Articles

Love Everyone – Is Anyone Else Confused?

 

It seems everywhere you go nowadays you hear the phrase, “love everyone.”  Although I do travel in certain circles, like bhakti (which some translate as love) yoga, and mental health which also tends to talk about love. But even if you aren’t in those circles, you can’t help but notice the chalkboard sign outside the yoga studio, the book titles, rock anthems or spiritual talk titles.  It’s kind of hard to escape from the idea.  For me, this seemed like the most wonderful obvious sentiment, “of course” I thought to myself, this is what one must do to live a meaningful life and be a god human being.  This continued on for about 5 minutes until I started trying to figure out how to put this into practice.  My mind tends to grab on to these seemly powerful quotes, but then I get lost in the practicality of it.   The process went something like this, imagine mind racing, “how does one love everyone… does that really mean everyone? how can I love my child the same way as the woman who works at the checkout counter at Gelson’s market”.  Once my mind quieted down a bit the issues seemed to be: what does it mean to love someone? Who am I supposed to love? And how can I love people who do things I don’t like or don’t know well?  It was hard to move past the first question, what it means to love, as this issue alone could occupy a lifetime, however, one definition I read by an internet psychologist describes love as consisting of 3 things: Acceptance, Commitment and Self Sacrifice.  This definition resonated with me when I thought about the love I have for my close family, but didn’t seem to apply to acquaintances or people I hardly know.  That is when it became clear to me that we can love people in different ways and I thought about the idea of gradations of love, different levels for different people, which seems consistent with the definitions of love which include affection, adoration and intense deep connection, and everything in between.   So this helped me feel a bit clearer about applying love to all others and that “Love Everyone” may actually be something that can be put into practice.  I then went and asked my husband what he thought it meant and replied, without missing a beat, “It means to find the good in everyone you meet” Then I thought duh! Why didn’t I think of that because I could actually apply that to everyone I meet, I can see the goodness in the woman at the checkout at Gelson’s just as it possible to see the goodness in my child. Although can is the operative word here, as for most this is possible but not always able to be done. Why not?  Of course I came up with a few more reasons. One that loving and opening of the heart cannot be forced, two, our past history plays an often unconscious role in influencing our ability to love, and three our ability to love others is affected by how we feel about ourselves.  As the Selena Gomez song goes “The heart wants what it wants.” Trying to force ourselves to open our hearts can have the opposite response, leading to more closure.  Reason two, that our backgrounds; previous relationships, trauma, mental health history etc, I believe is highly relevant.  Our histories can exert hidden forces on even the best laid loving intentions.  So the thing to keep in mind is that we can’t force it and because of that, we shouldn’t feel guilty about it, as this is a common shared experience, and guilt doesn’t exactly promote love anyways.

Summary so far: We can love people in different ways, we can’t always love who we want how we want, no guilt required as this is part of our common humanity.

 

With slightly less confusion I continued to explore how to put this into practice.  While reflecting on my experiences with intimate love, I recalled at times simultaneously feeling I don’t have enough love and feeling fear about opening my heart to love.  It’s a bit of a conundrum; we want more but fear the outcome and disappointment.  This too can be affected by our past experiences.  When it comes to “loving everyone” we may also have an underlying belief that if we open our hearts and give love to others we won’t have enough for ourselves or those closest to us.  However, this one we can rationally argue against.  From our own personal experiences we can see that when we or people are open and loving towards others, more love tends to find them, people are attracted to them, and they say they feel they have more love.  So it seems we don’t run out of love – no loving others maximum. The other thing to note is that our brain likes love.  Romantic, passionate love releases surges of dopamine (the feel good chemical of the brain) and other kinds of love tend to inhibit the stress response in the brain, which allows us to feel more grounded and safe.  I propose that fear may be a “love buster”

Summary so far: we can love people in different ways, sometimes we can’t love in the way we want and we shouldn’t feel guilty or bad about that as it is inherent in the human condition, love doesn’t run out and usually more is better.

 

In spite of all these potential barriers and complexities, in my experience love is a thing worth consciously cultivating, and it seems others agree on this too.  It does generally make us feel better, in our minds and our bodies and this attracts others to us, and we in turn feel more connected to others, which one can argue is one of the most important ingredients for good mental health.  So given it still seems like a worthwhile endeavor, how can we go about cultivating it?  In my experience there are a few things that can be helpful.  One thing to consider is practicing mindfulness, both our internal life and the life around us.  The experience of love ebbs and flows and it can be fleeting, so if we are not paying attention we might miss some of those precious moments.  That is why the practice of mindfulness in daily life is so important. For me, just walking down a street in my neighborhood noticing the beauty in nature and in the structures tends to make me feel more love and loving, or walking with my child and looking at him. Mind body connection also requires mindfulness, and this is important because sometimes love is felt not in the head but in the body first.  Lastly, we can also use mindfulness skills to become more aware of when the past might be influencing, which in turn can make us less reactive in our loving.  Although sometimes we need the assistance of another to help with increasing our understanding of our past and the patterns it contributes to before mindfulness can be helpful in this regard.

 

Another way to cultivate love is to take time to reflect on the love we currently have in our lives.  In practice this would mean taking a pause, mindfulness again, and actually focusing on the love you feel from a particular being (human, animal, spiritual figure etc) in your life by using visualization. You can imagine the love or loving act for some moments, and journal about it afterwards. Acts of love you have given, or received in the past also count. The brain needs some help with this, because of its negative bias, it’s more likely to focus on the times we didn’t feel love than the times we did.  And, as I have already alluded to, if we feel more love we are typically able to give more out, or said another way, when our buckets are full we are more likely to fill the buckets of others.

Final Summary: “Love everyone”, is a well meaning, but complicated message. Some things that have helped me work with it are, 1.  Love looks different with different people and beings, 2. Love can’t be forced, so it’s good to approach this with kindness and compassion. 3. Our ability to love is affected by our past histories 4.There is not a limited supply of love; love tends to beget more love. 5. In order to cultivate more love it helps to practice mindfulness and also to reflect on the love you currently have.

In conclusion, I would like to propose a new statement to start writing, singing and talking about – which I feel is somewhat more accessible

Mo Love Mo Better.”

Thank you for reading.  I welcome any questions or comments, please send them to me using the contact page on this website.