All You Need is Love
Updated: Sep 9, 2020
In the Heart Chakra, the power of the ego surrenders to the power of compassion and unconditional love. We begin to see ourselves in others. We begin to realize that all beings wish to be happy, peaceful and free from suffering. We long to express our love through service and connection. Being vulnerable and offering your heart to others requires courage, because sometimes your heart gets broken. As we learn to forgive, and heal past heartbreaks, we can experience the world with an open heart.
In the third chakra (solar plexus), we generated the heat and energy to make things happen. The fourth chakra, the Heart Chakra (located in the heart center, shoulders, arms, hands, lungs, and thoracic spine), moves us from effort to surrender. The key to the Heart Chakra is to soften and open-- to create spaciousness. In our yoga practice, this softening means once you find alignment in a posture, to soften into it. Off our mat, this softening takes the form of noticing when we are rigid and inflexible, and instead focusing on understanding and empathy.
The Greeks suggest there are four main types of love. “Eros” is romantic love. “Filia” Is brotherly love. “Storge” is maternal love and “Agape” is love for all. For many of us our mother is the one who first teaches us love, she is the supreme nurturer and comforter and her love is unconditional. Sadly, many people did not get to experience a pure maternal love, and may carry forward scars or behaviors from their dysfunctional upbringing. But we can also learn from our parents’ mistakes and access the same power of love through mindfulness-- bringing awareness to the patterns we have carried forward from our youth and creating new ones as we make peace with our parents-in-us.
Humans thrive on love. Buddha taught that it is possible to live 24 hours a day in a state of love. Every movement, every glance, every thought, and every word can be infused with love. (Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love) What a wonderful practice to explore--finding love in everything we do. Inside every person is an “emotional tank” waiting to be filled with love. (Dr. Ross Campbell). When our love tank is empty, we are defensive, harsh and critical. Love and relationship are our natural state-- which is why solitary confinement is considered to be such a harsh form of punishment. So we can work to fill our own love tank and the love tanks of others, if we understand what “love” really is.
“In Love” experiences are temporary. (Psychologist Dr. Dorothy Tennov) The average lifespan of a romantic obsession is 2 years. If it is a secret affair, it may last a little bit longer. For people whose tank has been empty, this suddenly full tank can feel euphoric! If we all remained obsessed, we would be in serious trouble because people “in love” lose interest in other pursuits so nothing would get done! When we first fall in love, we fall for an image of our partner that we have created and projected onto them, at least in part. It can be a rude awakening when some time passes and you begin to see a true picture of your partner--- blemishes and all. This doesn’t signal that something is wrong! It is a normal part of the evolution of love relationships. At the end of an “in love” experience, we often see only two options: resign ourselves to a life of misery or end the relationship. Our parents and grandparents tended to choose resignation, whereas our generation has opted to break up. However, there is a 3rd and better alternative: We can recognize the “in-love” experience for what it is - a temporary emotional high - and now pursue real love with our significant other. This option requires the will and discipline of the Solar Plexus Chakra, and the commitment to personal growth. This type of love grows out of reason and choice, not an instinct. It requires looking deeply, seeing clearly, communicating clearly and working hard. (Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages)
“Real” love is a choice. You choose to devote time and energy on behalf of another person. You can choose to accept the person just as they are. If you only like the best things in a person, that is not love. You can choose to be kind and generous. Often, your loving actions will be reciprocated, but not always. The person may have past hurts or be working through things that make it hard for them to return your love. Nonetheless, you can still choose to do loving acts for them. Both parties will still benefit from the act of loving. This is where the power of the Heart Chakra resides.
One way we can express love to another is by discerning their “Love Language.” Gary Chapman explains the Five Love Languages. We all have a primary language that we need to hear in order to feel loved. It is often this same language, sometimes a different one, which we will use to express love. However, what if our loved one needs to hear it a different way? Just like verbal languages, we speak and understand best in our native language, but we can, with a little bit of effort and practice, learn a secondary language. It is worth the effort when the pay-off is the people in our life really feeling our love.
