In 1967 singer-songwriter John Lennon penned a medically profound prescription for well being in the lyric, “All you need is love.” Forty-three years later physicians are acknowledging that love, like nutritious food, exercise and rest, keeps us healthy.
To give and receive the kind of love that brings health and well being, however, we must first recognize what therapeutic love is not. Popular culture all too often equates love with the intense passion of new romance, a passion that inevitably harbors the stress of emotional highs and lows. Such “love” is a tangle of desires, attachments and insecurities. Its moments of exquisite, intimate union and feelings of togetherness are so fragile that when the smallest desire is thwarted the illusion of oneness shatters and gives way to anger, possessiveness, guilt, jealousy, manipulation and recrimination. Though sought after and celebrated, this form of love more closely resembles an ill-advised legal contract than a healing, nurturing state of being.
The love of which the mystics and sages of Yoga Science speak is a more stable and healing form of love. It facilitates connectedness, respect, growth, imperishable comfort and a brilliance of confidence. Love, the Supreme Physician, is love without conditions. It is a consciousness that recognizes the essential unity that exists within the diversity of all forms. For this reason, it is impossible to “unconditionally love” another person. We can only be unconditional love through our actions, for love is our Essential Nature. As Jesus the Christ would say, “We do not love another. We are the other. So love your neighbor as your Self.” In that state of unicity, there is no fear, anger or selfish desire because the illusory space between the lover and beloved is eliminated. It’s not that the two have become one; the One has simply manifested as two.
According to the twentieth century Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “Love is the affinity of being with being.” Chardin saw love as the underlying fabric of the entire universe, manifesting every successive evolutionary form. Scientists use the word gravity to explain what attracts the planets to the sun in our solar system, but gravity is merely a synonym for what Chardin understood as love. It’s the same universal principle that attracts and configures the atoms to form a tree. When the tree is cut down and planed into lumber, the affinity of being with being (love) is still present as the unifying force. When the lumber is cut into toothpicks or even sawdust, it is love that continues to attract the particles, molecules and atoms that create and preserve each successive new form. With this vision, Chardin concludes that love is not peculiar to human beings. “It is a general tenet of all life because it embraces and supports every form adopted by organized matter.” That is why Swami Rama of the Himalayas taught, “Love is the most ancient traveler.”
In order to harness and benefit from the therapeutic power of love, it is essential to incorporate the love-principle into each and every relationship. But that is not so easy to do—mainly because our concept of love is habitually skewed by the mind’s lenses of fear, anger, selfish desire and the misperception that equates love with the lust for personal sexual gratification and the continuation of the species.
Therapeutic love is not a function of physiology. It is experienced only when we base our thoughts, words and deeds on our own inner intuitive wisdom. And that inner wisdom is available to us in every moment through a purified buddhi (the function of the mind, similar to the conscience, that reflects knowledge from the superconscious mind into the conscious mind). When we willingly choose to serve our inner intuitive wisdom—as opposed to the habits and promptings of the ego, senses or unconscious mind—the body and mind naturally return to a state of balance and health. And, of course, the converse is true. When we habitually compromise our inner wisdom for the sake of convenience and passing pleasure, we experience a dis-ease that, if left unattended, eventually leads to systemic pain and disease. As 20th century mystic Nisargadatta Maharaj observed, “We create our own disharmony and then complain! When we desire and fear, and identify ourselves with our feelings, we create sorrow and bondage. When we create with love and wisdom, and remain unattached to our creations, the result is harmony and peace.”
The essential characteristic of all forms of love is attention. When we love someone, we eagerly direct our attention toward that person, and we are open to receiving love in return. In order for love to become therapeutic, we first need to direct our attention (our love) toward our own inner intuitive wisdom, and then make that discriminative judgment the basis of how we act in the world. When that union of outer action and inner wisdom takes place, therapeutic love effortlessly manifests to heal and nurture the body-mind-sense complex. This entire process is what the ancients referred to as Yoga (union).
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia report that lifestyle choice is now responsible for 53 percent of all reported diseases. This correlation between skillful actions and healthy consequences and between unskillful actions and unhealthy consequences has recently been the subject of research in the new science of epigenomics. Geneticists have long known that many, if not most, diseases have their roots in our genes. Genes determine how efficiently we process foods, how effectively we detoxify poisons, and how vigorously we respond to infections. Now scientists have discovered that sitting atop each gene is a switch called an epigenetic mark that, influenced by our skillful or unskillful lifestyle choices, can order the gene to switch on or off. In other words, science today is substantiating what Yoga Science has known for thousands of years: DNA is not destiny. Our everyday skillful choices—when greased with love—can reverse even the proclivities of our genes.
