How we use and understand language is important to our mental and emotional well-being. When a word is misused, the communication becomes suspect, misunderstandings result, and language and words become stressors.
Misuse an important word like ‘love’ and the damage can be catastrophic. Love is an essential component of men’s physical, spiritual and mental/emotional health and well-being.
There’s a lot of banter about the now commonplace slogan, “Love is Love,” but I wonder how many who wantonly fling the slogan around really know what they are saying.
First, making a statement like “Love is Love,” is like saying an elephant is an elephant. Most would complain that that is a tautology or a circular statement. I suspect that most slaves-of-slogans don’t think that way, and think that the slogan simply means that any love is virtuous love, in order to justify same-gender or homonormative attraction and sensuality.
Infantile at best, it is useless in terms of expressing a meaningful statement. It’s a slogan, a periphrasis. Love has become an ideology, a sociopolitical agenda, and has lost its mystique for a vast majority.
Second, as will become clearer below, I interpret “Love is Love” as a statement meaning that the subject is so unique and mysterious, that it can be defined only by itself.
Love is, unlike pleasure, inherently and intrinsically valuable; as such, it cannot be quantified, as can those things that are valued at a price. Love cannot be bought, sold, or traded because nothing has a comparable worth.
Nevertheless, love is one of the most misused and abused words in the English language, at least. It’s so bastardized that it can be used to mean anything from infatuation to extreme pleasure to almost nothing.
We ‘love’ a casual partner with whom we make ‘love,’ and then part never to see each other again; even in that situation we use “Love you!” as a reassuring good-bye. We love our children, our country, our job, a god. We love chocolate cake. How arbitrary, vague, and meaningless can a word get?
But maybe the way we use the word ‘love’ may actually indicate how we love. That’s a real possibility — and a real problem.
Sort of like the once highly expressive word “fuck;” it’s been used so often in so many contexts that it has become totally bland. People use it without even thinking.
A reasonable corollary would be that the number of words a language has to describe an emotion such as love might be an indication of the importance of that emotion in that culture.
For example, in Japanese, ‘love’ is expressed by the words koi（恋） and ai（愛): the term yūgen (幽玄), used in the sense of ‘love,’ means a profound awareness and connection with the Other.
If that is so, then we may benefit from knowing that, at last count, Sanskrit leads the world’s languages with at least 96 words for “love.” Fact is, when discussing words, we must make subtle, nuanced distinctions depending both on the words themselves and also on the context in which they are used.
Regardless of how many words there are for ‘love,’ we should be clear on what love actually is; only then, perhaps, will we be more confident about what we actually mean when we use the word.
Let’s start out with several concepts that I will develop further when I discuss ‘happiness:” pleasure, enjoyment, meaning in a follow-up article.
Pleasure has most to do with the senses, and so relates very powerfully with what we commonly call love. Enjoyment, too, shares a connection with the senses but at a higher level, and can involve higher faculties like fantasy, imagination, focus, flow. Meaning is closely allied with ‘purpose,’ and is likely the highest level most men will attain when considering love as a component of ‘happiness.’
Love implies ‘otherness,’ because love requires an object to love. You can love only an other; it’s not possible to love yourself — except pathologically as in narcissism —, despite the many clichés. Remember, I’m now speaking of higher love, not sex, infatuation, pleasure, etc.
Even if you say you love another person, that perception of love is in your mind only, it’s not something that the other person is doing.
The love is not a natural quality of the other that you come to possess — and once possessed there is no longing — nor is it something that radiates from that person to you.
It exists only in your mind, and it’s based in previous conditioning, socialization, experiences, etc. If it were coming from the other person, then love would leave when that person is no longer present but it doesn’t; because it is in the mind, even when that person leaves or dies, the feeling often remains.
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” ― John Milton, Paradise Lost
The Muṇḍakopaniṣad (मुण्डकोपनिषद्) states that anything that is not eternal, cannot be made eternal; attempting to do so entraps one in saṃsāra (संसार) or the cycle of worldly illusion.
This message is echoed in Somerset Maugham’s observation that single-mindedly chasing pleasure will soon mean that nothing is pleasurable. If love is pleasure and pleasure is transient, fleeting, then so, too, is love.
