Lessons in Love

More than six months ago I wrote about a new perspective on love and fear–but I didn’t really know what I was trying to say, so I waited some time to post it, and when school started and I forgot about it, I left it alone: the thoughts, the adventure, the discovery. It sat there in wait, biding its time in a cocoon of mystery, longing for my return when the answers–like the fossilized remains of humanity’s missing link–could finally be uncovered.

Since then I’ve been blessed with challenges that I’ve overcome–and with either success or failure defined at the end, I’ve overcome them nonetheless–and I was blessed with the opportunities to learn, to serve, to experience, and more so I’ve been blessed with love, falling deeply in love with a man who is everything I could ever wish for.

So when it comes to love, I feel like I’ve finally learned a few things.

My original thoughts largely concerned God–loving God, fearing God, and balancing the seeming contradiction poised upon the two. Philosophy at this level is important in a spiritual and religious sense, and though it brings me great personal fulfillment, it leaves me wanting for something more practical, more tangible; something I can use to teach, to learn, and to better share the world with others.

And, in a way, loving the world around us–especially the people around us–is the greatest expression of love toward God: cherishing his creations and sharing in their joy and fulfillment. But this question leads us into deeper realms of philosophy, many of which I feel lie tangent to the topic at hand.

Lessons in Love #1: Fear is an involuntary action.

The truth is, being in love, honestly being in love, a healthy love that means the world, that matters and makes me feel larger than myself, more connected to the world, and uplifted in every moment–well, it’s the most terrifying thing in the world. What happens if when we meet tomorrow the love we share today isn’t there? What if we can’t sustain the intimacy we feel now? What happens if something happens and I’m not there for him?

The bigger truth is that none of these things are in our control, and the even bigger truth is that no matter how hard I try to sway these thoughts and feelings, they’ve still got an insatiable appetite for my well-being: They invade my sleep, send shivers up and down my spine at random intervals throughout the day, and send me scrambling for my phone to let him know one more time just how much I love him.

Fear isn’t just present in romance, but perhaps that is the most poignant breed of terror: When I’ve got an analysis assignment that means more than all the rest of my homework together, I unconsciously commit myself to all my other tasks first, because somewhere hidden in all my insecurities I’m afraid I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not mathematical enough to understand analysis or write compelling, accurate proofs.

So, clearly, fear is an involuntary action: It’s a compulsion as much as breathing, as much as the heart beating, as much as blinking or salivating or getting aroused.

Lessons in Love #2: Love is a voluntary action.

Fear is more like breathing than anything else–a fanciful thought that puts a new spin on the Hebrew word ruach, which means “wind” and “spirit.” Just like we’ll go on breathing whether we want to or not but can take charge of our breath and control it, so too will we just go on fearing whether we want to or not but can take charge of our fear and control it.

This is, like all things of significance, easier said than done.

In my Pilates course this semester, the first fundamental we learned was breathing. Even though we go about this for an hour twice a week, as soon as I’m off the mat, I’m back to breathing as before–it takes continual effort, and seemingly endless focus, to maintain control over my breath and achieve the positive benefits that come with it.

So too does fear require constant focus to tame and temper. Controlling our fear is not equivalent to love, but it is the force of love that ignites our desire to control it: If I did not love math, I would not be able to commit myself to studying in spite of my anxiety; if I did not love this man with all my heart, I wouldn’t be able to expel these fears by focusing my attention not on what may happen, but simply on what is.

Lessons in Love #3: The choice is yours.

Every day, every moment of every day, we’re presented the choice to either fear or love. If we allow ourselves to be overcome by our fears, we reduce ourselves to little more than animals who live off instinct and physical drives, unable to think, decide, and reshape the world around them. We succumb our power to the transitory and temporal.

But if we choose to love, we take a step forward from all this fear and begin to shape the world for ourselves. We live in the moment. We expand our horizons. We kindle some of the greatest lights God bestowed on the world–inspiration, compassion, community.

My first conversation began with God, and it’s only fitting that I bring it all back: To fear and to love God is to be true to God–in whatever manner that may present itself to an individual, regardless of faith or faction–both passively and actively. It’s a whole-bodied, whole-spirited approach to touching the divine: in every moment, we draw God into ourselves, and so can bring Godliness to everything we do.

We can imbue that same devotion into all the things we do. I actively love math when I sit down to do my homework; when it colors the way I receive humor and consider other issues, it passively shapes my life. I actively love my boyfriend when I sit down to video chat or send text messages back and forth; but that love is no less when I know, as I go about the rest of my responsibilities, that his heart beats in unison with mine.

January 17, 2014

Continue reading: Love Bias

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