Is love the most sought after and most misunderstood of human connection?
Since the earliest of written word, poets, philosophers and writers have entangled themselves in the quest to capture the essence of love. Love has a wide range of interpretation and regard, from the true single purpose of life to the silly pastime of the young or weak-minded.
Love has provoked the most horrific of revenge and the most endearing of self-sacrifice. So is love a virtuous and endearing quality or a frivolous pastime?
Lets first turn to some great wisdom to help us define love. Buddha has one of the most provocative and yet simple definitions of love.
When you like a flower, you just pluck it.
But when you love a flower, you water it daily. – Buddha
So what is my understanding of Buddha’s insight? Buddha separates the possessive, grasping and controlling aspects of what could be called love with the nurturing, caring and freedom of the target of the love to thrive and grow. It captures the essence that often grasping, or becoming closely entangled with what is the object of our love can strangle, suffocate and eradicate what was previously a compassionate love.
Buddha’s quote also captures the great impulse of our minds to attempt to improve upon what is, as-is, something we already love. We pick the flower once loved, and attempt to arrange it and perfect it. Along the way, we eradicate what we once loved. This is mirrors into human relationships, where we often try to ‘fix’ our partners traits we find less desirable, forgetting those traits made the person the person we loved.
Buddha would likely have also spoken on the impermanence of all things, love included. To love, become loved and for love to cease is nature. It is natural (yet acceptably upsetting) to lose what we love. Regarding impermanence, we should embrace our love in every moment we can. It can’t last for eternity, this should give us purpose rather.
What of the Stoics? What guidance would they provide us?
Seneca has a succinct quote that mirrors much of modern positive psychology – having relationship issues? Try a habit of showing love (as you likely once did), often love will return. We get tied up in the issues or doing things from resentment of requirement. Try doing a few things for your partner with some love and kindness rather than bitterness or obligation in your mind.
If you wished to be loved, love. – Seneca
Epictetus throws a counter towards the argument of frivolity often thrown towards love.
If someone is incapable of distinguishing good things from bad and neutral things from either – well, how could such a person be capable of love? The power to love, then, belongs only to the wise man. – Epictetus
Is this Epictetus’s reasoning that love is distinct from the possessiveness that can come along with lust or desire?
While I’m sure Seneca is not undervaluing the trauma of the loss of love (or a loved one). He puts it to us that we should move on, our own life shouldn’t be restrained by our inability to get over a loss.
Again, he who has been unable to love more than one, has had none too much love even for that one. If a man who has lost his one and only tunic through robbery chooses to bewail his plight rather than look about him for some way to escape the cold, or for something with which to cover his shoulders, would you not think him an utter fool?
You have buried one whom you loved; look about for someone to love. It is better to replace your friend than to weep for him. – Seneca
Where does love sit in your life?