Growing up, I watched all the shows and movies that were about love.
I loved the idea of love. What I wanted most when I grew up was to have a dream relationship. I wanted the perfect relationship where I met my soul mate, and we were always in love, and my soul mate would do everything I wanted, and there would be no bumps in the road because we would be in love all of the time.
This vision of what it means to be in a relationship may sound absurd, yet it’s very common and is the dream that many of us seek. I used to laugh at the idea that people actually believed in this kind of ludicrousness. It wasn’t until I started to examine my relationships over and over again that all the pieces lined up. I realized that I too—oh my goodness—actually believed in these fairytales.
What a mess of expectations this instills in our minds and hearts. It pushes against reality where everything changes. It intrinsically encourages suffering when we do not embrace the inevitable ebb and flow that we live in as humans.
We have this idea that the moment we enter this dream relationship everything will be better. All the troubles we have experienced prior to this relationship will disappear. Rather than seeing relationships as a living experience, we see them as static, which affects what we see as “being in love.”
Let us investigate the term “love”—love is, in the most general definition from Merriam-Webster:
a.) a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person
b.) attraction that includes sexual desire
So then, “being in love” is having a strong affection for a person. Affection is defined as a feeling of liking or caring for something or someone. Therefore, being in love is feeling and caring for a person. This sounds quite humdrum compared to the romanticized version of love, but when you fall into the reality of feeling and caring toward a person—in a romantic sense or not—this is quite an amazing feat. Think of your day and how you share compassion with those you love. How consistently are you being loving to those in your life?
And wait, let’s back up a moment—how loving are you to yourself?
Our inner love is the seed where all of our love grows from. So from this moment on, we will open up the term love from being in love with one person, to all beings. Love can be cultivated by everyone and is boundless in nature, so there is no reason—other than our intellectual reasoning—that we cannot shower the world in the best thing ever, love.
So then the question arises: How can we care for ourselves and care for another person on a regular basis? How can we be in love more of the time?
Here are five ways to cultivate love:
To encourage anything specific in our lives to grow, it is helpful to see what is actually happening. We each lug around a bag full of stories we have been gathering since we were in the womb—stories of how things were, how things are, and how things will or should be. As we often live from our stories, a collection of inaccurate tales, our life begins to feel stale, including our connection to ourselves and others.
To cultivate a clear-seeing mind, it is helpful to pause our everyday discursiveness that is constantly grasping for our bag of stories. When we pause, we can actually see what is in front of us—our living experience. We can see the life in our life. The life in ourselves. The life in our relationships. A daily meditation practice of pausing these cyclical stories—and being in our present moment to moment experience, which is now—is a wonderful way to feel the love that exists in our life already.
Know your Focus.
It is important to stand behind yourself if you are trying to commit to anything. Take 10 minutes to write down why you want to be in love. How will this affect your life? What does being in love mean to you? Knowing your “why” is essential in following through and shifting old habits.
Loving-kindness practice allows us to build the well of love from within, so we can radiate love outwards. We are cultivating the quality of connection with all beings, without exception. In the practice, you are stating things that you wish for yourself, and then opening up this desire for yourself outwards to others. Such as: May I be happy. May I have good health. May I be free from suffering. May I be at ease.
As you direct your wishes to yourself and others, feel the love and care moving out from you. Allow this to be an embodied experience.
Begin with choosing one phrase that aligns with what you wish for yourself. Repeat this phrase sending it towards yourself: May I be happy. Then send this phrase towards beings you have love for: May they be happy. Visualize beings you have unbiased feelings about. You neither like nor dislike them. Send the phrase towards them. Visualize beings you dislike or have difficulty with. Send the phrase toward them. Then send the phrase towards all beings. May all beings be happy.
Look with Love.
A traditional way to cultivate love is the practice of looking at all beings you see with an open, loving heart. This is an especially delicious practice when you are in the midst of daily tasks that can often become routine and without heart. Hold the intention close of giving love to all beings as you pick up groceries, make dinner, pass the salt or in the moments when you feel rough around the edges. This is a true gift of opening up, no matter what, and sharing presence in love.
Practice the five mantras from Thich Nhat Hanh, based on the Four Elements of True Love: loving-kindness, equanimity (non-discrimination), joy and compassion.
These are mantras that encourage connection immediately through feeling empathetic and present. Empathy and presence are essential in these mantras of love being effective. Doing your best to remain in touch with your heart will support you being able to show up with understanding. Being present will allow the person you are relating with to feel they can relax, open up and trust you.
You can say one of these mantras based on what is needed in a given moment:
Darling, I am here for you.
Darling, I know you are there and it makes me happy.
Darling, I know you suffer and I am here for you.
Darling, I am suffering and I need your help.
Darling, this is a happy moment.
Be kind and patient with yourself. Remember that how you journey to love is the practice. Your efforts are absolutely worthwhile, and if you fall back into habits (which we all do over and over again), know that is perfectly perfect. In your response of trying again, you are living in love.
Author: Olivia Clementine Kirby
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina