The Internet has taken up the slack from print media by offering tips on love and relationships, which pop up on home pages, in tweets and in news teasers many times a day. If the secret to lasting romance could be shared like a recipe for cinnamon buns, our problems would be over. But love isn’t a fact, formula, or definable in words.
Love is a process, perhaps the most mysterious one in human psychology. No one knows what creates love as a powerful bond that is so full of meaning. If romance was only a heady brew of hormones, genetic inheritance and sex drive, all we’d need is better data to explain it. But love is transporting. It carries us beyond our everyday selves and makes reality shine with an inner light. The reverse can also happen. We crash to earth when the wear and tear of relationships makes love fade.
The process of love is kept alive by evolving and not getting stuck. Infatuation is an early stage of the process. You bond with another person as if by alchemy, but in time the ego returns with the claims of “I, me, and mine.” At that point love must change. Two people must negotiate how much to share, how much to surrender and how much to stand their ground. It would be tragic if romance faded into everyday familiarity, but it doesn’t have to.
Beyond the stage of two egos negotiating for their own interests, there is deepening love. It doesn’t try to turn the present into the past. A married couple of twenty years isn’t still infatuated with one other. So what keeps the process alive? For me, the answer was revealed by reading a startling sentence from the Upanishads, which are like a textbook of spiritual understanding. The sentence says, “You do not love a spouse for the sake of the spouse but for the sake of the self.”
At first glance this seems like a horrible sentiment: We all love on a personal basis and we expect to be loved the same way, for ourselves. But if “self” means your everyday personality, there is much that isn’t very lovable about each of us and as a marriage or relationship unfolds, there’s a guarantee that our partners will see those unlovable things more clearly. Even a knight in shining armor might want to save more than one damsel, and even saint must use deodorant once in a while.
In the world’s wisdom tradition, “love” and “self” are both universal. They exist beyond the individual personality. The secret of love is to expand beyond the personal. When people say that they want unconditional love, they often imply that they want to be loved despite their shortcomings, issues and quirks. But that’s nearly impossible if love remains at the personal level. At a certain point, if you begin to see love itself as your goal, universal love is more powerful and secure than personal love.
The poet Rabindranath Tagore described the spiritual side of love in a single expression” “Love is the only reality and it is not a mere sentiment. It is the ultimate truth that lies at the heart of creation.” The gift of human awareness is that we can locate the source of creation in ourselves. By going deeper into the self, asking “Who am I?” without settling for a superficial answer, the ego-personality fades. A sense of the true self begins to dawn, and it is this self that exists in contact with love as the only reality.
The journey becomes more fascinating if someone else travels with you. Life isn’t about abstractions; it’s about experience. If you have a beloved who stands for the feeling of love, bonding, and affection, your journey has a focus that can’t be supplied merely by thinking. The experiences that love bring include surrender, devotion, selflessness, giving, gratitude, appreciation, kindness and bliss. So if the phrase “universal love” seems daunting or improbable to you, break it down into these smaller experiences. Pursue them, and you will be traveling in the direction of your source, where the true self and true love merge.
That’s where my spoiler alert comes in. Announcing the secret of love cuts short the actual experience. It doesn’t always help to know what’s coming, because you might fall into exaggerated expectations and fall short. It’s better and more realistic to become aware that love is now your personal project. Show kindness and gratitude. Speak about what your beloved means to you. Every step on this journey works on behalf of the two of you but also on behalf of the self that unites you at the deepest level.