Lessons in LOVE (2014, inspired by Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat’s LOVE lecture)
The years have seen my definition of LOVE change time and time again. On countless occasions, especially during the last year, I have been left scratching my head and sent back to the drawing board. Each time with another realization of exactly how inadequate and limited my understanding of that little thing called LOVE really is. And it doesn’t stop!
As kids we were painted this ridiculous fairytale mirage that we are conditioned to chase. By its very nature a mirage can never be caught. It is just an illusion. Yet at every turn it is reinforced. Movies. Ads. Peers. Social media. After 17 years’ experience in a relationship I can honestly say that we just make it up as we go along. That’s what worked for us. Go with what feels right. Follow your instinct. Take each moment as it comes. Do what makes you happy. Don’t try and seek anyone’s approval. Ignore what your tribe or anyone in it dictates. Granted, those last two are easily said by someone who has somewhat sidestepped society.
“LOVE is playfulness, not a behavior; there are no rules.” Sahajananda
Sanskrit has 96 words for LOVE. English has only one. Yet there are so many nuances. So many faces. Eskimos have plenty of words for snow because it’s a matter of life and death. No wonder we’re almost on the brink of starvation when it comes to LOVE.
Some useful definitions that lead me to LOVE’s rough co-ordinates are: Oneness. Authenticity. Bliss. Wonderment. Ego-lessness. Togetherness. Magneticism. Devotion. Purity. Trust. Deep appreciation and affection, and each of you reading will have your personal favourites to add.
The challenge with trying to define any-thing though is that one puts it in a box. The thing becomes the definition. But in reality the label we choose is merely the finger pointing to the moon. The word “moon” will never BE the moon. And it’s so easy to get fixated on a word. On the finger. And totally ignore the moon itself. The same thing goes for the word “God”, but that’s a conversation for another essay.
So what do we do instead? We tack on a descriptor of sorts. Self-Love. Divine LOVE. Family LOVE. Romantic LOVE. Sexual LOVE. Friend LOVE. Community LOVE. The LOVE of a lake. Of a teacher. Of a place. Of nature. Of animals. Of the elements. Of food. Of adventure. Of Life! Any sort of direction that will get us closer to that mystical place. Or at least let us know that we are there.
“Your task is not to seek for LOVE, but merely to seek and find the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Rumi
The irony is that we don’t need to go looking for LOVE. Another lesson is that we have already arrived. In fact, we have always been there. We struggle to see it because the windscreen of life is fogged up with preconceptions, checklists, judgements, resentment, resistance, ingratitude, fears and anxieties. These are all illusory barriers that we learned over a lifetime, each one designed to protect our fragile selves. If we can at least temporarily ignore them, that’s when we taste LOVE. And it’s oh so-deeleecious!
We realize that we are LOVE. We just need to remember. We just need to surrender to it. LOVE and indeed surrender, takes courage despite past hurts. It means making oneself vulnerable. It means opening one’s heart nice and wide. Keeping it that way. Making room for more.
When Ramana Maharshi, the great sage of non-duality, was asked “How should we treat others?”, his response was “There are no others”.
Have you ever looked at your arm and said: “I don’t LOVE you, arm! Never did, never will!” Could it be that this statement is as ridiculous as saying that to another person? We perceive others to be apart from us. Our vision creates that division. But separation is an illusion. Stay with me while we ponder what exactly it is that appears to separate us. Did you “space”? It is scientifically proven that each atom is made up of more space than matter. By extrapolation, our own bodies are made up of more space than matter.
Look up at the night sky and notice the vast space between you, the moon and the stars, and indeed, between the stars themselves. During meditation I have momentarily perceived my true being resonates more with that space than the stuff in it. Our very essence is space. We all constantly breathe the same air, inhaling what the other has exhaled and vice versa, and some combination of the two. There is no separation there. But these are things that we do not see. Food for thought is that “breath” in a few languages (Hebrew and German included) means “spirit”. So I ask you, with tears in my eyes, how separate are we really?
Suddenly the concept of unconditional LOVE becomes almost conceivable.
“Between the lover and the Beloved there must be no veil. Thou thyself art thine own veil. Hafiz, get out of the way!” Hafiz
I am also learning what LOVE is NOT. It’s NOT neediness. It’s NOT spoiling each rotten with gifts. It’s NOT hugs and kisses. Although these things are LOVELY, they do not define LOVE.
LOVE is also NOT pain-free. I recently said to a dear friend: “I LOVE you. I want you to be happier.” Upon further reflection I remembered that some of life’s biggest lessons come wrapped up in suffering. After all it is often only when crisis comes that we revisit the big questions of Life. And while happiness is a great wish to have for someone, we all know that life is not always roses. There are thorns. We bleed. We learn. We forgive. We understand. We move on. We LOVE again. And so the cycle continues, but always with the backdrop of LOVE.
“LOVE is best when mixed with anguish. In our town, we won’t call you a Lover if you escape the pain. Look for LOVE in this way, welcome it to your soul, and watch your spirit fly away in ecstasy.” Rumi
The Spanish phrase for ‘I LOVE you” is very revealing. “Te quiero” literally translates as “I want you.” A huge lesson for me has been that LOVE is NOT ownership or attachment. Conceptually I have known this for a while but it only really sunk into my heart and became a part of my being after some extended time in silence. The realisation that while I can refer to MY friend, MY partner, MY parents, MY pet; I don’t really own them. It is also truly realizing that if I were to lose any of these, at first it would a shock to the system but I would recover and genuinely be ok. After all, they weren’t really mine to begin with. And the LOVE I feel for them wouldn’t suddenly vanish into thin air. LOVE in at least one of its nuances shall remain. At the very least, there’s self-love and Divine LOVE which I have come to realise is one and the same thing and absolutely under my control.
“Life is LOVE and LOVE is life.” Nisargadatta Maharaj
The beautiful lesson I have the grace to learn day in and day out is that when you wear your LOVE-goggles – always aspiring to see the LOVE in everyone, everything and every situation – LOVE is reflected right back to you!
You have LOVE inside you. If you let it out, you change the world around you.
In the absence of a one-size-fits-all definition, I concede that in a month, if not less, I will be reviewing these lessons. LOVE is simply ineffable. So for now I accept that the best use of my energy is to just go with the Flow and simply use the word “LOVE” more freely. In every moment that I feel it, I will express it. That’s my new daily practice. And even though no single label can do it justice, we can’t deny that we know it when we feel it.
I LOVE YOU, AND YOU, AND YOU, AND YES, YOU TOO!