This is an excerpt from the draft manuscript of my upcoming book.
What is Love?
Love, as a word, is one of the most commonly used terms present in the lexicon of spirituality. Yet when it is used, it is often in an ambiguous sense that assumes the reader immediately understands what we mean when we say ‘love’. The author or speaker isn’t where the word takes on its meaning though, it is in the reader or the listener where it is perceived and given a particular value – a contextual, conditioned response. To assume that we are interpreting the word ‘love’ to mean the same things, and to then engage in deep spiritual dialogue on the subject of love, is where most of our misunderstandings arise. We must first clarify our use of the word and come to some common agreement as to what this word is meant to express each time it is used in a given situation or scenario.
When most of us think about the word ‘love’, in the context of our human experience, it brings to mind visions of happiness and joy. Love means ‘that which we have a sincere and heartfelt appreciation for’. We love our children and families, sunrises and sunsets, vacations and good food. Indeed, we love that which feels good and makes us feel good about ourselves. There is a preference and a fondness for those things that we love, whether they be people, experiences, or objects; whether there is a biological or emotional need being fulfilled; or, perhaps, a desire to maintain a pleasurable feeling state of some sort. Love feels good, and we love feeling good. This is our own innate desire for happiness playing itself out; and nothing makes us happier than love.
And yet anyone who’s tasted of love knows that equating love with happiness has a certain ring of inaccuracy to it. Love, as we generally experience it, can be difficult, painful, and challenging. It can be demanding, draining, and discomforting. If we love a thing, then we dedicate ourselves to acquiring and holding onto that thing. If that thing is somehow threatened, broken, or taken away from us, we rise up against the circumstances that are asserting themselves and we fight like hell to hold onto what is ours. If we love an experience, then we will try, desperately, to hold onto that experience, or to repeat it again and again; exposing ourselves to great suffering when our efforts fail to meet our established expectations based on previous experiences. But these issues are nothing compared to relational love.
When we love a person, we have a tendency to adopt a very curious notion of love that requires a certain level of submission on the part of those whom we claim to love. We want our love to be met with a degree of appreciation and cooperation that satisfies our own internal needs for acceptance and validation. When this happens, we feel wonderful inside, but when it doesn’t, a very different kind of experience begins to emerge. Here we are, offering our love to others, and yet they will not behave in accordance with the demands of our love. We must, therefor, work harder to love them more, because our love is what will fix them, make them better, and cause them to act in a manner that is more conducive to our own experience of happiness. It’s not something that we do consciously or maliciously, it’s just what we’ve been taught. It’s how we’ve been conditioned. It’s what we consider ‘normal’.
Does this sound like love to you? Or is it perhaps more true that what we call ‘love’ is actually a combination of desire and control than anything even resembling what Love truly represents. Let us compare, for a moment, the differences between Love and desire. When desire is present, we seek to possess the object of our desire. When love is present we simply allow for the presence of that which we love. Desire holds onto things tightly and guards them jealously. Love holds things tenderly in a place of spacious gratitude. If we lose something that we desire, it brings us pain. When we lose something that we love, we let it go. Desire is bondage. Love is freedom. Of course, this view of love is radically different than our traditional notion of it; a notion that is rooted in desire. What society calls love is desire mislabeled. Love allows, it does not desire. Desire does not allow, it possesses and controls. Loves whispers, desire shouts. Love flows, desire pushes and pulls. Love is effortless, desire induces fatigue.
While many can connect with the heavy truth present in these words, there is still a part of us that may resist. One of the things that we have a tendency to do, is to fool ourselves into telling ourselves just how loving we are. When, in fact, if we were more honest with ourselves, we’d see just how judgmental and controlling we really are; and that what we call ‘being loving’ has more to do with wanting to ‘fix’ or ‘help’ people’ so that they will behave in ways that are more conducive to our own conditioned belief in the way things ‘should’ be – or the ways that people ‘should’ act. What we are doing is the exact opposite of Love in these cases, because true Love is unconditional and seeks the freedom of all beings. When we are trying to ‘fix’ or ‘help’ people, we are actually trying to entrap them and imprison them in our idea of them – which doesn’t bind them so much as it binds us.
~From the Heart of Bradley