So many of us spend our lives searching for love. We hope to find that one person who will see us, in all of our shadow and all of our light, and embrace every bit of it. It’s the stuff movies and novels and myths passed down through generations are made of, but what is so rarely shared in all of these tales is that “the one” isn’t waiting for us somewhere out there; it’s within.
David Deida, an internationally acclaimed writer and speaker with backgrounds in psychobiology, sexual evolution, neuroscience, and spirituality speaks directly to this phenomenon in his book “Intimate Communion: Awakening Your Sexual Essence”. He notes that, “When you are in love with a man or a woman, the love you feel does not come from him or her; it is the love flowing from your own heart that you feel. Your partner is simply giving you an excuse to love. Love is always found flowing in your heart, not in your family, lover, career, or art.”
This is true even on the most basic biological level. The experience of love is unquestionably a physiological one. This doesn’t mean that when and how and why we feel love for others isn’t impacted by intangible spiritual factors, but that ultimately, those experiences are influenced by and translated into a myriad of biological responses. The interplay of our highly individualized neural circuitries and hormonal balances are, in large part, what determine how we experience intimate connection with others and while that may sound unromantic, it actually opens up the possibility that we can intentionally cultivate more loving states of being through training our bodies and minds. It is so easy to think of love as a passive process, something that just happens to us, like getting struck by lightning, when in actuality, love is something that we can, and perhaps should, practice.
The ability to alter our thoughts, behaviors, and even how we perceive the world through intentional practices is the foundation of cognitive behavioral therapy, which is defined by the American Psychological Association as “a form of psychological treatment that has been demonstrated to be effective for a range of problems including depression, anxiety disorders, [substance abuse], marital problems, eating disorders and severe mental illness” and, according to Psychology Today, “rests on the idea that thoughts and perceptions influence behavior.” The mechanisms of cognitive behavioral therapy capitalize on neuroplasticity, which is defined in Ron Frostig’s article on BrainFacts.org as “the extraordinary ability of the brain to modify its own structure and function following changes within the body or in the external environment” and, in effect, trains the brain to have more adaptive responses to stimuli. For example, a therapy patient might, through a variety of cognitive and behavioral practices, alter a phobic response to driving over bridges so that he or she is able to do so with decreased levels of anxiety. This same concept can apply to how we perceive and experience connection with others, and thankfully, you don’t necessarily have to spend tons of money and time on a course of cognitive behavioral psychotherapy to expand your capacity for love.
According to the Positive Psychology Program, meditation can, in fact, alter the brain, and their article on the many implications of neuroplasticity quotes Jessica Cassity who says that, “with meditation, your brain is effectively being rewired: As your feelings and thoughts morph toward a more pleasant outlook your brain is also transforming, making this way of thought more of a default… The more your brain changes from meditation, the more you react to everyday life with that same sense of calm, compassion, and awareness.” So if the goal is to increase and deepen our experiences of love in our day to day lives, a good place to start is by transforming our brains so that they are essentially wired to be more open to perceiving and processing loving connection, and this is where metta comes in.
Metta is a simple, but powerfully transformative style of meditation that focuses on cultivating feelings of loving-kindness. In his article published by Lion’s Roar on “How to Do Metta”, Jack Kornfield says that, “one of the beautiful principles of compassion and loving-kindness practices is that we start where it works, where it’s easiest. We open our heart in the most natural way, then direct our loving-kindness little by little to the areas where it’s more difficult.”
Since many of us struggle with directing love towards ourselves, it can often be easiest to start with a person for whom you have a very simple and pure love. Maybe this is a niece or a nephew, a grandparent, or even a pet. Seated or lying down in a comfortable position, bring the image of the recipient of your love to mind. Notice the feelings and sensations that you experience as you intentionally connect with the love you feel for this person. Allow these feelings to build and expand until your entire being is enveloped in the experience of loving. Either silently or out loud, offer kind words to the person you are envisioning. You might say, “May you be happy. May you be well. May you be peaceful. May you be free.” If other words or phrases feel more natural and loving, use those. Envision the person receiving your love and then offering love to you in return.
After that exchange feels complete, call to mind another person, one who you love, but with whom you may have a more complicated relationship. Repeat the same process. Connect with your love for the person, let it fill your being, offer it to them, and then allow them to offer you love in return. As you build your capacity for offering loving-kindness you can bring to mind increasingly challenging subjects, whether that is groups of people that you don’t know or have an immediate connection to, people towards whom you struggle to feel lovingly, or even yourself.
This practice is incredibly simple but can have profoundly positive impacts on those who commit to regular metta meditation. According to Dr. Emma Seppälä’s article on Science-Backed Reasons to Try Loving-Kindness Meditation, “seven weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased [practitioners’] love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe. These positive emotions then produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms).” These findings tie directly back to David Deida’s assertions that the degree to which we experience love is far more dependent on the relationship we have with ourselves and how much we have developed our internal capacity to be loving than any external factors and even goes a step further to indicate that those who develop their ability to generate loving states of being are more likely to attract more fulfilling interpersonal experiences and external sources of loving connection.
The beauty in these findings is that, contrary to what so much of the mainstream media would have us believe, if we want to call more love into our lives, we don’t have to spend time searching externally and simply hoping that we’ll be lucky enough to find what it is that we’re seeking. The love we desire is already within us. All we have to do is cultivate the love we innately carry in our hearts and then share it generously with the world.
is an Ojai-based Intuitive Card Reader and Healing Arts Practitioner with certifications in Reiki, Breathwork Healing, AromaTouch, Way of Council, and Holistic Health Coaching.
Images courtesy of David Deida