Love is an indescribable connection with another human being that allows us to care about another person as much or more than we care about ourselves. In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck describes love, as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Romantic love is a shared intimacy that may be expressed physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Love allows us to expose our vulnerabilities without fear or judgment. In love, we feel safe; it does not fade when our secrets, weaknesses and imperfections are revealed.
In Symposium, Plato states that love is an instinctual power that draws each person to the other in an attempt “to weld two beings into one” and “to restore us to our original state of unity.” According to Plato, love is “the desire and pursuit of the whole.” This same concept is communicated when someone says, “you complete me.” In the Jewish religion, this sentiment is expressed when a husband and wife each wear half of a broken charm that fits together to create a complete circle.
Erich Fromm defines love as “a union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. Love is an active power in man which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and separateness, yet it permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity. In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.”
The magic of a loving relationship is imbedded in the realization of “who you are” when you united with the one you love. You have to continually ask yourself, “Am I a better person when I am with the person I love? Do I choose us?”
Being “in love” with someone turns an ordinary day into a mystical experience. As Anthony Hopkins emotionally explains to his daughter in the movie Meet Joe Black, “I want you to get swept away out there. I want you to levitate… Be deliriously happy, or at least leave yourself open to be. I know it’s a cornball thing -- but love is passion, obsession, someone you can’t live without. So I say, fall head over heals. Find someone you can love like crazy who will love you the same way back -- and how do you find him? Well, you forget your head and you listen to your heart -- because the truth is, there’s no sense living your life without this. To make the journey and not fall deeply in love -- well, you haven’t lived a life at all -- but you have to try -- because if you haven’t tried, you haven’t lived.” Life’s greatest tragedy is not to be loved.
One of the best descriptions of romantic love was expressed in the movie, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Pelagia listened to her father as he stated, “When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part -- because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness. It is not excitement. It is not the desire to mate every second of the day or lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every part of your body… that is just being in love, which any of us can convince ourselves we are… Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away. I know it doesn’t sound very exciting, but it is.”
Love is an intense primal emotion; we all want it and we all search for it. The final scene of Les Miserables profoundly depicts the immortal passion of love when they say, “Take my love for love is everlasting -- and remember the truth that once was spoken -- to love another person is to see the face of God.” Mary T. Browne expressed the same sentiments when she said, “Through this powerful…feeling of total union with another person, we feel an abnormal connection that approximates our forgotten sense of unity with the God force.” In essence, the most passionate and profound words of love are reflected in silence. The peaceful stillness that emanates from two people in love is truly sacred.
The word “love” is often filled with fear and insecurity. For example, some people have confessed that their fathers never told them that they were loved. However, most of them believed that they were loved in spite of the absence of verbal communication. “My father just couldn’t say the words, but I knew he loved me,” explained a close friend. “I first realized it when I was only 4 years old. My father was walking me home and I tripped over a rock, fell down and scraped my knee. I started crying hysterically but he didn’t say anything to me at the time. He just picked me up in his arms and bought me an ice cream cone. Ever since that day I never doubted my father’s feelings.”
I’ve never understood why society curtails the use of the word “love.” Is the word frightening or is the emotion repressed? Why do couples fear the initial utterance of the words “I love you?” After a painful breakup, an associate confessed, “I didn’t know the appropriate time to tell him that I loved him and I was afraid of saying it first. We broke up before I ever had the chance to say the words.” Some individuals can count the number of people who they have told, “I love you” on one hand and often, two people love each other without ever saying the words. Why are the words so difficult to say? I’ve never understood why we wouldn’t just be thrilled to tell someone that we care. Is the fear of rejection greater than the desire to express the joy of the emotion?
The avoidance of verbal expression can result in extreme insecurity that is unwarranted and unfair. A person can feel unloved and may overcompensate with self-indulgence, desperation, loneliness, or attention-getting behaviors. Or the person may seek balance and remorse through unnecessary acts of self-punishment. In the book, Messages from the Masters, Brian Weiss states, “It is safe to love completely, without holding back. You can never be truly rejected. It is only when the ego is involved that we feel bruised and vulnerable. Love itself is absolute and all-encompassing.”
