The holiday season is a wonderful time to explore how we experience love. Families remind us of the presence of love and where our aspirations to love fall short. This post is a start at sharing some of my ideas and beliefs about love and loving.

For those who know me, you may recall this is not a new preoccupation. For some time, I have been fascinated with the connection between what we believe about love and how we practice it.

When I retired five years ago, I was eager to write, and love was at the top of my topic list. I sent my initial efforts to two writer friends. They both encouraged me to take a breath and go slow on this topic. One kindly suggested that since love has so many different meanings and interpretations, I would need to spend time establishing clearly what I meant by love. The second friend bluntly pointed out the many fallacies in my first reflections and suggested a time-out on the topic.

I tell you this not to discourage you from reading on. Instead, my point is that this is a challenging topic for most of us. It covers a lot of ground and like race and religion, it can trigger strong emotional responses.

I press on because I believe learning to love is why we are born. I consider it the central challenge of the human experience. Having studied philosophy a little, I appreciate that belief is a big leap for many. Epicurus taught that the point of life is pleasure; Sartre and Camus suggested there is no point; we should just “be.” Socrates and his Greek friends encouraged “knowing ourselves.” Later philosophers turned to the amazing power of the intellect.

Communication is particularly challenging when we rely on words. We struggle to find the “right” word to describe what preceded the “Big Bang.” For generations, it was God, Allah, and Yahweh among others. More recently the Divine, the One, the Life Force, Spirit and Love are among many others used.

Love also is a word with many meanings. Students of love look to the ancient Greeks for a framework that distinguishes between Philia (friendship), Eros (romantic or passionate love), Storge (family Love) and Agape (unconditional love).

For me, these frameworks are a map to a deeper and more comprehensive view of love. To explore the breadth of love, I need to engage all of me – my mind, emotions, spirit and body. When I limit the experience to just my body, I become an Epicurean and enjoy the pleasure and am left feeling less fulfilled when the pleasure is not present. Or I seek the perfect sensual experience and am disappointed in my loving when “performance” is subpar!

When I let my emotions lead the parade of loving, my loving is limited to what I feel about a person or group of persons. When I have that warm buzz of attraction that accompanies much “falling in love,” I mistakenly think that feeling will last forever. I then wrongly conclude that this feeling is the indicator of the presence or absence of love. The work of establishing a long-term friendship or committed relationship seems too much in many occasions and extends well beyond the initial glow of being in love.  Or if my earlier life experience has been traumatic or consistently difficult, I may have over-developed my flight, fight or freeze responses to stress. Consistently relying on any of these responses makes sustaining friendships and intimate relations a challenge. 

So, if love is bigger than all these partial manifestations, then perhaps it did exist before loving began. That’s my conclusion, and I understand it isn’t likely a conclusion that is shared by all.. When my spirit is engaged, my heart is opened. When my heart is open, my intellect and ego are contained and given much-needed guidance and direction.

While I spent over sixty years of life without fully realizing it, nourishing my soul or spirit is the most direct path to learning how to love. Whether alone or in community, meditation connects me to love and opens my heart to receive and give more love. Ironically, it was my inability to receive love that blocked my earlier desires to love. Indeed, when negative thinking and fear become embedded as habit, it makes it a lot harder to learn about and experience love.

My short story on learning to love involves a faith that has waxed, waned, and been rekindled as I aged. I’ve developed a willingness to look at what blocked love and sought help to remove those blocks. It has opened my desire to pass love on to others and to receive the “big love.”  I hope future posts from me and guest contributors will shine more light on love. Your beliefs and practices are welcomed through comments or @ tom@thadams.com.