By Suma Varughese
Love is the ultimate nature of the universe, for God, they say, is love. Without love we sicken and die, physically, mentally and emotionally. How then can we harness the forces of love to nurture our lives? Come, walk
There’s no story more satisfying than a love story. All of us have a store of such stories gleaned by tales told to us by grandmothers and mothers, from books, overheard on the road, or experienced firsthand. You can call it first-aid for the soul, for often, it is this that gives us the strength to carry on against all odds, to inject fresh energy, determination and hope into the enterprise of living. For these stories sum up the glory of the living spirit, they illustrate the times when we are most like God, embody the promise of life and remind us time and again that love is the force that creates and sustains the universe.
Love stories don’t necessarily revolve around a boy and a girl. They could well tell of a parent and child, of siblings, of total strangers, of animals and of animal and man, even plant and man. Laila and Majnu, Romeo and Juliet, yes, but also, Beauty and the Beast, the Buddha and Angulimal, the good Samaritan, Sidney Carton, Humayun taking on Akbar’s fatal disease. There are tales of mothers and fathers sacrificing themselves for their children, of the devotion between mates, of dogs dying besides their owner’s graves.
Hear then a love story, as related by Jack Kornfield in his book, A Path With Heart.
There is a tribe in east Africa in which the art of true intimacy is fostered even before birth. In this tribe, the birth date of a child is not counted from the day of its physical birth nor even from the day of conception as in other village cultures. For this tribe the birth date comes the first time the child is a thought in its mother’s mind. Aware of her intention to conceive a child with a particular father, the mother then goes off to sit alone under a tree.
There she sits and listens until she can hear the song of the child that she hopes to conceive. Once she has heard it, she returns to her village and teaches it to the father so that they can sing it together as they make love, inviting the child to join them.
After the child is conceived, she sings it to the baby in her womb. Then she teaches it to the old women and midwives of the village, so that throughout the labour and at the miraculous moment of birth itself, the child is greeted with its song. After the birth all the villagers learn the song of their new member and sing it to the child when it falls or hurts itself. It is sung in times of triumph, or in rituals and initiations. This song becomes a part of the marriage ceremony when the child has grown, and at the end of life, his or her loved ones will gather around the deathbed and sing this song for the last time.
The love story of life
To be so consciously received as in the tale above, to have one’s uniqueness so acknowledged and enhanced throughout one’s life is a gift of love as rare as it is precious. Few of us can boast of such a manifestation, but the story of all our lives is ultimately and always a love story.
It is love that creates us, love that sustains us and, finally, love that destroys us. This is true at many levels. It is absolutely true at the level of creation, for the nature of the Creator is love. Says Swami Vivekananda in defining the nature of Ishwara, the Personal God: “He the Lord is, of His own nature, inexpressible Love.”
The Scientist-Priest Teilhard de Chardin has a similar observation, though arrived at through vastly different methods. He postulated, for instance, that the technological progress of humanity had created so many connections between people that soon a new organism would be created that consisted of all human beings. The noosphere (the terrestrial sphere of the mind) would replace the biosphere as the space that contains this organism. He gave the ‘ultimate noospherical point of Reflection’ the name Omega. Teilhard felt that Omega radiated love, love considered as an actual force, as real as gravity.
In The Path To Love, Deepak Chopra writes: “All of us must discover for ourselves that love is a force as real as gravity, and that being upheld in love every day, every hour, every minute is not a fantasy—it is intended as our natural state.”
The more we understand nature, the more we see the presence of love in its every manifestation. Who can see a mother of any species tending her young without recognising love? Who can look at a pet’s eyes and not see the boundless love swimming in its depths? Love is behind the tumbling heap of puppies cuddling each other for warmth. It is behind the bee’s attraction to nectar.
When the wind woos the leaves, they dance in ecstasy. It is love that causes us to breathe out carbon dioxide and plant life to breathe out oxygen. It is love that causes the trees and plants to flower and give fruit; it is love that causes the rain to fall, the river to flow, the sun to shine, and the earth to spin. Everything in the universe is dedicated to the cause of life. This whole stunning crucible of life could only have been created by an unimaginably powerful source of love.