On the surface, we may feel that hate is the opposite of love, but it is not. Hatred requires an expression of deep emotion toward another person, even though the emotion is negative. Fear is actually the true opposite of love. Fear is an internally created prison that locks our emotions behind a blockade that cannot be penetrated. In response to fear, we create an environment that does not allow us to love others or ourselves. The emotions of the heart surrender to the power of fear. Instead of loving others, we simply fear love.
According to Weiss, “The walls that we put around ourselves whenever we feel emotionally threatened are walls of fear. We fear being hurt, rejected, and ostracized. We are threatened by our vulnerability, and we wall ourselves off so that we do not feel. Our emotions are suppressed. Sometimes we even reject the person or people who threaten us before they can reject us. We beat them to the punch… Unfortunately our walls hurt us more than any other person could. Our walls block us off, close our hearts, and worsen our condition.”
When I was growing up, I assumed that love and acceptance were highly correlated. If my friends and family approved of my behavior, I felt loved. I was completely focused on self-preservation and instinctively knew that a human being could not survive without love. Eventually I discovered that a love based on approval or consent was too conditional for me. I’m never going to perfect; I will always do things that disappoint others and I couldn’t continuously try to please others in an attempt to capture a love that seemed superficial and fleeting.
Once I gave up on finding love that was based on acceptance, I discovered a love that was compassionate, understanding, nonjudgmental and unconditional – it was a love that emanated from the depth of my soul. Many people believe that this type of love is the same as the love of God, a Supreme Being or a higher power in the universe. Yet, I did not know what to call this type of love or how to classify it. I only knew that if life presented challenges that seemed too difficult to endure, it was the love inside of myself that always allowed me to survive.
The first time I learned about “unconditional love” was in high school when I read The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. Unconditional love is a humanitarian love that is not based on approval or agreement; it is not dependent on a person’s actions, beliefs or behavior. After I read the book, I started asking people a question that few could answer, “If unconditional love exists, how do you love someone you don’t like?” 20 years later I found an answer -- it was in the Dalai Lama’s book, The Art of Happiness. According to Buddhism, the answer is compassion. It is compassion for the person’s suffering in life and compassion that we all share the same hardships. Only with true compassion, can you love a stranger.
The easiest acceptance of unconditional love is a mother’s love for a child. A mother’s love does not end when a family heirloom is broken by accident. Yet why would unconditional love be restricted to a member of one’s own family? Why can’t we love others even if they disappoint or betray us? Is it because our definition of love is too narrowly defined?
Unconditional love is one of the most difficult concepts to accept. Most people actually tell me that it is impossible. “It is too difficult to love someone when you disapprove of everything they do,” replied an acquaintance. Yet wouldn’t we want people to love us even if they disagreed with our behavior and belief systems? How can we ask others to love us without judgment if we are not willing to do the same? Basically, if individuals believe that unconditional love is impossible, it will be, because belief in its existence creates its own reality.
We assume that God or some higher power in the universe loves us in spite of our imperfections. If a “perfect entity” can accept our weaknesses and failures, why couldn’t we feel the same towards other people? Why wouldn’t we love imperfection since it is the one attribute that we all share? Loving “perfection” is actually very difficult. We look for weaknesses in people that we believe to be strong. The vulnerability of a human being is often the easiest part of the person to love. Didn’t our love for Princess Diana increase when her vulnerabilities were exposed?
