I read in the book “Meditations from the Mat” by Rolf Gates that love is an action. In other words, love is not a noun, it is a verb. It is not a person, place, or thing even though we have clichés such as “the love of my life” and “unconditional love.” Love is only manifested through our actions; it is what we do, how we behave, how we impart this gift from ourselves to others, and how we accept this gift from others to ourselves. Love is not a promise, it is not words on a page, and it is not a singular event or an elusive emotion. Love is a selfless act.
Acting from a place of love requires us to examine our actions, our behavior, and to be mindful of our decisions. Today, spending time with my mother-in-law as she begins her road of recovery from a brain aneurysm and stroke; allowed me to attempt to practice the power of love as an action. The gentle touch of my hand on her hand, an unsolicited foot massage, combing her hair and rubbing her back took the place of words, feelings, and empty promises. How could I promise her that everything would be all right? How could my words sustain her when her world has radically changed from what it was? How could an overwhelming emotion we call love carry her from one day to another, taking the place of the equally overwhelming emotions of fear, depression, resignation, and anger? If I gave into my selfish emotions, feelings, and words; every moment, every aspect of our interaction would be about me and my inability to grasp the pain and the situation. So, as relatives chastised the medical staff for one thing or the other, or fired a litany of questions to my mother-in-law who struggled with her inability to respond, I asked myself, how does one fill one’s life and someone else’s life with acts of love?
I think love as an action is a state of mind. I think love as an action is a series of very small gestures that accumulate into something greater than each singular act. And I think love as an action is not only rare, but difficult to sustain. We tend to think love is something we need to hold onto tightly; something to never let out of our grasp. We think love is a promise, an obligation, and some sort of mysterious alchemy. And with that belief, we define love as a noun bringing with it a destiny that will strangle, suffocate, and/or tarnish our ability to treat love as a verb.
Someone once told me that in order to sustain or salvage a relationship, all you need to know is three phrases: “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” and “thank you.” If you act with a true spirit of love, take responsibility for any action that is hurtful by acknowledging both the pain and the impact, and live a life being truly thankful to those that impart their selfless gifts to you; your life and your relationships will abound. Yet, there is a cautionary tale. The three phrases or concepts are only powerful when practiced in tandem. “Practice” is an important word; it means it is a continuum, it means that it is a process, and it means even with imperfections you continue to walk the walk. When these three phrases are practiced in isolation, the best that can be achieved is a temporary salve on the wound, but it takes all three for growth and healing to occur. A relationship is also an action; it needs to be able to grow, evolve, and move forward. Love, repentance, or gratitude practiced in isolation is rarely enough to create the necessary momentum to counteract inertia, apathy, or passivity.
The concept of love as a verb has been written about in the Bible (1 John 3:18 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-13), is a leading concept in yoga philosophy, a standing tenet of Buddhism, and has been the theme of countless songs, most recently John Mayer’s “Love is a Verb.” Still, I find myself fumbling with the concept, as somehow we have been conditioned to expect reciprocity and immediate gratification when we should be trying to perfect the act of simultaneously giving and letting go. It reminds me of the advice given to every aspiring writer: write actively by showing rather than telling. Finding a loving life requires one to search deep for those actions that show and to avoid all those empty words that do nothing more than tell. It requires us to know the difference between a noun and a verb. And it requires us to hone our multi-tasking skills as we master the acts of loving, owning our mistakes, and living a life of gratitude.
© Kelly Tweeddale 2012