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What is love?
What do you think about when you hear the word?
Who comes to mind?
Tingling sensations? Strong desires and attachments? Physical and emotional connection? Chocolate?
Most of us don’t stop to think about what we mean when we talk about loving something or someone. We just mostly associate it with good sensations and the things that may trigger those feelings.
We know that sensations and feelings are fleeting. Love of this sort can appear to be fragile and conditional.
However, we also know that true love has an enduring quality to it. It is not conditional but it is also not burdensome.
It is mysterious, seemingly able to appear out of thin air and overwhelm us with a sense of well-being and belonging.
It is paradoxical, at once painful and sublime.
And it is demanding, requiring total commitment to its cause.
What is love?
A working definition of love
Love is notoriously difficult to define and there may be as many definitions as there are people on the planet.
If someone stopped me on the street and asked me to define love, I would offer the definition given by spiritual writer Anthony de Mello. In his book, The Way to Love, he gave this stunning definition:
“What is love? It is a sensitivity to every portion of reality within you and without, together with a wholehearted response to that reality.”
The day I encountered this definition was the day I discovered that the nature of love went way beyond sentimentality, romanticism, or wishy-washiness. It went beyond personal desires and longings.
Love is nothing more than a decision to deal with reality as it is, not as we would like it to be.
Loving what is
Notice in de Mello’s definition of love that there’s no reference to feelings. Instead, he describes love as a sensitivity to reality.
When we become sensitive to reality, we begin to see ourselves and others as they really are: the troublesome coworker, the nagging child, the clingy partner. We can see them without turning away.
Once we’re able to see them, we’re ready for the next daunting step: to respond wholeheartedly. In other words, we’re invited to accept that reality just as it is. Instead of trying to change someone or remake them in our image, we accept them just as they are.
You may ask, “But what if someone’s a jerk? Do I just accept that and tolerate abusive behavior?”
Wholehearted acceptance does not lead to inaction. On the contrary, it leads to more effective action.
When you fully accept the reality that someone is a jerk, you will see the futility of your efforts of trying to change them. You also will not tolerate them helplessly.
Instead, you’ll limit your exposure to their negativity. You’ll stop taking their insults personally. You’ll stop making unrealistic demands of them. You’ll stop turning to them for your wellbeing and happiness.
You’ll be free.
Byron Katie, in her book Loving What Is, puts it this way:
“I am a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.”
Dropping the illusions
Too many of us have fallen in love with illusions. This is why we suffer. This is why love hurts.
Drop the illusions so that you can become sensitivity to reality. You’ll find that there are opportunities for love all around you.
And remember true love doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be true.