But even at the relative level, at the level of our individual lives, it is love that nourishes us and sustains us. Not all of us are lucky enough to possess this love, but thank God, most are. Most are fortunate enough to have mothers and to be loved by them. At least while we were babies.
Love and health
In his book, Love and Survival, which offers powerful evidence to show how inter-related the two concepts are, Dean Ornish gives proof that without love we literally die. He writes: “The German emperor Frederick II conducted a horrible experiment to find out what language children would speak if they were raised without hearing anyone talk. He took several newborns away from their parents and gave them to nurses who were forbidden to touch or talk to them. These babies never learned a language because they all died before they could talk.”
Dr Ornish quotes many studies that prove that the lack of a network of meaningful relationships and community life can make a person more vulnerable to illness and less likely to recover. In a study of Harvard students, Drs Stanley King, Harry Russek and others asked 126 healthy men how close they were to their parents. Thirty five years later, medical records proved that 91 per cent of those who did not have a close relationship with their mothers had developed serious diseases in their midlife, as compared to a 45 per cent rate among those who felt they were close to their mothers. Dr Ornish also quoted reports of heart patients whose recovery rates depended on the emotional support they received.
In 1989, David Spiegel and colleagues at Stanford Medical School published a report of a study they had conducted on women with metastatic breast cancer. The women were divided into two groups, one of which met weekly for group therapy for a year. At the end of the period it turned out that the women on the weekly support group lived on average twice as long as did the group, which did not meet.
He says: “I am not aware of any other factor in medicine—not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery—that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness, and premature death from all causes.” He adds: “Love and intimacy are at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well, what causes sadness and what brings happiness, what makes us suffer and what leads to healing. If a new drug had the same impact, virtually every doctor in the country would be recommending it for their patients.”
If there is enough proof to link optimum good health with the presence of love in our lives,
there is no less evidence of the role love plays in shaping our character and psyche.
In Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman writes that children, whose parents were unable to care for them effectively as babies, suffer a great setback in their lives. He writes: “A child who cannot focus his attention, who is suspicious rather than trusting, sad or angry rather than optimistic, destructive rather than respectful and one who is overcome with anxiety, preoccupied with frightening fantasy and feels generally unhappy about himself—such a child has little opportunity at all, let alone equal opportunity, to claim the possibilities of the world as his own.”
On the other hand, he notes: “Love, tender feelings and sexual satisfaction entail parasympathetic arousal—the physiological opposite of the ‘fight-or-flight’ mobilisation shared by fear and anger. The parasympathetic pattern, dubbed the ‘relaxation response’, is a bodywide set of reactions that generate a general state of calm and contentment, facilitating cooperation.
Psychiatrist Dayal Mirchandani says: “Love is one of the more important things for psychological well-being. Studies prove that married men are happier and healthier than those who are not married. And the health of women in good marriages is dramatically higher than that of those who are not. This is why wise therapists these days work hard on healing marriages. Love seems to have a glue function. It holds people together.”
Psychotherapist Meena Kapur says: “As a human being and a therapist I would say that it is the most important thing in life. A lot of therapy is about helping people deal with the feelings and factors that obscure the presence of love. For instance, anger can be destructive but suppression is not healthy either. We try to uncover the love that is often the cause of anger instead.”
Our ability to care, to focus on the needs of the other, to develop empathy and compassion are the barometer of our spiritual progress
Mature love happens when romantic love dies. Illusions disappear and we discern instead the reality of the relationship as it is
The spiritual summit
If love cradles the body and mind with healing and growth, its impact on spiritual development is equally vital. Our ability to care, to focus on the needs of the other, to develop empathy and compassion are the barometer of our spiritual progress. In the Buddhist tradition, the spiritual summit is scaled when we expand into universal friendliness, love, compassion and detachment (maitri, mudita, karuna and upeksha).
