Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Love. This word is too small to contain the multitude of meanings it is supposed to; used in so many different ways, sometimes deep, sometimes shallow, sometimes wide, sometimes narrow; stretched as it is mauled, raised to heavenly heights as it has been cast down to utter darkness; it heals and gives hope to as many as it ruins and takes lives, leaving one in inevitable despair; it has become many things, if not every thing. Because of this seething fusion of elements, forces and dynamism, always threatening to break loose, caged behind these four fragile letters, love is often misunderstood, misused, misguided.

But should we then try to define it in cold hard print, nail it down in a sentence, with some pretty examples thereafter in italics? No, for that may paralyze, if not fossilize it. Love is like fire, burning you; water, overwhelming you; air, have you floating; earth, at one with the world. It is all these elements and more. It slips and slides easily into a diverse range of metaphors. To define it that way would be too cruel. But it may prove useful and not too harmful to lay out its parameters. Like a bird that roams the skies, despite its utter freedom, it can only go so high. It is not an artificial one though. There is no glass, for example, that stops it dead in its tracks. There is an accord, a complicity almost between the atmosphere and the bird. It is clear though undefined. That too must be how the limits of our definition are drawn.

And do not worry if you are not able to write it down. To define it emotionally is encouraged too. Love is a feeling with almost identical sisters such as infatuation, lust, obsession, friendship. All of them feel the same, blend in together at the start, but time and closeness will reveal which of them you really woke up with. In defining it this way, the intellect would be helpful though it may not be pivotal. The intellect may only assist in asking the right questions of the heart. Only the latter can give the answers. It must do so honestly. To feed false information would result in us not just fooling ourselves but in doing so, leaving ourselves vulnerable, open to hurt.

The Greeks have divided love into three types: Eros is defined as 'passionate love, with sensual desire and longing'. Although it may not necessarily be sexual in nature, this is the usual violent, passionate and overwhelming type of love that one feels at first flush. It is love for the one not there. Philia is friendship, 'a dispassionate virtuous love' and includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. This is the love of the familiar. Agape, due to its adoption by Christianity, has now been transformed to the love that Jesus and Buddha exemplified: compassionate love for all living things, even your enemies.

That however is just one way to distinguish it. Each of us are different and love has too many branches, both small and spindly as thick and firm, in its trunk to be reduced to just three types. But the Greeks as usual have struck on a good idea. They try to categorize its types. This enables us to navigate somewhat through love's sea of emotional turmoil. Lest we forget that love for all its splendour and pleasure, can be treacherous too.

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