Love. More than just a nice idea or concept, love is a tangible experience that transforms our state of mind to one of greater peace, clarity, and care – naturally connecting us with humanity and nature.
To some, love is the fabric of creation.
Love itself is the actual form of God.— Sri Ramana Maharshi
Love is always there in the background of our life, but our mind is usually too busy to notice it.
I’d like to take you on a journey into three types of love, and how to use them in everyday life to open your heart.
Before we start, let’s reflect for a moment.
With all the stress, anxiety, and distraction in the world today, filling your life with never-ending lists of things to do, how much love do you actually feel in your life?
3 Types of Love
Ultimately love is universal, and any “type” of love is an expression of its source. So, why explore three types of love?
The pure experience of love can sometimes be challenging to experience.
For one, it’s beyond the dualistic nature of our ordinary mind. This means we can’t comprehend something beyond the limits of our mind by using only that level of mind itself. Although we do try.
We use techniques like meditation, mindfulness, and self-inquiry to move beyond the conditioning of our mind – ultimately to reach an experience of the Self (Atman), the Divine, the Source, or pure Love.
Although there are many words for it, it ultimately culminates in the experience of unity, beyond the duality.
I had a meditation teacher who, in response to the question – “Why do we need techniques?”- answered – “If you can go straight to the Self, great! Do that. For the rest of us, we need techniques.”
The techniques offer a pathway to the source.
In a similar way, understanding these three types of love offers you three pathways into the experience of universal love.
“Are there more than three types of love?” I hear you ask.
Well, how many slices does a cake have? You can slice a cake into three, six, or ten and it’s still the same cake just cut differently.
So yes, there are more than three types of love. But these are three powerful ones, and once you have a sense of these, you’ll naturally find love manifesting in many other ways in your life.
Let’s take a journey to discover what are these three types of love.
The first of the three types of love I’d like to share with you is understanding.
Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh said: “Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.”
What I love about this quote is how it offers a different perspective on love than we might be used to.
Imagine – you’re sitting in a cafe when a woman comes in. You notice because she seems angry and almost runs into someone as she comes through the door.
As she orders her drink, she’s very rude and abrupt with the woman behind the register. You can see the worker is upset by her.
You feel sorry for her.
She makes a scene and you notice other people in the café rolling their eyes at each other, and you find yourself thinking “I hope she doesn’t sit near me.”
The woman sits by herself not far from you (damn!). She’s now quiet so you don’t think much else of it… Until a man comes in and goes straight over to her.
She stands up to meet him.
She starts crying.
They sit down and start talking. They’re close enough that you can hear their conversation.
They’ve both just come from the hospital and their child is in intensive care. They’ve been at the hospital for the last 18 hours. They’re tired, stressed, emotional and exhausted… and they’re still unsure what the outcome will be.
Right then, you understand.
You understand why she was acting so rude and abrupt. You’d judged her on how she presented herself, but you knew nothing about her.
But at this moment, all the labels and judgments you made of the woman fall flat… and your heart opens unconditionally.
You may or may not have children yourself, but you have family and close friends.
You feel their pain.
Understanding has opened the door to a flow of love that pours through your heart.
You wish you could go over and give them a hug and infuse them with what you’re feeling right now.
You choose to give them privacy, as you experience this deep sense of love that’s emerged from understanding.
However, it’s no longer just understanding – you’re having an experience of universal love.
Mental, emotional, and spiritual understanding
The first phase is mental understanding, where you comprehended the woman’s story.
The second phase is feeling her pain and being able to put yourself in her position. A sense of human connection then comes alive in you.
The third phase is the flow of universal love you feel in your heart for her.
Understanding is a handle into love. Understanding becomes more than what you do, it becomes a state of being (love).
How to use understanding to feel more love
Things are not always as they appear.
The most important step here is to drop judgments. If you feel yourself starting to judge or label someone, just notice it and drop it.
That’s often easier said than done when you’re triggered by someone.
You may not know the exact reasons why the people you meet act the way they do (like the example above). But when you accept that you don’t know and leave space for their humanness, you shift from your personal state of judgment to one of understanding.
What also helps is reflecting on your own personal experiences. Times when you’ve been emotional or upset.
How did you act or treat people?
This is not about labeling it as right or wrong but understanding the impulses behind your own actions and reactions. Understanding yourself helps you understand others, which helps you connect to this expression of love.
The next time you’re frustrated with someone’s actions or about to label or judge them, take a moment to realize, things are not as they seem.
Adopt an attitude that you don’t know everyone’s story and be curious about people. This will help you create a space of opening to the love of understanding.
When you’re in a state of understanding, you naturally approach life with an open heart.
Next on your journey into our three types of love is compassion.
Compassion is when faced with the suffering of another we become inspired to help ease their suffering.
Think of a time when someone you know was deeply upset. Perhaps they had some bad news, lost someone close to them, or were going through a relationship breakup.
What’s the first thing you wanted to do?
Put your arm around them, give them a hug, or just put your hand on them – right?
