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 Is it an outdated archaic idea, a fundamental force of the universe, or an individual act of will?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