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What is Love?

By Peter Shepherd

How could one define love? It is put most simply and beautifully, I feel, in the words of Joni Mitchell: "Love is touching souls." As we all know, the feeling we have from loving and being loved, brings a warmth and richness to life in a way that that nothing else can.

Love, in its purest sense, is unconditional acceptance. Unconditional acceptance of someone or something, the way they are, without judgment. Accompanying that, or substituting for that in many cases when love is felt in personal relations, is desire, caring, attraction and admiration - and of course those qualities are increased if the feeling is mutual. But essentially, love is accepting and welcoming a person just as they actually are, without them having to put on an act or behave according to some hidden standard.

The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well. Compassion and understanding, in other words, without judgment.

What I learned from Christianity as a child was the New Testament message of the power of love; and from Buddhism I learned the importance of acceptance and non-attachment. It was enough for me to perceive of higher consciousness as the quality of love, and that when we love (which is to say accept unconditionally) we are part of the universal consciousness. As the saying goes, "When we love, we are the universe and the universe lives in us."

I realized that intuitive knowledge of spiritual truth was the way to go, since fundamental truths are simple and graspable when we look to our inner knowing. More simple than words can say. What remained complex and a mystery to me was the structure of mind, and the million and one ways that mind sneaks in to obscure or corrupt our natural insight and wellbeing, so that's why I went on to study psychology.

It is often said that ego is the primary obstacle to enlightenment and living a life guided by love, but I beg to differ. Ego is your personality - your face to the world, as well as your inner thoughts - the verbal thinking process - along with the fears, likes, desires, needs that attach to thoughts and beliefs. It's an essential part of being a human being, your everyday conscious thinking self. Without wanting to do well competitively, to play and win at the games of life, the world would be back in the Stone Age, yet we're told how our selfish ego is such a barrier to spiritual growth. This is a misconceived put down of natural instincts; a fear of worldly things, really. Humans are spiritual beings incarnated in an animal body-mind; that's no bad thing, indeed that's why we are here.

Personal growth is about transcending the ego, not weakening it - it's already too weak and afraid, which is why it's immaturely selfish and hateful. The ego should be embraced and loved, like a child growing up, not rejected as imperfect. The stronger and more mature it is, the more transparent it becomes to the spiritual essence that lies behind the personality. The ego then becomes an instrument of love.

Personal growth is about integrating and loving; it is never about separating and destroying. Our spiritual path is not destruction of the ego, it is integrating and transcending the ego, to be purified by love. This opens a pathway for the illumination of love to lighten the shadows of our personality. The healing of fears is always love: unconditional acceptance. A beautiful aspect of love is that it never dies. You live on in all that you love; you live on because you ARE love.

Speaking of such matters it is easy to become dogmatic, to say "This is the Truth and none other." Actually truth belongs to each of us, what we know to be true deep in our soul, and any other kind of truth is merely academic. Therefore we should beware the cultural influence of orthodox religions. There's a line in the Flatlanders where Butch Hancock says, "Life in Lubbock, Texas, taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you're going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love." This way of manipulation is called a "double bind." It depends on acceptance of the lies of high authority (Hell and Original Sin in this case). It makes people neurotic and therefore unable to trust their own thoughts and feelings, and enslaves them to the religion that caused the damage.

The real enemy is dogma, per se. Like the Trans4mind motto says, "Minds, like parachutes, function better when open." We each need to discover our own truth, not have it dictated to us by authorities. Truth is inevitably simple in essence but the network of defenses we erect to deny our own truth (driven by fears), and the sophistication of the conditioning we receive to imprint and then to safeguard the status quo (much of it misinformation), are complex filters through which to perceive our inner truth. As we progress in awareness it's important to revise our beliefs accordingly.

The truth is so often being obscured by the mental defenses we have created, to protect the rightness of our current ways of being. The armor around our ego is too heavy and restricting to turn around and see that the war is long since over!

So many assume the truth is either black or white... It's all evolution or it's totally creation, for example. Reality creates consciousness; consciousness creates reality. Actually truth is inclusive, neither black nor white, nor a shade of grey. Indeed, truth is a multicolored spectrum, a beautiful hologram! Truth is inevitably simple, but it's multi-dimensional too, like a koan.

How can truth be simple? In psychology, whole books don't begin to describe the complex tapestry of the mind. It's a labyrinth of fears and separations, identifications and attachments. But in spiritual matters, it's quite the opposite. Fundamental truth is so simple that words are inadequate... truth is a serene state of being that accepts what is without judgment nor resistance, perceived with perfect communication, understanding and empathy. When an underlying truth is revealed, it is always a message of love, of unconditional acceptance, of oneness with what is.

One can make a lot of headway by applying some simple principles and disciplines...

Firstly, to always be guided by love, since love is the creative force, the intent, the quality, that is your essential nature. It always leads to truth... it IS truth. So whenever you act, ask "Am I doing this through love?" This is the best way to get in touch with inner guidance, to start to know your true self.

Secondly, be mindful before reacting emotionally. Take time to breathe, to get into the present moment - pull yourself in from attention trapped in the past and the future and be grounded and centered in your body. Here and now. Then respond, from love and not from fear.

And thirdly, remember that communication is the solvent of problems. When in doubt, or you're anxious, or you feel stranded: communicate. That means to express your feelings and safeguard your rights - but equally to ask questions and listen intently, not just to spout off yourself.

These will take you a very long way.

PLUS: See the Love is All You Need meditation program, free online at Trans4mind.

Peter Shepherd is the founder and producer of the Trans4mind personal development website and author of 'Daring to be Yourself.' He edits and publishes the Inspiring Quotes of the Week and with a team of colleagues has recently launched the amazing Trans4mind Personal Development Training. Get in touch with Peter here.

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