We all want to love and be loved. Love is the natural order, the main attraction, the mover of nations, the bees in spring, the tender touch, the first and the last word. It is like gravity, a mysterious force that ties all things together, the heart’s memory of being in the womb and the oneness before the Big Bang. The vastness of the sky is equaled by the vastness of the heart.
Neuroscience shows us that love is a necessity; its absence damages not only individuals, but whole societies. Our brains require bonding and nurturing. Close emotional connection changes neural patterns, affecting our sense of self and making empathy possible.
Remember the days you were in love, how it felt on a spring day of crocuses and plum blossoms or a crisp autumn evening with the smell of burning leaves, how your heart soared as you met your Beatrice or Brent standing on the street corner. And if you never fell in love because of the oppression or pain around you, the Persian poet Rumi suggests, “Today is the day to start.”
Love being alive. Love your creative, distracted, overworked mind. Love your anxiety and depression and longing and wisdom. Love your food, celebrate your survival, open your senses to the mysterious communion of life right where you are. Love the natural world. Like Annie Dillard, who has spent her life walking the hills “looking for the tree with lights in it.” There are moments when you see the sacred shine from quivering aspen, autumnal maples, or textured clouds, the sunlight of heaven piercing the veil and illuminating everyday forms like a Michelangelo masterpiece. Love the creatures of the world, the incalculably complex web of teeming earthworms, bacteria, bees, and beasts that live and die in an incalculable process of re-creation on this cooled piece of star.
Start anywhere. Love dogs, cats, dolphins, squirrels, mockingbirds, lizards, elephants. Love men and women, tribes, nations, the unending varieties of human character and theater. Love is a sacred wellspring that never runs out. The freedom of love is based on the perennial renewal of love itself; it actually can grow. It is this simple: Your whole life is a curriculum of love.
Some people learn love spontaneously when their children are born. Some when their children are in trouble. Some learn from falling in love, from caring for the one they’re with. Your True Nature is love and awareness. And yet at times you forget, which is utterly human. Ursula Le Guin reminds us, “Love must be remade each day, baked fresh like bread.”
Modern neuroscience reinforces that while love is native to us, it is also a quality that can be developed. Like gratitude and forgiveness, love can be invited, nourished, and awakened. It can flower and expand. It can become our way no matter what. Every great spiritual tradition understands this. Ecstatic music and art, devotional prayer, sacred rituals and contemplative practices all offer us ways to open to love. Neuroscience show how practices of love and compassion can change our nervous system and greatly increase access to these capabilities.
Practices of lovingkindness and compassion drawn from Eastern psychology are being adapted for medicine, education, psychotherapy, conflict resolution, even for business. The inner trainings of meditation and prayer tune us in to the love channel. They invite us into the reality of love over and over until the time comes when love bursts our heart open, swoops in and fills us, and we can’t say no.
Think of those who choose love in this world, and remember that you can awaken your own love and join them. Practicing in any of these ways profoundly affects how you hold others.
This excerpt is taken from No Time Like the Present: Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy Right Where You Are