What is Love?
While working as an actress in Bollywood I noticed how love is hailed as ethereal, unique and special. Something that we spend a lifetime searching for, and if we’re lucky enough to find it, we need to grasp onto it and never let it go! There’s talk of soulmates, and the "one and only", but is there just one person that we can love? Is romantic love really something unique and magical? What is love all about? And how do we cultivate loving kindness towards ourselves and others? I contemplated my personal experiences of love and the following 5 insights arose:
1) Meditate and love arises for all beings
My daily Transcendental Meditation (TM) practice opened my heart so I had a visceral experience of unconditional love. It also helped me let go of resentments that were damaging my health. To learn TM visit www.tm.org. Other effortless meditation practices can also help us discover the love we have within us. In loving kindness meditations we use positive visualizations to send loving kindness towards a variety of beings. Loving kindness meditations, otherwise known as "metta meditations", are ancient. Metta meditations have recently been scientifically shown to have many health benefits, such as reducing migraines and chronic pain, slowing aging, increasing grey matter and producing positive emotions such as compassion. I have created a loving kindness metta meditation below for you to enjoy...
2) Love is a choice
There are many people we could love, but only some we chose to. Whether we are choosing a pet or a partner the process is similar. When choosing a pet cat we take home the one that triggers an emotional reaction within us. We may chose the affectionate cat, rather than the cat that scratches us. We may choose the cat with the "sad story" because we want to save it. These emotional triggers are unique and will depend on the psychological make-up of the person choosing. But once we make the decision, that cat becomes the primary object of our love, and we flow loving appreciation towards it. Sometimes the cat loves us back; sometimes it doesn’t. If our love is unconditional then it is irrelevant whether the cat reciprocates. In a way, love has nothing to do with the object. So you could say ‘I love you and it has nothing to do with you’.
3) Love is a state of appreciation
Once we chose an object to love (person, pet or friend) we simply enjoy appreciating it. We notice all the things we like about it, such as its presence, beauty and actions. When we see what we like in the object, we are "in love". When we see what we dislike in the object we "fall out of love". This is interesting, because everything in life contains duality. There are things we can like and dislike about everything: there are things we can like and dislike and like about our family, house, friends, partners, jobs, meals, days, situations and so on. This is the Yin and Yang, the lightness and darkness in existence. Our ability to love therefore is directly linked to our ability to live in a state of appreciation. We can notice when the mind becomes negatively biased, and gently do a U-Turn. Daily focusing on what we like, rather than dislike, shifts us into appreciation, so we can feel more love.
4) Love is now, let go of the past
It’s often easier to love a person at the beginning of a relationship because they are a blank canvas with no negative impressions. This is what happens in the "honeymoon period". The more time we spend with a person however, the more impressions are created, and not all of them are positive. We start recalling the past rather than seeing the person in front of us now. Living in the past can block love. A person could be here with us now, yet we are in the past. We could be remembering the time they said something we disliked or the days they didn’t do what they said they would. All the thousands of positive moments dissolve and we simply remembers the darkness. We see the one black brick in the wall. Love is the ability to allow both both lightness and darkness to exist in oneself and others. Nobody is 100 percent good, or 100 percent bad. When we chose to focus on the good, bliss grows and we become enlightened.
5) Love can take practice
Love is practicing the movement from darkness into light. Start seeing the goodness that lies at the core of all humans, underneath any irritating behaviors. Learn to goldmine; if you dig deep enough you will always find gold. Some people are easier to love, because the gold is on the surface. Other people are harder to love, because the gold is hidden...so we have to dig deeper to find it. The very act of searching and discovering positives expands our consciousness. The people who are not easy to love therefore become our greatest spiritual teachers. Be thankful for those you struggle to love, they help you evolve.
Sometimes learning to love oneself requires the most practice. When you are being harsh and unkind towards yourself remember the words of Buddha:
"You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserves your love and affection.”
In one part of the metta meditation we slowly place the hand on the heart and repeat:
'May I be well...
May I be happy...
May I be free from suffering'.
Lots of love x
By Aruna Shields (CHP, MBCT) Therapist, Meditation Teacher and Mentor