I once had a theory that if I could find one common element in all of the world’s religions, it would probably represent the ultimate truth of the universe. If a concept could prevail in the same way by so many different people for centuries, how could it be wrong? I compared religions and found many differences, but I found one true similarity. All religions said that you should love others the same as you would love yourself. In the Jewish and Christian religions, it is called the Golden Rule. Jesus said “Love thy neighbor as thyself. There is no commandment greater than this… The other man must mean as much to you as your own self. You must feel his welfare as your own direct concern.” In Confucianism, the proverb is, “what you do not wish done to yourself, do not do unto others.” “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is also the fundamental precept of the Kabbalah. For Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, their primary concerns are love of neighbors and compassion. The importance of unconditional love is reinforced in the old story of a non-Jewish student who came to Hillel to ask him to recite the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel stood on one foot and replied, “The essence of the Torah is this: Do not do unto anyone what you would not want done unto you. The rest is commentary.”
Since we do not love ourselves conditionally (i.e., self-love does not end when we do something we know is wrong), “loving others as thyself” would mean that we would also not love others conditionally. Yet, in spite of religious consistency, most people still do not believe that unconditional love exists. Is this religious principle only a utopian ideal that is too difficult to incorporate into our own lives?
The Dalai Lama says, “Compassion… is unconditional, undifferentiated and universal in scope. A feeling of intimacy toward all other sentiment beings, including of course those who harm us, should be generated, which is likened in the literature to the love a mother has for her only child.” The Dalai Lama relates an interesting story about Lapon-la, who was one of the monks that was imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese for 10 years before leaving Tibet to live in exile in India. The Dalai Lama asked Lapon-la about his fears during this horrendous period, and Lapon-la “admitted that there was one thing that scared him: the possibility that he might lose compassion and concern for his jailers.” Yehuda Berg says that the Kabbalists are very clear on the issue of unconditional love. He says, “You must offer unconditional love… to your friends and even those you see as enemies if you want to receive peace and serenity in your own life. You must see the soul of the other person and connect to it. For instance, if a Jew offers unconditional love and shares genuine spiritual Light with a Muslim or a Christian, even if he loathes him, love and Light will be returned to him in equal measure, without fail. It’s a natural law…When we offer love even to our enemies, we destroy their darkness and hatred, which is the reason they became our enemies in the first place… What’s more, we cast out the darkness inside ourselves. What’s left are two souls who now recognize the spark of divinity they both share.” In the same vein, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who despitefully use you.” Aren’t these religious leaders asking us for unconditional love?
Based on continual questioning, I have found that women often believe in unconditional love, while men do not. This finding correlates to love in the family structure. Most people believe that their mothers will love them in spite of their actions, while a father’s love must be “earned.” Has this conditioning made it easier for women to accept the principle of unconditional love? Since we believe that we must earn our father’s love, do men emulate their fathers and consequently believe that all love must be earned?
Some people argue that unconditional love cannot exist because it is impossible to love criminals, individuals who have hurt and betrayed us, or people who have inflicted severe pain onto someone we love. Yet, unconditional love is not a personal concept; it is a humanitarian concept. It is not dependent on what we consider right or wrong. Other individuals cannot “earn” unconditional love because by definition, it is a love without prerequisites. Human beings should not be “unworthy” of love because they are fallible and have made mistakes.
Correspondingly, since unconditional love is not a personal concept, it does not mean that we are supposed to have our enemies over for dinner or give them presents at holidays. It does not mean that we are supposed to include negative people in our lives. As Confucius said, “Feel kindly toward everyone, but be intimate only with the virtuous.”
Unconditional love is based on the principle that our mission in life is to create a “heaven” on earth and that our primary goal is to become more similar to our “creator.” In the next dimension, souls are not loved conditionally. Everyone has done things that are wrong and must be held accountable for those actions. Yet the only person who can right the wrong is the person who committed it. Judgment of others or personal rejection cannot create balance or retribution.
Our creator also does not love souls conditionally. If one of our children kills someone in an act of passion, it is clearly illegal and a violation against God. Do we believe that God would never be able to forgive this child or feel compassion for the child’s mistake?