In the story above, after understanding opened the door to your heart and the love that is understanding, that impulse to go and hug the woman is an expression of compassion.
It’s the desire to help.
If you did go and do something you could call it an act of compassion. But even if you don’t do anything you can still experience the love of compassion.
Have you ever seen news stories where a litter of puppies has been abandoned or abused and left to die?
Yes, it’s horrible!
But even as you think about it now something in you opens and comes alive.
Just feel it.
Before your mind gets too rational about the practicalities of it, you might even have an impulse to adopt one of these cute innocent animals.
That impulse to help or ease the suffering of the puppies is love expressed as compassion.
How to use compassion to feel more love
Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.— Albert Einstein
Take time to observe people or animals struggling or in pain, and simply be aware of your internal response. Notice that part of you that wants to help.
Don’t judge or try to rationalize your response. Thinking about it too much will only disconnect you from the feeling.
Just feel that impulse to help.
You don’t have to worry about taking action for this practice.
This is about becoming sensitive to the qualities of compassion and taking yourself out of your head and into your heart.
The more you allow yourself to feel it, the more it will become part of your everyday life.
If you’re inspired to take compassionate action, go ahead. But remember if you’re tuned into the experience of compassion, you’ll start to feel it everywhere, and there’ll be many times when you won’t be able to do anything.
Sometimes it’s not for you to interfere… Sometimes it is.
Don’t judge it.
I often feel this immense sense of wanting to help the whole of humanity ease the suffering of their inner conflict so we can live in a more peaceful and connected world.
Can I help everyone?
But the impulse of compassion I feel inside fuels me to do what I can.
When you can help you will.
It can be little things as simple as holding the door for a woman carrying a baby, helping an elderly person carry their groceries, or giving someone a hug when they need it.
Feel the opening in your heart that comes with this feeling of compassion. This is love expressing itself through you.
You can also find a short compassion meditation on the Mindvalley Podcast with Monk Gelong Thubten.
Your final stop on this journey into three types of love is gratefulness.
Gratitude is a feeling of deep appreciation for someone, something, or an experience you have.
Practicing gratitude is more than a mental activity of thinking about the things or people you appreciate in your life. It’s shifting your whole sense of being to an expression of love.
Gratitude is more than something you do. More than a “thank you”, it’s a heartfelt experience.
To be in a state of gratitude is to feel a deep sense of connection to other people, animals, nature, or simply life – it makes you feel part of something much bigger than yourself as an individual.
Having a regular practice of gratitude is like having a regular practice of meditation. It trains your mind to shift out of states of stress or anxiety into states of peace and love.
Over time, the more you practice the more your whole sense of being becomes permeated by stillness and love.
The same teacher I mentioned above also used to say, “It’s not that you can’t do something, it’s that you don’t remember to do it.”
In times where you’re challenged by the stress of your everyday life, it’s not that you can’t shift your state of mind, it’s that you’re simply not remembering to do it.
Through your regular practice, you know how to enter into a state of love through gratitude, so when you need to, you just do it.
Gratitude has many proven benefits to your life, from your physical and mental health to impacting your relationships and life view. But in the context of this blog let’s stay with gratefulness as an expression of love.
So, more than me just telling you, here is a practice to help you experience this type of love.
A gratitude practice
You can do this right now as you read along, but I highly recommend setting aside at least 5 – 10 minutes to go deeper.
Close your eyes and get an overall sense of how you feel.
Then, think of something or someone you really appreciate in your life.
Maybe it’s your children, your husband/wife/partner, friends, the fact you live near nature, the food you’re eating. Perhaps you have an amazing job, or you have a car… or don’t have a car.
Something significant in your life.
As you hold that person or thing in your mind, pay attention to how you feel. Notice how you feel different compared to before you thought about this.
Don’t try to analyze. Just feel it.
If your mind wanders to thinking about something else, just notice it and bring it back to the object of your gratitude.
Keep gently holding the grateful thought in your mind and continue feeling the effect in your body. Especially around your heart (not your physical heart).
Notice the sense of well-being that comes.
As you continue feeling this gratitude, notice the feeling inside you is not actually dependent on the “thing” you were thinking about.
The “thing” was the object you rested your awareness upon. But it’s only the starting point that takes you into a state of gratefulness.
Being grateful for something or someone expands into an unconditional feeling of gratefulness.
Similar to another unconditional feeling… Love.
From here you can experience for yourself the expression of love as gratefulness.
3 Pathways Into Love
Understanding, compassion, and gratefulness are three types of love that can help you open your heart to feel more love in your life.
Each one feels a little different, but at the same time, they all have a common thread. When you’re in the experience of any of these, you can start to feel unconditional love expressing itself through you.
The goal of this article is not to just give you a nice list of three types of love, it’s to help you experience them for yourself. Because when you feel them, they open your heart to love in its fullest form.
If we want to make the world a more peaceful and connected place, love is one of the most important ingredients.
When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.— Jimi Hendrix
The world needs more love… and this will require more people who are in touch with it. Will you be one of those people?