The more I read, reflect on, and hear about spirituality, the more convinced I’m becoming that love is the core of being spiritual, or living a spiritual life.
“God is Love”. This thought/idea cuts through all the theological theorizing and gives us a simple criterion for assessing whether we are acting in a spiritual manner.
So, the question, “is this a loving act?” is a useful one to use when we hear a news item about a spiritual or religious group doing something or other. So, feeding homeless refugees may be a loving act, but beating up an abortion doctor probably isn’t. Likewise, stoning an allegedly adulterous woman under Shariah doesn’t meet the criterion of spirituality, nor do the Crusades against Muslims.
The other question I find useful is “what would love do?”. I try to remember this one, especially when I’m upset for any reason, but it’s easier said than done.
The other thing that most spiritual teachers don’t seem to talk about much is that it’s virtually impossible to feel (and thus to be) loving when we are angry, or scared. So, in my opinion, tools that help bring us back to center, or to balance, are incredibly important. These include breathing exercises, looking at the thoughts that lie behind the reaction, and physical exercise.
In the long term, however, even these tools don’t go far (or deep) enough. The source of any upset is usually some wound that we sustained (or “created”) at some time in our past – usually our early childhood. When we’re upset, this wound is triggered, and we move into fear/hurt, which usually translates into anger. So, I believe that the only way to become truly loving, in all circumstances, is to heal our inner wounds.
Easier said than done, right? Absolutely. The traditional method of doing this is to go into psychotherapy, and I have nothing against the therapeutic professions (I’m in therapy again/now, and loving it). The only problem to me (as someone who has done years of therapy) is that most of the time, it seems slow to me.
And, therapy itself is changing. Many practitioners re including new techniques and technologies into their practices which identify and heal old wounds far more quickly than the traditional forms of “talk therapy”. That’s good news for those of us who want to get on with our healing and get happier.
The bottom line is that it’s easy to be loving when we’re feeling good, and our partner, companion, colleague or friend is feeling the same way. When either of us is tired, ill, frustrated, stressed, broke, or hungry, it’s not very easy at all.
Jesus said,“Love thy neighbor as thyself”. We’ve heard it so often that I think we forget to read it or hear it accurately. It’s the “…as thyself” part that I find interesting, and which doesn’t seem to get much airtime in traditional Christianity. Self-love, or self-care, is an integral part of any spiritual practice, I believe, and Christianity is no exception. It’s virtually impossible to truly love anyone else – especially not your enemy – if you can’t love yourself.
So, let’s remember the question…”what would love do?”. It’s helpful in bringing us back to our spiritual center.
My goal is to be “in love” all the time – with myself, with my wife, with my neighbor, with life, with my enemies, and with my cats. I’m nowhere near that goal, but I’m still enjoying the journey…