Love: a universal concept with no singular definition. Used to express affections both big and small, the word love is spoken daily while its meaning often eludes us. There are many interpretations of love and infinite books on the subject by “experts” in these fields—so, I reached out to an artist, contemplative, therapist, scientist, and activist in my community who are seeking to study, practice, and experience love, and I asked them to share their own personal philosophies on the matter.
Let’s begin with love and art. The connections between love and creativity are ancient; writer Martha Beck expresses these connections beautifully, saying, “The moment you are working for love instead of for ego, you are the creator. You’re not just creative, you’re aligned with all creation.” Researcher Brené Brown has reminded us of the connection between love and creativity in a more practical sense; her research shows that engaging in a creative activity has the effect of literally expanding the love in one’s life. I wanted to further understand how love informs not just creativity, but art, so I spoke with Amarie Baker, a visual artist living in Brooklyn.
“There's a deep connection between emotion and creativity, especially when it comes to love,” Baker explains. “When I create, I feel the love for myself deepen through my work.” As for the art itself, “Love absolutely influences my work, but it's also fair to say any form of emotion manifests itself in my art. I think some of the most beautiful works come from a place of sadness; when we feel this way we're finally vulnerable with ourselves and able to express our true feelings.” Baker explains that whether she is feeling whole-hearted or heartbroken, she allows her emotion to guide her art, and art is a tool of expression, as well as means for unpacking emotions.
Not unlike art, the practices of meditation, contemplation, and mindfulness offer their own wisdom on love. Natasha Foreman, a yoga and Reiki practitioner in Richmond, Virginia, defines love as a practice: “A practice in compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, and grace.” When I ask, "Where does love live?" Foreman answers, “Deep within the soul, right next to the light.” She explains that growing love requires service to others and ourselves, and she quotes Rilke: “Love is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”
Love is difficult work, which is why I turn to psychotherapist Michael Dale Kimmel next. He defines love as an experience of caring, a feeling of fondness, and a connection that can be mutually reciprocated. Romantic love, he explains, is love that has a physical component. He shares that his clients often confuse love with obsession, saying “obsession is all about me: how can I get you to meet my needs?” But love is about “mutual caring, mutual support, and mutual respect.” If you want to find a partner you can love, you must “first love yourself enough to become the person you want to be. Then, as that process unfolds, you attract the type of person you want to be with.” The more you love yourself, the more you can give to another person, he explains. When asked, "Where does love live?" Kimmel says, “I believe love lives in the mitochondria in every cell in our body.”
This brings me to science. Laura Schaeffer, a researcher at Georgia Tech, explains that what we identify as the feeling of “love” is actually a series of chemicals our brains are wired to release when we are around a potential mate. Chemicals like adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin make us experience everything from sexual attraction to nervous sweating to obsessive thoughts, and the intense experience that we call “love” is likely for the purpose of reproducing and continuing the human species. “I personally think that even if we take the view that love is just chemicals in our brain, we forget that these chemicals are released in response to stimuli, such as our interactions with our partner,” Schaeffer says. “Therefore, to stay in love it is important to continue to engage in behaviors that produce these ‘love’ chemicals, like physical touch and communicating with each other.”
Lastly, I wanted to understand love in action in the form of political activism. Activists are often perceived to be angry, bitter, and hostile, but I wanted to understand what role love plays in motivating an activist. I spoke with Brittney Taylor, a makeup artist and racial justice activist in North Carolina. When I ask her where love lives, she responds, “Love lives in action.” Taylor explains, “Love is what guided me to take part in pursuing racial justice, so love is the root of my activism.” She says that activism can be self-serving in the sense that she is fighting for a better world to live in. However, activism is also selfless: “The people or thing you are fighting for may not always reciprocate the love you are displaying, which means it is an unconditional love," says Taylor. "In activism you are not always rewarded and often times you feel like a failure but you just keep pushing. Activism is literally saying that no matter what, I truly believe that this is worth fighting for; this is worth my energy, my time, and my commitment, and that’s some crazy powerful love right there.”
Love: the source of creative inspiration, a lifelong practice, a mutual expression that starts with the self, a release of chemicals in the brain, and the drive for change. These five individuals’ philosophies weave in and out of each other, interconnected at once, yet each offers something new. Aligned with love, their work is a direct expression of their deeply held beliefs. Have you paused lately to wonder, how is your life an expression of love, and what practices or actions might you take to let love grow?