The first love language is “Words of Affirmation.” The people who speak this language thrive and feel loved with verbal affirmations, encouraging words and a kind tone of voice. Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” With these people, it is best to make requests, not demands. Ponder the things you appreciate about them, and let them know! They thrive when they get compliments, and it inspires them to be a better person.
If, like me, this is your language, it might feel a little bit embarrassing to admit it! However, better to get honest about your language so that you can really begin to receive the love you need to thrive!
The second love language is “Quality Time.” Quality time means giving someone your undivided attention. This means putting your devices away and really engaging in whatever is going on. Try choosing an activity that is meaningful to the other person. Another part of “Quality Time” is quality conversation. This is different from words of affirmation and the focus is more on listening, asking questions, and a genuine desire to understand where the other person is coming from. Avoid interrupting (research suggests the average individual only listens for 17 seconds before interrupting and interjecting his own ideas), maintain eye contact, and avoid multitasking. It is important to listen for feelings and reflect back what you hear, but the icing on the cake would be if you learn how to share your feelings and thoughts too.
The third love language is “Receiving Gifts.” I feel like this is another one that can be embarrassing to admit, but gift-giving is a part of every culture. It is symbolic that someone thought of you and remembered you. Children give gifts instinctually, picking flowers from the yard, which shows it is a natural way to express love. It doesn’t matter if it costs money. Anything can be a visual symbol of love. Symbols are important to people whose love language is gift giving. You might notice they never take their wedding ring off, while other people may not even wear one. The good news is, even if gift-giving does not come naturally to you, this is one of the easiest love languages to learn. Begin by keeping a running list of ideas. Notice gifts from other people that your loved one has gotten excited about. If you’re stuck, you can ask for ideas from family and friends. Then, don’t wait for a special occasion, let them know you love them anytime. A dialect of this love language is the gift of self-- your physical presence in a time of crisis. Being there when someone needs you is very important if receiving gifts is their love language. If you are such a person, and your partner doesn’t know this about you, make sure you communicate it so you can get what you need.
The fourth love language is “Acts of Service.” This is as simple as doing things that you know someone would like you to do. This takes a bit of time and planning, but even a small thing can have a big effect! In order for them to feel the love, it must be things they want to have done, not things that you think are important, so it requires you to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes. If it’s a big job that you don’t have the time or skills to accomplish, you can hire someone to do it or get some help! If you are the one performing the task, it must be done with a positive spirit. If you are grumbling the whole time you do the act of service it completely defeats the purpose of making the other person feel loved. If “Acts of Service” is your love language, make sure you communicate what you need via requests, not demands.
The final love language is “Physical Touch.” Research shows how important physical affection is to the emotional development of babies and children. All babies benefit from loving touch, and all are hurt by physical abuse, but especially those whose primary love language is touch. If your partner’s love language is “Physical Touch” don’t assume all types of touch will fill your partner’s love tank. Some touches might be uncomfortable or irritating. These will have the opposite effect because they communicate that you care little about their perception of what is pleasant. Don’t assume what brings you pleasure will bring someone else pleasure. Once again, you have the opportunity to put yourself in another person’s shoes, and take your partner’s lead on this. Infidelity is traumatic for anyone, but especially for an individual whose primary love language is physical touch. There are many ways to give physical touch -- hand holding, gifts that will appeal to their tactile nature (like a cashmere sweater or soft slippers) sex with lots of quality touching, or casually touching your loved one in the presence of others. If you go out of town, give the person one of your shirts to wear! Highly sexual people sometimes make the mistake of assuming that physical touch is their primary love language. This is not necessarily the case. If you do not enjoy physical touch at other times and in non-sexual ways, it may not be your love language at all. Sexual desire is different from one’s emotional need to feel loved.
Perhaps in reading this your primary love language jumped out at you. If not, you can usually rule out a couple of them by the process of elimination, and then consider the actions that often hurt you, the actions that fill you up, the things you find yourself asking for in relationships, and how you most often express love. All these things can be clues as to your love language. In order to discern another’s love language, pay attention to their criticisms because that is how they may be pleading for love, observe the ways they express love, or just ask them what you can do better! We can also use our new-found knowledge of love languages to recognize love when it is being offered, even when it is not in our primary language. The next time someone gives you a gift, even if we are uncomfortable receiving, perhaps recognize that perhaps they are trying to express their love to you in the way they know how, and make an effort to let that in.
