Once upon a time, most Westerners learned how to love by sitting in church and listening to stories from, and exposition upon, the Bible. Regardless of sometimes mixed messages, this had its effects, and people did learn how to love.
That way of life, however, is mostly gone. In its wake, most Westerners have learned to see the world through dark lenses. And so a thousand decent and peaceful people may cross our field of view every day, but we don’t see them. We see, rather, the threatening, the corrupt, and those who act stupidly. This is something we need to get past.
The opposite model is one that an old friend of mine expressed:
Seriously speaking, with age comes a deeper view of beautiful. Wherever I go, I notice on every street many beautiful people, all the time.
That is the right way to live, both for one’s own sake and for the benefit of others. This is how your inner life breaks out of the world’s dark shell and begins to function.
If we wish to be healthy and enjoy fulfilling lives, it’s crucial for us to be like my friend: To notice beauty when it appears. To focus on it, to grasp for its essence.
A Simple Exercise
Cultivating love is easy, and I have a very simple exercise that anyone can do; an exercise that will cultivate love in you. Here it is:
- Go to a train station. (Or any other place with lots of people coming and going.)
- Find a comfortable spot and watch people. See them as individuals. Focus on them, one at a time.
- Try to sense their desires and their motives. Let yourself operate instinctively rather than methodically.
- Then, think about how these people could have been, save for accidents of birth, people you would have loved. Look at a young man, for example… he could have been your brother in “another life,” or your father, or a friend.
- Run this exercise on person after person: Look at them, try to sense their essence, empathize with them. In another circumstance, they might have been your beloved aunt or uncle, your child, your husband or your wife.
In short, see these people, look as deeply into them as you can, even if you can’t be sure. Then find ways to love them. By doing this, you are drawing upon your inner life; you are enriching it and developing it.
The exercise above is truly all you need to build love into yourself. I’m hesitant to add anything to it; I don’t want to distract your attention.
I will, however, give you one piece of supplemental material; but first please understand that this is just a supplement. Reading cannot replace doing the actual work. You must do the exercise.
Here is the classic passage on love, and one which remains transcendent, 1st Corinthians 13. Please try to read it slowly, without mixing religion into it:
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am like a sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Love suffers long, and is kind; love does not envy; love does not vaunt itself, is not puffed up, does not behave itself improperly, seeks not its own, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; rejoices not in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. If there be prophecies, they will be done away; if there be tongues, they will cease; if there be knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things.
For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then will I know fully, even as I am known.
Now abides faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.