In the Christian tradition, love is the key to the kingdom of heaven but equally to our lives on earth. “Love your neighbour as yourself” is the great commandment of universal brotherhood. Says Father Francisco Deniz, Superior of Father Agnel Ashram, Mumbai: “We are told in the Bible that the only measure in which judgment will be taken is on how well you have loved others.”
In the Hindu tradition, love is a path: the bhakti marg. Here, the seeker absorbs himself in the love of his personal God to such an extent that all other loves such as of the self, love of the senses, etc, fade away and die. The higher love drowns out the lower love. Writes Romain Rolland in his book, The Life of Ramakrishna: “The Bhakta, whose knowledge is derived through love, begins by accepting one form of God as his chosen ideal, as Ramakrishna the Divine Mother. For a long time, he is absorbed in this one love…gradually he comes to see, touch and converse with it… As he believes that his Lord is in everything, in all forms, he soon begins to perceive other forms of gods emanating from his own Beloved…Eventually he is so filled with its music that there is no room in him for anything else and the material world disappears.”
All spiritual traditions emphasise the ability to go beyond the ego, the self-centred ‘I’ principle, as the crucial test of spiritual progress. The elimination of the ego will automatically connect us to others and plunge us into the joy of universal love.
Writes Swami Rama in his book, Spirituality: Transformation Within and Without: “It is crucial to cultivate love, compassion, and generosity so that one can transcend self-centred awareness. A generous person constantly thinks of others’ welfare… He finds great joy in sharing their suffering… Love for all human beings purified one’s heart. As a result, one’s consciousness expands. One redefines one’s conception of love and instead of loving human beings alone, all of creation falls within the range of one’s love… As supreme love unfolds, conflicts, differences, hatred, jealousy and selfishness disappear once and for all.”
Writes Eknath Easwaran in the book, Climbing the Blue Mountain: “Love is a skill, a precious skill that can be learnt… We all have the syllabus of love right inside us, printed on every cell… They tell us that life has only one overriding purpose—to discover this source of infinite love, called in Sanskrit the Atman or Self, and then to express this love in daily living.”
The love that we feel for others also nourishes us. The Dalai Lama says: “When we feel love and kindness towards others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.”
What is love?
The Mahabharata talks of a mongoose that came to Yudhisthir’s magnificent post-war yagna. Half its coat was gleaming gold. It rolled on the ashes of the yagna and shook itself free of the dust. Then it remarked that as a sacrifice, the yagna left much to be desired. When the shocked bystanders demanded an explanation, he launched into this tale. “In a land far away, a terrible famine ravaged the inhabitants, including a Brahmin family. At last after days of starvation, the Brahmin brought home a meagre store of flour. His wife fashioned them into precious rotis and they sat down to dine. Just then, there was a knock on the door. A hungry stranger stood without. According to the laws of hospitality, the Brahmin gave the stranger his share of food. When that was over, the wife gave her share, then the son and finally the daughter-in-law. Satiated at last, the stranger left. That night, the family perished of hunger. I rolled on the few grains of flour that fell on the floor and half my coat turned gold. But this yagna has not converted the rest of my coat to gold and so I say that it is wanting.”
How can we comprehend such love? The love that willingly self-destroys to ease another’s pain. The love that saw Christ ascend the Calvery. The love that is the very essence of motherhood. What is this love? Defining love is not the easiest of tasks. As M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Travelled, said, it is too deep and broad to be contained easily within the framework of words. Nevertheless he did hazard a definition. “Love,” he says, “is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s personal growth.”
For Peck, love is the ability to take the growing option. Mirchandani too connects love with growth. He says: “At every moment you face a choice, to be nasty or loving. And that’s what gives you a chance to grow and evolve.”
Love then, takes effort, for it means putting aside the easy way out and taking the hard and challenging path. It means not doing up your son’s shoelaces so he can learn to do it up himself as much as it means rising above your irritation at your husband’s untidiness. Says Kamla Tina, a longstanding teacher of transcendental meditation in Mumbai: “Parental love should allow children to grow. It should not suffocate them.”
Implicit in this definition of love is the movement away from selfishness. Growth is a movement away from our needs and desires. Love then can also be defined as learning to focus on the needs and feelings of others.