Someone may become a criminal during a particular lifetime but perhaps it is due to circumstances that we don’t understand (such as environment, genetics, mental health, karma, etc.). Since we cannot understand the complete picture while we are alive, we should not pass judgment, or as it says in the Bible, “Judge not that you may not be judged.” Instead of declaring that certain people are unworthy of love, why wouldn’t we have compassion for these people because they will have to bear an incredible amount of pain and suffering to “balance the score” (or resolve karma)?
If we assume that God has unconditional love for humanity, could God love someone like Hitler? If we were all a part of God at the beginning of time (which is a major assumption of many religions), then at one point, Hitler was also a part of God. However, during Hitler’s life on earth, he made some serious mistakes and committed unspeakable atrocities. At the moment of death, God probably did not embrace Hitler because Hitler needs to experience a tremendous amount of suffering before he can change. Some people believe that Hitler needs to come back to earth and be the victim of genocide many times before he can understand the horrendous pain that he caused to millions of people. Others believe that Hitler needs to feel the pain of every person who was hurt by his actions (through some form of spiritual empathy). Yet the suffering that Hitler endures is not a punishment based on hatred. Due to love, compassion and forgiveness, God does not condemn evil people; instead, He tries to help them be able to change themselves (or as the Bible says, “God loves the sinner but not the sin”). Hitler is clearly responsible for his actions and justice and remorse will have to prevail before he can evolve spiritually.
Unconditional love for Hitler means that due to compassion, he will be given every opportunity to change -- but the only person who can change Hitler is Hitler himself. The only real sadness is if Hitler were never given the opportunity to change. If unconditional love did not exist or if forgiveness and compassion did not exist, then a part of God would also cease to exist. Hitler represents an extreme form of evil but every human being has chosen evil at one time or another (even if only as a minor infraction). Where does one draw the line at what is forgivable and what is not? If God did not love the “sinner,” how could He love anyone?
Unconditional love does not depend on the evaluation of an individual’s behavior. It is a love for humanity and in essence a love for God because a part of God is in every human being. If God is reflected in every person, how does one love God without loving humanity? If we do not love God conditionally, then how can we love humanity conditionally? Free choice gives people the right to choose evil over good. It is not our job to judge others. With unconditional love, there is compassion, forgiveness, understanding and mercy. Unconditional love is also eternal. Pirkei Avos says, “If love is dependent upon a specific consideration… when that consideration vanishes, the love ceases. But if love is not dependent upon a specific consideration, it will never cease.”
As I searched for ways to personally experience unconditional love, I developed an acronym to help me accomplish my objective. For me, unconditional love could be found by realizing that ABC = FUN PR: Acceptance by being compassionate leads to forgiveness, understanding and non-judgment, which require patience and respect. The acronym allowed me to break unconditional love into its “parts” and I repeated the mantra every time I wanted to negatively judge someone else’s behavior. The importance of the acronym became extremely clear one day when we were having a bad experience at a restaurant. Our order was filled incorrectly and each activity took much longer than expected. Our entire dining experience was filled with frustration at the perceived incompetence of the waitress who was serving us. For one second during this experience, I remembered the mantra. Perhaps I didn’t understand the environment that she was encountering. Maybe the kitchen was unable to fulfill orders on a timely basis or maybe she had too many tables at once. It was even possible that she had just broken up with her boyfriend and her pain was monopolizing her attention. Acceptance through compassion means that we can believe that there is an explanation for perceived negativity even if we don’t understand the reason at the time. This resulting compassion caused me to reassess the perceived incompetence of the waitress. Ultimately, through understanding, negative judgment was avoided and I was able to feel forgiveness for expectations that were unfulfilled. The entire thought process required patience and respect for another human being even though I didn’t understand the particular circumstances that surrounded the experience.
