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Real Love Is A Choice


The feeling was so immense you felt like your heart was going to explode. It felt really good. So good in fact that all you could do was think about the feeling. Naturally, you wanted more. A lot more. You dove right into this feeling and didn’t look back. But eventually you would get this little itch, a longing to know yourself again. Before you could identify what was actually happening, you were drowning yourself in something called love or what you thought love was supposed to be and you were no longer your own person. You were only a person, I mean a real person inasmuch as you identified with the love of your life and without them your identity came crashing into absolute nothingness.

You without a them meant nothing. Nothing. Absolute nothing. To face yourself alone in this fiery fear has many of us running from recognition or freezing in ignorance. It’s the love of all loves, the one we feel when we mother our child, when we gaze into the eyes of our life lover, or the one that has us making soup at midnight for our near and dear friends. Sure, there’s this basic human love and respect for all of our human brothers and sisters (not just some my sweet ones, I really mean ALL of your human family here), but there’s also that other kind of love that takes us on wild adventures and roller coaster rides and it somehow ignites this primal connection to a creative power that is beyond our own individual nature. This connection connects us to something that is beyond ourselves.

If we dig a little deeper, I do question whether the love we feel for our human brothers and sisters is fundamentally any different (certainly the actions are different and there are gradations involved, but the core is quite the same) from the love we feel for our child, lover, or friend, but for classification purposes, I’m dividing love into three categories – worldy love, karmic love, and divine love.

Worldly love is the basic human love and respect we feel for our human family. It’s the love that has us giving to complete strangers, helping a stranded person on the side of the road, or engaging a lost child in the supermarket to calm her down when she’s lost her parents. Karmic love is an elevated form of worldly love. We know it’s karmic love when we feel the intensity of our heart throbbing into the latest 4th of July fireworks show. The third kind of love is divine love. It’s a level up from karmic love. It’s the ultimate form of love we as humans can experience.

Karmic love though actually has a subset to it. Karmic love provides us with a crossroads – we can take one option and burn our selves alive or we can take another option and use the fire to grow from a new seed. And, I do want to point out that worldy love can turn into karmic love if we engage our relationship with worldy love long enough. However, that point is beyond the scope of this piece.

This piece is going to focus on karmic love, particularly focusing on taking the right turn at the crossroads and using the fire to grow from a new seed. But, before we dive in, let’s put karmic love into an understandable framework. Pantanjali discusses 5 klesas (or obstacles) in Book 2, Slokas 3-9 in the Yoga Sutras. Klesas are commonly referred to as afflictions or poisons of the mind. Think of the klesas as the stuff up there in our head that churns and burns us away from our best self. Two klesas are particularly important in understanding the framework on karmic love.

Raga is the mind affliction concerning attachment. Dvesa is the mind affliction concerning aversion. Raga and dvesa are flip sides of the same coin. We are beings that know and grow in relationship to things. So naturally as part of our nature we grow attachments for things we like. We have attachments for the food we eat, the places we love to visit and the people we spend our time with.

Human beings grow in connecting these life gems – food, environment, and human relationship. And, literally our brain grows by building connections known as neuronal networks that govern our every movement, mood, and function in our mind and body. Connections and connecting are fundamental to our human existence – internally and externally. Our external relationship to people, places and things is created on the initial connection. If we like the way the connection felt – feelings of joy, happiness, and safety and security – then we will seek that connection more often than not, which at some point in the re-connection process an attachment forms.

Initially, it’s a healthy attachment. But, sometimes it does happen that we lose ourselves in the attachment and that’s when healthy attachment turns unhealthy. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, notes that, “Attachment obscures the flow of life.”

When we are inundated within our attachments we ignite the mind affliction dvesa or aversion. Aversion is a strong disliking of something. What we attach to in unhealthy and consuming ways is also what we come to eventually hate and loathe if out of balance. Consider this analogy. Aversion shows up in relationships like full bellies show up when we eat too much food. We love the food we eat and sometimes we love it so much that we consume an amount that turns our strong liking and attachment to strong aversion.

