Focus of the Month: August 2021

Love in Action

written by Kristen Weddle

Once a year, my extended family and I put forth our best efforts to come together for Family Visit Week. Although my family has grown much larger over the years, the size of the house where we stay has not. Over the course of a day or two everyone trickles in – tumbling out of cars and pouring from planes, and the first step upon arrival is to claim a bed or a couch spot – whatever can be obtained. This year a camper was even driven in for overflow! When I arrived late at night, I was relieved to secure a twin-sized bed in a corner bedroom. I plopped down my bag and took a deep breath. I care deeply for my family, but there are literally NO opportunities for privacy or quiet time during Family Visit Week. My shield was up, and my feelings were rather mixed.

Perhaps it was the year of near isolation experienced during the pandemic, or the two year wait to see this set of loved ones, but something within me shifted this visit. Right away, I felt more in tune and aware of everything that was happening around me. Yes, there was a lot to take in, but what stood out were the specific actions which demonstrated love and care. For example, I noticed my grandfather’s continuous efforts to wash and put away the dishes. At 92 years of age, he still can’t stand not to help. Aunt Alice started each morning with the daily shopping list, checking in with each of us to make sure we all had what we needed for the day. There was constant joy erupting from the 2-year-old, eager to connect, as she’d scan the group to decide who looked particularly thirsty before toddling over at top speed to offer her sippy cup. Whenever and wherever I looked for it, kindness penetrated the interactions. I felt surrounded by love. This was love in action.

When I engage in intimate conversations with my closest friends, the subject often turns to love. The singles express their desire to “find love”. Some friends in relationships describe feeling “unloved” or unable to “give love”. Those who yearn to start families describe the insatiable desire for a “child’s love”. I eagerly listen and fully participate in these conversations – loneliness is not an unfamiliar feeling to me, and the words spoken typically resonate. But what I have come to notice is that throughout these conversations, love is considered a form, much like an object. It is something you either do, or do not, have.

In the ancient language of Sanskrit, there are an astounding 96 words for love. In English, we have only one. No wonder we can get easily mixed up when it comes to this subject! Personally, I have found it helpful to start to notice when I am thinking about love as a form, versus when I am observing and/or participating in love in action. And I think all of us, regardless of our current relationship status, could benefit from becoming a bit more aware of the latter.

In The Art of Loving, social-psychologist Erich Fromm describes how humans always live within relationships, and that to love at all is to be engaged with humankind with “eyes open”. The problem arises, Fromm describes, when love becomes viewed as an object – as finding the “right” object to love or be loved by – is difficult. Perhaps a direct result of our consumer culture based on yearning for the most desirable objects, our individual ideas of love are in danger of becoming quite limited to what or who we see as the “best available on the market.” Fromm cautions us to notice how we exert our energy: If we overly exert in our attempts to “achieve” love, we may lose steam when it comes to learning the “art” of love in action. bell hooks offers additional guidance regarding love in action throughout her book, All About Love. In her writing, hooks identifies the community as the best place to start learning how to love. She encourages us to view love as a participatory emotion, and describes that through acts of “care, respect, knowing, and assuming responsibility, the foundation of all love in our life is the same.” According to hooks, there is no love exclusively reserved for romantic partnerships, but that genuine love is the foundation of our engagement with everyone we choose to love. So, if humans are more or less designed to be in a state of love, and if turning our attention toward loving actions encourages us to focus on the needs of the community over our personal desires, then one might start to wonder: What is this thing, this force, which drives us to love at all?

Perhaps one of the earliest attempts to describe such a force was written by the legendary sage Narada in his text the Bhakti Sutra, which dates back to the tenth-eleventh centuries. “Bhakti” is described as spiritual love, and each “sutra” is said to contain a potential spark of understanding, which may become ignited in the reader over time.

In the book Exquisite Love, William K. Mahoney has graciously translated 21 of the 84 sutras from Sanskrit to English, and shares his personal reflections on the ancient text. For example, Williams describes Narada’s teachings as a “return toward Love” – which is to open our hearts to its presence within us and within others, and then to live our lives in steadier alignment with it. Williams also refers to a universal longing to experience “higher” forms of Love, which is said will lead us to refine our “coarser expectations of love” toward expressions and experiences of Love in action.

In the Bhkati Sutra, the 53rd sutra states that “[Love] reveals itself where there is an able vessel.” The Sanskrit word for “vessel” is patra, which can also be used to describe a riverbed where water comes and goes and flows about freely. The metaphor here is to imagine ourselves as such vessels, where love is present and free-flowing around us. There is also a suggestion that love is not conditional, as society leads us to believe, but comes from a source of constant replenishment – like the waters of a river. Notice how the sutra does not simply state “We are all vessels with Love passing through us.” To compare this statement to Narada’s sutra is to note that effort on our part must be needed in order to Love in this way. Mahoney reflects on sutra 53 by stating, “the problem may be that we have filled those vessels with so much other clutter that Love has been trapped, distorted, and obscured. But we can be encouraged that through awareness, and a desire to bring more Love to the world, we can be able vessels.” In other words, awareness of and participation in loving actions places a nozzle to the spicket. And perhaps some of us do feel like it is our time to turn the nozzle toward the left and see what starts to flow.

