When I ask students to define love, they journal about their direct experience of this often bittersweet emotion. For some, they recall falling in love for the first time with the boy or girl of their dreams. For others, their recollection includes two loving and supportive parents who were neither too dictatorial nor too permissive. Still, others share their fall out of love and the pain it caused (and still causes). Definitions of love are based not only on our direct experience with this core emotion, but also how we choose to learn about ourselves from these experiences.
As a child growing up in a family of nine, I neither understood the chaos in my house nor experienced the kind of love that little girls dream of (not that I ever bought into that story anyway). Instead I witnessed struggle and disparity, yet a sticking together as a family through thick and thin. Loyalty, honesty, commitment and personal integrity were but a few of the many values my parents bestowed. Devotion to religion and family were of equal importance. These were my first experiences with love.
But wait, so where’s the prince and the white horse? Where’s the part about falling in love and living happily ever after?
True love involves devotion, yes, but not just towards another. Perhaps more importantly, true love is about loving first and foremost oneself. I am not talking about being selfish and narcissistic. I am talking about each of us holding ourselves responsible for living a righteous, conscious life of true love and true devotion to one’s spiritual path. This is where the yamas and niyamas come intimately into play, for a denial and rejection of these is a denial of living with purpose and creativity. Are we living our yoga in context to our relationships or are we manipulating our practice to escape life’s challenges?
Only now as an adult do I appreciate, respect and honor the lives my parents lived: holding true to their values of family, spiritual life and living simply and with humility. They are two of my greatest heroes who’ve taught me the importance of being a loving, devoted parent and a committed teacher/healer on a mission. Throughout their lives, they worked tirelessly preparing food in homeless shelters, knitting hats for the homeless, getting involved in various fundraisers for local charities, etc. Growing up, my mother always counted her blessings and bestowed in me the importance of being thankful, being humble, and living simply.
To this day, I thank her for converting the whole back yard into a healthy, organic garden and recycling everything under the sun. I have my father to thank for his frugality and sensibility for doing everything possible in the most cost effective ways. I have both of them to thank for desiring and appreciating only the basic necessities of life including good health, a dharmic path I thrive on, and being the best possible parent and citizen in the world. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have the tools to raise one of the most amazing kids on the planet, Olivia, my littlest guru who teaches me about love, patience, and compassion on a daily basis. She is beaming, conscious, loving and more intelligent than I ever was at six.
The Beatles were right: all you really do need is love: a deep falling in love with oneself so that all other relationships are met with the same respect, loyalty, honesty and trust. When we deeply fall in love with ourselves, the lens is always rose-tinted, our cups are always full and life unfolds with the most delicate beauty and grace. Everything is right in the world.
As Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote, ” The moment you have in your heart this extraordinary thing called love and feel the depth, the delight, the ecstasy of it, you will discover that for you the world is transformed.”