We often relate to love as a feeling. A fullness of heart, a transcendent joy. Sometimes it’s a brightness that infuses our lives with light and hope. Sometimes it’s a quiet, steady inner peace. Others it’s a fierceness that takes our breath away.
And it’s true. Love is the most beautiful and powerful emotion we can experience.
Yet it’s not only a feeling, or a state of being. Love is also a verb. It’s an active process – of care, compassion, curiosity and connection. Of opening and giving of ourselves, sharing and relating on the deepest level. This is true of all our relationships, whether intimate, familial, platonic or others.
It’s easy to forget this. We’re often taught, through received wisdom and romantic myths, that love just is – no input required. This can lead us to slide into complacency – or, conversely, disempowerment – and to forget that we have our part to play.
Of course, we can never force love, either inside of ourselves or from someone else. But we can learn to love ourselves and others well. By cultivating our relationships with skill and awareness, we create the grounds for them to flourish.
The art of loving
The first step in nurturing love is acknowledging that it’s not always easy. The process of loving someone – be it our partner, a family member, our child or a dear friend – can bring us our highest highs, and also our deepest lows. Those we love are also most capable of triggering powerful and painful emotions in us. Love of all kinds often challenges us to meet the wounded and vulnerable parts of ourselves and others.
That’s not to say that we should remain in unhealthy relationships. Sometimes letting go is the best and most loving thing we can do. But expecting a relationship to be always easeful and satisfying isn’t realistic. Instead, learning to hold ourselves and others with care and compassion in our raw, difficult places is intrinsic to love. Being willing to show up, to understand the lessons our relationships hold, and to do the necessary work is all part of the process.
An important aspect of this is accepting others as they are. Of course, we can work on our relationships, and seek healthy behaviours and growth. But at a deep level, we also need to allow our loved ones to be who they are and to respect their inner mysteries and complexities. In practising this acceptance, we help those we love to feel seen, to feel safe and to blossom.
It’s also useful to remember that love is never static. As a dynamic act of engagement, love can ebb and flow at different moments in our lives. We may pass through many episodes in loving someone, moving through everything from fulfilment to boredom, closeness to distance, peace to despair and back again. Healthy relationships naturally go through cycles of rupture and repair, forging deeper connection in the process. Remembering this can help us to weather the different seasons in our relationships, and to keep discovering fresh ways to relate.
Relationships also evolve in direct correlation to our inner world. Whenever we heal aspects of ourselves and change internally, we inevitably show up differently, evoking new responses in those we love. And when we relate to our loved ones with fullness of heart, presence, kindness, respect and intentionality, everything changes. In this way we create the foundations for trust, healthy communication and true connection. And it’s here that we discover the alchemy of love – a creative act of engagement that holds our deepest learning, invites us to meet our shadows and our light, and to touch the poetry of life, leaving us forever transformed in the process.