When you think of the word love what comes to mind? Perhaps that earthshattering feeling of falling head over heels in love? That romantic, butterflies in your stomach, kind of feeling. In other words, thinking of love as a feeling or state of being. And, sure, that is an aspect of love of course. Where we might go astray in our thinking, however, is if we fully equate love with just that “lovey” feeling. This means that we are thinking of love in a passive way – either you feel it or you don’t – so if you’re stressed, anxious or just generally having a bad day and not feeling much in the way of that love state whether with a romantic partner, friend, child, parent, or anyone, you may not change your actions to try to get back into a “love state,” but rather you may even get shorter tempered and unintentionally lean into irritation and anxiety spiraling you further from the loving energy that suddenly feels elusive. Worse still, you may blame the other person or other people for the lack of your feeling “love”. The reality though is that love is not just a noun, it is a verb too, an action verb. You have to make an effort to love and to love well. In fact, one could make the point that there is no higher goal in life than to practice and grow in active loving with everyone … our circle of loved ones, strangers as well as oneself. Here are a few ways you can practice loving as an active verb.
1) Love is thinking of others. Love, true love, is pure and from the heart, with no selfish aspects. The practice of unselfish love, of unconditional love, is thinking of others and offering acts of service, of love, to them without wanting or expecting anything in return. You simply do it because your heart flows to other hearts and you practice giving something of your heart, your love, as an offering. Of course, this doesn’t mean you don’t have any boundaries and there will be different ways you show and act on your love to different people with family and a spouse at the center of your heart circle and expanding out to friends, acquaintances and strangers. Extending out beyond human strangers to all living beings – animals, plants, mother earth herself – thinking how your actions might affect these “others” who are not really others but fellow travelers and companions in life, connected heart to heart, soul to soul, life to life.
2) Love is loving yourself too. If you do not love yourself unconditionally, you cannot love others unconditionally. This means offering love to even the parts of you you may not like much, the parts you may be embarrassed or ashamed of and wish to hide perhaps. Offer love to those parts even as you strive to grow to do better to heal the broken parts. My partner has a beautiful way of describing the necessity of self-love: Love yourself so much that your love explodes out to everyone around you. That is, if you don’t love yourself fully, completely, any love that you offer to others will be incomplete since you would be drawing from an empty or partially empty well. A great affirmation for this is “I love myself so much it explodes onto everyone!” Try repeating that to yourself a few times each day as you practice actively loving yourself and others.
3) Love is a practice that requires dedication. If you want to get fit, you wouldn’t just wait until the days you are feeling strong to work out, you would come up with a routine and stick to it, knowing that it takes persistence and dedication and working out even on days you’d rather stay in bed. This of course applies to pretty much everything including meditation. The point is to practice especially when your mind is all over the place not just when you’re calm and feeling motivated. Or writing a book. Eating healthy. You name it. Love is the same. You have to consciously choose to love well each day, each moment, in your words and actions. Practice loving even when you are in a bad mood and are feeling stressed. Practice loving even when you don’t feel particularly “loving”! Even when you may feel you are “faking it until you make it.” For example, if you don’t feel like smiling and smile anyway, you are sending positive endorphins to your brain and you actually feel a little more like smiling. It’s the same thing with love. Practice loving until it becomes second nature at all times, even and especially in times of stress, practice until your heart bursts with love, and feeling and action become merged. For most of us this is a lifelong practice and we will experience glimpses and times where feeling and action are aligned and others when we need to practice the action of loving even when we don’t “feel it” knowing the feeling will come again.
“Love is first and foremost exemplified by action – by practice – not solely by feeling.” [Whose quote? Anonymous?]
“Practice love until you remember that you are love.” Swami Jai Premananda