When love evolves to become enjoyment or engagement, then we experience a more evolved form of the emotion. Enjoyment (engagement) — in contrast with pleasure —, refers to the good feelings one may experience when he breaks through a threshold, when he does something that transforms him from what he was before.
Enjoyment, rather than pleasure, is what leads to growth and transformation, and longer-term happiness. Think E3: enjoyment, engagement, enrichment, and you’ll have a good idea of what I mean.
The love that most people call ‘ideal,’ is not ideal at all; in fact, it’s very attainable, and just requires a bit of effort and awareness. You simply have to love authentically and then keep loving.
In western thought many positive qualities, virtues, that form the firm foundation needed for a good life have been either marginalized or explained away as trivial transformations of more transient cultural values, strivings, goals.
Dominant cultural norms in the West, and particularly in the United States, continue to focus on increasing one’s material wealth while ignoring the human needs of others.
Such a course has led to increasing selfishness, to alienation between the more and the less fortunate, and eventually to chaos, loneliness, despair, and dissolution.
The reality of authentic love has become a frustrating ideal, because western culture’s concept of love is primarily self-driven and pleasure-seeking, and we’re feeling the effects.
When I was in divinity college I became interested in attraction and relationship. One of the authors who initially influenced my approach to teaching love was M. Scott Peck, an American psychiatrist.
In his book, The Road Less Traveled, he writes “[Love is too large, too deep ever to be truly understood or measured or limited within the framework of words.” Peck also attempted to define love, and does a fair job of it, as “[t]he will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s personal growth.”
I believe that Peck was clearly aware that the nature of love is so mysterious that any definition will fall short. He also recognized that ‘love’ is categorically so vast that it cannot be embraced by a single term.
Homoerotic yogic Tantra (तन्त्र) is unique in that the fundamental philosophy is that of acknowledging the physical body and senses and portals to the experience of the divine — mysticism — while teaching that separateness is a fiction; union with the individual Self and the Absolute Self is mokṣa (मोक्ष), which is true ‘happiness.’
The sage Ādi Śaṅkarācāryaḥ (आदि शङ्कराचार्यः) describes this union as what happens with the space in a clay pot when the pot is broken. In Tantra (तन्त्र), this is what I call the “melting into each other” of tāntric Divine Union, maithuna (मैथुन).
This is tāntric love, unity, longing to belong, the air in the empty pot joining the atmosphere, once the pot is broken; the souls of the Tantric Lovers melting into each other and finally with the Divine.
Returning now to Peck and applying the concepts of sacrifice (= making holy) and selfless action (niṣkāmakarma, निष्कामकर्म), meaning and purpose in life comes when our practice of love transcends selfishness and becomes selflessness. In the words of the Bhagavad Gītā (भगवद्गीता), for example,
We read something similar in St Francis of Assisi, “’It is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,” and in St Benedict, “Love seeks no cause beyond itself and no fruit; it is its own fruit, its own enjoyment.
I love because I love; I love in order that I may love.” And who can avoid thinking of St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, “Love is…”
Most men are plagued by doubts: “Does he love me?” Sometimes he thinks “Yes,” but maybe he doesn’t. The other is likely thinking the same thing. A mentor of mine had an insightful statement to make about this kind of doubt.
He would say that we doubt whether others love us because our own love is divided. Wherever we have some reservation or division within ourselves, we look at others through it and immediately say, “He doesn’t love me enough.”
The whole secret of love is to ask not how much he loves me but to keep on loving him as much as I can. It is through loving selflessly that one learns to love more.
Man is not a physical being having a spiritual experience but a spiritual being having a physical experience; love is the first step on the spiritual path.
2] ↑ Krishnananda, Swami. Mundakopanishad Commentary. Rishikesh: Yoga-Vedanta Forest University, 1951. Print.
3] ↑ Peck, M S. The Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. London, UK: Rider, 2021. Print.
4] ↑ Śaṃkara (शंकर) is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘conferring happiness or prosperity, auspicious, propitious;’ it is also a name of the deity Śiva (शिव). Here, the name of a celebrated teacher and author, Ādi Śaṅkarācāryaḥ (आदि शङ्कराचार्यः) (8th cent. CE), an Indian philosopher and theologian who consolidated the doctrine of advaita (अद्वैत) or non-duality (Vedanta).