Tuesday, September 23

Is Love a feeling or a conscious decision we make every day

Love is still one of the more commonly used word in our language, which, according to the Google Books Ngram Viewer represents about .02% of all words used, down from .03% in the 19th century when romanticism figured more strongly in literature. Love’s use can describe anything from a unifying compassion extended to all living things, from unconditional love to mushy affection, to be in love or awe of our universe or to a love of objects or causes or in appreciation of art or music and so the list goes on. Opinions differ as to what it means- for instance is it a conscious decision by us to love or is it an expression of our emotions or feelings. 
What I propose in this short essay is explore these questions.

Widespread usage
The use of love has many more perspectives than those briefly previously mentioned; from personnel affection in intimacy, to devotion to a cause as in love for one’s country which can turn to war, to love as in sacrifice or in the desire or admiration for beautiful objects or art forms or when we simply say with sincerity “I love you.” Yet we are not clear on how love arises; the inclination is to link love as emanating from the heart to revert to feelings of love whilst others think love is a matter of daily decisions to consciously act in a loving manner. Another assumption is to say love is a kind of noble intuitive force which contributes to the greater good, but as we so much evidence of countless crimes committed under the allure of love, this seems implausible.  Biblically this leads those authors to distinguish passionate love as in intimacy -versus Agape, to mean "unconditional love", but who’s rather grand application, given our limitations as human beings, also seems to me to be somewhat of a contentious issue. Rather I think that the power of love gives one the capacity for loving unions to blossom over time, but that in turn is usually dependent upon a continuing encouragement or willingness to compromise, sufficient to withstand the mounting pressures of life’s experiences. The Idea to me then that love leads to a more willing  desire to make compromises or sacrifices seems more realistic than “unconditional love” which I prefer to leave to the province of divine love, as is included in the notion of grace.      

That certain feeling of love   
Our emotions lie in the older limbic area of the brain which send signals to the frontal lobes (the executive manager of the mind) to give rise to our feelings and to disseminate information in order for us to make rational decisions where necessary. The frontal lobes are the most recent development of the brain and are responsible for the richness of our advanced consciousness, a feature that allows us to discern complex abstract matters, or to possibly experience or feel mystical emotions. Hence I think it fair to conclude that love has its origin in our emotions that become intense feelings, to be matters as they say of the heart, capable of being understood by child and adult alike. But not all feelings come from emotions as the mind is capable of empathy to feel the pain of others and so to act in a loving manner to give expression to that feeling, arising from external stimuli separate to those things arising from the physical body.  

The truth of the matter
Our emotions give rise to our feelings which tell us the truth about how we feel, but not necessarily  the truth , so that there remains responsibility not to become so attached to love that out judgment can become clouded. In that respect Buddhism , with its idea that attachment leads to suffering has  much to offer, as its philosophy / religion proffers that love in the form of a unifying compassion extended to all living beings brings us happiness.    


Tom said...

I wonder whether the word love has been used to cover so many different situations, so many different encounters with 'others', animate and inanimate, concrete and abstract, around us, that the word has become indefinable.

I believe love, whatever it is, has its origin beyond consciousness, not in the emotions or intellect. Those latter represent, for me, the tools for putting love into action, and spirituality is essentially practical as well as experiential.

I will think some more about this difficult subject. Can't promise any answers though.

susan said...

I've read your post a couple of times now, Lindsay, still unable to find one particular type of love among your examples - that love of a mother for her child. Perhaps that comes under the heading of unconditional love. Believe me, as a mother, that one is the most intense I've ever felt, and arriving as a complete surprise as it did at the very moment of giving birth I can testify without reserve there was no matter of choice involved.

As for the love of everything and everyone attributed to the great mystics of the world, all I can think is that it's something to strive for, but most difficult of all to attain. If we could love the world for all its imperfections as mothers love their individual children the world would transform in a split second. Like you, I will pray for that ultimate blessing.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Tom –I agree a lot depends upon how you define love and the possibility of external stimuli or phenomena that comes to us in a love which transcends the numerous images that besiege us. Let’s know any further thoughts you have.
Susan-probably the most important and universal aspect of love in action we can ever talk about which immediately springs to mind the simple yet elegant hymn we regularly sing in our choir, whose composition was by Christopher Walker in 1998 :
Like a child rests in its mother’s arms,
so will I rest in you.
My God, I am not proud.
I do not look for things too great.
Like a child rests in its mother’s arms,
so will I rest in you.
My God, I trust in you.
You care for me, you give me peace.
Like a child rests in its mother’s arms,
so will I rest in you.
Like a child rests in its mother’s arms,
so will I rest in you
O Israel, trust in God,
now and always trust in God.
Best wishes

Rachael Byrnes said...

If love can be cultivated, decided, like choosing what to eat in the morning, that would be very cool. It would certainly make life easier. It don't think it's a choice though. If we demand of ourselves to love right now, in this moment, it's trying to think something into existence that might not actually be "thought" at all. The bond susan speaks about seems to go beyond thought. something that is stronger than our rational ideas. I like this quote from the philosopher J Krishnamurti. "Love is not sentiment. To be sentimental, to be emotional, is not love, because sentimentality and emotion are mere sensations. A religious person who weeps about Jesus or Krishna, about his guru and somebody else is merely sentimental, emotional. He is indulging in sensation, which is a process of thought, and thought is not love. Thought is the result of sensation, so the person who is sentimental, who is emotional, cannot possibly know love. Again, aren’t we emotional and sentimental? Sentimentality, emotionalism, is merely a form of self-expansion. To be full of emotion is obviously not love, because a sentimental person can be cruel when his sentiments are not responded to, when his feelings have no outlet. An emotional person can be stirred to hatred, to war, to butchery. A man who is sentimental, full of tears for his religion, surely, has no love."

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Racheal
Thanks for your insightful comments. I agree love can’t be cultivated as a choice, thought into existence or is just sentiments. I also think that maybe love bursts forth effortlessly or instinctively in love to the newborn, although that is not always the case. Sentiments usually represent emotions or feelings to ultimately become an expression of love, providing the discerned traits meet with our approval. The ethical dimension then is the discernment of likely favourable outcomes. Thoughts are not love, but for love to succeed requires thought.
Best wishes

Rachael Byrnes said...

Some people say love begins when thought ends. When the psychological past (memory) and expected future is not running its usual program. Then the state of love in the present moment can occur. People talk about this happening in meditation. It might be that words are limited in trying to define this experience. Perhaps this experience of love involves the entire human organism including the brain ... It might even involve the unseen things we don't understand like the concept of soul or energies between humans. Where does the brain end and the body begin? Where does the body end and the soul begin?

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Rachael
I think personal love can begin in the present, and having an open mind can only enhance our mindful receptors to love and its fusion or more likely a partial fusion. But that fusion requires a union of kind in reciprocity which might involve any number of shared cares, concerns, emotional fulfilment and so forth for love to grow and be sustained.
You might say that is the fusion of souls.
We know even at the basic human cellular level, of which number billions, the individual cells have the capacity to override the genetic predispositions evident our DNA. You also have the heart sending signals to the brain and vica versa and so the symmetry goes on. I do think we often come up against something I would describe as a glass ceiling where experience defies comprehension so that we can remain in wonderment as to the mystery of love and life.

In the Quantum entanglement phenomenon where particle pairs change from wave to particle and back again we realise our hold on reality is a tenuous one, since it is impossible to describe each independently, so we only can have a quantum state in contradiction to larger scale physics.
Best wishes