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 not something you “fall” in and out of.

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.


Cylon is a spiritual chaplain, musician, devoted husband, and busy dad of seven. He blogs about practical spiritual tips for living well at Spiritual Living For Busy People - sign up and get his free guide 20 Little Tricks To Instantly Improve Your Mood Even If You Feel Like Punching Something (or Someone) You can also purchase his book Self-Love: How to Love Yourself Unconditionally


  1. I find the “sensitivity” definition of love confusing. I’ll take it to men accepting and loving reality as is. I do understand and advocate that as well. Life gets a lot easier when you quit struggling against reality – whether it’s a person or circumstances – and learn to love and look for the good in “what is”. 🙂

    • So true Debbie. Life definitely is easier when we’re not ‘pushing against’ what currently is. 🙂

  2. Cathy Taughinbaugh

    So true that we cannot change someone else. I have found that you need to love the one you are with as they are, otherwise it can be a frustrating experience. That can be a hard concept for someone who doesn’t want to be alone, but a good one to remember. Thank you!

  3. Thank you for this stimulating discussion of what love truly is. I think it’s incredibly important to see love as something bigger and more profound than romantic love. I don’t entirely relate to this particular definition of love, although I complete get the point of being in tune with reality as it is. Is that love or is that wisdom? I did very much enjoy the overall discussion in this article..

    • It’s always interesting Sandra to hear the views of others. I love that you are so open minded as to be able to do that. Sadly not everyone has this gift. 🙂

  4. While I love “love”…and this article has defined one version of it, I have come to understand that Divine Love, is what we are all working towards and are a part of. The others are just glimpses…of Divinity. Romantic love is also one facet of the multitude of facets that love possess. But I believe that Love is not Sacred and Grand is love at all. Hence, the unconditional aspect is paramount to it.

    • Isn’t it lovely to be able to define for ourselves the meaning of things in life Zeenat. And the purpose they hold in our own lives. I love that. 🙂

  5. I am seeing “love” a lot. And big words. However you want to define it is fine by me.
    Truly, love is an action. Its defined in all of us and through our behaviors, how we choose to show it. Everyone has their own ways of expressing it so its manifesting into the physical realm of reality.
    Chose love. Love doesnt always win but it’s a disservice to oneself for not giving it your best shot everytime.

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