Let’s stop defining love as a romantic partnership, and instead, start to see it for what it truly is: a way of being in the world.
Love is a way of being: a choice to approach every moment, every interaction, every connection, and every experience with care, compassion, and presence. It’s how you work. It’s how you talk. It’s how you support someone. It’s how you do your chores and how you respond to setbacks and how you treat yourself and how you help and how you see.
Widening your circle of love is not only the path to changing the world — it’s also the path to your own lasting happiness.
We will change the world when each of us adopt the philosophy of love as a way of being in our own lives — and extend it outward in ever-widening circles, to reach all beings everywhere.
Here’s how to do it.
Step 1: Redefine love
When we talk about love, we often think of it as confined to within a relationship, typically between two people. But scientists have discovered that love is really just another word for connection.
This means that love is possible at any moment that you connect with yourself, with another person, or with the world around you.
When we shift our definition of love, and recognize that it is possible in any connection, our day blooms with potential moments to feel the greatest feeling there is. Love is no longer the province of one relationship, but instead, something that can be experienced at any moment that you choose to open up and connect.
Step 2: Cultivate love within
Our brain is both our greatest enemy and our greatest ally in the practice of love as a way of being.
As an enemy, it has a few features that make it harder to experience love all of the time, chief among them our negativity bias.
This is our brain’s tendency to focus on the negative elements and moments of love, and to be excessively impacted by negative experiences of fear, anxiety, and frustration. Negative events carry more weight in your mind than positive ones. It takes many, many successes to offset one failure; many, many gestures of kindness and love to outweigh one rejection. The negativity bias works hard to keep you out of the present moment: it drives you to ruminate on the past and what went wrong, and to anticipate the future challenges and losses that you might face. Because of all of this, it fosters negative emotions like sadness, guilt, shame, anger, and depression.
However, our brain becomes our greatest ally when we recognize that it is capable of transforming, something that is known as neuroplasticity. Each time you choose to think loving thoughts, you are slowly rewiring your brain, creating new neural structures; over time, the more that you strengthen these connections, the more likely it will be that love will become your default response. In a very real way, you can incline your brain to be more loving, more compassionate, and more caring.
The greatest technology for cultivating a more loving brain is a Buddhist practice called loving-kindness meditation. This type of meditation helps us to learn that love is something that needs to be developed as a skill and strengthened through practice. A loving-kindness meditation generally involves an individual placing his attention first on himself, then on a loved one, then on someone who challenges them, and ending with the whole world, offering these wishes from a place of sincere love:
“May you feel safe and protected.
May you feel happy and peaceful.
May you feel healthy and strong.
May you live with ease.”
This simple practice works. An eight-week study found that practicing loving-kindness meditation led to an increase of positive emotions and an increase in personal resources such as self-acceptance, positive relationships, and physical health, which resulted in greater satisfaction in life and fewer depressive symptoms.
The decision to direct one’s consciousness towards this expression of love has enormous personal benefits to you, the one who loves. It feels so good to love in the moment — and in the long term, it is associated with a host of positive benefits, to our health, our relationships, and our psychological well-being.
We must begin with ourselves, clearing the natural self-absorption that we all possess, helping to refocus our attention on what matters most. By slowly and deliberately training our minds, we cultivate loving thoughts; these, in turn, create a loving state of mind; this develops a more loving self.
Step 3: Offer that love to others
Loving-kindness meditation builds love as a more automatic inclination, helping you see how many chances you have each day to offer love to others: from the barista serving you coffee, to the cleaning lady at work, to your aggravating boss, to your beloved child or soulmate, all of us have the opportunity to connect with those people who inhabit our lives. Looking beyond people, we can also connect with nature, with animals, with plants, with our community, and with a purpose — and while it might sound a bit fluffy, each of these connections have been scientifically proven to improve your well-being!
In turn, those who receive your love benefit enormously as well. Take this 25-year long study as an example. Researchers studied 91 women who had been rescued from dysfunctional families as children and placed in an orphanage, attempting to understand who of them would become a good mother. There were two predictors of good motherhood: the first was the ability to build relationships with their teachers, and the second was their husband’s quality of love and caring for them. Receiving love allowed these women to transcend their past traumas and to become more loving themselves.
Step 4: Extend your love even further
When we have brought love to ourselves and to those we know, we can move to an even greater challenge: loving the whole world.
We tend to close ourselves off from loving others because they are not a part of our ‘circle’. We have a natural ingrained bias called the in-group bias, wherein we favor those who are a part of our own groups over those who are a part of other groups. At the end of the day, this bias only leads to suffering. When we limit our expression of love, we’re limiting our own happiness; when we limit the scope of our offerings of love, we’re limiting the well-being of other humans.
If you poke around the biographies of our most revered members of the human race, you will notice a trend. The majority of our heroes – Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Lincoln, Mother Theresa, Jesus, Albert Einstein, and their brethren – all shared a common message: We must love all beings, everywhere, without exception.
Loving all of humanity (even those people who really annoy you or who spread their legs on the subway or who have opposing political views or who are, in any other way, different or challenging or frustrating) is the next step that we must take in our practice of love as a way of being. This begins with recognizing that this person is a flawed human being, just like me, who yearns to be happy and reduce their suffering. We are all inextricably connected, and recognizing this truth is essential for the continued health and well-being of all creatures on this planet.
A beloved quote by Martin Luther King Jr. says that “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
It’s worth pausing to recognize how unbelievably hard it must have been for him to choose to live this statement every single day of his life, maintaining this standard for himself in the midst of the political and social climate of his day. How easy would it have been for him to slip into hate, to divide the world up into people who are good and people who are evil, and to say that hatred is acceptable under the terrible circumstances he faced?
Many of humanity’s heroes were actively dismissed by those in power, had nothing to offer in the way of resources, or were hunted for their beliefs and actions, and yet, they still chose to rise every single day with a goal of love in their hearts. They recognized that love has an almost alchemical-like ability to transform what it casts light upon: when we choose to see someone at their best, they rise to the occasion; sadly, the opposite is also true.
(A simple way to prove this to yourself is to go express kindness or compassion to someone, and watch the way that they respond.)
Those who have lived through the direst of circumstances beseech us to remember this. As Etty Hillseum, a Jewish woman who was murdered at Auschwitz, wrote in her diary: “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
We are always equipped with a choice of how we react to situations in life. We know what it looks like to rise in hatred. But what about rising in love? What about choosing, from this moment forward, that you will love boldly, bravely, and without reservation? What about choosing to do this, even though you know that you will fail a hundred times before the week is done, and committing to getting back up again each and every time? What might your heart look like? What might your life be? Who might you serve, support, inspire? What changes might occur that serve the collective humanity?
This is love as a way of being.
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