Originally posted on 05-16-07:
At some point I’ll talk about the importance of daily routines, but for now I’ll just note that I read something every morning to remind me of the nature of reality as I understand it. These days I’m slowly making my way through the Fall, 2006 issue of Tricycle, as some may have guessed, and the subject of today is an article by Dara Mayers called, “Love Divine.” It’s about an Indian Hindu guru affectionately known as Amma, the hugging guru. The author’s main point is that Amma makes anyone she hugs, or who is even in her presence, feel loved. That is her gift, the source of her attraction.
Anytime the subject of love comes up, I think of oxytocin, a hormone and neurotransmitter. The linked article covers it pretty well, and I’ve already talked about it at length in the podcast, Bare Brains Episode One. I’m sure oxytocin is involved in peoples’ experiences with Amma, but what I want to talk about now is the great attraction of being loved.
I think that the evolutionary value of the experience of love is as social cement: it binds parents to children and vice versa, spouses to each other, and members to groups. Emotional connection is much more powerful than rational connection, and predates the ability of organisms—namely us—to be rational, to reason with language. So I think there is a strong biological base for the emotion of love, and when we are experiencing it we are in the grips of our physiology—hormones and neurotransmitters.
Integral with the role of love as social cement is a corresponding need to feel “cemented.” In the article, Dara Mayers poignantly communicates her personal yearning for the feeling of connectedness that love brings, and I certainly felt the lack of connectedness in my younger days—it is not pleasant. In fact, the Buddha would lump it in with the many other forms of suffering.
Two things, at least, have helped to free me from that yearning and from many other forms of suffering. One is that the feeling of love is pretty much content free, meaning it has little or nothing to do with any personal features of either of the parties involved. Knowledge of personal features only comes with lengthy, intimate exposure to another person, and often—in the case of spouses particularly—the feeling of love often gets overridden by familiarity with another persons habits, hygiene, preferences, and values.
What happens between lovers would probably happen with Amma and any of her followers in the unlikely event of prolonged intimate contact. Many who have become intimate with gurus have found them quite human in everyday life, with a goodly measure of human foibles.
The point, then, is that the emotion of love produces a feeling of valuing the other person and being valued by them that doesn’t often stand the test of time. Our value, our worth as a human being, is on shaky ground if it depends on the opinion of another person. There’s an old Chinese saying: “If you can’t do it for yourself, who can do it for you?” How to do it for yourself is a big subject, which hopefully will be covered as we move along.
The other realization that has helped me tremendously is that the feeling of loving and being loved exists as a particular state of chemical/neuronal activity in the brain. It doesn’t matter what external stimulus provokes it—Amma or your high school sweetheart—it’s the same brain state in either case. If you can get your finger on the button, you can produce the emotion of love on call, which I’m fairly sure Amma has mastered: You can’t project that feeling to another human being unless you have it yourself—we’re too good at reading subtle social cues, at least most of the time.
How to find the button? Understanding the science helps, but ultimately you have to practice intimacy with your brain—meditation—for which I recommend David Harp’s The New Three-Minute Meditator, although there are other, equally non-religious guides.
This Bug Loves This Flower