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I’ve Learned to Love in Layers


I came into this world with a head full of hair and a heart full of joy. My parents said I was a happy baby, busy, chatty, full of smiles. I enjoyed dancing and hanging out with adults and I had a propensity to lie about my age. I always wanted to be older and couldn’t wait to be a grown up.

I came into this world with a heart full of joy and I loved every minute of being alive. Somewhere along the line I had to start building walls around my heart of joy. They became attached to my energy center and kept me protected from the outside world. The problem with building walls is that you don’t just keep out the bad, you keep out everything. After years of self sabotaging and trying to medicate my pain I eventually had to break myself open in order to continue living.

It has taken years to slough off the layers of protection so that I could get back to this business of being joyful. The good news is I made it! I’m here! It’s truly never too late to begin to open to the light of who you really are. Never too late.

I want to live in joy and a big part of dwelling in that vibration is learning to love on a deeper level.

When I say, I’ve learned to love in layers I’m talking about each wall I had to knock down, or have knocked down, in order to get a sense of what love means. With every layer that dissolved, some with ease and others with immense discomfort, I discovered a new depth to love.

Learning to love in layers has asked me time and time again to practice loving rather than simply professing love. There is a major difference between telling someone you love them and acting like you love them. I’ve always been good with words and dishing out I Love Yous has never been much of an issue. On the flip side, out in the field of life, the practice of loving has been intensely difficult. My story of learning to love has been years in the making and to be honest I feel like I am just beginning to scratch the surface.

I consider myself a bit of an academic. I realize that might sound strange given how I’ve positioned myself as a guide and teacher but it’s actually a pretty big part of who I am and how I identified for years. I’ve been a voracious reader since I learned the alphabet. I completed every summer reading contest at our local library and have always preferred to fall asleep with a good book instead of a droning TV.

I studied love for over a decade. I sat with some of the leading love experts in our culture. I taught classes and a prestigious art residency on the role of love in contemporary art. I published a magazine about love, stood on many a street corner in busy US cities asking strangers how they defined love, and logged countless hours working on love related art projects. You could even say, and it wouldn’t be a stretch at all, that my current healing practices and classes are all about love. The difference in my work today is that it is about how we experience, give and receive love and less about quoting scholars and creating definitions. Instead of focusing on love related projects outside myself, I turned my life into an experiment on what it means to live in love.

It’s taken me many years to recognize that love is energy and like any other form of energy love can be exchanged. In order to get more love we have to give more. In order to receive more love we have to give more. What I have come to understand through direct experience is that love is available to us at all times, all we have to do is be willing to notice its presence.

It sounds easy enough in theory to simply be aware that love is an energy that you have access to at all times. In reality this is can be a challenging practice especially if one of our go-to modes of operation is in the vein of unworthiness. Feeling like we’re not enough leads to a lack of love in all directions. When you’re operating at a deficit chances are you’re looking for love outside of yourself. No matter how much love you manage to get from all the reaching, seeking and grabbing, it will never be satisfying. You will always want more.

This lack of love and feelings of unworthiness are the basis for all addictions and I’m not just talking about alcohol and drugs. Anything you use to check out or numb your feelings is something you should further examine. Addiction is a huge part of our lives as individuals and as a society. It’s imperative you get a handle on the places you feel unworthy and do the work you need to do to open yourself to love. This is the remedy for true healing.

Learning to love in layers has meant faking it until I make it in pretty much all areas. Most of my life I didn’t feel worthy of anything so I was one of the reaching people on the constant hunt for the next thing to make me feel better. I got into relationships thinking people would fill up the emptiness I felt inside. I created project after project about love hoping it would bring me closer to feeling whole. I drowned my sadness and grief around not being able to receive love in a sea of internet research and Amazon shopping sprees.

What I learned through all of the seeking is that if I really wanted love in my life I had to start with myself. This was the first layer: self love.

I started this blog nearly five years ago. My first few years writing posts were all about the small actions I took on a consistent basis to teach myself how to love. As I mentioned earlier, I built some very thick walls around my heart and they didn’t just disappear overnight. I had to work. I had to make self love a daily practice even on the days I didn’t feel worthy or deserving of sweetness. I had to act as if and the feelings began to follow.

So often I hear clients tell me they want to know the outcome before they take the risk. I can totally relate to this as it’s how I’ve felt much of my life. When it came to practicing self love I wanted to feel worthy before I started. The real practice became taking that step into the unknown and attempting to love myself through the discomfort and fear.

I’m still fine tuning the self love layer and probably will be for the rest of my life. I’ve let go of the notion of needing perfection and am steadily enjoying the ride of opening my heart to being curious each day. When I am willing to approach self love with a sense of tenderness and wonder I remember I came into this world with a heart full of joy and it’s much easier to access that truth.

