The Nature of Love

Love is heaven’s kindly light, the Holy Spirit’s eternal breath that vivifieth the human soul. Love is the cause of God’s revelation unto man, the vital bond inherent in the realities of things. Love is the one means that ensureth true felicity … Love is the light that guideth in darkness, the living link that uniteth God with man, that assureth the progress of every illumined soul. Love revealeth with unfailing and limitless power the mysteries latent in the universe. Love is the spirit of life unto the adorned body of mankind, the establisher of true civilization in this mortal world…

-Abdu’l-Baha

Can you see and feel in this picture the active force of attraction to beauty, unity, and growth that we call love?

To love and feel loved are human needs as fundamental as our need for sustenance and shelter. Our capacity to respond to another with love is innate and can be clearly seen in the natural empathy of little children toward living things. Yet, the story of what happens with this most fundamental human capacity throughout life goes to the heart of what it means to be human.

From the quality of early attachments to our evolving ability to love and accept ourselves, from our felt connections to others to our blossoming love for values, the human capacity for love is the most redeeming aspect of human nature. World spiritual traditions tells us that the mysterious purpose of life is to learn how to love.

Why is this innate faculty so difficult to develop into a full-blown capability that we can manifest in every aspect of our lives?

Our capacity for love stands in a complex relationship with our capacity to understand and to use our will responsibly. The level of our understanding has much to do with what we become attracted to, with the quality of our love. From a limited understanding, we become attracted to using force to obtain power, we develop a sad love affair with war within and without.

As we grow in mature self-knowledge, we also grow in self-love. As we come to understand the uniqueness of each human being, and the interconnectedness of all human beings, we grow in empathy and a sense of oneness with humanity. As we reflect more deeply on the values of our families, cultures, societies, and historic times, we come to embrace life responsibly.

As philosopher Aldous Huxley sums it, “We can only love what we know, and we can never know completely what we do not love. Love is a mode of knowledge, and when love is sufficiently disinterested and sufficiently intense, the knowledge becomes unitive knowledge.”

We live in difficult times, when old bonds of connectedness are being torn, and alienation is becoming the modern norm. Yet, these times of a historical transition to a global society are also fraught with opportunity for human beings to transcend insular loyalties and to develop a larger love for humanity, for life. In this grand historical challenge, the journey of each human being toward true love matters!

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