Love is the most talked about, written about, sung about, cinematized, and expressed human emotion of all time.
However, when we ask, only a fraction of people have a clear definition of what love means to them. Despite its importance to the human condition, the emotion and act of love still remains elusive and intangible to most of us.
Three Modern Definitions
Before we explore the spiritual approach, I would like to review three different modern definitions of love.
a) Helen Fisher has studied the brain in relation to love, both brain waves and chemistry, and has uncovered three very distinct patterns that people equate with love. One is the sexual attraction that people call love, another is the romantic element that most people recognize as love, and the third is a deeper pattern related to long-lasting commitment and relationships.
b) Scott Peck defined love as the ability to give time, energy and valuables to another person, or yourself, to help that person grow and evolve. He realized that his definition would fall short but his work is extremely helpful when one is trying to understand love. He also said that love was not just an emotion but that it required action to be validated as real love.
c) Erich Fromm defined love as an art form. Just like a theatrical, musical or visual artist must continually train and discipline his talents, so we must all train and discipline our ability to love. Fromm maintains the point of view that even though the seeds of love are given to all of us, only a few of us ever nurture them to the point of fruition or mastery.
Magnify Human Love
A spiritual approach would be to use the positive emotions associated with human love to rise above our lower emotional tendencies and allow love to propel us in the direction of self-awareness and unity with the divine (by whatever name we call it).
Spiritual practitioners can use the tendencies of human love, magnify them and see love reflected in all of creation, using love to merge with the Universal Consciousness.
A macrocosmic spiritual approach to love differs from the microcosmic internal approach to enlightenment.
Instead of delving into the depths of our own being to reach Oneness, the spiritual path of love encourages us to expand a loving consciousness and merge with the macrocosmic universe.
Just as all the sides of a pyramid eventually lead to one peak, both the macrocosmic approach of merging with the infinite (∞) and the microcosmic approach of reverting to nothingness (0) lead to the state of enlightenment (0 = ∞).
Love is Not Mechanical
For love to deepen, grow and evolve into its divine state, a spiritual devotee must practice constant awareness and avoid mechanical repetition.
Projecting and strengthening the feeling of love within must take precedence over all practices or religious ceremonies.
A practice is only a means, not an end in itself. If it makes the practitioner narrow-minded, judgmental, dogmatic or constricted in any way, then the essence of the practice has been lost.
If you can use the love you already feel, propel the emotion, strengthen it and expand it to include ever-wider circles of friends, including brothers and sisters of different faiths and nationalities, finding the pinnacle in creation itself, then you are progressing in the direction of spiritual love.
See the Divine Spark in Everything
Namaste, a well-known Vedantic greeting, means: “I honor the divine spark within you.” It simply acknowledges that besides the difference of our material shells and mental modifications, our essence is the same. We are all drops of water in the universal ocean of consciousness.
This idea rhymes perfectly with modern physics, the idea that everything is basically made up of the same energy, that we are all part of one cosmic ocean.
Another Vedantic phrase says: “Lift the veil and behold me everywhere.” It refers to the idea that the material universe is indeed an illusion, a dance of light and shadows, and that the true essence of things is always the same, even though it goes by many names, such as the Divine, Supreme Consciousness, God, or the One without a Second.
When You’re Not Feeling Love
I am (painfully) aware of the day-to-day human imperfections that affect most of us in some way or another. Expanding love and seeing the divine spark in everyone are practices that require focused attention and constant awareness. It is highly unlikely, however much we would like to achieve these on a constant basis, that we can hold love in our hearts and minds all the time.
And yet, those of us who are on the path towards spiritual love can train ourselves to act lovingly even when we do not feel like it.
This doesn’t mean that we have to smile and be nice to everyone all the time; it simply means that we can act in a loving and caring way towards those who are currently within our circle of love (which is ever expanding – from us to our family, friends, society, etc.).
Parenting is a perfect example of this. However much a parent wants to feel love towards his or her children all the time, the reality is that children can strain the nerves and act in ways that make parents not feel loving all the time. But even if parents don’t feel love (though most do most of the time) they still manage to act lovingly and take care of their children.
This is mental and emotional “weightlifting” at its best: When you don’t feel the love – act lovingly anyway.
The Paradoxical Commandments
The Paradoxical Commandments, originally written by Dr. Kent M. Keith in 1968, can inspire us to practice a virtuous life and act lovingly The version below was rewritten and credited to Mother Teresa and was painted on a wall of her home for children in Calcutta.
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered
Forgive them anyway
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives
Be kind anyway
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you
Be honest and sincere anyway
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous
Be happy anyway
The good you do today, will often be forgotten
Do good anyway
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough
Give your best anyway
In the final analysis, it is between you and God
It was never between you and them anyway
Interfaith Minister & Author
Picture: Pexels.com CC0 License
Curated from my book, Living in the Spirit of Yoga (2010)