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by Amy Hunt
I once heard from a professor that love is not an emotion. It shocked me when I heard this, juxtaposed against what I and many others were taught. Now, years later after being told this, I’m still occupied by curiosity and investigation, motivated more than ever to figure out the dynamics and psychological essence of love. I consider it a normal process of life to question, for a time, what love is, how it applies in life, what it looks like, and its purpose. If love is not an emotion, then what is it?
When I was a kid I used to listen to DC talk, a Christian music band. They professed, “love is a verb.” Many others as well claim that love is an action, as it is only love if there is an act of service. For example, giving a dollar to a beggar on the street can be understood as a gesture of love. Furthermore, Disney fans will not find it to be a challenge to complete this phrase: “Only an act of true ____ can save her.” Therefore, we know love is in effect if it is expressed externally. But how about love that is not expressed? Is it still considered love – at least a potential love that has yet to show itself?
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Neurologically speaking, love is recognized by the presence and activity of neurochemicals in the brain, especially that of oxytocin, commonly referred to as the “love hormone.” These chemicals remain active in the brain while love is being experienced by the individual. As a participant of love, one can give or receive love; either way, love is a neurochemical experience in the brain. Whether it is acting in love or receiving this extraordinary gift, the human experience of love cannot be imitated unless these properties within the brain and heart are present and active.
I’ve also heard about love that is felt. While we experience love as a feeling, our brains are tricked to think that we feel love within us as an emotional experience. In reality, love and emotions are different. Religious texts describe people being moved by compassion or overwhelmed with what is suggested to be an emotional drive. These instances and others show that there is something happening on the inside that drives living beings to express what they feel – or perhaps feel what is ready to be experienced.
Some believe that there is only one love, the same love that we all experience, that we all share and to which we all can relate. Certainly this idea suggests that, despite how many types of loves that cultures and subcultures define (i.e. agape, philo, etc.), it is still the same basic concept of love for them all – they all express a distinctly intimate compassion towards another. The expression may vary across types of loves, but they all stem from the same original experience that we know and feel inside. A person is born knowing how to love, though its expression may be influenced by cultural teachings, beliefs, environmental cues, or inspiration across the lifespan. Therefore love cannot be learned. Love exists apart from the psyche.
Despite the emotion or behavior debate, love is something important and crucial to survival. Living in isolation doesn’t exactly help the chances of survival. When humans come to love, we recognize the bigger picture than self-serving acts that abolish communal living. From a sociological context, love is what helped us evolve to where we are now. Love is a relational component of life. Throughout societies and cultures, love is a type of bond that has encouraged and proven worthy of recognition and appreciation. Love is commonly recognized by the duties it plays for natural selection and procreation – not only for sexual activity, but also for the need of companionship and family. These sociological matters highlight the need for love in the case of survivorship and overall community development.
As one can see, love is deep and multi-faceted. As a developed and evolved society, together we are attempting to study and analyze a concept that we are not necessarily capable of relaying correctly back into society. Confused on its nature, we are awakening to a time that it is most important to both feel and express this notion of love. Without the feeling, love is personally unknown; without the action, love cannot be shared – both defeating the essence and purpose of love which is to be shared and experienced with another.
Perhaps love is something beyond our self or what we have the ability to conceive. Perhaps it is magic that happens in the moment and we share the common experience of love. Maybe love is an interaction. Breaking down the word “inter-action,” we find “inter,” meaning joining two parts and “action,” meaning an expression. If love is agreed to be an interaction, then it follows that love is a joint expression of that which is experienced subjectively by each individual. Love is the perceived experiencing and expression of an “other,” expressed through us as an interaction. A shared interaction reveals that there is a third party involved – the gift itself.
Suggestively, love is another essence that does not originate from us. From an existential understanding, love is another essence which does not inhabit our consciousness, but is experienced by our consciousness as something separate from our personal human experience and is relayed. Though we are moved by the emotions of compassion and empathy, love is different; and though we are inspired to proceed in various acts of service that demonstrate love, the act is simply the exchange of this energy between two living beings. More simply, we are agents of this love, evolved to exercise the will, essence, and expression of this “other” known as love.
Love is a gift we can bring to others, not from us, but from itself. Think about that – we bring love to others from the origin of love. It is not from within our own heart, brain, or consciousness that we love and it is not due to any survival that we love. Love itself is its own inspiration, its own consciousness, and its own beginning. This may paint love as a cosmic mystery – maybe it is yet to be discovered to its full definition and potential.
About the author:
Amy Hunt graduated from Sam Houston State University with a Bachelors in Psychology. In her spare time, she enjoys writing articles on topics related to psychology and spirituality, sometimes incorporating physics concepts. More of her thoughts can be followed on Twitter @amyhuntessays https://twitter.com/