Challenge Day 23- Yoga is Love
Love is both pervasive, spiritual, essential and sometime also utterly cliche. Emblazoned on tank tops and spouted as a kind of pop culture religion, love has many meanings, some of which are useful for spiritual growth and some of which are not. One thing that anyone knows for sure—despite how obvious it may be, we all really do need love.
We casually “love” so many things from pizza to flower to fancy cars. We are told to love ourselves and practice self-love. Many advocate spreading love. Some people say that God is love. Others that love is the most powerful force in the universe. But, what is love really? Is it the same “love” that you feel for chocolate and your children? Or, are there different types, or perhaps gradations, of love?
Conditional love is perhaps one of the most frustrating experiences of human interaction. To say I love you when you act in one way (that is pleasing to me) but not when you act in this other way (which is not pleasing to me) ties love to a function of behavior. Conditional love generates a cycle of endless achievement whereby countless acts are performed in an effort to prove worthiness of love. But, love in the grand cosmic sense is universal, not dependent on status, achievement, success or failure. Like is something differing and is of course conditional. But love, the kind of love that must be the fabric of the universe, must be unconditional and tethered to an inherent quality of being to be real.
Then, there are those who say that love is merely biology. Surely a heightened influx of oxytocin stimulates the embodied feeling of what we know as love. Human beings also have mirror neurons that fire when we empathize with someone we love. Love is in fact a biological reality, but it goes far beyond the release of a neurotransmitter. Primatologists long ago discovered that love and affection are the most essential elements required to successfully raise a child of any species. Babies provided with the minimal items of food, water, and warm do not survive. Babies provided with an affectionate, loving care-giver can survive or even flourish with minimal amounts of basic subsistence items provided. Cardiologists have shown recently that there are more neurological pathways connecting the heart to the brain than the other way around. This new discovery shows that the health of the heart directly impacts the state of the brain and the thinking mind. So perhaps love is not “mere” biology, but that our biology is engineered perfectly for us to be creatures of love, whose very nature is built on the need to give, feel and embody love.
And yet, we are all rather confused about what love really means, where to find it and how to live a life centered on love.
Kama, the Sanskrit word for sensory craving or sexual desire, is a lustful romantic desire that can sometimes be conflated with a desire for wholeness. Many people spend their lives chasing fulfillment and completion through romantic relationships only to find co-dependency like a virus. Wholeness can not be found in another being. Often what we call love for other people is actually desire rooted in delusion. Craving and control are not love, but most often average selfish actions of possession rooted in fear.
Maitri, the Sanskrit word for loving-kindness, is closer to the unconditional flow of goodness that has the power to transform the world. Rooted not in selfishness but in selflessness, maitri includes the concept of friendliness and compassion offered to oneself and to all beings. The traditional practice of metta, loving-kindness, begins by cultivating one’s own ability to feel unconditional love for all beings, including oneself. Some people are dramatically more comfortable offering love to others and feel as though they themselves are unworthy of love. However, a spiritual axiom that holds true is that you cannot offer to another being what you have not embodied yourself. If you are unable to love, honor and value yourself then even what you think of as loving, honoring and valuing another being will be tainted by your own self-rejection. In every metta practice it is always recommenced to practice true self-love and tap into your inherent worthiness of love.
The most impersonal and perhaps universal form of love is devotional love. Yogis that fall in love with God are called bhaktis. The Sanskrit word bhakti can be translated into English as homage, love, devotion, and worship. Stemming from the Sanskrit verb root bhaj—which means to participate, to belong to, bhakti is the devotional love that a spiritual seeker feels for God. There is often understood to be an emotional devotional associated with the bhakti yogi, in that they are truly in love with the Divine. This spiritual love for God is both personal and all-consuming. Bhakti is a total immersion in love, an all-consuming devotion to be close to the Divine. Patañjali describes the state of devotion to God as Īśvarapraṇidhāna, which means to surrender and be devoted entirely to the Divine as you personally experience it. The entire path of yoga is based on direct, often revelatory experience. And, as such the Divine unconditional love outlined in the Sutras assumes that a yogi can really only truly surrender and be devoted to someone or something that is personally known. If God is love, then to love God is to experience the true nature of the Divine. If love is the most powerful force in the universe, then when you love you tap into the raw power of creation and life itself. If you were born of love, then every action rooted in love is the realization of your highest potential. And yet, this lofty discussion of love may feel far away from the petty annoyances of daily life. So, let’s take a pivotal step on the path together and ask the question—what really is love?
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