When you think of love, you can probably remember hearing some of your favorite love songs sung by what sounded like love-sick musicians, or remember hearing the utterances of a sweet poem gushing about the emotional ups and downs associated with the experience of love.
The subject tonight is Love
And for tomorrow night as well,
As a matter of fact
I know of no better topic
For us to discuss
Until we all Die!
It seems as if our human culture has a love affair and preoccupation with love, as evidenced by the limitless number of books written on the subject; love questionnaires and quizzes found in magazines and newspapers; numerous theatrical productions, television shows, and award-winning movies honing in on the nature of love, and one’s trials and tribulations while attempting to pursue or maintain loving relationships.
So what is this thing called Love? Why is it such a big deal? Is it that important? Can love help you gain more traction in your spiritual practice? Let’s explore LOVE.
Love has been studied in-depth by ancient Greece’s historical explorations, which break love down in many specific categories. Eros, is the erotic love two lovers feel for each other in the beginning of a new relationship. Eros is characterized by increased energy levels, nervous stomachs, warm-fuzzies, decreased need for sleep and food, higher brain dopamine levels (the feel-good brain chemical), and the strong sensual passion/lust a couple enjoys during their budding romance.
During the eros stage, both people are riding on a feel-good wave, upon which both lovers develop idealist and unrealistic views about each other. Because it can only thrive within this illusory world, eros is usually short-lived. As soon as one’s beloved says any hurtful words or behaves in a way that is inconsistent with these assumed illusions, this love quickly evaporates. Although eros is exhilarating, because it is dependent on perceptions, circumstances and conditions lining up a certain way, it is not true or lasting love. Unfortunately, many adults believe eros is true love and they get stuck in the pattern of ending eros-free relationships in search of the next new eros high! It’s kind of like watching a dog chase its tail, and you realize the poor pooch is never going to catch it!
Definition of Love: Nature’s way of tricking people into reproducing. – Urban Dictionary
Philia, is the greek delineation for the brotherly love one has for buddies, best friends and the fellowship one feels for other people one may enjoy. Unfortunately, this love is also not reliable, for it is also held captive by the shifting sands of the situation. This love also wanes and is easily severed due to time, distance, harsh words, misunderstandings, etc… Therefore, philia is also not true love.
But, according to the Greek’s mastery on the subject of love, Agape is its version of true love. It is not a knee-jerk reactive love, but a love that exists when one makes a decision to proactively seek someone else’s well-being. It is a committed love that is born from a conscious choice one makes to support another human being unconditionally. Agape is true love – it is not limited to or held hostage by its environment or anyone’s perceptions. Jesus exemplified his boundless nature of seeking the well-being of others, when he taught his disciples that “we should agape our enemies”.
Buddhism’s version of love – Metta, mirrors agape, in that it is characterized by freedom, courage, and unconditional acceptance. At its core, Buddhist love is simply “wanting others to be happy”. Any love that involves clinging, lust, confusion, being needy, fear, controlling, manipulation or any other expressions of limitation or bondage is not considered true love or metta.
Where Does Love Come From?
According to Confucius, love is our natural birthright. Brain science and Human Behavioral Psychology confer, by saying that we are hard-wired for love. It is well-known that newborns will not survive without the loving touch of a care giver. Babies who do not receive a sufficient amount of nurturing love develop destructive attachment disorders and other social/emotional problems, while babies who receive regular loving touch and attention more readily thrive.
Pregnant mothers’ bodies release specific hormones and endorphins during childbirth that actually increase their tendencies to love their newborns more deeply, and babies are programmed even before childbirth to have a loving connection with their mothers.
To be brave is to love someone unconditionally, without expecting anything in return. To just give. This takes courage, because we don’t want to fall on our faces or leave ourselves open to hurt.” – Madonna
Bring More Love to Your Life
If one wants to consciously cultivate more true love in one’s life, the first thing one needs to do, is to strengthen the love one feels towards oneself.
If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. You will not be able to love others. If you have no compassion for yourself, then you are not able of developing compassion for others. – The Dalai Lama
There are many ways to increase self-love. Firstly, you can start by: taking great care of your body, eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, getting sufficient sleep and feeding your soul with an uplifting and positive environment. Also, being a generous and caring person in your life and towards others goes a very long way in developing strong self-love. Incorporating a loving-kindness meditation practice miraculously boosts your internal sense of love for yourself and others! Regularly remind yourself of your positive strengths and qualities, and bask in the miracle – which is YOU!
Even though being loving with others seems as though it would be an easy, no-brainer, many of us experience difficulties around not being able to open up to being vulnerable or deeply loving to other beings. Remember that being loving is our innate birthright – it is the ground upon which we naturally walk. Anything else, we have picked up or made up along the way, like a bad rash! Allowing our love to shine through requires a great deal of letting go – letting go of any of the made-up perceptions, beliefs or historical baggage that are hindering us from opening to our true, loving nature! Sometimes, those of us who have been exposed to overly traumatic life circumstances may choose to get the help of a licensed professional therapist. In these cases, the therapist can help us navigate through devastating psychological road blocks, while also supporting and overseeing our letting go process.
The Loving Relationship
While it can seem easy expressing love towards our favorite friends and family members, it can be a great deal more challenging with our most intimate relationships – partners, family, and/or co-workers, with whom we have to relate to regularly in a shared home or work environment. This is where the rubber meets the road – where our true daily practice and hard work can take off and pay off!
Whether we are conscious of it or not, difficulties in these intimate relationships are usually preceded by our having unrealistic expectations of, agendas for, and attachments to the people in our closest relationships. In other words, we place ourselves and these persons in our own personally constructed conceptual boxes, while we assume and expect everyone to behave according to these preconceptions – all, without honestly communicating any of our expectations beforehand! Then, when the person in our life does not act according to our preconceived notions, we react negatively: get frustrated, angry, hurt, act out passively aggressively or aggressively, etc. Most of us have gotten stuck in this relationship death trap cycle, and can see how it causes confusion and hurt. Although it is a regular, challenging practice, it is so important that we constantly inquire within to see if we are placing ourselves and the people we love in secret mental boxes. If we are, we need to give up and let go of our unrealistic expectations, agendas and attachments.
In order to improve our loving relationships, it is necessary to develop relationships skills, which include:
- deep listening to others in our lives (really hearing what they are saying without interrupting),
- radical honesty (requires being honest with ourselves and speaking our truth with compassion),
- good communication skills (take a compassionate communication class),
- patience (breathe and trust),
- compassion (getting to really know and understand the other person’s suffering),
- willingness to be vulnerable, wrong and imperfect (Guess what? No one is perfect!),
- & a regular metta or loving kindess practice (helps you further develop agape – this true, unconditional love for all beings).
Increasing love in one’s life requires courage and is an ongoing process that requires regular daily commitment, effort, and practice. But while doing so, you will feel better about yourself for living in alignment with your true nature, and your spiritual practice will grow to greater heights of experiential understanding and freedom. As you offer your love generously, you will be amazed at how your offerings positively impact your own life, and other people’s lives in beautiful and awe-inspiring ways. The fruits you will bear from this process will be sweet, delicious and limitless!