When does this begin? According to Daniel Golemen, the seeds of empathy are visible even in infancy. A baby will cry if another baby closeby is in distress. By the time they are two and a half, they can even attempt to comfort them by petting them and bringing them food and toys.
The path of love
When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dream as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning…
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
—The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
The path of love is long and arduous and can take several lifetimes to master. Most agree that love happens in progression. First there is self-love, the egoistic love that considers one’s own needs, feelings and desires as paramount. All of us, until the day we touch enlightenment, are subject to this egoism and progress lies in its gradual transcendence.
The first step in moving away from egoistic self-love is, paradoxically, a genuine love for oneself. One that is rooted in sound self-esteem.
Self-esteem is built over time when we feel that we can cope with the task of living and that we are worthy of being loved, respected and valued. Self-esteem happens when our fears and doubts about ourselves are largely resolved, freeing us from narrow self-absorption. It prepares us for real love. While we are surrounded by a network of meaningful relationships from the time of our birth, such as our relationship with parents, siblings, extended family, classmates and teachers, the real love challenge happens when we fall in love. Romantic love is much made of and is indeed considered synonymous with love.
Certainly, there can be no denying that it is an intense and heady feeling. For the first time, someone else’s presence becomes urgently important to us, their opinion of us matters deeply. We yearn to be loved by them and strive for their approval. We are, in fact, enslaved, aware for the first time of feeling deeply incomplete without the other. We love, not for the sake of love, but for need of the other. Ecstasy happens when love is reciprocated and agony when it is not.
Love, at this stage, is largely sensual and ultimately unsatisfactory. Even when consummated, it will not last. Ardent lovers wake up one morning and wonder where their passion fled. Though unsatisfactory in itself, romantic love can be saddled and bridled and led along to the next milestone, which is mature love.
Mature love happens when romantic love dies. Illusions disappear and we discern instead the reality of the relationship as it is. In order to accept the reality that the loved one is stingy or lazy or that love has not really transformed our life, we need to cultivate a commitment to growth, the willingness to be vulnerable and a deep care for the other. For mature love to happen, the couple must dare to move into intimacy, the intimacy of the mind and spirit as much as of the body.
In Love and Survival, Dean Ornish writes of the fear of intimacy that led him through a string of superficial relationships. It was only when he began to consciously work on his fears, which included cultivating strong personal boundaries and self-worth that he was able to enter a truly meaningful relationship. He says: “I am learning that the key to our survival is love. When we love someone and feel loved by them, somehow along the way our suffering subsides, our deepest wounds begin to heal, our hearts start to feel safe enough to be vulnerable and to open a little wider. We begin experiencing our emotions and the feelings of those around us.”
Mature love can only be the result of inner work. For it requires a willingness to take responsibility for our lives and not expect the other to make us happy. Says Ornish: “It is not about finding the right person. It s about being the right person.”
What is this inner work? In a nutshell, it is about knowing ourselves and accepting ourselves. This is at the heart of all spiritual effort, whether it is through yoga, Buddhism, meditation or any other. Self-knowledge can be used with great effect in the path we are travelling on, the path of love. For its very turbulence compels us to look for answers, and the search finally ends when we tune within. Says Deepak Chopra in The Path to Love: “Through surrender, the needs of the ego, which can be extremely selfish and unloving, are transformed into the true need of the spirit, which is always the same—the need to grow. As you grow, you exchange shallow, false feelings for deep, true emotions and this compassion, trust, devotion and service become realities. Such a marriage is sacred; it can never falter because it is based on divine essence.” The more we move into intimacy, the more we flower out into our authentic selves. Intimacy and growth are bound together in a self-propagating cycle that nourishes each other. Explains Ornish: “When someone else can have compassion, forgiveness and acceptance of those dark parts of ourselves that seem so unloveable, it makes it easier for us to accept these parts of ourselves.”
The safety we experience within the relationship is parlayed into other relationships and aspects of ourselves, and our lives become richer and more joyful. Being in a relationship of genuine love is one of the biggest support systems we can have in the journey of life, for it is a source of strength, shelter and self-esteem.
