What is love anyway?

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How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of being and ideal grace. I love thee to the level of every day’s Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Finding myself bemused by my New Year intentions, that one repeated word intrigues me. Love. What does that even mean?

These are my intentions, by the way. I can’t even remember them, so I certainly don’t expect you to!

Love myself, Love the natural world, Love animals, Love people, Love my work, Love my space, Love my spirit

I don’t know if it’s the Valentine’s Day hangover, but that amount of love is making me feel a little nauseous.

Love is a word so overloaded with meaning, both societal and personal. Poems and songs are written about its lofty heights. It’s the word used to describe both our most precious relationships and how we feel about a good cup of coffee or a new dress.

What did I really mean when I wrote these intentions to love so widely and completely?

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close. Pablo Neruda

To love myself or love nature, is that the same kind of love? Does it need to be? Could these intentions be an exercise in stretching my ‘love muscles’ – and you can get your mind out of the gutter, right now. There’s more than one kind of love, y’know.

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There are so many different kinds of love. Love can mean like, adore, adulate, care for, worship, cherish, yearn for, hold dear, pine for, enjoy, like, delight in, savour, fancy, admire… you get the idea. Other languages and cultures are much more nuanced in their expression of love – with words for which you need a whole sentence in English.

Saudade (Pronunciation: saw•’day•djee – Portugese) n., a strong feeling of missing someone you love.

In his wonderful article on the subject, philosopher Roman Krznaric, writes that the Greek language distinguishes at least six different ways as to how the word love is used.

The ancient Greeks were just as sophisticated in the way they talked about love, recognizing six different varieties. They would have been shocked by our crudeness in using a single word both to whisper “l love you” over a candlelit meal and to casually sign an email “lots of love.” Roman Krznaric

The first kind of love was eros, named after the Greek god of fertility, and it represented the idea of sexual passion and desire. Something the Greeks saw as a frightening loss of control, not the desirable state of constant arousal our modern society views it as.

Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. Neil Gaiman

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The second variety of love was philia or friendship, which was valued more highly by the Greeks than the sexuality of eros. Philia describes the deep friendship that developed between men who had fought side by side on the battlefield – it epitomised loyalty, sacrifice and the sharing of deeply affecting experiences.

We’d never know how high we are ’till we are called to rise; and then, if we are true to plan, our statures touch the sky. Emily Dickinson

Ludis was the Greeks’ idea of playful love, such as the affection between children or young lovers. Think of flirting, teasing, bantering and light-hearted fun.

The fourth love was agape or selfless love. This was a love that you extended to all people – compassion, charity and an empathy for all people (and all living things).

Pragma was the deep understanding between long-married couples, who demonstrate compromise, patience and tolerance.

It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages. Friedrich Nietzsche

The Greek’s sixth variety of love was philautia or self-love, of which there were two kinds. One was a narcissistic self-love, where you became self-obsessed and focused on selfish ends. The second type was the idea that if you have a healthy self-love, you will have plenty of love to give others.

Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them. Leo Tolstoy

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Krznaric suggests there is a correlation between the lack of attention given to these non-sexual, non-romantic forms of love and the modern obsession with romantic love, and with finding ‘the one’. The Greeks clearly articulated that expecting one person to fulfil all our love needs was completely unrealistic.

So it makes sense that there are different kinds of love, and perhaps we are designed to experience them all. Like getting all our nutrients, perhaps this longing for the ‘one’ is a manifestation of unfulfilled love in other parts of our life. Too much focus on the meat and not enough vegetables. (Okay, that pun was intended.)

On a recent shamanic journey, I was shown another aspect of love, receiving. One of my regular animal guides, the wolf, took me on a journey that showed me how resistant I am to the love and support all around me.

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love. Rainer Maria Rilke

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As the western world celebrates – or commiserates – Valentine’s Day, I wondered why we laud the romantic love above all else?

Feeling triggered by the ebbs and flows of my own heartbreak, I found the constant emphasis on that kind of love demoralising. A guy from an online dating site asked me ‘what had reduced such a beautiful, intelligent woman to this?’ I found that strange. I didn’t feel reduced. I wanted to meet single men, it seemed like the place to do it, was I missing something?

Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are. Arthur Golden

And then, after some last minute cancellations, I found myself waiting for the last remaining Chakradance attendee who was a no show. Abandoned on Valentine’s Day. Uh oh.

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Then tears came. I wish they didn’t. I wish I could write that I’m all strong and warrior-like, but I’m not.