In essence, we can learn to substitute the emotion of compassion for the emotion of anger. As a friend explained to me, “In the past, when someone personally insulted my character during a discussion about a particular issue, I felt anger. Now I feel compassion for the reasons that the person felt that a personal attack was necessary -- vs. a refutation of the particular point. I might not understand what was triggered during the discussion or what ‘button’ was pushed or what insecurity surfaced, but I knew that the need to shift the discussion to a personal insult was a tactic to cause defensiveness that was unrelated to the issue. I realized that this tactic was unfair but I also knew that it had more to do with the attacker than with me.” Recently, I found out that an acquaintance had lied to me about his profession. My first instinct was to feel anger because he betrayed my trust in him. Instead, I felt compassion for the reasons that he felt he couldn’t be honest about his career and I felt sadness because I realized that he wasn’t comfortable just being himself.
After years of over-intellectualizing unconditional love, I finally realized that the concept was actually simple. Understanding unconditional love is the same as understanding the concept of unity. We may think we are separate from other individuals, but our true reality is our unity with all humankind. Since we live our lives separately, we believe that our problems are different from other people’s problems. Our houses look different, our appearances are different, our voices and fingerprints are different and we think that no one else can truly understand our unique predicaments. When we look at another human being, we may see someone separate from ourselves; but we fail to understand that our feelings of isolation are based only on the perception that we are different. Externally, our predicaments may appear unique, yet what we face in life is very similar. Basically, we all seek survival, freedom from suffering, acceptance, happiness and love. We may seek these things differently, but the end goal is the same.
Marianne Williamson says that we all share the same consciousness and it is through love that we become unified. She says that just as the sunbeams are not separate from the sun or that the waves are not separate from the ocean, we are not separated from each other. We are all part of the totality of the universe or the spiritual unity that many call God. Similarly, Deepak Chopra says, “Separation is merely an idea. At its core, reality is unity.” He says that the path in life “is to transform your awareness from separation to unity. In unity, we perceive only love, express only love, are only love.” Michael Berg says, “The Kabbalists teach that although we are all in different bodies, we are all in essence one completely connected soul... as long as any human is lacking we are lacking as well… When I am assisting another person I am in essence assisting another aspect of myself.”
Brian Weiss explained an excellent illustration of the concept of unity. He said, “In one such powerful but seemingly simplistic image I saw how people view themselves as separate entities, and yet in reality, we all are eternally connected to each other. I glimpsed a vast sea filled with ice cubes. Each ice cube was distinct, with fixed and definite boundaries, yet all floated in the same freezing water. Soon the water warmed, and the ice cubes melted. Everything was the water. Every ice cube was connected to every other ice cube in the sea. Then the heat increased, and the water began to boil, transforming into steam. Soon all was steam, silent and invisible. Yet the steam contained what was once the water and the ice cubes. The only difference between the states of ice, water and steam was the vibrational energy of the molecules. Humankind thinks of itself as physically separate, like the ice cubes. In reality, however, we are the same interconnected substance.”
Erich Fromm defines this type of unity as “brotherly love,” and states, “Brotherly love is based on the experience that we all are one. The differences in talents, intelligence, and knowledge are negligible in comparison with the identity of the human core common to all men. In order to experience this identity it is necessary to penetrate from the periphery to the core. If I perceive in another person mainly the surface, I perceive mainly the differences, that which separates us. If I penetrate to the core, I perceive our identity, the fact of our brotherhood.”
In The Tao of Physics, Fritjof Capra says that unity is “the most important characteristic of the Eastern World view… the essence of it is the awareness of the unity and mutual interrelation of all things and events, the experience of all phenomena in the world as manifestations of a basic oneness. All things are seen as interdependent and inseparable parts of this cosmic whole; as different manifestations of the same ultimate reality.”
The concept of unity is stronger than the belief that you should love others the same as you would love yourself. Instead, the realization of unity is that you love others because they are a part of yourself.
Throughout history, groups of people have been massacred only because they had “different” belief systems. If people loved God equally but worshipped Him differently, they were persecuted. If the concept of unity was not granted through consent, it was forcibly ensured through murder or “ethnic cleansing.” Unfortunately, we have never understood that unity is not agreement or that the concept of unity does not mean that we are similar.