The second layer of love I am working with is giving more. In the past my exchange with love was off because I only gave to others and didn’t give to myself. Now that I’ve been practicing loving myself for some years I am learning to give more love to everyone in my life. This has been such a healing practice. I cannot even tell you how much my family relationships have shifted in such a short period of time by simply loving them more. It’s really blowing my mind and has invited me to question so much of what I believed about love in the past.

And the third layer of love I am practicing with is letting love flow back to me. This piece is what completes the energy circle of love and in some ways has been the most challenging part of the exchange. Over the years I have developed some very useful tools for loving myself and sharing more of my love (from a place of abundance versus a place of lack/addiction) with the people in my life. Now that I am choosing to call in more joy, I have seen that in order for that to fully manifest, I have to be willing to take in the love that flows through my life on a daily basis.

I've Learned To Love in Layers by Ashley Neese

The interesting awareness that came to light over the New Year was that there was a lingering layer of unworthiness in my energy field that I’ve needed to clear in order to receive more love in my life. There was a block, I felt it with my family, especially my parents, I felt it with Jason and whenever someone would try to give me love there was a hesitancy in my energy, the block that wouldn’t let the love in entirely. Just a little percentage could come through.

Today much of my work has been to clear this deeper level of unworthiness so that I can completely accept the beauty, magic, and love in my life. Clearing the energy has meant being willing to get dirty and explore all of the ways I deflect attention and love, shrug it off like it’s no big deal, and feel like I owe someone something if they love me. All of those examples reflect a level of unworthiness that has taken me a while to unpack and call out. Being able to explore the depth of my unworthiness to this degree has helped me clear it quickly. It’s amazing how fast we can process and heal when we’re able to pinpoint the root cause of our pain and all of the ways we trick ourselves into believing it’s more surface than it is.

Since I have done the work of going within and investigating the snags in my ability to fully receive love everything is changing. Right before my eyes and in the middle of the grief I am experiencing from the recent transitions in my life, I am completing the energy exchange with love and it is opening my heart wider than I ever imagined possible.

For the first time in my life I have let people love me and been able to take it in. Just writing this brings tears of tremendous joy to my eyes. For those of you that know me and have been walking side by side on this journey with me, this feels like such a big deal. And I am going to say that again because I’m standing at a huge crossroads right now and I just took one giant step towards taking a bigger stand for myself, my capacity to love and my ability to be of greater service to the world. This is a really big deal.

Learning to love in layers has been an incredible journey of the heart. Each day I feel closer and closer to the little girl that came into this world with a head full of hair and a heart full of joy. I start my mornings with a fresh pot of tea and a good dose of curiosity, asking the universe to reveal what I need to know and support me to keep my heart open no matter what.

What I have discovered on my path is that it’s up to me to keep the walls down. I’ve worked tirelessly to learn to connect and love in ways that lift my spirit and give my life meaning. At the end of the day the true practice of loving lives in the heart of being thankful for every breath, grateful for the opportunities to share my joy with the world, and freely take in the love that is coming my way.

No matter where we come from or what protection we have to put in place to survive, it is never too late to begin the practice of loving ourselves and opening our hearts to exchanging love each day. There is nothing easy about learning to love, but it can be as fun and joyful as we choose.

All my heart.


Photos by Lani Trock


  • Chiara

    Mind, blow. Heart, busted open. This was a really powerful and beautiful post. So powerful and beautiful, in fact, that any word I could try to use to describe the love and wisdom it carries in it would inevitably fall short and sound flat. Thank you for your words. For your heart. For your immense courage. You make taking life’s big, personal risks all the more worth it. xo

    • ashley

      Hi dear! It is so wonderful to hear from you here. Your words are deeply touching and gracious. Thank you for taking the time to write, it means a great deal to me. I think of you often and am wishing you a beautiful week. Here’s to keeping our hearts open wide. Lots of love. xoa

  • Chiara


  • Natalie

    Just read this for the second time today and I have a feeling this is a post I will come back to again and again – because this post is EVERYTHING! Thank you for sharing! My heart is bursting with love and gratitude for this life and people like you <3

    • ashley

      Hello dear Natalie,
      I am very happy to hear this post is supporting you! That makes my day. Thank you so much for taking the time to let me know and share your love and light! Thinking of you this evening and sending love. Grateful we are on this journey together. Lots of love. xoa

  • I feel like everything you write i can relate to esp. this – “There is a major difference between telling someone you love them and acting like you love them.” I’ve always felt a ‘holding back’ on my own part when giving love to others and always wanted to be someone who so easily gave love. Sometimes all it takes is shining a light on it and i feel like this post did just that. Thank you for shining the light!! Peace be with you :)

    • ashley

      Hi Kelly,
      It is wonderful to hear from you. I completely relate to that feeling of holding back. I am so glad this post shined some light on that for you! I look forward to hearing more about your journey giving even more love. Big hugs and wishes for a beautiful week ahead. xoa

  • […] Never be scared to explore your killer combination. You are more than people say you are! Strength is attained through practice. A rainbow cake is more delicious for the variety of flavours it offers! Go on, love your layers. […]

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