A similar mind-body medicine formed the cornerstone of the ancient Hebrew, Christian and Islamic traditions. As if lifted directly from the Merk Medical Manual, Deuteronomy urges us to “Love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our might. Then, we will receive what we need to fulfill the purpose of our life. But if we turn our love away from our own inner intuitive wisdom and serve other gods,” the scripture concludes, “we will experience
dis-ease and pain.”
Pain, therefore, is a critically important messenger. Unfortunately, the real meaning and value of pain is not well understood today. Instead of learning from the lessons of pain, our culture has developed a wide variety of avoidance techniques including reliance on drugs, surgery and even consumerism. But pain presents invaluable guidance. As the Greek poet Aeschylus observed, “Pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
The Book of Deuteronomy indicates that dis-ease or pain is the shadow of the outstretched hand of Divine Providence. That hand does not intend to punish, but rather to alert us when our likes and dislikes compromise our health and well being. Pain lets us know where friction exists between our self-willed attachment to passing pleasure (preya) and the wisdom-force of discrimination and love (shreya).
Yoga Science advises that we heed the whispers of pain at a low decibel level by unleashing our own healing force of love. If we don’t, our experience assures us that the decibel level of dis-ease will only get louder and louder—until our dis-ease turns into a full-fledged disease. Pain can help redirect our attention toward the buddhi so we can consider a more holistic and healthy choice at every fork in the road—a change of mind and heart that can eliminate the cause of the pain and not just ease its symptoms. A genuine, heart-centered practice of Yoga Science requires swimming against the tide of our culture and the habits of a lifetime by relying on the power of love and wisdom that already reside within us.
The discriminative faculty of buddhi is always working, but its quiet voice is often overwhelmed by the noise of the senses, memories of the past, imaginations of the future and the self-serving advice of the ego. As a result, our health is often compromised by an undisciplined ego and senses that habitually make counter-intuitive lifestyle suggestions that inevitably lead us back to pain.
Our senses, ego and unconscious mind have been in charge of the city of life for many years. To rectify that situation, we need to place them in service to a loving intelligence greater than the mind and a truth that never changes. Even in the midst of a sea of confusion and turbulence, the wisdom and love that reside within us can serve as a beacon leading us toward better health and well being.
Since today’s world view has been formed by a culture that does not wholeheartedly embrace this philosophy, our human effort will require sincere detachment, discrimination and discipline in order to serve the shreya and sacrifice the preya before we’re able to become prophets of love in every relationship. Furthermore, because of the power of habit, we will need to exercise patience and love toward ourselves as well. In fact, the holistic nature of Yoga Science requires that we learn to love ourselves in all circumstances.
“The awful truth,” modern mystic Eknath Easwaran tells us, “is that no one on earth is more severely handicapped than those who are unable to love. And without love, we are desperately deprived.” But as challenging as that dilemma is, it may also be the key to unlocking the secret of health and happiness.
We all know that real love is extremely elusive. We cannot buy it, borrow it or steal it. In fact, it is available only in one rare form: as the skillful response of a mind and heart being guided by the inner wisdom of the buddhi. The only way to secure love (and health) is to purify and heal our own mind and heart.
To be sure, if the mind is constantly troubled by disturbing emotions and thoughts, the resulting bodily dis-ease cannot be reversed by using physical treatments alone. And no sage can offer us a magic elixir that assures good health. But the sages have already given us powerful mind-body medicine practices like meditation, mantra repetition, diaphragmatic breathing and Ayurvedic medical principles that we can put into practice to transform the debilitating effects of negative thinking and emotions like fear, anger, greed, jealousy, guilt and shame. This process of transformation is the whole purpose of training the mind through Yoga Science. When harnessed in service to our inner intuitive wisdom, the same mental energy that once ravaged us with pain and disease can be transformed into the healing force of love that actually enhances our immune system.
Claiming to have been inspired by Shakespeare, Paul McCartney placed this exclamatory couplet at the end of the Beatles farewell album, Abbey Road: “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Only when we learn to express this understanding in every relationship will we become the Prophets of Love, who profit generously from love. When we give our time, attention, talents and commitment to purifying our own mind, Love—the Supreme Physician—will provide us everything we need to fulfill the noble purpose of our lives.