What is Love?
Let's talk about love, baby.
Love transcends everything. We use the word all the time. We constantly listen to songs about love. We have all felt love. But, if we have to pinpoint exactly what it means, it becomes a difficult thing to do. It goes so much deeper than what we can put into words. It can't exactly be categorized as an emotion because it's not fleeting. It's more than just a feeling. It's an essence of who we are. (A little cheesy? It's okay. We'll move on.)
There are a lot of different definitions of love out there (you can check), but I found the spiritual interpretation of this inexplicable thing we call love most fascinating. I got this insight through my time with the Chinmaya Mission and it stuck with me. In an effort to break this concept down, I've listed out the questions that I had and the answers to these questions as accurately as I could translate from what I learnt. Here it goes:
How can we define love at a basic level?
“Love is identification with someone.”
The simplest definition of love is identifying with someone or something. Identifying with someone means seeing a part of yourself in that other person. How does seeing yourself in someone else make you love them? By default, the thing that we love the most from the moment we exist is ourselves. We already have an ingrown instinct to protect, keep ourselves alive and choose ourselves over anything, because we value our lives tremendously. If we really think about it, we can identify with all living things on the planet (including the planet itself), because it is the same life that exists in all of us. The extent to which we identify with something or someone corresponds to the intensity of that love. So, when mothers and fathers go ballistic when they have a child and claim this new love has been unlocked inside of them, it suddenly all makes sense. This profound creation of love happens because that child is literally a piece of them.
Doesn't this mean love is selfish?
Our entire existence is selfish because we experience everything through the self. It's self-ish. It's in our nature to love things that we identify with or want to identify with. But it's in the nature of love to be selfless. Love is self-inclusive and selfless at the same time. Loving someone is being willing to share, give, sacrifice for that other person. Being selfless is usually a lot easier for people that we consider a part of our identity e.g. our family. Say someone really "close" to us needed our help immediately, we probably wouldn't even think twice about helping them with whatever it was that they needed. It would be a little harder to do the same for a complete stranger, no? In reality, we have the capacity to expand our identities and love vastly. We just don't always include those "other" things as a part of us, so we end up neglecting it, whether that happens consciously or subconsciously.
How will we know if what we are experiencing is love and not attachment?
“Love is freedom, attachment is bondage.”
The main distinction between love and attachment is that love is unconditional whereas attachment isn't. In attachment you expect something from the other person in return, and in love you don't. I don't know if you're also thinking this, but this is what went through my head: This kind of love is not practical, and it sounds dangerous. It can easily be romanticized in theory but feels impossible to achieve in the real world. In the real world we have expectations.
How can we detach from these expectations? To detach we need to attach ourselves to something higher, to a higher form of love. While we might have conjured up some expectations in our mind as a result of human nature, truly loving someone for being themselves is setting them free. Thinking about what our love is conditional upon forces us to reflect on every relationship and see what we want the other person to do for us. The highest form of giving in love is said to be yourself, which means your ego. In true love you don't need anything from the other person to satisfy your ego. All you do is love them, even if it is from afar. There are no excuses. There are no expectations. When you love, you love because you can't help but.
Isn't it foolish to only give love and expect nothing in return?
“Don't fall in love, rise in love.”
Giving love has two major benefits. Firstly, in giving love you become independent. When seeking love you are always dependent on the other person for that love. By giving it, you are suddenly free of this dependency and have this abundance of love ready to offer to the world. Secondly, giving love allows you to feel greater joy than in receiving it. And this is true for anything really. To give brings you more long-term happiness than to receive. The idea is not to fall and be foolish, instead it's to increase your capacity to love and not take it for granted.
Is there a 'right' way to love?
There are so many different ways to express love. It can be through words, through physical affection, through acts of service - and the list can go on. Everyone values these forms of expressing love differently. To love "effectively" it's important to have an understanding of the other person. So that when you try to give love it's actually what they want or need. When you love you want to know, and when you know you can love! For those who haven't heard Kehlani's song Love Language, it pretty much covers the gist of this point.
(Take this quiz and find out what your love language is.)