02 January 2017

An-Ode-to-Love – or 3 ways to be More Loving

In the words of the classic hit song by Foreigner, "I Want to Know What Love Is". Might sound a trifle trite, but for 2017, my New Year’s resolution is to aim to go beyond the knowing - and to actually be more loving.

So this week, here is my plan – 3 ways to be more loving, but first

Thought for the day

Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast,
 it is not proud.

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking,

It is not easily angered,
It keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil

But rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts,
Always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

1 Corinthians 13:4

How to be more loving?

Seems like a simple and very worthwhile aspiration… Yet how to make some real progress? Three things come to mind; maybe you have more insights and would like to add them via the comment section. Maybe we can return to this theme throughout 2017 and comment on progress. Anyway, these 3 techniques may well be helpful…

1. Know what love is - engage the analytical mind
Don’t you just love how unloving this sounds? “Engage the analytical mind”. Seems far removed from love to be in the mind and to be analytical. Yet, clearly love is complex. Is it an emotion? A virtue? A state of mind? An attitude? A feeling?

To analyse love theoretically can help us to understand love in the real world. Love is often contextual – it may well vary depending upon who you are with. The love you feel for your lover may well be different to your love for you mother or your dog.

And also, consistent mental analysis can open the way to contemplation and deep insight. While the thinking mind can help us to understand, insight gives us access to a direct experience.

So traditionally, when people sought to know love, they contemplated it; first by thinking deeply and consistently about it, then waiting for that time where they went into the stillness beyond thought and experienced the insight, the direct knowing.

So how to do it? Start with the theory - think about what we do know of love. For example, the ancient Greeks had different words for different types of love that are to this day very insightful; well worth thinking about…

Eros : Passionate or Romantic love. Seen in Ancient Greece as being something of an affliction…

Philia : Brotherly love. More in the line of friendship and affection.

Storge : Natural affection like a parent has for a child.

Agape : That selfless love that in Christianity became “Charity” : from the Greek word caritas or dearness.

Xenia : Hospitality – an almost ritualized friendship formed between host and guest, who was expected to repay only with gratitude.

As another “thinking” option, you could reflect upon how conditional love can be.
How often love actually is like a deal? “I will love you if … “.

If you do something in return for me. If you love me back. If you pay for… If you look after the children… If you… What is the deal?

On the other hand, unconditional love has no “ifs”. There is no deal. Unconditional love says “I will love you”. Full stop. I will love you. No conditions.

As such unconditional love is rather rare and rather difficult to sustain for most. We can aspire to it; the more we realize what it is and the more we accomplish it the better, but one would need to be enlightened to manage unconditional love with everyone.

So in contemplation, we start by thinking about anything to do with the subject, we analyze it, we persist in the process; and then from time to time, we drop the thinking, leave a space and wait. Fairly reliably, from that space an insight emerges. More like a knowing than a thinking, insight gives us a deeper, more experiential understanding of what love is.

2. Feel the experience of receiving love

On a 3 month personal retreat in 2015 I spent time contemplating past and present relationships and my experience of receiving love through them. While this process was helped by being on retreat, it is something that is possible amidst daily life.

Simply recall relationships. I started with the female ones. From earliest memory to the most recent. It was fascinating. At different times quite moving, confronting, delightful, painful, humorous, sad, joyful and on and on. Profoundly useful and beneficial. Then I did the same with all the male relationships that came to mind.

Again, it took some time but the perseverance with the one theme steadily gave me a real sense of what love felt like as it came into my own life.

3. Be more outwardly loving
So this is the one I plan to work on. Speaking personally, I have spent good time on the first two. So how to give more love? How to be more loving?

The Bible certainly has a lot of good things to say about love. “Love thy neighbor as thy self”. Mark 12 : 31. Whether you are into the Bible or not is hardly the point. The principle certainly is real. The better one feels about one’s self, the more comfortable we are with our selves, the more we will be able to give out to others.

So meditation practiced regularly enables us to make friends with our selves; to feel more stable, less dependent upon the feedback of others, less dependent upon the deals we might otherwise make with others; more free and more able to give from our own hearts.

Then too, if we really care for the other, our love may not always appear soft and gentle, patient and kind. Tough love is a delicate art. In spiritual circles, it is said that the true spiritual friend is the one who points out our hidden faults.

So some spiritual teachers can seem quite direct, even to outsiders as very tough or rude. But real love wants to see the best for the other, so if there are hidden faults that are causing difficulties for the person directly, or through them to others, best to have them out in the open.

But let us be clear about this, tough love will always feel loving to the person involved. If tough love hurts, it is something else. Genuine tough love will always feel loving to those receiving it – even if it is quite tough.

So for me, this will be an interesting exploration. How to be more loving? If I remember, I will write something on what transpires; for that is the thing about New Year’s resolutions… One needs to remember to keep them going, to actually do something with them. We shall see…


WANT A TREAT? - sit back, make the link and enjoy... the song

RELATED BLOG I had the incredible good fortune some years back in Bethlehem to meet and converse with an authentic Christian hermit monk. He spends his days contemplating love, and told me a little of how he does that and what he experiences. Click Here


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Looking for meaning, clarity and purpose in life? You could even contemplate love :)

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  1. My fourth reading of this post on Love so as to fathom the depth of the words that you have written. I am continually amazed that when words such as love, hate, envy are said they somehow fit the actions. Is it that some words have unfortunately over time developed this reputation or are they destined to be born and become these actions. Reflecting more and more on the word Love, it just is the right word to express something that is almost unfathomable yet somehow keeps drawing us in, further and further to explore. A much appreciated article and source of reflection.

    1. Yes Stephen, it is in the contemplation that we come to know... Know as a direct experience; rather than when we think with our ordinary mind.

  2. I have been reflecting on love for a bit. And one thing that I have found useful is to understand that "unconditional love" is a very big ask for us humans. It may even be too big and ask. That does not mean, however, we do nothing. Rather for me it is has meant trying to see myself as a channel for the unconditional love of God. The love then is not mine but the love that I have received. In this way it may just be possible to "love one another as I have loved you".

  3. Sure Martin, conditional love comes fairly naturally to mere mortals and we need to source the unconditional from somewhere much more profound :)