Since the birth of my first child last week, I've had the opportunity to experience a sort of love that's new, different. I thought about it a lot this week.
An intimacy of a culture to a particular subject or object can be assessed through its vocabulary. The classic example everyone always makes is with the Eskimos and snow. People always mention that Eskimos have seven different words for snow.
Well, obviously, when a culture deals with snow as much as they do, it must find a way to categorize it further, be more descriptive. It's a way for people of that particular culture to better communicate with each other in relation to their surroundings and their environment.
Now for us, we don't deal with snow enough to further categorize and describe it. But what about things that are closer to us. What about love? We deal with love in one way or another almost everyday since we're born. Yet, we only have one word to describe it. We lump all different types of “love” we experience through life into a single word. Maybe that's why we have such a poor understanding of it.
So, let's think about it. How many different forms of love do we have?
A baby, upon birth, has the opportunity to experience two kinds of love. The first is the most essential and the most primitive. It is love with self. It's the recognition of self as an entity. A healthy baby learns to play with herself, entertain herself, and enjoy herself.
This is a very important stage for everyone. I strongly believe that the lack of opportunity in early years for one to enjoy childhood can have profound negative influences on a person throughout life. I know this sounds Freudian and not the most accepted school of thought in the field of medicine today, but I do have to recognize my own experiences.
Proportionally, I've simply seen more people with severe psychiatric issues who had a very traumatic childhood and did not have the opportunity to form this love in relation to the same set of people with similar issues who had a wonderfully perfect childhood. This is our love of self. Our first love. We don't really talk about it much. But it's the most primitive and important. You can't love someone else if you can't love yourself.
Then there is the second type of love in childhood. It's the love for one's parents. We develop this form of love as a young child. It's a deep attraction, a form of attachment. We need them and through our need and their providing, we form a bond unlike any other. It is very different than the first love. This form of love is also a must for every child. It's a need like any other love.
We then evolve as human beings and in our teenage years, and for the first time we experience another form of love. It is love for someone else. Love for a partner. It has a physical component as well, yet the emotional component is what we're talking about.
I am referring to the feel and experience of that emotion. It's very strong in our teenage years and for those who are lucky, it continues to be strong throughout life. We need this love just like the first two. When its there, there is security and peace and when we don't have it, we don't give up searching for it.
Some call this love the “sexual love”. Yet it's such a wrong term to describe it, for in its pure sense, there is nothing sexual about it. Sex only enhances it, just as the food a mother feeds her child enhances the child's love towards her. This love in its pure sense is a love for companionship, for partnership.
Look at couples who've been married for fifty, sixty years and you realize that they continue to have the same love they had as teenagers, minus the sexual aspect of it. Now, it's purely spiritual. Then there is the sort of love I had the opportunity to experience this week as a father. With your child, you experience emotions which we again label as “love”. Yet, it is like nothing you've experienced before.
It's true that your heart can skip a beat just as when you were a teenager in love, but in a different way. All of a sudden, you have feelings which are completely out of proportion to what you expected. The physical aspect of it is through providing for her, feeding her and in return, you look for that smile or the hint of pleasure from you child. Is there a fifth form of love?
Sure there is. It is the form of love that we're told of by the greatest individuals in our history. It is the love for everyone and everything. It is the love not just for humanity, but for nature as well. It is that love that Sufis and poets talk about. It is that awareness which Molana (Rumi) experienced when he met Shams; the love that our Middle Eastern prophets talk about.
And beyond Middle Eastern religions, we see the struggle to find this love in one form or another in Indian spirituality, Chinese and Eastern philosophies, and the religions and customs of Native Americans and Africans. It's the love described to us and practiced by the likes of Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King.
It's that love for every human being, every creature the way you love yourself, your parent, your partner and your child. This “Universal Love” perhaps can be a human being's most important achievement in life, yet very few of us live to experience it. In fact very few of us know about it. We get so consumed in our everyday lives, in our struggles to understand, appreciate and enjoy the first four types of love that we forget about this ultimate type.
Yet, we must always keep this universal form of love as our North Star. No matter what our daily struggles or difficulties are throughout our lives; our happiness in old age will depend not on the fondness of our early forms of love, but our grasp and understanding of this fifth and most ultimate type.