Love can move mountains and spark fireworks. It can remove suffering and bestow utter bliss. It’s the ultimate of positive experiences. It’s what stories are made of and what gives life. Yet there’s a huge misunderstanding of what love is and at the same time we assume it’s meaning is universal (no wonder the topic of love can be so frustrating!). This post is about exploring the true meanings of love so we may have a better understanding of our relationships.
At the core of it all, our relationships are sustained by love. This is my attempt to dissect the components of love, what keeps our relationships alive, and what can make the world a harmonious ball of relationships, or simply put, what can make this world a better place – love!
The biggest misconception
In popular references or media, love is often portrayed as a romantic relationship defined by passion and affection. Certainly for me, I thought my first experience of love was when I met my husband. Then I had my son, and my definition of love just expanded even more. Since then, I’ve had to take a deep look at what love meant, because surely I wondered, for such a beautiful thing, it should be experienced and shared by all, all the time… No?
I definitely think there’s a lot of hard wired beliefs that keep us from experiencing true love all the time, and I’ll get into those blockages first before getting into the true meanings of love.
Tearing down those walls
Love comes from the heart rather than the head. No brainer, right? But most of us aren’t aware that the heart is easily susceptible to blockages and tears. The heart needs the head to keep it clean and pure so that the love going in and out of it is also kept clean and pure. But if the head is too busy battling with itself and its shadows, the only response the heart can do is put up walls, leading to blockages and tears.
An example of this is the Ego, which is an image of oneself the head conjured up, accurate or not. Our heads are also usually busy with the ego. It’s made up of titles, expectations, and limitations, ‘I did this so I deserve this’, or ‘I’m the wife/father/boss/server/etc so things should be accordingly’. So when the head is busy in this line of thinking when coming into contact with others, the heart will only respond with a love that’s been blocked with walls. And to make it worse, the Ego also prevents the heart from receiving any love at all because of all those walls. Tears happen when the beautiful love the heart has seeps out in the wrong way. Examples are attachments or love that which is conditional, i.e./ ‘I love you as my child/spouse if you do as I wish’.
As you can see, to be engaged in true love, our heads need to pay full attention. It’s the head that can keep those walls from going up and tear those walls down. Love itself is not missing, it’s always been carried in our hearts all along.
Resuscitating a broken heart
It’s safe to say that a lot of us have broken hearts. Only a handful of great individuals have proven themselves to have the cleanest of hearts, Mother Theresa and Dadi Janki, to name a few. So how do we keep our hearts clean of blockages? It’s a simple 2 step process.
Firstly, the head needs to constantly check-in. Building up walls in and around the heart is so innately hardwired, it can seem like a natural defense mechanism. But it’s NOT. Walls in and around the heart just leads to cardiac arrest, literally and figuratively. So our heads should constantly check in on what the heart is feeling. We need to become detached observers. Sure you can consult with a third party to do this, like a friend or therapist or life coach or guru, but the easiest way is to practice meditation. Meditation is a great form of self counseling and practicing honesty.
The second step, and this is where the action happens, is to empower our hearts to keep those walls from going up and to tear down any existing walls – even from a traumatic experience. How to empower the heart? The heart is most powerful when it’s in a state of innocence, peace, happiness, and truth. The only way for the heart to experience these is when the head is fully engaged with the heart, not with the ego or other shadows that lurk in the subconscious. More on this second step later, better illustrated with examples.
Finally, what IS love exactly?
Now that we know where love comes from and what keeps it from naturally flowing in and out, what exactly is it? Love is like the life giving blood that goes in and out of our hearts. Love is that sustainable connection between people, and the more empowered we are with innocence, peace, happiness, and truth, the more powerful the flow of love is and the longer it can last the test of time. Since love is the basis for connection between people, then its core equivalent in relationships is friendship. This means that friendship is the most basic unit of love.
Enough with philosophy, give me an example!