As I sat in my beautiful studio, feeling alone and abandoned. Opening my eyes a sliver of light from the red candle flame was kaleidoscoped by my tears. So unexpectedly beautiful – the outlines of angels and holographic tribal images. I began to play with my tear-filled eyes. It’s a fine line between pleasure and pain…

Love is so short, forgetting is so long. Pablo Neruda

Unable to reconcile the Valentine red hearts, roses, and chocolate idea of love; the light and sparkly new age all-embracing love; and the love that has left me so bereft,  it occurred to me that love is so much deeper than the use of word suggests. The love of mother at her child’s sick bed. Of a husband as he holds his dying wife’s hand…

Love is a risk. The risk of the loss of that which we love. Love walks the razor’s edge between unconditional love and devastating, debilitating attachment.

What is to give light must endure burning. Viktor Frankl

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Love is an act of courage. The courage to remain open after the heaviness and shards of hurt rain down on us. In the birth/death/rebirth cycle, grief is an inevitable part of love.

Grief reunites you with what you’ve lost. It’s a merging; you go with the loved thing or person that’s going away. You follow it a far as you can go. But finally, the grief goes away and you phase back into the world. Without him. Philip K Dick

Martin Prechtel is the author of Secrets of the Talking Jaguar, an autobiographical account of his initiation as a Mayan Shaman. His lecture series on Grief and Praise is a simple yet profound insight into the false distinction between love and loss, positive and negative emotions.

It is an interesting reflection on our modern desire to both suppress grief, whilst simultaneously expressing it in unhealthy and unhealing ways, on Jerry Springer, Facebook, from a bar stool. Most of us lack the real community which would hold us as we safely grieve.

It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses. Colette

Prechtel talks about grief and praise as part of the same continuum, as a yin/yang process where one always contains the other – it must or it is devoid of any real depth. Love and praise are only of substance if there is a connection involved where the loss would be felt deeply.

I love my cup of coffee but if I spill it, I’ll be upset for a moment and annoyed, but there’ll be no real grief. My dog on the other hand… The same goes for grief. We only grieve that which we have deeply loved. If there is no grief, there was no real love.

The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God! Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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Perhaps this kind of community, Pretchel speaks of, where people can bear witness to our pain and our joys is something we have to create in the modern world, we don’t live in extended families and tribes, and if we break down in the street we are more likely to be carted off to the psych ward than given a cup of tea and a friendly shoulder to cry on.

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break. William Shakespeare

In a society where it is not safe to grieve, we abandon ourselves before anyone can abandon us, and withhold emotions because we fear it is unsafe. This repression and denial of grief manifests as all kinds of psychosis and physical symptoms, passed down as psychic wounds from generation to generation. These tribal and ancestral wounds are energetically lodged in our base chakra and can make us feel unsafe and insecure.

You won’t find these wounds on an x-ray or ultrasound, yet they will emerge from within when it is safe, if the timing is right, and you have the tools to process and honour them, if you give them the words they need to take flight, you can finally grieve them.

Each of us has his own rhythm of suffering. Roland Barthes

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I was fifteen the first time tried to take my own life. That wasn’t the last time. That medicine cabinet still stands in my mother’s bathroom. Whenever I see it, I can still feel the ache of that girl.

As she emptied the pills in her hand. Her tears as she swallowed them, really thinking it was the end. Of what she thought she would find there. Relief, escape from the burden of an open heart.

Instead of a white cadillac to the clouds, I vomited until I bled, and there were tearful confessions, remonstrations, and resolutions.

It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. Joseph Campbell

I don’t know what makes someone that thin-skinned. I don’t know why things never bounced off my skin the way the did off other people’s. Why the stings and arrows all got wedged in my heart.

This has been my journey. Being born with an over-full, ever-open heart. Experiencing shame at a too young age. Learning that people would stop loving me if I wasn’t good enough.

Someday you’re gonna look back on this moment of your life as such a sweet time of grieving. You’ll see that you were in mourning and your heart was broken, but your life was changing. Elizabeth Gilbert

Open heart. Broken ever wider. Yet when I journey there I see a beautiful garden growing in the ruins.

Maybe it’s okay to be alone in my garden. It’s beautiful. It lives. I am grateful.

So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love. E.A. Bucchianeri

I am grateful for my body
I am grateful for my heart
I am grateful for my spirit

Bless!

Images: http://www.jamesreads.com/

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4 comments on “What is love anyway?

  1. Love is why your 15-year-old self didn’t manage that cadillac-ride to the heavens….at some level she knew and loved the person she was becoming.

    P xx

    Like

  2. I am grateful for your spirit as I am ever grateful for divine guidance like this post. What a beautiful example of our connection in this wondrous plane. Thank you for sharing your gifts.

    Like

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