As intimacy deepens, it can result in ecstatic physical union. Sex, which is the breaking of individual boundaries, is a precursor to the spiritual breaking of boundaries. In this sense, love and sex can become a path to spirit, which in India is called the Tantric path.
However, this is not the only way that romantic love can lead to a more complete form of love. The very fact of incompletion so vividly experienced during a relationship can be the goad we need to move within and to experience that inner completion that comes through understanding and accepting yourself.
Even if the seeker refuses to return to the fold of romantic love, its purpose is served if it can be used to nudge him into the zone of un conditional love. Unconditional love is love with all its pleasure and none of its pain. The bloom remains but the thorns disappear. One can hold it firmly in the hand and inhale deeply of its fragrance without fearing the searing jab of pain. Unconditional love frees the loved one as much as it frees the lover. For it exerts no expectations, no hopes, no goals that must be fulfilled. This is love on an as-is-where-is basis.
Perhaps no one experiences unconditional love as a mother does. Most mothers love their children because they are their children. No matter how they turn out, mother’s love is unextinguished. Says Father Deniz: “I find mother love to be the most inspiring form of love. I have seen mothers—you cannot imagine to what extent they can go. The children grow up and care very little for them. Still, they love and want the child’s good.” Unconditional love can only emerge when our inner work is sufficiently advanced to free us of psychological and emotional needs. At this stage we are self-sufficient and have enough self-awareness to take responsibility for our needs and not expect the other to provide it. Unconditional love rarely happens without access to the realm of spirit. To use James Redfield’s terminology, it is only when we plug into the energy of the universe that we will be freed from drawing energy from others.
From unconditional love there is one more step love has to go, and that is to universal love. The same intensity with which we love our beloved must now be accessible to all.
Writes Ornish: “When I can see and love God in my beloved and then in myself, then I can begin to love and see and experience God in everyone and everything.”
Universal love requires us to widen our embrace to include the whole universe. At the beginning of our journey of love, universal love is a concept one can hardly conceive of. Is it possible to really love everyone and everything? Can we love a worm with the same tenderness that we extend to our children? Can we keep the interests of all at heart?
When the attachment that makes our children more important to us than a worm leaves us, when we live moment to moment without preferences and without the ego butting in with its prejudices, likes, dislikes, desires and needs, it is indeed possible to live with our consciousness focused on the universal good, and to care as much for another’s child as for our own. Saints and sages say that the very nature of enlightenment is love that extends to one and all, love with no exceptions. For when the boundaries that separate us from the world drop, love and compassion naturally surge forth.
Says Deepak Chopra in The Path o Love: “You know that you have fully experienced love when you turn into love—that is the spiritual goal of life.”
Writes Eknath Easwaran in Beyond the Blue Mountain: “The only purpose which can satisfy us completely, fulfil all our desires, and then make our life a gift to the whole world, is the gradual realisation of this Self, which throws open the gates of love.” Says Kamla Tina: “My life is a spontaneous flow of love without room for criticism or condemnation.”
Says Salome Roy Kapoor, a seeker: “When my children appeared for exams I always put my hand on their heads and prayed for them. When my eldest son was appearing for an important exam, I was about to pray for him when it struck me like a thunderbolt, what about the other children who were appearing? Should I not pray for them too? And so I prayed for all of them.”
Universal love is the signal that we have reached the spiritual goal. Here at this stage there is no one self and others. All is Self. Welcome home.
How to Love
Since the Creator is love and we are part of creation, our nature is love. Love is what we are at the depths of our being. How do we plumb these wellsprings? The obvious answer happens, in this case, to be the right one. By eliminating all that comes between us and that deep luscent core within us. In other words, we do not strive to love because love is what we are. We strive to eliminate all that is not love.
Says Father Deniz: ‘‘To love is the most natural thing. Spiritual training is about controlling the passions that don’t allow us to love our neighbour.’’
