What We’re Reading – All About Love, by bell hooks

LOVE…what is it exactly?  Is it an outdated archaic idea, a fundamental force of the universe, or an individual act of will? As bell hooks points out in, All About Love (2000), “most people find it hard to define what they mean when they use the word ‘love,’” although we seem to know intuitively how important it is to our wellbeing—to our very survival.  Human beings generally know love as feeling sensations or relationships, but are these experiences the entirety or even the essence of love… or is there more?  hooks’ discussion of this cherished yet complicated concept challenged me, as a yoga practitioner and teacher trainer, to critically examine how I think about and experience love, and how I might bring more of it into the world.

hooks first invited me to, “imagine how much easier it would be…to learn to love if we began with a shared definition.” She then shared the self-aware definition proposed by Dr. Peck in The Road Less Traveled (1978);  he defines love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”  This definition immediately struck me as truly unique, making no direct reference to physical-emotional attraction or sentimental feelings. And, it resonated powerfully with my yogic tendencies, not only as a way to recognize love in its infinite manifestations, but as an act of will for spiritual purposes.  I realized at that point, I had often mistaken the experience of love as a strong, spontaneous state of attraction or “cathexis,” with a dedicated loving practice—in much the same way a momentary bliss sensation during yogic meditation may convince us that we have attained Samadhi. Envisioning love as a verb and a choice—involving conscious will and discernment in the service of spiritual intentions—helped me disentangle the notion of love as simply sensation and an active loving practice.

Defining love as a spiritual practice also opened up greater awareness on how I might bring more of it into the world. From this new perspective, love, like yoga, takes the form of disciplined, intentioned action: a series of conscious acts that take us to higher ground. Abuse, violence, manipulation, neglect, and other acts of, what hooks calls, “lovelessness,” can never be part of a loving practice. And feelings of attraction, which may be present, should never be confused with a dedicated practice of love. I can choose to act lovingly. All human beings can consciously choose to practice love. 

By embracing this definition, the idea and experience of love can be transformed: from a feeling that happens to us, to which we may become mindlessly attached, leading us to act in unloving ways; to a potentially healing and uplifting practice that we choose to take up with deliberate and mindful presence in order to foster our own and other’s spiritual Selves.  Love as a self-conscious, disciplined, spiritual practice:  What could be more nourishing, transforming, and empowering for our lives and our world—or more yogic?

Post by Tanja Bisesi

What We’re Reading – Keeping Quiet, by Pablo Neruda

Keeping Quiet, by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

I stumbled across Alastair Reed’s translation of this poem from Extravagaria, 1974, and it was like running into an old friend. I was reminded that we had met before in another season of my life, in another language, in another version of myself. I remember feeling drawn to the idea of silence as a healing force; thinking, “what a delight that might be!” I know now that yearning was that deepest part of myself, that quiet ground of being, reaching out to be renewed, reaching out for connection, giving me a nudge toward the yogic path.

My introduction to yoga through studio classes gave me glimpses of the magic of silence and stillness. When I completed my 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training, opportunities for silence became, as Neruda writes, “exotic moment[s]/without rush, without engines…” Neruda points directly to what yogis know, that we are all of us connected in that ground of being, when he writes in the next lines about “…be[ing] together/in a sudden strangeness.” It was that sudden strangeness that drew me back in, again and again. It is the power of silence and stillness to “interrupt this sadness/of never understanding ourselves” that has kept me coming back to my mat, and to myself, ever since.

post by Cara Sparkman