Our bellies get so full that what previously felt good and was enjoyable becomes the cause of our distress and severe discomfort at times. “Without mindfulness, attachment always becomes aversion.” says, Thich Nhat Hanh. Mindfulness (think awareness) in this situation is being vigilantly aware of our boundaries.

When we are eating, it’s our ability to notice when we are nourished just enough that we consciously don’t cross the threshold of over-indulging in one more bite. We are nourished enough and we know that next time when we encounter the food we love, we will be nourished again. We walk away feeling satisfied, energized, and healthy. Relationships are the same way.

When we tip the balance of nourishment in our relationships and I’m referring to any kind of relationships whether they be family, friendly, or romantic, we take a far left at the karmic crossroads and get burned by the fire because we wind up in the fire zones of raga (attachment) and/or dvesa (aversion). It’s so much easier to lose ourselves in someone else or something else than to deal with the messiness of who we really are with all our jagged edges, contours, and shapes.

We all know this line, “Just one more bite and I will be done.” or “Just one more time and that’s it.” and whatever that “it” is, it’s no longer nourishing, but life sucking because most of the time when we preface with “Just one more…”, we’ve already started to tip the balance in a direction that will have us burning ourselves alive instead of burning our foundation to grow from a new seed. If we keep saying “Just one more…” enough times, we will get so full that the thing we loved and enjoyed will turn into the thing that causes us pain and suffering.

So, think of karmic love as patterns that show up in our behavior within any type of relationship. The pattern could be that when things get really emotionally deep in any relationship you get fearful and runaway. Running away each time may damage the relationship and by running away you will repeat that pattern in each relationship unless you make a conscious choice to recognize it and work through the emotional response pattern in a constructive way and healthy way. The how-to of working through our patterns is beyond the scope of this piece. Each relationship dynamic is unique and will require its own special formula to work through the karmic love patterns.

Remember, karmic love is that stuff you feel throbbing like fireworks in your heart space. It’s not just between romantic partners either. It’s between friend and foe and can show up in the nectar of the feeling or the decay. Karmic love provides us the opportunity to heal the pattern that keeps showing up in our relationships and is very likely intergenerational. If we heal the loop (healing the pattern) then we elevate the experience to one of divine love.

We can catch fleeting moments of divine love without experiencing it in human relationship with another because we are surrounded by divine love in our environment. However, certain klesas (afflictions of the mind) can block us too from the experience of divine love in our environment. Divine love is arguably most palpable in human relationships because the direct experience is reflected back to us from another similar being in a deep felt state that has our hearts wired to light the world with its magnificence. Divine love is the penultimate adventure of our life.

Karmic love encounters take us on road trips with raga and dvesa. We will continue those road trips until we recognize the pattern and heal the wound.   When we heal the wound, we heal the loop. The healing of the loop gives us access to divine love in relationship. Divine love is pure – there’s no raga and no dvesa. When we invite that purity into the heat of the moment whether it’s one of joy or one of hatred, in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “We transform attachment and aversion and arrive at a love that is spacious and all-encompassing.” Before we go down the rabbit’s hole on a scavenger hunt looking for the elusive spark to fulfill us, let’s remember that the spark is you – it’s inside of us. You are the spark that will open the invitation to find that real love is a choice.

While we all experience all three levels of love – worldly, karmic, and divine – the key to experience such love is our awareness and commitment to heart growth. That is, are we committed enough to staying vulnerable so that our heart continues to grow and expand?

We develop our worldy love by opening our heart just enough to see our brother in the other. Karmic love take us on adventurous road trips and jazzy dances, always giving us the opportunity to take the plunge within our own spirits arms and heal the loop. Divine love then lies within the mandala of our heart, as Thich Nhat Hanh notes the, “seeds of true love – lovingkindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity…” are planted in the freshly burned fields where the weeds are removed and the bloom is infused with silent purity. It is here that we will experience joy as the recognition of grace in our lives.

Om Shanti Om ~ Athea


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