What stops the love from manifesting? In a word, conditioning. Conditioning is a composite of our habitual thoughts, words and deeds, which create habitual behavioural patterns, which solidifies into personality, which we mistakenly believe is us. To get to the love that waits patiently for us behind all these veils, we need to unspool through the conditioning. In other words, we must dismantle our personality. Sounds daunting? It is. But, as the countless saints and seers through the ages testify through their presence, it is possible. Start loving, step by step.
Less is more
In the beginning, this thing called personality—a construct of the ego—can seem hard and impregnable. Because we so much identify with it, letting go of our personality is tantamount to death. What, we may wonder, will be left of us? We need therefore to reassure ourselves that what is left is unimaginably bigger and better than what we are asked to let go of. When we let go of our personality or our little self, we automatically merge into the Self, which is All. We experience the joy, and truth of the unitive state, and we enter into our true inheritance. The first step then is to know that while the work may appear to be one of elimination, it is actually recovery of a precious treasure.
Start digging into the dirt! There are many ways of doing this. All spiritual and personal growth techniques are concerned with nothing else. So choose your pickaxe based on your specific bent of mind and calling. The options range from the great world religions (shorn free of their conditioning, too!) to meditation, japa, yoga, karma yoga, jnana yoga, Vedanta, bhakti, and innumerable others. What is crucial is that no matter what your practice, you use it to shine your torch within.
Become aware of your habitual thoughts, reactions and feelings. It is this that will give you insight into the specific hurdles that block your love from shining out. It could be lack of self-worth, anger, hatred, greed, sloth, jealousy, envy, unresolved past issues, unconsciousness, etc. Whatever it is, call it forth. And embrace it as part of who you are. One of the great paradoxes of the spiritual path is that this so-called elimination is actually assimilation. Eliminating the conditioning means becoming so aware of it and so accepting of it, that it is no longer outside you. It becomes as much a part of you as the food you eat and the air you breathe, not an alien hostile part, but an intrinsic part of yourself.
Before you can love others, you need to learn to love yourself. Most of us dislike many parts of ourselves and many suffer from strong feelings of low self-worth. Along with your spiritual practices, it may be worthwhile to go for psychotherapy. A therapist will work on the many blocks in your consciousness and move you towards self-acceptance. He will help you with the task of cultivating boundaries, in providing alternative viewpoints, etc. Personally, I have been part of a group therapy process for the last couple of years and have found the experience invaluable.
Accentuate the love within
This is not a contradiction to the earlier statement that love is natural and we don’t have to do anything. That is true, but it is also true that when we increasingly focus on the presence of love in our lives and consciously shift the focus from the judgements and criticisms and resistance that habitually swamp us, the love begins to shine out more. When we learn to see the love behind our mother’s admonishment or the yearning for it in a dependent friend, we will have enhanced its presence.
In The Course of Miracles it is written:
Perceive in sickness
But another call for love
And offer your brother
What he believes
He cannot offer himself
Exempt no one from your love,
Or you will be hiding a dark place in your mind
Where the Holy Spirit is not welcome
In the same vein, we must learn to consciously exercise the muscles of love by extending ourselves for the growth of others and ourselves, to use M. Scott Peck’s definition. In every situation we need to ask ourselves what is the growing option for us, and have the will to do it.
Says Eknath Easwaran: ‘‘Most of us spend years in personal pursuits without ever taking time to know the needs of people in our own home, in our neighbourhood, at work. It may be rarely that we give our energy to serving their needs. We should try to remember that the nascent capac
Life Positive follows a stringent review publishing mechanism. Every review received undergoes -
Only after we're satisfied about the authenticity of a review is it allowed to go live on our website
Our award winning customer care team is available from 9 a.m to 9 p.m everyday
All our healers and therapists undergo training and/or certification from authorized bodies before becoming professionals. They have a minimum professional experience of one year
All our healers and therapists are genuinely passionate about doing service. They do their very best to help seekers (patients) live better lives.
All payments made to our healers are secure up to the point wherein if any session is paid for, it will be honoured dutifully and delivered promptly
Every seekers (patients) details will always remain 100% confidential and will never be disclosed