Love has arrived at a strange crossroads. It seems very odd to say, "I want to be more loving. Is there a scientist who can help with that?" But in modern life, our notion of love has shifted. More and more we are told—in magazines, learned journals and media reports—that love can be broken down into medical explanations, that it is produced by reactions in the brain, both chemical and electrical. We may wish that love is divine, ideal and life-transforming, the news says, but to be realistic, we should throw out our old, unscientific notions and learn more about what the brain is doing to us.
I strongly oppose such a view of love—in fact, it frightens me. On the spiritual side, there's a completely different and higher view of love, which goes something like this: Love is part of creation, woven into the very fabric of the universe. We love one another because we have tapped into nature at a deeper level. Yes, the brain is responsible for giving love its physical expression, yet ultimately, love comes from the soul.
A catchy phrase from an old pop song said, "Love the one you're with." Although you can journey outside yourself, the person to give your love to (and who, in return, must return that love), in truth, the one you are with every minute of the day, is yourself. The more rewarding way to find it is to go inward to the very source of love. If you do not do this, your love will depend on your mood swings, on how others see you and on the lovable and unlovable traits you see in yourself and others.
As soon as we measure people by what is lovable and unlovable, trouble arises. The unlovable person is labeled odd, an outsider, bad or an enemy. We create unhappiness instead. We practice nonlove, that voice inside that whispers in our ears, "They are different from us." Or, "Fight for what you want and don't quit until you win." Or, "When bad things happen to other people, it's their own fault."
We need to restore love as the key to happiness—a difficult task. That's why we need a spiritual path, so that we can walk away from nonlove and its confusions. Here are five basic steps that can lead you to a new life where everyone, most especially yourself, is worthy of loving and being loved.
Step 1: Believe in Love
When you say, "I love my work," or "I love my partner," you are expressing belief and showing faith in something outside yourself. As good as that is, even better is to have faith in love as part of yourself. When anyone asks me, "How do I find the right one?" I always give the same advice: To find the right one, become the right one. Belief in love is a spiritual kind of belief. It holds that love exists as a universal quality, outside ourselves, that can never be defeated, only covered over. Thus love and nonlove are not equals. Love is permanent; nonlove is temporary.
Step 2: Don't Limit Love to a Few People and Deny It to Others
It's very common to say: "I love my own children, and I love my neighbor's children. But when it comes to my kids, I love them more." That's perfectly understandable. But there's a spiritual teaching, going back thousands of years, which goes "The world is my family." If love is universal, no one can be left out. To leave others out of your love is the same as inviting them to leave you out too.
Step 3: Make the Search for Love an Inward Search
Often we feel loved and insecure at the same time. The one we love is somebody we invest in emotionally, and emotions, by definition, are changeable. The one you love may turn indifferent or worse. The problem here is a kind of illusion. When you take someone into your heart, it's like filling a hole inside. If that person should spurn and reject you, suddenly the hole reappears as a terrible ache. Yet the hole was always there, and only you can fill it permanently. Ultimately, the inward journey is about finding your own fullness, something that no one else can take away.
Step 4: Seek Other People Who Value Love As Much As You Do
There's an old tradition: If you want to be wise, be in the company of wise people. I'd say the same is true about love. If you want to know about any human experience, seek out those who have walked the path of that experience. In our society, we are embarrassed to talk personally about truth, compassion, faith and love. This inhibition is part of our insecurity. Think of spirit as a community; it's not a talent you develop like a teenager learning to play the guitar. Perhaps community is too big a word, however. Perhaps you can start by finding one person who is wise in the ways of love, who knows what it means to live at a deeper level. That's a wonderful step in the right direction.
Step 5: Believe in Love As a Powerful Force
The first four steps depend on this one, believing that love has its own power. This is a power to transform. It's a power that cuts through doubt, suspicion, distrust and even hatred. Unless love has its own power, there are too many reasons to act from nonlove. We see all around us people who madly pursue pleasure or money or status because they don't trust in love. Without such trust that love can make a difference, of course you will pursue surrogates. Pleasure, money and status are compensations when love is absent or too weak to transform your life. No one has to give up on such surrogates, but it makes a huge difference to know that they are nonlove. The power of love is that it dissolves nonlove. That's the kind of power you find on the spiritual path.
None of the steps is automatic. Each takes work and practice. But now, more than ever, it's all important to reinvent the spiritual side of love. The steps may not be easy, but they are not impossible either. You only need to follow them with all your heart.