By Suma Varughese September 2003 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
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