What is love? Rumi, Rilke, and Neruda, among other poets, have waxed eloquently and beautifully about it. Great music has been scored and lyrics written about it. There is divine love, self love, romantic love, carnal love, parental love, filial love, universal love, unconditional love; too many to write of. Comics like to joke that love is blind; which is why it usually proceeds with the sense of touch. Or that Love is like an hourglass; as the heart fills, the brain empties. Although we cannot possibly define love in a single word, phrase or sentence, what I want to iterate here is that we must love.
At a psychological level, love is our oxygen, love is our food. Love nourishes us. We need it to survive. Love is essentially a bodily, sensorimotor experience. Just like we are wired to automatically breathe and to hunger and to thirst, so do we also have neuro-anatomical and biochemical pathways that drive us to love. Without love, we cannot thrive. We are social beings that need connection with others and meaning in those connections.
Love begins in yourself, in your body. If you are able to sit or lay still and simply observe your body and mind, you will reach a state of pure self-awareness. In that state, you begin to realize that bodily sensations come and go. In fact, your body’s molecular and cellular structures change all the time. For instance, every 3 – 4 months you have a complete, new set of red blood cells with the old ones being discarded. It is estimated that every 7 years, you are molecularly a completely new person with your DNA providing the framework so you don’t end up looking too differently each time. So You (that awareness watching the body) are more than your body. In that state of stillness, you can also watch your mind. The natural activity of the mind is to think so you can simply observe your thoughts as they come and go. You are therefore not your thoughts; but again that ‘awareness’ that can observe.
This state of stillness with self-awareness is what is called a “meditative” state. It is a joyful state in that you realize, i.e. you embody the feeling, that you are not this small self of a body and mind; but that you are a Super Consciousness, a Spirit, Divinity itself, in a body. And when you feel that, you feel a state of abundance as you are connected to, and never separated, from your Source, i.e. from God. That, to me, is the feeling of Love. Contrast that to a feeling or belief of limitation and restriction wherein you automatically feel constricted, anxious, and fearful. If you know that you are a Spirit in a body, vs. a body with a Spirit, then you will automatically take care of your body and your mind. You will guard carefully what you think, speak and do as you tend to the temple of your Spirit. And when you acknowledge that all others are other Spirits in Bodies (S-I-Bs) then we automatically love others as our Self. This is where love starts and where all other kinds of love spring forth from.
The meaning of our self is therefore not to be found in its separateness from God and others, but in the constant and ceaseless realization of yoga, of embracing your wholeness as Divinity. And what a host of benefits you can derive for your health! Love lies in the action, the doing, the connecting. Love is a verb. It is transitive and requires people. Decades of research have shown that the more socially connected people are, the longer they live and the healthier and happier they are. Connecting with people and simply doing the actions of love, such as hugging or cuddling, causes a flow of a hormone called oxytocin in your body and increases your vagal tone, among other things, and results in better regulation of metabolism, blood pressure, and inflammation. Love can even make you smarter and cognitively faster as a result of the stimulation of your dopaminergic system in the brain.
On the other hand, evidence has been growing too that when our need for social relationships is not met, we fall apart mentally and physically. Loneliness, and the resultant feeling of emptiness, takes a serious toll on health, eroding our arteries, creating high blood pressure, and undermining learning. Loneliness not only makes us sick but it can kill us too! Studies across the age spectrum have shown that those without adequate social interaction or without even just the experience of touch are unable to thrive and have an increased cardiovascular mortality rate. It is estimated that, for adults, loneliness is twice as dangerous as obesity!Just as love begets love, loneliness creates more isolation. It makes people more hyper-reactive to negative behaviors in other people, less concerned with interactions, and more focused with self-preservation leading to “social evasion” and more loneliness. Breaking the cycle of loneliness and disconnection requires us to go back deep within our Selves and find the answers in our Silence. Alone, perhaps; but not lonely.
I’ll end here by rephrasing a popular yoga saying that encourages students to practice daily, “Love, and all is coming to you.” And as one of my favorite yoga teachers (R. Choudhury) said, “Don’t fall in love, grow in Love.” I love you all. Namaste.