I have come upon a magic time in my life where I hear and say those three special words from and to many people in my life. “I love you.” When I SAY the words my heart opens. When I HEAR the words my heart opens. My arms open wide to receive and give. There is nothing but wild sincerity in the action.

I remember in my youth when I was in eighth grade, about 14 years old, when my friends and I came to a place of free expression. We were fledging our families and reaching out for connection elsewhere. We were seeking independence and also acceptance amongst our peers. At that time, I probably wouldn’t have been able to count the number of times I gave hugs in one day. We were, literally, hug junkies. We hugged every time we greeted each other even if our last parting was 5 minutes ago. We hugged when someone said something funny or sweet or cute. We hugged before rushing back off to class. We started to play with those simple, yet so important three words, but that’s all we knew how to do, play.

When we said “I love you” we were testing the words out. We were asking a question rather than making a statement. “Do you love me?”

I remember that same group of childhood friends creating a group agreement that being “conceited” was the worst possible trait anyone could have. This polarization prevented us from ever looking inward to find love for fear we’d overindulge and become self-involved.

I moved the next year and was thrust into an entirely different culture full of strangers. The three words fell out of use and were only spoken to a boyfriend, in private. I spent the next decade exploring what those words triggered in me in an intimate relationship. Then I realized the real question was, “Do I love me?” After digging through the morass, clearing out the enchantments and pushing out the pity, I found that at the root of it all, yes, I do love me.

Since then the task has been to not let anything get in the way of that love, absolutely nothing. For those of you that know this path, you’ll know how easy it is to get pulled off course. Some days it comes easier to plague ourselves with guilt, judgment, and doubt than to stand in our truth.

The gift of it all is that thru self-love we can find universal love and then all that acceptance and embrace we have been seeking since our youth becomes limitless. Now I’m finding the fluid ability to open my heart and arms to brand new acquaintances, to co-workers, and to lifelong friends. I do not hesitate to share love because there is no boundary to it. I do not hesitate to receive love because I know it comes through my own filters of self-love and I am capable of navigating those.

I don’t know if this is a sign of the times or a sign of my time. Regardless, I would like to invite you to explore your relationship with those simple three words, “I love you.” If they’ve lost meaning or, worse, become a trigger for trauma, turn inward and make a commitment to traveling deep to the core of who you are. This path may take minutes, months or years, but don’t give up because beyond all the ways you tell yourself that there is no love, there is.