Love is a complex thing in our world because it consists of affection in romance, between parents and children, and between friends and siblings. In Asia, most people do not express themselves outwardly as in Western cultures. Actions often hide affections of care. Asians often express care through gifts or making someone they care for is well-fed. However, our fear of losing someone or something may also indicate our affection for the object. So, we can confuse love with attachment. We can also confuse love with compassion and sympathy. Is there a way to understand what love is?
The two types of love
The many different relationships in the world denote the variety of affections that can arise between people. In this way, we become confused about love and cut it up as a different emotion felt between partners, friends and etc. How do we cut love up into different parts?
Our understanding of love between partners includes the sex act. We comprehend love between parents and children to come with forgiveness and understanding. The love between friends includes feelings of empathy and sympathy.
Despite the different types of love we comprehend in our minds, only two types of love exist in this world and we are only familiar with one type. There exists conditional and unconditional love in this world and we can only perceive conditional love.
What is conditioned love?
Conditioned love depends on conditions to exist. The condition for romantic love to exist is that it must consist of passion in physical attraction. There must also be the sexual act, as well as special treatments such as gifting exquisite or expensive presents and surprises you won’t do for your friends or parents. It also consists of an intimate trust you have for your partner. You expect the same trust, empathy, and loyalty. If any of these conditions collapse, the love is over.
Parent-child love consists of the child’s expectations of the parents to provide shelter, help, trust, and understanding. The parent’s love for the child requires the conditions of responsible actions from the child. Sometimes, parents may expect the child to provide help and shelter in order to show love as well. Love can also grow between friends and it arises due to trust, loyalty, empathy, and sympathy. As with romantic love, these forms of love can collapse or encounter stress whenever any of the conditions is not there.
What is unconditioned love?
Unlike conditioned love, we are unfamiliar with unconditioned love. In fact, this type of love is so rare we can hardly find it anywhere in the world. Perhaps the closest we can find this type of love is that of the mother for her child, as most mothers are ready to sacrifice themselves for their child. Even fathers too can make great sacrifices for their children.
The unconditional love in parents who can sacrifice themselves for their offspring shows us this type of love is given without expectations. You can also see unconditioned love as our sun that always gives without asking for any return of its light. Mother earth, on the other hand, gives but expects a return because all things given by earth decay. But how did we come to know about unconditioned love? Unconditioned love has been best expressed by iconic religious figures such as the Buddha and Jesus Christ. Their teachings have inspired many to follow in their footsteps. We are left with memories of their teachings to remember unconditioned love.
Can we practice unconditional love?
The answer is yes! However, to practise unconditioned love without wisdom or understanding can be a defeating experiment. For example, we may have tried to give our time to those around us and even by doing charitable works. But when things go awry or out of our expectations, we can get disappointed or disillusioned.
If you have patience and determination, it definitely is possible to give love without expectations no matter how many times you feel defeated. But this can become detrimental to our mental health when we face challenges.
The other way to practice this is to remember the qualities of love no matter who you come in touch with. Every one of us has unreliable moods. So it may help to think about the qualities of love when you are communicating with anyone in your life – be it, co-workers, parents, or your children. They all are bound to annoy you some time or another. The reason is that we are so absorbed in the narrative of our own minds or that of others we forget the quality of love. The way to counter this is to remember the qualities of love – such as contentment, ease, warmth, and joy. The qualities of unconditioned love are the uplifting qualities of love itself without needing any conditions except our remembering of its qualities.
Let us know if the practice works for you. In mindfulness practice, we need not always use the breath as an object to learn to pay attention to the present moment. We can use love too, as an object to anchor us in the present moment.