What is love, a timely question for this time of year.
Most everyone wants to experience love. Yet do most of us really know what is true love? If someone wants to have a better understanding of how to love in order to fully experience love, they need to get a grip on the concept of “unconditional love.” We all experience love in some form and in some way, but do we really contemplate what it is? It is important to understand that love is experienced by the lover. When you love someone, that is your very personal experience of love. The person you are loving may experience the love they feel from you. However, the love that they experience toward you maybe be different than your experience of love toward them. These differences may be profound or subtle but it is likely that these differences do indeed exist. For example, one party may be in touch with their love with another while the other party may not be feeling it on that moment, that day or that week etc. The experience of love is typically filtered through the mind and its minefield of possible thoughts to the heart. The less the mind is at play and the more the heart is at play the deeper we feel love. We can categorically claim that love is a unique experience of feeling love for another.
There is a paradoxical element about love. As stated, the experience of love can be unique to each person. However, love is also a union between two parties. The experience of this merging is central to experiencing love. It is this profound bonding where a person loses their sense of individuality for finite moments in time that draws us most to love.
A telling behavior of love is self-sacrifice. Therefore, love can also be an act of self-sacrifice. Some acts of selflessness may look like love. However, if an act is primarily motivated by the ego, than this is not love. Ego is about experiencing separation. The ego wants to make you feel better than everyone else or smaller than everyone else. Either way the ego wins and love loses. The place, the experience where there is no beginning or end, this is love.
Love is unconditional. We enter this world with many needs, the need for unconditional love is the most profound. If a parent or parent figure does not consistently deliver unconditional love to a child, the child will have doubts about how lovable they are. Young minds are extremely impressionable. They absorb lots of information quickly but often misinterpret it. If a child does not get enough unconditional love growing up, he or she primarily feels lovable based on conditions. As an adult this can be overcome but quite often takes great effort. The idea that love conquers all does not really apply to someone who has severe problems and constrictions with feeling lovable. Romantic love will not solve this problem. The surest way to remove the learned behavior of only feeling lovable based on conditions is for someone to experience unconditional love coming from a parent figure. Here is an illustration of how unconditional love is delivered. A devoted mother knows the needs of her child both big and small. She knows what will make her child safe and happy. This type of mother gives much effort to anticipating these needs and fulfilling as many of them as she possibly can. Of course a child also need structure and discipline. These elements round out a person so they can respect themselves as well as others. Good parents know that and put it all together. No one ever said being a good parent was at all easy. Being a parent is in fact a true a labor of love.
On your path to find love, the question will no doubt arise, do I love this person. There is a simple way to to clear up any possible confusion. First mentally ask the question on one side then internally weigh the feeling. Then ask the question on the other side and weigh the feeling. Whichever feeling weighs even slightly more that is how you truly feel. This method works for any doubts you may have about how you feel about virtually anything.
Conditional love includes unnecessarily harsh conditions and other inappropriate strings attached to a relationship. Given that we live in the world of duality all relationships to one degree or another have legitimate expectations. Parent to child, child to parent, spouse to spouse, family member to family member all have very specific appropriate expectations. Friend to friend is the relationship with the least amount of societal obligations. In friend to friend love, the only bond is really the relationship itself. As human being to human being there are levels of respect and propriety that inherently exist.
The friend to friend love has from society’s perspective limited expectations. Somewhat surprisingly, it is the form of love that mirrors unconditional love more than any other relationship. The obligations we feel for a friend come from the pure place of the heart. Of course unconditional love can and should be part of all relationships. Ironically, the course we navigate for relationships that come with an assortment of expectations but also are typically our closest relationships has narrower lane for unconditional love than the open ended friend to friend love. The path of unconditional love maybe wider yet the connection of love may not be experienced as deeply.
Love is a selfless experience. In spiritual circles there is a line drawn between what is love versus what is attachment. Attachment feels like love, looks like love, has an element of love in it, but is not really love. Attachment is much more about ego and selfish desires than it is about the selfless merging experience of love. One cannot really experience the profoundness of love if their ego and its selfish desires are too prominent in a relationship. One cannot have a selfless experience if they are primarily experiencing their ego in what they believe is a feeling of love or an act of love.
The issue of duality vs. non-duality is a hidden element of love. The experience of duality, is about a singular being feeling separate from other humans and the physical world. From a spiritual perspective this is simply a starting point and not indicative of the whole picture of who we are and what we are. An example of an experience beyond duality is when we close our eyes, let our thoughts truly vanish and are only aware of the experience of love as a merging with one person, our loved ones, all of humanity, nature, etc.
There is not one kind of love that is better than another because it all comes from the same source. Romantic love is not a higher form of love than friend to friend love. The intensity of love based on the dynamics of the relationship could make the romantic love a person feels more important to that person. However, from an overall standpoint it is all love and it is all very vital.
In summarizing what is love, the best place to start is with the purest love which is unconditional love. Love is respect for yourself and others. An act of self-sacrifice is often love in action. The experience of love is a unique experience, a merging of mind and heart, and a selfless experience.