The romantic type of love is a common example of what true love can be. When two individuals first fall head over heels with each other, there is a natural innocence to it. They’re thinking, ‘I’ve never met anyone like you’. It’s even better when either individuals have already stabilized themselves in their own peace and happiness, i.e./ they have their own lives and they’re comfortably independent. Finally, the romance is made ‘official’ when the two are honest with each other and have gained each other’s trust, completing the fourth component of love, which is truth.
Another example is the love between a parent and newborn baby. The innocence, peace, happiness, and truth in such a bond are so strong even on a biological, physical level. A lot of the times, such bond can even demonstrate what is known as an unconditional love. Such love is of the utmost desirable state, like a flawless diamond. If you can imagine a heart sparkling like a diamond – that’s what unconditional love looks like.
BUT (!!) these two examples of love at its best can also be examples of love at its worst. In the romantic type of love, it can quickly run out of its innocence especially when either individual gets caught up in their roles and expectations. Even worse when they depend on each other for their peace and happiness. And the final blow and jab to the heart is when all the trust is gone (more about marriage here). Same thing can happen to a parent and child, because as the child grows into an adult, the dynamics are no longer with a helpless, cute, little newborn, and that sparkling type of unconditional love becomes a relationship full of cracks. This is exactly why childhood trauma can be one of the hardest things to get over and why child rearing can predict the heart’s disposition as an adult.
Knowing what love is, we can start to rebuild
Finally, how do we keep our relationships a free flowing exchange of love and how can we experience that highest attainable form of unconditional love? It’s going back to that simple two-step process of constantly keeping our hearts clear of walls. Let our minds regularly become the detached observer and constantly check if the ego or attachments are creeping up, and let our minds empower our hearts with innocence, peace, happiness and truth.
Innocence can only be maintained in relationships if we’re constantly meeting the other person like it’s a new encounter. This means constantly letting go of the past and not having preconceived notions of the other. This can be a big challenge for some and this is exactly why the love in marriages can quickly turn into a divorce. If your spouse screwed up big time and you want love to flourish the next day, you better be able to forgive and see them as your friend rather than foe (more on how to forgive here). Oftentimes, this is confused as maintaining the novelty in relationships, like keeping the sex interesting or doing fun new things together. On the surface, these can be helpful, but fundamentally, it’s simply maintaining the purity in the relationship by always being able to look at the other person with a fresh new set of lenses, untainted by the past.
Another component of love, often overlooked, is that of truth. Trust can be fragile yet so powerful, so the heart guards this fiercely. How can the head make sure the heart isn’t locking up its ability to trust behind steel-reinforced-concrete-vault-doors? Our minds need to simply maintain its faith. It could be faith that this other person is in my life for a reason or that they’re teaching me something, or faith that my friendship with this person will bear fruit. Faith in positivity is what empowers the heart to trust others, and more importantly, it’s what allows others to trust in you.
In the saying, ‘peace, love, and happiness’ – you can see that love is flanked on either side by peace and happiness. Love cannot stand on its own without peace and happiness. An individual must identify with their own experiences of peace and happiness first before they can even begin to share a sustainable, unconditional form of love (for more on ‘peace, love & happiness, check out this).
It would be nice to think that love makes the world go around. But right now, the world seems to be spiraling on a dangerously tilted path. If we want to make the world a better place in terms of our relationships with each other and with nature, we need to start within our hearts. If the 2 step process of empowering our hearts can seem like a lot of work, there is also a shortcut way: to connect our hearts with an unconditional form of love from a higher being, imagined or not (more on spirituality here). In such way, we are cultivating faith in an unconditional source of love, giving our hearts all the power it needs to receive and give the same love to others. When the head is fully engaged in such service of the heart, miracles happen. Mother Theresa and Dadi Janki have such faith that has proven unconditional love is out there, and the world right now can really use more of these diamond hearts. Let’s start repairing our own hearts and make them shine just as bright.
Left: Mother Theresa, the only living Saint whose humanitarian aid is legendary. Right: Dadi Janki, a great spiritual leader who looks after 8,000+ meditation centers around the world and continues to inspire with her love and wisdom today at the age of 100 years.