In the realm of yoga, practitioners often find that yoga practices serve as a sort of amplifier, bringing an increased, heart-felt awareness to the matters which are already starting to arise within us. And when it comes to the physical practice on the mat, love in action can perhaps best be explored as self-love in action, as self-love is certainly a crucial building block needed to precede any loving actions we hope to receive from others or extend beyond ourselves.

While engaging in an open-level or more dynamic physical practice, begin to notice if you are more concerned with the form or achievement of the specific shape – something perhaps you “do, or do not have”, versus observing the transitions which take place within your practice as it naturally unfolds. Also, ponder: How can you support your physical body throughout the practice, acknowledging a process to be honored rather than a destination to reach? Consider using props such as blocks beneath your hands in lunges and forward folds, and a strap for binding to support self-love in action throughout your practice.

Also consider taking restorative yoga classes, or incorporating more restorative poses into your practice. Restorative yoga can assist greatly in teaching us how to slow down and hold space, and without this ability we may miss opportunities to notice the presence of love in action within ourselves and in the world around us. The physical and metaphysical benefits of restorative yoga are nearly endless, and assistance with stress management is cornerstone in restorative yoga. If we are able to release excess tension in the body, which has likely consumed us unnecessary, we may discover increased energy to be applied elsewhere in our lives – perhaps in the form of loving action!

As we continue to emerge from the covid chrysalis, it’s likely we will have a strong desire to reconnect and interact more deeply with others. Perhaps the timing feels right to begin to contemplate, observe, or participate in your own personal expression of love in action. For those of us who feel ready to reveal our faces again, these are the first opportunities we have had to smile at a stranger in quite some time! And perhaps they will smile back. Even such a seemingly simple act as this is, without a doubt, a powerful, reciprocal example of love in action.


Teacher Tools

• “I have a practice in which I say to myself, I am loving awareness. To begin, I focus my attention in the middle of my chest, on the heart-mind. I may take a few deep breaths into my diaphragm to help me identify with it. I breathe in love and breathe out love. I watch all of the thoughts that create the stuff of my mind, and I love everything, love everything I can be aware of. I just love, just love, just love.” – Ram Dass

• Even So
Love, if it is love, never goes away.
It is embedded in us,
like seams of gold in the Earth,
waiting for light,
waiting to be struck.
– Alice Walker, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing

• I am so small I can barely be seen.
How can this great love be inside of me?

Look at your eyes. They are small,
but they see enormous things.
– Rumi

• “He who knows nothing, loves nothing. He who can do nothing understands nothing. He who understands nothing is worthless. But he who understands also loves, notices, sees…The more knowledge is inherent in a thing, the greater the love…Anyone who imagines that all fruits ripen at the same time as the strawberries knows nothing about grapes.”
– Paracelsus

• “The affirmation of one’s own life, happiness, growth, freedom, is rooted in one’s capacity to love, i.e. in care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge. If an individual is able to love productively, he loves himself too; if he can love only others, he cannot love at all.”
– Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving

• “Self-love is the foundation of our loving practice. Without it our other efforts of love fail. Giving ourselves love we provide our inner being with the opportunity to have the unconditional love we have always longed to receive from someone else. Whenever we interact with others, the love we give and receive is always conditional…We can, however, give ourselves the unconditional love that is the grounding for sustained acceptance and affirmation. When we give this precious gift to ourselves, we are able to reach out to others from a place of fulfillment and not from a place of lack.”
– bell hooks

• “It is possible to speak with our heart directly. Most ancient cultures know this. We can actually converse with our heart as if it were a good friend. In modern life we have become so busy with our daily affairs and thoughts that we have lost this essential art of taking time to converse with our heart.”

– Jack Kornfield

• “Love Practice” as described by Judith Lasater in Living Your Yoga: “When you say ‘I love you,’ it implies that there is something about your love that is dependent on the other person and their behavior. In reality, love is a choice that you make when you are able to connect beyond your ego. Saying ‘I am having loving feelings’ focuses on what spontaneously arises in you at that very moment. And this remembering to focus on the moment is the heart of loving your yoga.”

• Book List
– The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm
– All About Love by bell hooks
– Exquisite Love by William K. Mahoney

• Suggested Mantras:
– I open to giving and receiving love. (Judith Lasater)
– I am loving awareness. (Ram Dass)

• Additional Sutras from Narada’s Bhakti Sutra
– “[Love] is free of limiting qualities, free of self-centered desire, ever-expanding, uninterrupted, most subtle, of the nature of inner experience.” – 54

– “[Love] is of the nature of peace, and it is of the nature of supreme joy.” –60

– “Teachings on Bhakti should be reflected on; practices that awaken it should be undertaken.” –76

• Descriptions of Specific Restorative Yoga Poses:
– Place a bolster or 1-2 blocks directly beneath the sacrum to create supported Setu
Bandhāsan (bridge pose). This could be considered a “pose of the month” as it supports self-
love and heart-opening simultaneously!

– Stack blocks to place under the forehead and hands to create a standing supported Uttanasana (forward fold).

– Use bolsters and stacked blankets beneath the torso in seated forward folds such as balasana (child’s pose), Paschomottanasana (forward fold), and Upavista Konasana (wide angle forward fold).

– Place a folded blanket behind the head to support the back of the neck and a bolster under the knees in Sivasana (final rest).

August 2021