Love according to yoga 🤍
I hope you're enjoying the summer, even the chilly rainy parts of it. If you're on vacation, I wish you a wonderful time for resting and recharging.
This month I would like to discuss a very big topic which is love!
We all have different associations that come up when we hear this word. It is a theme that fills every part of most cultures, many songs, poems, novels and films revolve around it. For most of us it plays a big role in our life in one way or another. The concept of love also seems to be deeply rooted in many Eastern spiritual traditions although it refers to something quite different than how we view it in other parts of the world. Often it is described in such terms as compassion, loving kindness, or even devotion which are all considered by these traditions, including yoga, as different manifestations of pure love.
Here are some dictionary definitions of love that I found:
"Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties or based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests."
"Warm attachment, enthusiasm, or admiration."
"Attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers."
"Love encompasses a range of strong and positive emotional and mental states, from the most sublime virtue or good habit, the deepest interpersonal affection, to the simplest pleasure. An example of this range of meanings is that the love of a mother differs from the love of a spouse, which differs from the love for food. Most commonly, love refers to a feeling of a strong attraction and emotional attachment."
Here's a little exercise - next time you are experiencing love, whether the object of it a person or another being or even an inanimate one, check in and see how it feels in your body, where and how do you sense it, what is the texture of that experience on a purely physical level. I find this exercise to be extremely valuable not just for this type of experience but for all kinds of experiences, this is how we develop wisdom into the nature of the mind-body phenomena.
Whether we take a closer look into that experience or not, I think most of us can agree that this experience is very pleasant and usually has an uplifting and joyful quality which is no wonder why most of us repeatedly seek it throughout our life.
I have recently observed myself on a mental level when I was filled with love towards a loved one. I noticed reactions such as "I am so lucky to have this person in my life", or "that person is filling me with joy", "I enjoy spending time with them so much", "it feels so good to love them" and so on.. At different times in my life, more dark ones, there would also be thoughts like "What would I do without them" or "I don't deserve them". The common thread between all these thoughts is that they all revolved around me and what I am getting from this experience or person. Not that there is anything wrong with that, there are plenty of very reasonable explanations for these patterns of thinking from an evolutionary and psychological perspectives.
I think most of us, if we really pay close attention, can notice that genuine concern and care for our loved one's wellbeing and happiness are always mixed with thoughts revolving around us as a center of this relationship. This is very likely ingrained in us as humans, we tend to love others that serve some deep need or lack within us which probably drives us to procreate and protect our offsprings and to succeed in the survival race as individuals and a species.
Yoga teachings are quite rebellious at their core, they suggest that we have a potential to go against our very basic nature as humans. We were most likely not evolved to be happy as a default state because if we were we would not survive as a species, and yet the teachings of yoga claim that we have a potential to enjoy ultimate peace and happiness that is unconditioned by external events. If that is actually true, and I strongly believe it is, then it actually means that we also evolved with that capacity otherwise it would simply be impossible. Quite a mind fuck on an intellectual level, at least for me, pardon my digressing into other philosophical terrains.
In this context, one of the the major claims in the mainstream yoga philosophy is that we have a capacity to love without any need for an object, that love can be a state of mind and not an emotion directed somewhere or a form of emotional transaction. This state of mind can manifest in different ways, one of which is a sincere wish for everyone, everywhere, on every level, to be happy and well. In other words, on a symbolic level, to allow every being into our heart and reject no one. It is often experienced as being filled with joy when we encounter happiness and wellness of others, and sadness towards suffering of any kind. In the yoga/Buddhist tradition these states of mind are called Muditā (sympathetic joy) and Karuṇā (compassion).
This may sound flakey, naive, or even hippy talk to some of you, for example how can we love someone who harmed or harms us, that would be utterly insane.. Or, how would we know if we're good at anything if we don't compare ourselves to others and try to be better than them.. Or, how can we care about the wellbeing of everyone everywhere when we have so much to worry about in our own life and the life of people close to us?? All these and many more are extremely valid points but they also miss the point.
This state of love according to yoga is considered as an important landmark in ones progress on the yoga/spiritual path, it is usually a sign that we reduced our tendencies to be jealous, greedy, competitive or have any form of ill-will towards others. This state is said to arise naturally as a byproduct of a consistent effective yoga practice. When we empty all trace of negativity towards others from our heart this vacuum is then filled with love.
Important to mention that this is a description of an experience at the deepest level of our being and has little to do with choices that we make or how we interact with others on a daily basis. It may affect our deeds in some way but should not interfere with making good decision on every corner of our life. At times we may need to set clear boundaries, defend ourselves from harm, negotiate a deal or set a course to achieve some material goal, or go about doing any other thing a human has to do in order to lead a productive and satisfying life. However, the undercurrent of all of our actions can be filled with love, compassion, sympathetic joy, so when we need to be assertive, perhaps even aggressive, we would do it just in order to resolve the issue at hand without boiling in hatred or resentment. I would even argue that this state of mind can lead us to more appropriate decisions on a practical level, it can keep us feeling more calm and peaceful and ensure that we minimize the harm we inflict upon ourselves and others so that we can do what's best for the situation or difficulty we are facing.
From my experience, developing a genuine state of pure love cannot be done at will, it requires sincere progress in yoga on different levels using different forms of practice such as Asana, Pranayama, and mainly Meditation. It also requires some shift in our attitude towards ourselves and others (Yama and Niyama). There is also a practice we can do that can help cultivate these states directly, it is called Metta, I made a short video tutorial on that that you can check out HERE, you can also find other guided sessions online if you search for Metta Meditation.
Here's one more point - as mentioned, some schools of yoga suggest that the first stage of this experience of pure love is one that requires no object, and later on, when we get to the highest levels of yoga, we may discover that love at its purest form also doesn't need any subject, but that's for another time :)
Always happy to hear your thoughts on this topic or any other!
Looking forward to sharing yoga with you in August.
With love and gratitude
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