In this article I am going to argue that most of us have completely misunderstood the true nature of love, and as a consequence, are damaging our relationships and creating problems and misery for ourselves.
For many of us it is in the area of romance that we have the most powerful feelings of love. To find somebody we love and who loves us, is a truly uplifting experience. Falling in love is often the emotional high-point of our lives. While some couples may be lucky enough to sustain these feelings for a lifetime, most of us know from bitter experience that they often fade with time. The quality of our relationships may then be severely compromised or end in failure. If this happens our need for love is so strong that we will continue our search, perhaps finding a new partner, only to see the same problems re-appear in subsequent relationships. Our songs, books, poems and plays describe the ecstasy of finding love and the agony of losing it again. These experiences convince us that love is a fragile, transient phenomenon.
This is how most of us understand love. We see it as something that we lack and must therefore bring into our lives. In this book I will show that this fundamental assumption is at the heart of all our problems. It has created an outward search for love that damages our relationships and causes emotional suffering. It is only by challenging our beliefs about love and reversing our assumptions that we can solve our problems and find lasting happiness.
So let me define love in a completely different way:
Love is not a transient emotion or something that we lack and have to bring into our lives - it is an intrinsic and unchanging part of us. It is our essence.
Of course, this new definition challenges virtually everything we know about love. Most of us have experienced at first hand the way in which feelings of love seem to come and go depending on circumstances. While it is true that our emotions do fluctuate around the experience of love, our underlying capacity for love remains constant. It is important to distinguish between feelings of love and the loving bond itself. The bond cannot be broken but we may choose to feel or not to feel that bond. Let's look in more detail at our romantic relationships, because they are good place to explore these ideas.
As we fall in love, our romantic dream comes true. Any feelings of loneliness or emptiness that we experienced before the relationship began will disappear, to be replaced by a variety of positive sensations such as joy, light-headedness, energy, hope, euphoria, creativity and perhaps a sense of floating on air. We feel renewed and able to achieve anything. We are convinced that we have found our perfect partner and that our love will last forever.
Clearly something amazing happens to us during this process - we experience a heightened state of consciousness and become deliriously happy. We can best understand these dramatic changes in mood by looking at our needs and how they are fulfilled in a romantic relationship. At the outset, both partners have a set of needs that they bring to the relationship, the most important of which will be the need to be loved. In our conventional understanding of love we would assume that the presence of our partner has provided the love that we are lacking before we start the relationship. We assume that our feelings of euphoria are our response to their gift of love. Our happiness becomes conditional on the presence of our loving partner. We know that this is the case because if they left us, we would be devastated.
With our new understanding of love we can propose an alternative explanation. The process of falling in love removes the barriers that we have been using to hide our loving essence. At some point we make a subconscious choice to feel the euphoria - we give ourselves permission to feel all the love that is within us. The presence of our partner is important, but only as the trigger to the release of self-love. With this interpretation, when we fall in love with our partner we also fall in love with ourselves. The rapidity with which we fall in love shows that we have not learnt anything new - there wouldn't be time for that. We already know how to love and be loved because it is our essence. Falling in love is therefore a process of remembering who we really are.
The emotional outcome from both interpretations is identical. We experience the same wonderful feelings of happiness, but the mechanism is totally different. In one we believe we have been given love from outside, and in the other we discover it within. This is a critical difference and has a profound impact on how we approach not just our romantic relationships, but all our relationships in life. The interpretations are based on two fundamentally different beliefs about love.
Our conventional understanding of love is built on a belief in scarcity - that we are personally lacking in love and that there is never enough love to go round. In contrast, our new understanding is built on the idea of abundance - that we are one hundred percent complete when it comes to love. This has some startling implications - it turns everything we know about love on its head, for instance:
- If our essence is love, we must have it in limitless supply.
- We no longer need to search for love because we already have it.
- Although we may stop feeling love, we cannot lose it.
- Our experience of love is not determined by the amount of love we bring into our lives, but by the amount of love that we allow ourselves to feel.
- The quality of our relationships will depend on how much love we are willing give to people and receive in return.