The importance of love has never been greater. Our world is wracked with violence, stress, indiscipline and diminishing resources. Exploitation, intolerance and domination abound. What the world needs is a thorough immersion in this uplifting, peace-engendering and unifying emotion.
Lauded by prophets and poets alike, love's positive power can transform people. In the earlier days, alchemists strove to convert base metals into gold. Love can be a superb catalyst, fostering a higher sense of purpose in us and protecting us from being driven by greed, profiteering and lust.
What makes love so potent?
The world is changing at a dizzyingly rapid pace. Love, in contrast, has a reassuring constancy about it. The eternal nature of love has been described in myriad writings and art forms. A passage from the Bible says, “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away”. A Shakespearean sonnet asserts—“It looks on tempests and is never shaken.” Love is well suited to address the deep human longing for permanence.
Intolerance is the bane of our existence today; love teaches us acceptance. Persons with whom we form the most valuable relationships in our lives, our parents and children, are not chosen by us. They are blessings in human form placed on earth for us to love. Parental love is exemplary for its unconditional nature. Parents gladly sacrifice career advancements, personal choices and even their very lives for their children.
As children, we have only our ignorance, mischief and love to offer—but parents and teachers accept these as precious compensations for imparting knowledge to us. When we encounter cruelty, exploitation, discrimination and selfishness in the world, we would do well to remember the love learnt from these early childhood interactions. Love helps us engage more deeply with others. It encourages sacrifice and an ability to see things from another's perspective. Love unarguably elevates the quality of human interaction.
Love can foster relationships between even greatly dissimilar individuals. Rather than inducing us to make a careful appraisal of the qualities, qualifications and faults of a person, love appeals directly to our intuition. Love just happens. There is scant premeditation. Were we to always choose whom we associate with based on a rigorous calculation of abilities, background or similarities it would be more like a job interview for choosing an employee.
Were it not for the confounding effect of love, people would marry or befriend others less often. Most would keep glancing at their exacting list of desirable qualities and hesitate to take a step forward towards a relationship. Luckily for humans, along comes love and makes every imperfection likeable (as the saying goes “no one is perfect—until you are in love with them”), any circumstance tolerable and any set of people very happy together. The expression “I just can't put my finger on what I really like about him/her” beautifully illustrates the slight confusion that can ensue when people are asked to justify their choice. Love is just a wonderful feeling that switches on when a person you are fond of appears in your presence.
Love awakens spirituality as it sharpens our ability to perceive things keenly. We feel far more alert and enabled to experience first-hand the “duality” of the universe that wise sages speak of. We find ourselves able to juggle opposing feelings at the same time—freedom (we feel validated and empowered) and bondage (as we close our options and modify our behaviour somewhat in deference to the persons we care for); strength (we acquire loyal supporters) and vulnerability (as the people we love have a hold over our happiness) and so on.
As a race, only our love for “Gaia”, mother earth, may stem the current tide of destructive habits. With forests and animal species disappearing at an alarming rate and garbage and plastic swamping our overheated world, our acts of love for nature become crucial for our collective survival. From concerned environmentalists and scientists like Cousteau, Rachel Carson, Carl Sagan, MS Swaminathan, to the modest fishermen or farmers who love the land they make a living from, all play a significant role in preserving “Gaia”.
Large-scale social movements based on love such as the Bhakti movement which originated in India underlined the equality of man. This popular trend which advocated devotional love for the Almighty considered all devotees equal irrespective of caste or creed. The sincerity of intent was the truly relevant criterion. Inclusive participation and commonality of single-minded purpose are prominent hallmarks of current movements arising out of a love for humanity such as the “March for Life” protest against civilian-owned firearms or the global fight for nuclear disarmament.
Where can love be found? Everywhere. I find love in the simple everyday things; when my children gift me a box scribbled with bits of paper about why they like me and ask me to pull out one whenever I am sad; when my spouse sits up chatting with me at night about my worries; when my mother actually reads an entire medical textbook to teach me something I didn't grasp or my father gives us tips on health; when patients run their hand over my head in blessing; when friends and siblings accept me just as I am and laugh with me over enjoyable lunches; when my pet anxiously sniffs my sleeping body if I wake up later than usual; in the treasure trove of wonderful memories bequeathed to me by my grandparents.
How do we create an abundance of this important emotion? By practising it frequently. From a smile or a helping hand to a personal gesture or sacrifice, there are countless ways to express love. As the advertisement for a popular drink goes, “Do your own thing”. Love should also be talked about often; not just the sensational aspects—lovers' plans thwarted by narrow-minded groups or the romantic linkages of famous people but also meaningful discussions to understand love's many nuances as well as its great worth. A priceless letter to read is the Red Indian Chief, Chief Seattle's letter to the “White man” which describes his tribe's immense love for nature.
More protean manifestations of love should be recognised and appreciated, such as a scientist devoting his life to save a species from extinction or small children sharing their meagre but precious assets of marbles and chocolates with their friends or love-filled letters written by people to each other and so on. We should allow love to be the dominant emotion infusing our thoughts. If we have to leave behind any mark of our sojourn here on earth, let it be the stamp of love.
Anjali Mehta is a Delhi-based medical practitioner.
Copyright: The Statesman/Asia News Network