Unity is actually the cohesion of difference. It means that two people who are unique individuals can come together and share an experience with different viewpoints. Successful unification naturally requires the convergence of diversity. Similar to a football team, success is guaranteed when the unique talents of every single player come together as a cohesive unit. The talent of the group takes precedence over the talent of each individual player.
In mathematics and economics, it is similar to Nash’s theory that a superior outcome can be achieved by considering the needs of the group instead of just individual needs. In science, it is similar to the Chaos Theory that proved that even the smallest movement on the planet affected changes to the rest of the planet. It has been shown that even the movement of butterfly wings in the Pacific Ocean can be correlated with the development of a hurricane elsewhere in the world. Mathematically, if the physical change is infinitesimal in value, it theoretically has an effect on the final outcome. The Chaos theory states that patterns or interconnectivity can be found in events that appear to be random, unconnected or independent. In other words, our environment results from the related actions of every member of its community. We believe the butterfly is separate from the hurricane, when in fact -- we are all connected as one.
According to Fritjof Capra in physics, “quantum theory reveals an essential interconnectedness of the universe. It shows that we cannot decompose the world into independently existing smallest units…the universal interconnectedness of things and events seems to be a fundamental feature of the atomic reality…quantum theory forces us to see the universe not as a collection of physical objects, but rather as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of a unified whole.” Quantum physics goes one step further in defining unity. Capra states “Whereas in classical physics the properties and behavior of the parts determine those of the whole, the situation is reversed in quantum physics: it is the whole that determines the behavior of the parts… Bell’s theorem demonstrated that the universe is fundamentally interconnected, interdependent, and inseparable” which Capra compares to the words of the Buddhist sage Nagarjuna who said thousands of years ago, “Things derive their being and nature by mutual dependence and are nothing in themselves.”
The Dalai Lama says, “Self and others can only be understood in terms of relationship; we see that there is no self-interest completely unrelated to others’ interests. Due to the fundamental interconnectedness that lies at the heart of reality, your interest is also my interest. From this, it becomes clear that ‘my’ interest and ‘your’ interest are intimately connected. In a deep sense, they converge.”
Philosophically, Spinoza also believed in unity. According to Will Durant in The Story of Philosophy, Spinoza believed, “all reality is one in substance, one in cause, one in origin; and God and this reality are one… every particle of reality is composed inseparably of the physical and the psychical. The object of philosophy, therefore, is to perceive unity in diversity, mind in matter, and matter in mind; to find the synthesis in which opposites and contradictions meet and merge; to rise to that highest knowledge of universal unity which is the intellectual equivalent of the love of God.”
A beautiful example of spiritual unity was the religious service in Yankee Stadium after the September 11th tragedy. For the first time in history, all religions came together to conduct a sacred service that allowed people from a variety of religions to mourn a catastrophic event as a unified entity. The religions may have been different but they all shared the pain and loss as one. The beauty in life is also reflected through unity. For example, when I traveled to Santorini, Greece, I realized that it is the beauty of man’s creations combined with the perfection of the universe that created the island’s mystical qualities. Physically, the island by itself is beautiful. However, the perfect integration of the stark white buildings, majestic blue roofs and black volcanic cliffs transform the island’s physical beauty into “magic.” It is the unity of man and God that transcends ordinary beauty.
