In that quieter space after Christmas, when all the glittery decorations had been put away, I walked round the shops and noticed how everywhere seemed to have been taken over by heart bunting and the colour red. It’s obviously for Valentine’s day the next month. The marketing industry has firmly anchored in the notion that, although love is all around, it is all about romantic love and coupledom. Unless you have a sweetheart to buy a card for, you might just feel a tad left out, even isolated. And yet love is so much bigger than that narrow perspective. So I proposed a conversation about this for our late February Conscious Cafe conversation in Skipton.
A small group of us set out to explore the deeper meanings of love and examine all the areas in our lives where we experience love. Judging by the number of people who mentioned to me afterwards their desire to attend our evening, but in the end chickened out, and not because of the terrible weather, it seems that talking about love may be a bit uncomfortable for some. So I’m grateful for the courage of our small group who met at Avalon Wellbeing centre.
Where does love come from in your life?
Here is a summary of the insights from the evening. Our full list of questions is at the bottom if you are interested in taking them on for yourself.
- Blood connection: Setting aside for now, the love of a romantic life partner, where else does love come from. We started out by acknowledging the love of family, children, parents, siblings …… the tribe we grow up with and for the most part, spend the rest of our lives tethered to in some way. These are strong bonds of love.
- Friends can become our family of choice. The sitcom Friends clearly demonstrated the potential for deep loving relationships among friends, and the endurance and nourishment of companions who are able to create close connection is what must have made the TV show so popular for ten years. It is still on our TV screens, every day, 16 years after it ended! If, however, you’ve been in a loving relationship for most of your adult life, and not spent much of your time being single, you might not have had the chance to create this kind of community of friends. It is different for us all.
- Saying “I love you”: Does this become easier as one gets older? Is it easier with age, or is it something about the spirit of the age that supports and evening encourages more openness and makes it easiest for us to say, I love you. I know that I can now tell one of my close friends that I love them and yet I would not have done that years ago.
- Words have power: Perhaps the most important person to say I love you to, is yourself, especially if you live alone and you don’t have that close knit circle of friends where loving conversation and expression is comfortable and familiar. We did an exercise using muscle test to demonstrate the power words can have on the body to either weaken or strengthen physical resistance. Saying kind and loving words to yourself (even as unspoken thoughts) makes you physically stronger than saying something negative. It’s definitely worth trying.
- Love yourself first: We all want love. That is the bottom line. And what is at the heart of the human experience is the need to be seen, to be heard, to be listened to… valued. To be loved. But it’s hard to ask others to give you what you are unwilling to, or feel incapable of, giving to yourself. Being able to love yourself is the single most important factor in the success of any relationship. And that love is not self-indulgent or arrogant, it’s simply about self acceptance and feeling worthy.
- The power of a hug: There’s plenty of scientific research into the benefit of physical touch. Hugging someone for 10-20 seconds, actually has the power to reduce pain and clear headaches. Not everyone is comfortable with this closeness, so do check first. It’s a great currency to have, to be able to contribute to others’ well-being and your own by smiling, reaching out and giving a hug.
- Touch is part of the language of love: It’s not just in the words I love you. Love can be conveyed with intention. Love comes across through the simple touch of reaching out and holding or squeezing someone’s hand. It shows you care. Just as eye contact and really looking at someone, giving them a moment, letting them know you see them. That is powerful. It’s an expression of love.
- Touching in the modern era: Everybody’s personal boundaries are different. So in the #metoo era, when some men are not sure how much physical contact is now appropriate, (or even post coronavirus where we might fear we are exposing ourselves to germs) there are other ways of connecting and showing warmth. If a fist bump is a bit too American frat boy, or an arm grab is too Trump-like there’s always the symbolic greeting. Put your hand on your heart to convey a desire for connection or place your hands together Indian prayer style, perhaps with a bow. That way you are saying a lot and also throwing up a physical barrier to any surprise hug.
- Cultures vary: We’ve all got our different codes for expressing friendship, companionship connection and love. In Pakistani, for example, men feel much freer in their masculinity and are able to hold hands together without conveying without that being read as a different sexual preference.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: those who have experienced this may have a different way of feeling. Having been exposed to such an intense and wide spectrum of feelings, it may be that some experience a need to cut themselves off from feelings to minimise the impact on themselves, until they feel healed. But those who have suffered this also have the capacity to be much more aware of what they are feeling.
- Language of love: beyond words and touching, there are many different ways to show love. Gifts are important for some, taking action, being there and present, and even doing supportive jobs are ways to show love. A very powerful one is the preparation of food. It’s universal and often the secret weapon of mothers and grandmothers. What could be more loving than everyone round the table for a big Sunday lunch?! I always provide home-made cake at Conscious Cafe events. Yes I could make it easier for myself and buy one, but by making one, I am showing my appreciation for people who make the effort to come and be willing to be in community for an evening. (For this event I made gluten-free pancakes in honour of Shrove Tuesday!)
- Finding words to describe love: this we found difficult. There are so many ways to love, so many different forms that we feel the need to expand the language more.So many meanings for just one word!
- All embracing nature: a deeper meaning for love is our connection to spirit or God, or whatever word you use for Source. We are receivers of consciousness, conduits between heaven and earth. The spiritual aspect of love is our higher nature beyond all relationships. And it is something we can access by ourselves .. taking ourselves to a higher state, being in meditation, feeling wonder. Even looking at the stars can expand our sense of self and make us feel connected to everything .. having a sense of oneness that transcends all.
- Unconditional love: There’s no greater gift in the world than to have the love of friends or family, where you know you are unconditionally loved and supported. Animals can also give us that without any judgments, being in the way. Unconditional love is the greatest nourishment we can receive and it is good to take a moment and appreciate that in our lives.
How to access or get more love
For the most part, meditation and developing an increased awareness is helpful in connecting to our loving nature. Breath work, being still and quiet, focussing on your heart, are also good ways for taking you to a state of grace.
- Being in nature enables you to feel connected to everything.
- Perhaps through your beliefs or religion you feel powerful connection by being in a sacred space like a church or any place of spiritual power.
- Smiling at others, feeling compassion or joy can all help strengthen and amplify your connection to God or source or light.
- Receiving the response of a smile and giving one changes your own body chemistry.
- Giving to others, acts of love, sharing prepared food.
- Feeling love for yourself and giving yourself positive self talk.
Conscious Cafe Skipton Questions:
Question 1 – Where does the love come from in your life? In what ways are you present to the love that you have? What does love like in your world?
Question 2 – What do you do to nourish the love you have? How do you show or express love? Psychologist Robert Sternberg says “Without expression even the greatest of loves can die”.
Question 3 – Is Love a choice? How do you decide who and what to give your love to?
Question 4 – And if you think love is missing in some way, how could you find it again?