Love is as essential to us as air; a force that drives us all. It determines who we are, who we become, what we can achieve and, through this, how the world will evolve. It may even determine how long we live. Policy advisors to government now claim that the single strongest predictor of whether an individual will be alive in 10 years time is his answer now to the question: "Does somebody love you?"
Psychologists have found links between love and self-esteem, mental, emotional, and physical well-being, and freedom from stress and anxiety. By sad contrast, those working with Romanian orphans have also found that children who are denied love can develop a "virtual black hole" where the emotional centers of their brains should be. Because of this, they can never grow up to be "fully human."
Studies like these show us the importance of love. And yet, so many questions remain unanswered. How many of us can say, for example, what love really is, or how to find it, nurture it, and learn from it so it can feed and enrich our souls? How do we make our relationships work so that they - and we - are healthy, happy, and whole? These are questions which scientists cannot answer. For that we need a Master who can teach us love's simple truths and guide us onto the path of the heart.
Rumi: The Master of Love's Simple Truths
The year 2007 marked the 800th anniversary of one such Master. Sufi mystic, Jalaluddin Rumi was born on September 29 1207 in Eastern Persia. As a child he gained a reputation as a gifted spiritual teacher, and went on to establish the Sufi order of whirling dervishes known as "The Path of the Master."
During his life Rumi composed thousands of verses of mystical love poetry, the messages of which concern the notion of tahweed (unity), where, through love itself, we become one with "the Beloved": the divine spirit of love within all of us. For Rumi, we are all divine and there is no problem we can face which does not have a solution, no question we can ask which does not have an answer, as long as we remember who and what we are. What, after all, is impossible to God? And the essence of God is love.
To love well, therefore, may be our most important task as spiritual human beings, because only by this can we overcome our difficulties and distractions, and reconnect with our true selves. Through love we can make miracles.
To find love, however, we must surrender to love, knowing that our partners are reflections of ourselves and that we are both capable of the deepest, most soulful, and intoxicating of loves - if we choose to see things this way. But let us start at the beginning...
What Is Love Anyway?
The word "love" is nowadays poorly defined. It stands for so much yet can mean so little. Other ages and cultures were clearer, suggesting that they were more thoughtful about and respectful of it. The ancient Greeks, for example, had many different words for love, describing its various forms and how each feels, including eros (sensuality and passion), philo (the love between friends), and agape (the love of God, or, more generally, the kindness and compassion we show to all people when we recognize them as divine and special beings, just like us).
For Rumi, any (and all) of these forms of love is a gateway through which we can step to meet God. When we are loving and loved by another, our perceptions change and things become brighter, clearer, and more meaningful. We see the world as it really is: alive, intelligent, and benign. Even a gesture from our lovers can leave us swooning in sacred meaning. We wake up to the world and, through this awakening, we realize that everyone and all things are part of a single consciousness: We are One - and, more remarkable still: We are all God.
The problem for modern relationships is the pace of life. We do not have time to reflect on love, to experience it fully, or even to be in the company of our lovers as much as we would like. We are always wanted somewhere else. On top of this, in the modern age, we are all consumers and consumed. As consumers of a fast-food lifestyle, we have grown to expect instant answers and gratification; to simply be "in love" and our lovers to feel the same.
Love's confusions arise from this because love, despite the spin which makes it look so easy, is never really that simple. It requires that we look more deeply at ourselves and our lovers, who have been gifted to us by God for our mutual spiritual advancement, and not approach them just with expectations to be met.
If we accept love in this way, we will learn from it and grow; if we have demands and expectations, however, we will be disappointed and experience rejection and hurt when love does not go our way. These feelings click into our deepest wounds and lead to defensiveness and conflict - the opposite of love in any form.
To avoid this, we must be clear on what "love" means to us, because when we know what we want there is less room for misunderstanding. We must also be willing to explore and release our feelings of rejection if and when they arise. By doing so, we free ourselves from hurt so that in future - and in Rumi's words - we "Do not revisit the past" because, "This fleeting moment must not be wasted."
Intimate relationships are our universities of the heart. In them we will find challenges and blessings, ecstasy and sorrows, and come to realize that our lovers are our mirrors and we are reflected in their eyes. If there is conflict in our relationships it is because we ourselves are in conflict; if there is joy and fulfillment it is because we have found peace within ourselves.
Love seeks balance, stability, and a subtle deepening. For it to evolve in a positive way, it is not necessary, therefore, to force things in our relationships or to worry that we are not doing enough or being as loving as we could; it is only necessary, as a first step, to Do No Harm. This is the first principle of love and Rumi urges us to use it to find our equilibrium:
The relationship you have now, therefore, is perfect for who you are at this given time because you still have more to learn from it. But that doesn't mean that you or your lover cannot become more perfect still! Each passing second brings change, the possibility of healing, new insights, and new ways of being. Perfection is not an absolute, but a process of evolution. "In aiming for perfection," Rumi reminds us, "it is God that we become." As we become more loving, we attract more love to us.
Every relationship - even the most unsatisfactory - is part of this evolutionary process, giving us the opportunity to practice our love, to open our hearts, and create perfection in the moment. If we are wise to love we will learn from it and this will allow us to better understand ourselves and move forward.
To do so, we need to look at ourselves, at what motivates us or holds us back, and at where we must place more of our attention so we are balanced and whole. When we are perfect beings, perfection cannot help but flow towards us. Rumi's advice, then, is simple:
No relationship can "save" us from the problems we bring to it. Instead, it will magnify them so we see what needs to be healed and are given an opportunity to do so. If we find it hard to give love, for example, then it will be equally hard for love to find us, and this will be central to every relationship we have until we decide to heal it. Our relationships reveal these truths and this is our lover's gift.
It is clinging to hope and expectations - the "what could have beens" - that cause us pain when we absorb ourselves with relationships that have failed. When we learn from them and let go, however, our pain is released and we can greet new lovers with wisdom, dignity, and respect for ourselves and for them.
There is a simple law of the universe that embraces us in times of sorrow: Love seeks balance, and our pain now is equal in measure to the joy that will come. Trust that it will and allow yourself to be blessed for, as the Master of Love reminds us, "Peace always keeps company with troubles."
The important thing, then, is to know the unresolved issues in our hearts. In this we find freedom, not shame. By understanding our pains and fears, we and our lovers can find creative solutions so that love can flow once more. Knowing our answers, we can navigate our relationships so that, one step at a time, we give more of ourselves and open our hearts to love.
The person we are learning to love is always ourselves. When we understand this, our lover becomes our ally in helping us reconnect with our souls so that what is hidden becomes visible to us.
Fear closes us down and, since the world we create is the one we perceive, once we shut ourselves off from love, fear is all we know because it is all we see. To change this we must be courageous in love so that, through our example, those around us can also wake up to the truth. By acting from love - no matter what - we create a more loving world, free of the limitations we have known.
Ross Heaven is a therapist, workshop leader, and the author of several books on shamanism and healing, including Darkness Visible, the best-selling Plant Spirit Shamanism, and Love's Simple Truths. His website is The Four Gates where you can also read how to join his sacred journeys to the shamans and healers of the Amazon.