This Christmas is yet another one that I woke up alone, surrounded by heavy silence. In my mind, I remember the kinds of Christmas days I had in the past, and what Christmas is filled with; a spirit flowing with generosity, affection, good will, and everything that involves love's essence.
Sometimes the periods of trial in your life bring you to a greater appreciation and understanding of something. You gain a different perspective when you are in the fires, one that brings you a greater level of clarity.
I have heard it said and written that love is just a feeling. Here, reflecting upon what Christmas is all about, contrasting the Christmases of present and past, I find myself thinking about love and what love really is.
When I come across those who say love is just a feeling, I want to tell them a resounding no, that they are very, very mistaken. Love is far, far more than a feeling.
Many wonderful feelings can emanate from a state of love. The presence of real love can take you into a state of rapturous joy. It can bring you a sense of inner peace and contentment that is timeless. It can invigorate you to where you regain the sense of wonder and things being new that a child has. It can raise you to heights and depths of intimacy and passion not possible without its presence.
Yet the feelings, no matter how wonderful they might be, should never be confused with the core that gives life to them. They are reflections and manifestations, but they are not the substance.
The English language has a tremendous range of words to be used for expression and description, but when it comes to love I often find it to be very inadequate. Many other cultures have multiple words for love, such as the ancient Greeks. With their concepts of agape, or an unconditional type of love, like that between a parent and child, or philia, the brotherly/sisterly love that is reflected in friendships, or eros, the passionate love between a couple, I believe the Greeks arrived at the deeper and more multi-faceted nature of genuine love.
Genuine love reaches the state where the equation of "one plus one equals one" is not just possible, but the consummate reality. So much is encompassed by love that it is impossible for me to capture all of it in just one essay, but perhaps I can show a few of its facets using what I have learned about love at this stage of my journey. It is my intention to illustrate enough of it to demonstrate my view of when genuine love is present.
With the presence of love, even the dynamic of feelings is transformed. Joy is derived from the recognition of joy in the other person. The sense of inner peace is empowered by the sense of inner peace in the other person. The thrill of wonder takes life when seeing the shine in the eyes of the other person. The feeling of intimacy is heightened in recognizing the passion in the other person. The very nature of feelings is changed due to the shared experience and bond with the person that you love.
But feelings, however they might manifest and take new forms in a state of love, are only a small part of it. Genuine love brings about a number of qualities, many of which require effort and conscious dedication to maintain and build upon over time.
Love brings about a sense of patience and compromise, and that means you gain the kind of patience to allow the other person space to compromise in areas where it will improve and strengthen a given relationship. No two individuals are the same, and inevitably there will be differences that come to light. Sometimes the differences can lead to exposure to new things that you come to truly enjoy, and at other times you come to enjoy something you would not otherwise like simply because you recognize the pleasure and happiness that it brings the one that you love. Compromise in a state of genuine love is not about giving in, it is about embracing.
Changes in the way you do things, or how you conduct daily affairs, can bring about greater harmony between two people, growing the bond between them. But these changes and adjustments are only made possible with the ability to compromise and the patience to achieve that and let it take root, both with yourself and the one you love. Genuine love enables and involves this kind of patience and compromise.
Genuine love involves a sense of empowerment, both regarding yourself and the one that you love. When you have achieved a state of genuine love, over time there will be inevitable growth in self-confidence and a sense of self-worth, both in terms of oneself as well as the other person. These areas of growth reflect in the very way that you both carry yourself each and every day, and are easily recognizable by others. You take pride in the one you love, and you also take pride in who you are.
The love you bring another and the love they give you drives both of you to continually grow and become better people. It is about uplift and betterment in all things, and this will show itself in so many ways within a relationship that contains genuine love. Sometimes, it can be wonderfully transforming, taking one who perceived themselves as broken and bringing them to a place where they shine like new, brighter than ever before. Genuine love always seeks the best for another, and at the same time asks you to seek the best in yourself.
Genuine love brings you onto a path that is not convenient or easy It is not something discarded at the first obstacle or challenge. It often requires deep sacrifice, the kind of sacrifice that brings you into some manner of hardship or incurring a significant cost to yourself, but you embrace and undertake it if it leads to the betterment and well-being of the one you love. You sacrifice because they are worth every sacrifice.
Generosity is present where there is genuine love. The desire to celebrate the other person and express your own recognition of their value and worth leads to a generous and giving spirit. You go the extra mile to bring something more to a special occasion. You put more thought into gestures that are made and gifts that are given. You even get creative with surprises and instigating new adventures. A generous spirit pervades all of it, as you delight in the other person, show them how you take delight in them, and make it clear how greatly you value them.
A guardian spirit inevitably comes over you when you love somebody, in a way that governs both yourself and how you approach the world at large. In your desire to protect one you love, you seek to do no harm to them, first and foremost. The natural extension of that is to protect them from outside harm, to a level where you will stand forward no matter what the odds are to defend them, even to the point that it requires your own life. It truly is a state of being where if others seek to harm one that you love, they will find you blocking their path, with both of your feet firmly planted on the ground.
One of the hardest things about genuine love is the acceptance of vulnerability, but that is also one of the biggest signs of love's presence. In opening yourself up on the deepest and most intimate levels to another person, you become vulnerable, and it can take a lot of courage to do take that step. But in embracing that kind of vulnerability, you reach a depth in the relationship with the other person that is both rare and precious. While you can be wounded greatly when this is violated, when it is not the kind of connection created leads to a true union between two spirits. You discover that in vulnerability there is tremendous strength.
Love, in all of its facets and aspects, draws its strength from a foundation of trust. You trust that the other person will care for your heart, when you place it into their hands. You trust that they seek your well-being and betterment. You trust in what they tell you and express, and this also means that you are open with them as well. Without trust, which in love involves the deepest kind of belief in the other person and who they are, the other aspects are not possible.
Genuine love is capable of miracles and guiding us toward our best selves. It is worth fighting for, worth making every effort, and, in my view, the greatest part of life itself. Genuine love gives life meaning.
That's why, as I sit here alone on a Christmas morning, I can say without hesitation that I feel very sorry for those who say that love is merely a feeling. In their own words, they reveal that they do not understand what love truly is.
Love is far, far more than a feeling.
And with that, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, as Christmas is all about love.