly or from other place of wounding, would destroy the fabric of humanity. The power inherent in this kind of love is at least a start, if not all we really need to know about how to heal our hearts, our families, our communities, our countries, our planet and beyond. Bless you for this work you are doing!

Reply ↓
July 18, 2010 at 11:56 am
Don – There are many of us who have come to an intimate knowledge of unconditional love in much the same way that you did. In my own case, I am now some 28 years down the road from the initial events that were the genesis of my search for some way to make meaning of what to do when one’s heart is broken. My husband and I had children together and it soon became apparent to me that I had to find some way of making peace within my own heart because I could see that we were inextricably bound to one another for life, even though we were no longer married. And, of course, I also began to discover that my anger and pain was only hurting me. This made the search for some way to integrate the experiences and come away with love rather than bitterness feel essential.

The path to that peace has held many stones (often more like boulders actually), steep and treacherous inclines, wild downhill runaways, poison ivy, and all manner of wild beasts (often masquerading as friendly faces). I wish I could tell you that I was able to face each obstacle with grace, but the truth is that I often chaffed, cried, screamed at the Universe, lamented and felt unbearably sorry for myself. I also opened and found blessings and continued to dive into the river of love.

As I continued to try to mend my heart, mend my life I sought out numerous teachings, read all of the spiritual things I could find, every self-help book on the planet, talked about it interminably and listened to the stories of others. I admit, not proudly, that I also sought refuge through all manner of external anesthetic, including other willing arms.

After coming upon the idea of unconditional love, really opening to it, and embracing forgiveness I thought that I should be able to perfect that love in my heart and that it would eliminate anything that was not unconditional love from my heart and my thoughts. So, when I would find myself angry or bitter or in pain, I would pull out the cat o’ nine tails and beat myself senseless. The spiral into depression and self-flagellation nearly took my life more times than I would care to mention.

Along this journey, I should mention that I had several forays into the belly of love again, each time coming back feeling wounded and wondering why enough love was not able to heal everything. I wish I could tell you that there has been a happy ending and that I found and am now living with the “love of my life”. This has not been the case.

What I can tell you is that the most precious gift in all of the little forks in the road has been learning to let a wounding of the heart open a deeper space for love. I have learned to soften and open and find so blessed much joy in so many other aspects of my life, and I have come to peace with my solitude and communion with friends. I continue to learn to notice and release all that is not pure love. I continue to learn forgiveness of myself and others as we make our way through whatever is around the next bend.

I also continue to be curious about how I form my life and it forms me, what it is that attracts or repels me and why, what “stories” about my life that still, it seems, hold me hostage at times. I continue to have more questions than answers, and I am at peace with that.

I have recently become enamored and resonated with the writing of Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat, Pray, Love” and “Committed”. I recommend both works.

Bless us all as we walk on… J

Reply ↓
July 18, 2010 at 1:46 pm
Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~ Mary Oliver

Reply ↓
Don Shapiro Post author
July 18, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Thank you for sharing from your heart as well as the poem. Each of our paths through life is unique. You chose to take a journey to discover a path to unconditional love. While this clearly was not an easy journey for you, somehow you persevered and now have opened up to what has been inside of you all along. As you continue this adventure, you will discover more and more about who you really are…that which existed in you at the moment of conception.



Reply ↓
August 4, 2010 at 12:37 am
What a beautiful and heartwarming story. A great reminder that love in its purest form can move mountains and help us overcome great challenges. I have added this story to my FB page.
Thank you for sharing it so honestly!

Reply ↓
January 20, 2011 at 2:28 am

I do understand what you are talking about Don. It already happened to me. I loved someone who left me and hurt me terribly. We used to call each other’s ‘Soulmate’. I must say that I got really affected by what happened between us. There was a point that I can’t really recognized myself anymore. It felt like, I’m a plant and he is the vital nourishment that I need to survive. But he left me, so I felt something that I thought is worst than anything else. But despite that, i still love him. It’s almost four years since then but i can still feel the love. Whenever I see him, I only feel the love going more stronger. That’s why I would rather not see him. How can I explain it? He is my greatest strenght yet my greatest weakness. The thought of him and the energy of love within me keep me going in life. I’m terribly afraid of the saying “True love never dies” for how can i be happy if the one i love is not on my side. But then, when i searched the answer inside me, i know i’m happy for simply feeling the energy of love inside me. I don’t know how it happened. Very strange indeed. I have to force myself to think that it is like this because I’m still young. And my friends keep telling me that I should move on. Yes, I often tell them that I already moved on. not because I want to, but it is the thing that they want to hear from me. I am supposed to move on. Find another man who can replace him. But I just can’t go on in a day without thinking of him. It’s my source of strenght. It’s something that no other man, even my family and friends, can give. The thing is, I don’t have any communication with him! But the love keeps on burning. And, i agree with you. Love is more of an energy…energy that nourish my soul. It gives meaning to my existence. It is because of love that I struggle to grow and become better each day. Though we can’t be together, I’m often wondering how he is doing and hoping that he is find. And though I’m always saying that someday I will find somebody to replace him, I secretly hope that he will come back to me someday. I know these love will last, for how long I don’t know. But time will prove if it’s really True Love that i have for him.

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