Love is Love is Love
Happiness is said to have three ingredients: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that LOVE is an essential ingredient of happiness… and yet defining what love is, what it looks like and feels like poses a bit more of a challenge. How do you define describe, or identify love in your life?
Love in yoga philosophy goes way beyond the love of marriage, partnership or even friendship. Love for the Yogi is to embrace a life of non-harming, AHIMSA. The first of Patanjali’s yamas (ethical principles), ahimsa is often translated as compassion or non-harming and used to justify vegetarianism, pacifism, and even environmental conservation. When it comes to community and connection, ahimsa is an invitation to offer compassion, to not only do no harm, but to actively contribute positively to those around us, even those we are NOT OBLIGATED to serve, support or love.
Metta meditation, often translated as the loving kindness meditation, is a mantra (reciting sounds) meditation practice in expanding our capacity to love and offer compassion to others. It starts by cultivating internal self-love. For many, healthy self-love is a hurdle that prevents free expression of love to others. From self, we expand to others: loved ones, neutral feeling relationships, difficult relationships, community, expanding outward to include all living beings.
There are numerous variations and translations for the Metta, feel free to adapt or use this one to explore in your personal meditation and prayer time.
- May I be healthy and strong.
- May I feel safe and protected.
- May I know love and connection.
Gary Chapman’s Love Languages provides a helpful foundation to explore what love looks like in action. After all, what good is love if it’s not put into tangible form? Chapman proposes 5 styles of expressing love, he calls Love Languages. As humans we have the capability to express and receive love in all five ways, but probably have a preferred manner to which we are most receptive. Take the 5 Love Language Quiz for yourself.
- Words of Affirmation: using words to build up another person, encouragement, gratitude, affirmation
- Acts of Service: doing something for another that you know they will appreciate
- Physical Touch: a hand shake, a hug, or a pat on the back might be just the action to share an expression of love in a non-threatening, non-sexual way. In an intimate relationship, this could include more overt sexual expressions as well.
- Quality Time: offering our undivided attention to another, or sharing time, space and energy to do an activity together.
- Gifts: tokens of appreciation not necessarily related to honoring a special event or demonstrating a monetary value, but more to show “I was thinking of you” and “You matter.”
As you have probably experienced, it’s not uncommon to have mis-communication when expressing love and appreciation. Especially when our love for one may trump love for another or make it difficult to practice both simultaneously.
Let me propose an example: Let’s say I was driving my sick child to the hospital because she wasn’t breathing. In my effort to protect and love her, I would run every light and break every speed limit to get her to the care she needed. It would not be my intention to harm someone else on the way, but the risk of getting a ticket and even the chance of an accident might be deemed worth it to increase the likelihood of saving her.
Now if I was driving on that same road and cut off by someone running a red light or speeding, my first reaction would be offense, even anger at the selfish action of the driver putting my life at risk. This response might be justified and even accurate. BUT… I have chosen to redefine these experiences.
I have developed a practice to help cultivate ahimsa especially when it is hard, when I experience the opposite of loving action from others. I call it “Reframe from Love” and it’s a practice of choosing to believe that others are doing the best they can given their skills, resources and personal circumstances. However, to Reframe from Love does not give permission for others to treat us poorly, disrespectfully, or harmfully, but it helps us to cultivate compassion for their circumstances, regardless if we have access to their life’s details. Reframing from Love is a practice of choosing compassion (ahimsa) over truth (satya), the second yama offered by Patanjali.
So in this scenario, when I experience what looks like non-loving, selfish behavior, I choose to redefine it (some might say pretend) according to a scenario that could be possible that allows me to feel compassion toward the person causing the infraction. This does not justify the behavior, just frame it into a context of love over rightness.
I developed this habit as a way to reconcile my own desire to be given a break on a bad day and a tendency to see others only at their worst. When I was studying leadership for my doctorate, I was awed by how often we, as a society, isolate behavior to determine the value of a person in entirety. One mistake should not account for complete dismissal, right? And yet, establishing the parameters of that “mistake” and its severity is the foundation of our judicial penal system. What behavior is so bad that it cannot be overlooked, compensated, or justified? All I know, is that I feel better and can go about my day with more joy when I let go of trying to be judge and cop for every infraction I experience. I didn’t go to law school. I didn’t go into law enforcement. But I have chosen to live the principles of yoga, which is love first, love last and love in the middle. I would rather err on the side of giving too much love than withholding love from someone who simply was having a tough day.
I do have one caution however, we might be tempted to first see where we are not getting the love we want. We might be practiced at seeing the lack and short-comings of the world around us. With intention and practice, we can re-wire the brain and develop new ways of perceiving and interacting. Perhaps we can instead look to see where we can practice offering love first and trust that it will circulate back to us, perhaps even from unexpected events and individuals.
Another way to look at Reframe from Love is to apply the Pay if Forward concept. When we give freely, anonymously, even without knowing the recipient, our generosity spreads. How many times have you heard of folks receiving a pay it forward gift only to turn around and re-gift the sentiment? Love spreads! To give freely from our own abundance and generosity, is an example of our practice of compassion. And the best part of this practice: it works. So whether you share a smile, hold a door for another patron, pay forward a cup of coffee, yield the right of way at an intersection, or simply send loving kindness to all beings in meditation, you can build love into your daily life and it will come back to you as happiness.
What would the world look like if love was the first choice in every interaction? When love is first, love can last.