So a wise old soul recently gifted me with a copy of bell hooks' book All About Love. bell hooks says that everywhere she turns, she is bombarded with images about the importance of love, or the way love makes you feel. But nowhere does anyone try to define love. She talks about her struggle over the years searching in vain for a meaningful definition of the word love. Finally, she finds an old definition that seems right. Here's the definition:
Love is the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth....Love is as love does. Love is an act of will namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to.
Interesting. So this definition includes different kinds of love -- romantic love, love of self, love of vocation, love of God, love of family, and even love of humanity. Ultimately, its something we choose to do with both our intentions and our actions. We are called upon to do love's work, and whether we respond is up to us.
And that work aint' easy. Here's what Kahlil Gibran, the poet, has to say about love's work:
When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart....
So when I think about how this applies to the world around us, I think of this. If we are called upon to do love's work, and it isn't always easy, when we encounter hatred and greed, lying and anger, selfishness and corruption, we are being called upon to love those people, those forces, who are engaging in these vices.
How would we do that? Well, there's at least one approach in something called metta meditation. 'Metta' means loving kindness. The idea is to generate unconditional loving kindness for all beings. All beings suffer, and because we are all deeply connected, then we can wish for them to be well, happy, and free from the causes of suffering. With compassion, we can lift the veil of negativity to see that behind it sits not a demon, but a being who is truly suffering. Maybe its a politician, maybe its a CEO of a corporation, maybe its a romantic partner. And maybe that being isn't ready to heal himself or herself, but at least we can cultivate love - through intention and action - for them. And if enough of us can do this, collectively we can cultivate enough love to counter the effect of all the suffering out there.
It isn't easy. And it takes time. But keep believing. Hold on to The Promise of Love....here's Tracy Chapman on that.