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I will burn for youFeel pain for you
I will twist the knife and bleed my aching heart
And tear it apart.
- “I would die for you” - Garbage
Remember these lyrics from the soundtrack to Buzz Lhurman’s Romeo and Juliet? Shakespeare’s story of two young lovers united against the world is itself a wonderful portrayal of romantic love, with all its drama, passion and pain.
Romantic love can be so exhilarating, so overpowering, that it is easy to mistake it for spiritual love. But they are different, arising from distinct foundations. Put simply, romantic love comes from separation, whereas spiritual love comes from oneness. The practice of yoga and meditation are designed to bring us to this realization.
How can yoga & meditation teach spiritual love?
Have you ever felt like someone loved you for something that doesn’t really feel like “you”? Maybe they said, “you have the most gorgeous toes I have ever seen – I will love you forever!” Or, “I love you for your wonderful washing machine!”
These are silly examples, but the deeper we go into our yoga and meditation practice, the more romantic love can feel this way. Through these practices, we learn to observe our bodies, thoughts and surroundings from a space of still awareness, and as a result, let go of identification with the world of thoughts and things.
She loves you for your powerful body and gentle face, but these can change. What will love cling to then? He loves you for your taste in music, your good family, and your talents, but these things change too.
My personality, my face, what I do, and what I have, change so much over time, and yet still, underneath it all, “I am”.
If “I” am not my thoughts, my body, or my possessions, then what is there left to love? What is there left to do the loving?
Nothing but love itself.
When this love that we are meets itself, it is called spiritual love.
What does it feel like ?
Through yoga and meditation, we may meet an open awareness that contains all our thoughts and perceptions, which itself has no age or gender, and is ever-present, always the same. When we experience this awareness, and our hearts are open, we may feel that love is what we are.
When we love in a spiritual way, we exist as an opening for love to circulate. The Sufi poet Hafiz understood this when he wrote:
I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ's breath moves through
listen to this music
Yoga and meditation help empty our minds and open our hearts, creating space for love to breathe.
Is spiritual love special?
Not at all! Before experiencing this love, if someone had said to me ‘I love you in a spiritual way’, I would have thought, “oh well this transcendent love must bet the real deal. We must be super special!” But it doesn’t make you or any other person special in any way.
It is true that when one opening meets another, there can be resonance. But when love-meets-love in this way, it is a recognition that ‘we are one’, as opposed to ‘you are the one’. Such resonance can shake us so much we wake up.
How can love awaken us?Sometimes ‘awakening’ to our true nature happens involuntarily: a person’s ego is forced to surrender under the weight of great suffering. With the ego no longer over-shadowing our being, we discover love, peace and joy buzzing away underneath, as though it were there all along.
But awakening can also happen voluntarily, in the warm embrace of love. Within such an embrace we can feel safe to let go of our identifications, to open up and feel what we truly are when our egos surrender to “what is”.
Some encounter spiritual love through resonance with another person, but love can find us in many ways. We may feel the sky open up, flooding our being with limitless love poured down from above. Or love may feel like it is rising up from within, saturating all we see.
When experiences like these are accompanied by a realization that we are this love, we ‘wake up’. We feel intimately connected with all that is, and recognize our ‘self’ in the face of everyone and everything we meet.
Is spiritual love perfect?
True love is the art of accepting everything and everyone exactly as they are. This is because when we free, the people we look upon from the deadening mental judgments we plaster all over them (“he is like this”, “she should do that”), we see them as they really are, as if for the first time. Suddenly we feel they are alive. In our presence, they may feel this too.
Spiritual love has no expectations and makes no demands. It may manifest in a physical relationship with another person, or a couple-partnership, or a deep friendship, but it doesn’t need to. It may take any number of forms.
Most parents experience this kind of unconditional love for their children. It’s true a layer of ego often exists on top of this, as we ‘identify’ with our children to a greater or lesser extent. But we don’t usually wonder whether we should stay together with our children, and people don’t ask what we ‘see’ in them. This would be like asking what we love about our arms, our heads, or our internal organs! Our children are simply part of what we are. When we awaken, this same love expands to embrace the whole of life.
In this state of wholeness, love ceases to be about filling a void inside you, or finding the missing piece of your psychological puzzle. It is a simple expression of our unity.
Can spiritual love cause pain?
When you feel true love for any part of the physical world (such as a person), it is like the ocean feeling love for a wave. You can’t care if it loves you back, because you are it!
If love is causing pain, we can be sure it is being diverted through the mind somehow; that we have fallen back into the illusion of separateness. We suffer because we feel alone and less than whole. We think another person can complete us, so we shift the barrier of separation a little further out, and subsume that person within the ‘story of me’. This is the essence of ‘romantic love’.
So what about romantic love?
Romantic love is a natural part of most of our lives, especially at the beginning of relationships. However, if we attach our happiness to it, we will never be happy for long. This is because we are pinning our happiness on an external condition, in a world where change is the only constant.
Fragile beings that we are, we resist the flow of change and try to impose some permanence on the world. We cling to happiness, knowing it can be taken away at any time. Because deep down we know nothing we can hear, touch, see, smell, or taste is permanent.
We enter relationships with expectations about the part each person will play, and then become unhappy when these ‘conditions’ for our love are inevitably not met. So we try to change the other person, or we look for someone better, someone who will finally fulfill us.
And so the cycle continues, never with any space to be content with what is, to simply be.
The obvious point we miss is that true love cannot be given, nor taken away. It is simply our true nature, once the maelstrom of the mind is cleared away.
And that’s where yoga and meditation comes in?
It is. Through yoga and mediation we can still our minds, release our emotions, and reconnect with our body’s intelligence. We can get in touch with our heart, and through this, with our true nature.
I have a mantra from Adyashanti that I often repeat throughout the day: not my will, but the heart’s will, be done. Before doing yoga and meditation intensively, this mantra would have been meaningless to me. My attention was so drowned in my mind that I could not hear my heart, even if I had tried to listen.
But once our bodies, minds and spirits are all in fluid communication, at any time we can pose the question to ourselves: what is the heart’s will? Then the question can drop down below the neck, into the heart. From here, love can dance through us, like a hole in a flute.