No one would deny that one of the pillars of health and wellness is love. Not necessarily romantic love, as is glorified in the movies and on TV, but love of all things.. yourself, your friends, your family, nature, animals, healthy habits and peace on earth, to name a few. We think often of romantic love when we hear the word “love” but love of yourself is love of the highest priority. This is not meant to promote being self-centered or self-important, but is meant to promote a sense of well-being, inner strength, confidence, self-esteem. In yoga, we talk about your third eye being the seat of your intuition. I love the idea of an inner eye that is the seat of your intuition rather than the outer eye that always looks to others, books, media and gurus for guidance. So often it takes completely removing yourself from your daily routine to tap into your intuition as in this world, it competes with a lot of external noise in order to be heard. If there is one reason to go away, on a trip, preferably a yoga related event, where you’ll be practicing and doing a lot of physical work as well as inner work, that’s one reason. But, I digress.
Back to the concept of love. Love for yourself can be expressed through the way you dress, the care you take of yourself, your appearance. Love can be demonstrated through the way you tend to your things, the way you keep your house. There is a wonderful story I read once about a man who did not have a lot but what he did have, he cared for deeply and with such pride and joy that when you entered his home, it was clean and well-kept and he always offered you a present. It must be a Buddhist tale but it’s a wonderful lesson in how little money has to do with showing yourself and others love. Deepak Chopra writes in the 7 Laws of Spiritual Success that no matter where you go, when you reach your destination and have met your companions, bring them a gift. A flower, a poem, something you have baked. A well-wish, a good thought, your support. This idea can only help you tap into a sense of love that can at times be so much more meaningful than a traditional gift that might have cost a lot of money to obtain.
Love can also be expressed in the habits we keep. Driving in a measured way, wearing a seat belt, drinking in moderation, exercising regularly, meditating, eating healthy, staying away from extremist views in the media and gossip; these are all ways that we show we love ourselves and refuse to be suckered into the temptations of the world.
Who you spend your time with is also an expression of love. We can’t chose our family but we can chose how we act around them and can honor them on some level ( except perhaps in instances of abuse). We can cherish the time we spend with them, really listen when they speak and work to heal old wounds. We can approach them with honesty and openness and make efforts to hear their views even if when we were young, we were self-rightous and stubborn and never took time to hear them. We can support them and be there for them, for as they age, they will begin to need us more than we need them. We can make time to reach out to them, call, send a card or a letter ( so much better than an email) and send pictures of our children and pets, for the things we love, they love as well and it brings them joy to know that we are happy.
Friends fuel our sense of love as well. Spending time with friends and sharing in an honest and real fashion is one of the joys of friendship. Being able to have fun, without fear of showing your true self, to be able to speak freely with someone that has seen you through the ups and downs of life is a joy that we all have known. Like family, friends go through growing pains as well and true friends stay, even if there are many years that have separated them. Facebook is one testament to that, as people who have not spoken for years, pick up again and share pictures and messages and words of support even though many years have passed in between. I have experienced this recently and it is one of the true genius of the social networking application.
Romantic love can’t be ignored though and for those that have known it, and been part of this bond, there is nothing like it. One can write a book on love but to ignore the one kind of relationship that gives you a true sense of what it means to feel alive would be to ignore a feeling that can be intoxicating like no other. People have fought for love, died for it, gone to other countries for it. They have changed their own lives, sacrificed and pushed themselves beyond their own sense of self for another person. True love is an elusive thing and although we have all strived for it, the paradox of life is that it is so hard to attain. And yet, like so many precious things in life, that which we want so deeply cannot be attained through normal means but only can land on your soul as a by-product of you living your life and acting, in a way, like it really doesn’t matter to you either way, should love happen to knock on your door or not. It is the frustrating but real-life lesson we learn, that we cannot strive to “achieve” love, or “attain” it but instead, have to let it happen. And with the same sense of grace and confidence, we often know as we embark upon the emotional journey that is love, that we do so knowing full well that there may be pain and suffering ahead. Many yoga prophets have written about the struggle of the human spirit and how we often are driven to pain and suffering like moths to a flame; perhaps our affection for true romantic love is just one more piece of evidence to that.
Take some time today. Make a list of the things you love that fall into some of the categories here. List your friends, family members, romantic love partners; your personal habits that express love for yourself, your health habits that express self-love. Make a list of things you love to do outside, in nature, if you meditate, write that. List all the ways you show you love yourself. Then, in the next column, write how much time you spend tending to each item. If you meditate once a week for 10 minutes, write 10 minutes. If you practice yoga three times a week for an hour, write one hour. If you clean your house every Saturday morning, write down the time doing that. If you commit to getting 8 hours of sleep per night, write that time. Then in a third column, write the number of hours you are at work. These would be non-negotiable hours that you are working to make money to support yourself. This does not include non-profit work, part-time work, or things you do for fun. This is work that you must do to support yourself. If you are fortunate enough to work for yourself, then possibly your “day” job is also related to one of the things you have listed in your first column. This is a wonderful find, and an expression of true love. However, even in those instances, we can find people who “work” in an area that is an expression of love, but the rest of their life is a contradiction. The house that is in need of tidying, the car that has not been maintained, the bills that go unpaid as time is not spent to formulate a budget and be truthful with oneself about what living within your means is about.Nutrition that is in need of care, family relationships that need mending. After you have written these lists in columns ( things you love, time you spend doing each one per week, time you spend working each week), add up your totals. For most people, the time they spend at work will dwarf the time they spend on things they love. This exercise can be a sobering revelation for us as we realize we are living our whole lives on someone else’s time. There is a practical reality that most of us live with and that is that we have a job or strive to find a job that will take us away from what we may truly love, in the name of supporting ourselves ( which, by the way, is a true sign of self-care; supporting oneself) We must stop and take the time to realize that without love, there is no productivity. Without love, there is no health. Without love, there is no peace. Without love, there is no growth. Without love, there is nothing.