According to Joseph Campbell (world renown expert on mythology), mythological creation stories are similar to religious creation beliefs -- they explain the beginning of time as the unification between man and God. In mythology, the creation of the physical world was our separation from God, which led to the recognition of opposites such as male and female, good and bad, hot and cold, heaven and earth. This separation and recognition of opposites create the emotions of fear and guilt (similar to the story of Adam and Eve). The way to God from a mythological perspective could occur through the recognition of our unity. Paradise occurs only when the opposite, separate entities unite as one again. Scott Peck offers a similar explanation. In The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, he states, “When we humans became self-conscious, we became conscious of ourselves as separate entities. We lost that sense of oneness with nature and the rest of creation. This loss is symbolized by our banishment from Paradise.” In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell describes an event in Hawaii where two policemen saw a person preparing to jump through a ridge in the mountains. One of the policemen grabbed the person as he started to jump but was pulled with him over the cliff. The second policeman arrived in time and pulled them both back. When reporters asked the first policeman why he didn’t let go, he replied, “I couldn’t let go. If I had let that young man go, I couldn’t have lived another day of my life.” Joseph Campbell describes this psychological crisis as “the breakthrough of a metaphysical realization, which is that you and that other are one, that you are two aspects of the one life, and that your apparent separateness is but an effect of the way we experience forms under the conditions of space and time. Our true reality is in our identity and unity with all life. This is a metaphysical truth which may become spontaneously realized under the circumstances of crisis.”
If we accept the principle of unity, unconditional love naturally follows. If we are all part of one entity (even though we are separate parts) we could not help but to love the whole instead of the individual pieces. When we love the whole, we love others the same as we love ourselves because we are all part of the same reality. When we love Santorini, we do not love the ground vs. the buildings, we love the island in its entirety. When we encounter another human being, we should love the unity of humankind and God instead of focusing on the perceived separation of the individual. If we cannot understand the concept of loving the “whole” instead of loving its individual pieces, we will never really be able to love anyone or anything. No one is perfect. Every person we love has “parts” that we don’t like, but it doesn’t stop us from loving the person in his or her entirety. We can also love a good dinner, even if we don’t like vegetables.
The military intimately understands the power of unity and on a subtle level they have instituted a system that incorporates unconditional love. It is all captured in the salute. The salute is a universal sign of respect and it does not depend on an acceptance of individual personality characteristics. In the military, individuals do not salute only the people they like. Similar to unconditional love, the salute is not a symbol of affection; it is a symbol of a basic respect for other members of the community. Indirectly, the salute says, “I honor you because we are all part of a unified entity even though we are separate parts of the whole.”
The military understands that if each individual feels deeply connected to a unified entity, the power of the entity becomes stronger. Would we feel different about others if we saluted them every time they passed by? Is this statement of respect a necessary component of unconditional love? Or can we simply mentally visualize a salute toward others to capture the emotion of unconditional love? If respect is mentally acknowledged, does the power of the unified entity become stronger?
I think that most individuals naturally relate love to affection, which is why the concept of unconditional love is so hard to accept. How can we show affection toward people we don’t like or people we have never met? Yet, this misunderstanding is founded on the principle that unconditional love is similar to some form of romantic interlude when it is actually more similar to a basic respect for humankind. Unconditional love does not necessarily require an expression of personal affection. Instead, it requires an act of general kindness and compassion.
Unconditional love does not mean that we want to include evil people in our lives. It just means that we recognize that we are all a part of the oneness of God and the spiritual universe.
The Definition of Love
The word “love” has always confused me. Why do we have only one word to describe an infinite number of emotions? I have loved my possessions, my job, my hobbies, my cat, my family, my friends, my boyfriends, the universe, God and humanity. Yet not one of these emotions is remotely similar. In Chinese, there are 150 words to describe members of a family because family is such an important part of their culture. If the Chinese language has so many words for family, why does the English language have only one word for love?
Love is a word where dictionary definitions are useless. According to Scott Peck “Love is too large, too deep ever to be truly understood or measured or limited within the framework of words.” If you ask a hundred people to define love, you will get a hundred different answers. The definition of love does not have one synonym. Love includes (but is not limited to) the sentiments of compassion, understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, respect, and non-judgment. We love from our heart, not from our head; and our heart uses symbolism that the head cannot translate into language. In olden times, there were actually three words for love. Eros represented passionate, erotic love (or being “in love” or lust), Amore was a romantic, spiritual love and Agape was unconditional love.
Irrespective of different definitions, the word “love” should be easier to say and there should be an easier way of showing people that we care. It should not require a belief in a utopian society before others can treat enemies or strangers with the same respect that they have for their friends.
I have always believed that happiness cannot exist without love. Romantic love is not required; but a love of the universe, humanity, your family, friends or yourself has to be present. When my parents first explained the concept of God, I immediately proclaimed that He had to be the same as love. Or he was so filled with love, that it was hard to tell the difference.
Correspondingly, the Dalai Lama says, “There is no denying that our happiness is inextricably bound up with the happiness of others… Love for others and respect for their rights and dignity, no matter who or what they are: ultimately these are all we need.”
I was extremely optimistic when I read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book, Pay it Forward. Instead of paying someone back for an act of kindness, the person independently provides three acts of kindness for people in the future. The beauty of the concept was expressed through the principle of giving without expecting something in return. This revolutionary idea creates an unconditional love that is actually contagious.
I often wonder how our lives world change if her concept became a reality in today’s society. What would happen if we stopped focusing on our own difficulties and started actively looking for ways to make other people’s lives easier? When I was living in the North End of Boston, I often struggled for over five blocks with heavy groceries that I could barely pick up. It was obvious that I was barely coping with the task, yet no one ever offered assistance (on average, I passed 60 people on this route). What would the world be like if we all changed our attitudes toward strangers by learning how to express unconditional love? Would one of my neighbors help me carry my groceries? And if people offered assistance, would we be able to trust that the gestures were genuine -- or would we think that these offers were dishonest attempts to steal our possessions? Even if we are certain that positive intentions are present, do we naturally fear offers of assistance by believing that some form of payback is required? Without a belief in unconditional love, is there a perceived “price” that we pay when we agree to accept someone’s help?
Deepak Chopra says, “Most of us give because doing so increases our self-image or because we expect something in return.” In the book, The Sermon on the Mount, Emmet Fox agrees by saying, ”People often complain of ingratitude on the part of those whom they have conferred favors…when you feel hurt because someone has been ungrateful for your kindness, it shows that you have been looking for gratitude, and this is a great mistake. The true reason for helping another is that it is our duty to help others…it is an expression of love. Of course, love will not look for a quid pro quo, and to have done one’s duty should be its own reward…The very fact that one is looking for gratitude means that he is putting the other person under a sense of obligation, and that person will probably get this subconsciously and resent it strongly, as such a thing is highly repugnant to human nature. So do your good deed, and then pass on, neither expecting nor wishing for personal recognition.”
I think that if people could experience the extreme fulfillment and happiness that comes from helping others, the expression of unconditional love would not be far behind. The Dalai Lama has stated that happiness can be achieved through altruism. Unconditional love is just another path toward the same end goal. Altruism and unconditional love are closely intertwined because both concepts are based on an attachment toward individuals without judgment or a desire for personal gain.
Altruism leads to happiness because the act of giving provides its own reward. Unconditional love is no different. Ironically, we usually seek happiness by looking toward ourselves. We try to discover what makes us happy and then we naturally pursue those activities or emotions. The paradox of altruism and unconditional love is that personal happiness is obtained by looking toward others instead of focusing on ourselves.
This concept of unconditional love was concisely summarized in Deepak Chopra’s book, Creating Health. He quotes the Tibetan Buddhist Lama Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche: “Everything is extraordinarily interrelated. As one realizes this, each relationship becomes based on feelings of love – not calculated love, but a natural friendliness to all beings, a natural openness based on a natural understanding of interrelationship. Gradually the whole idea of self-motivation disappears, and one sees that when you have no self-motivation or self-interest, then all your problems get solved. There no longer exists any individual problem.”`
Unconditional love does not require a utopian society; it only requires that we treat every human being with the respect that they deserve. We simply need to search for the beauty in every person and appreciate each person’s contribution to the unified entity that defines our humanity. Happiness is a state of mind. If we can love others without prejudice or negative judgment, we may discover that continual happiness can be found by simply adopting an attitude of acceptance and compassion toward others who may be extremely different from ourselves.