Children need to learn how to receive and give love in all five languages. Parents are encouraged to give heavy doses of a child’s primary love language, and then sprinkle in the other four regularly. (Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages). When children receive love in all five languages, they will eventually learn how to give love in all five languages. As children grow, you may need to find new ways to express their primary love language. If their language is physical touch, they may be very snuggly as youngsters, but as teens they may spurn your attempts at physical closeness. Then, perhaps a game of basketball or fake wrestling or cool handshakes might be better received. Get creative and be dedicated to finding a way to still have physical contact that works for them.
By exploring love languages we can express and receive more love in relation to others, but we can also do internal work to increase our capacity for love. Thich Nhat Hanh compares our heart to a river. If you put a handful of salt into a river, it doesn’t really affect the overall river that much. But when you put a handful of salt into a glass of water it becomes undrinkable. Similarly, when our heart is open and vast like a river, it has the capacity to receive, embrace and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited-- we can’t tolerate others and their shortcomings and we demand they change. When our hearts are big, the same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We accept others as they are, and have a lot of understanding and compassion.
When your Heart Chakra is balanced, you experience compassion and a full heart and love yourself and others. There is an inner light, a feeling of calm and peace. You are receptive to love and find it easy to give. You discover ease and simplicity in life and find it easy to take the neutral stance. This is the “softness” of the Heart Chakra. You are empathetic and an excellent mediator. You are devoted to the people around you, while remaining an independent spirit. You are able to be vulnerable with others in a healthy and conscious manner -- being yourself and putting yourself out there regardless of the outcome. You bring brightness to every room, and people find peace in your presence.
When your Heart Chakra is out of balance, the two extremes are attachment or alienation. If it is underactive, you are defensive and always trying to protect yourself. Your lack of trust can lead to possessiveness and attachment in relationships. Your aggression and stubbornness only increases your feeling of separation and loneliness. Past heartbreaks can manifest in our body as well. We might feel pressure on our chest and experience tense shoulders that hunch forward. If your heart chakra is overactive, you may give so much that you drain yourself, yet you are unable to receive. You might be overly passive and allow others to have their way all or most of the time. Even though you seem popular at first glance, you might feel a deep loneliness.
In order to activate the Heart Chakra, create spaciousness in your life to match the spaciousness you want in your heart space. Incorporate free time, peace and quiet. Spend time outdoors or anywhere that is expansive. The gemstones that activate the Heart Chakra are often pink or green (the color of the Heart Chakra). These include rose quartz, rhodochrosite, pink peruvian opal, kunzite, morganite, jade, prehnite, green aventurine, malachite and emerald. The heart’s herbs and essential oils are hawthorn berries, jasmine, lavender, marjoram, rose, thyme, cilantro, parsley, cacao, cardamom and bergamot. Chocolate and roses on Valentine’s day actually make sense! You can also do heart-opening yoga postures like Backbends, Wheel, Camel, Dancer, Cobra, Locust, Sphinx, Shoulder flossing, Heart openers, Cow Face Pose, Fish Pose and Crocodile. The element of the Heart Chakra is Air, so use your Pranayama (breath) to bring spaciousness and relaxation, which aid in softening of the heart.
While you soften and expand, you must stay centered. A strong core allows you to surrender. Loving yourself, you can love another without losing yourself. You will have less need to be filled by other people, and that leaves more room for genuine love. So keep working with your Root Chakra as you open your heart. Of all the chakras, exploring new ways to express and receive love can be the most fun and rewarding. Enjoy finding new ways to express your love, without expectation of getting anything in return. Greet the world with greater trust, kindness and compassion. Practice the art of loving. Love by the way you walk, the way you sit, the way you eat. Receive love, enjoy it, and share it with the world!
* (For further reading, check out “The Ultimate Guide to Chakras” by Athena Perrakis, Ph.D., “Chakra Yoga” by Anodea Judith, “Teachings on Love” by Thich Nhat Hanh, “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. Much of the content of this essay was taken from or inspired by these insightful works.)