page twenty-eight: Seven Shades of Love
There is an old Indian saying that a woman should love her husband in many different ways: with the affection of a sister, the care of a mother, the understanding of a friend, and, under the sheets, the free abandon of a concubine! When I first learned of this as a teenager, the feminist in me bristled. All these rules about how a woman needs to love her man and none for how a man needs to love a woman, I fumed.
Far from those youthful days now, I see that love is indeed a “many-splendored thing" coming in different shades and expressed by a beautiful spectrum of people in nearly limitless types of relationships. A study of the Eastern chakra system over the years has given me a framework to see and recognize love in its various forms and the human need for all of them. The system lays out a map that tracks the course of the river of love as it flows through each relationship. The river leaves parts of it behind at various stops even as the central body of it moves on, making its way to the ocean, the Source of Love. There are seven major points along this journey, seven different dimensions to our life on earth, and love looks different in each one of them.
The first chakra connects us to our physical form which, looking for safety and security, births our need to belong to a tribe that has our back. At the most fundamental level, love shows up here as our attachment and loyalty to those who share our roots – family, race, culture, community, and faith. This kind of love, born out of our physicality, is created by Mother Nature and is spontaneous. Love of our children and parents falls us under this category. We see it in all life forms. It is instinctual and is where the expression "Blood is thicker than water” comes from.
Flowing gently onward, our quest for love takes us to the second chakra, our pleasure-pain center, where we feel love for those with whom we share the journey of pleasurable and painful experiences. Travel friends, golf buddies, fellow foodies, mah-jongg and other fun-loving partners evoke this face of love in us. Lust is also a form of love that would fall under this category. On the pain side of our journey, the connection one feels with another who shares a similar type of suffering, is also love. We are drawn to each other because of our woundedness. This chakra’s love also encompasses the expression "Misery loves company."
Third chakra love is what we feel for people who encourage us and boost our confidence. And vice versa. Love for those who cheer us on, for those who coach and train us, and others who believe in us and who we believe in and validate falls under this category.
Love in the fourth chakra is heart-to-heart. Romantic love and deep friendships where one finds a version of oneself in the other, the missing piece, "the better half," all happen in the fourth chakra. This love has an element of the mystery in it making it unpredictable, seemingly irrational, and hence the expression “Love is Blind.” Since it is based on human nature and people change over time, relationships of the heart are, in a sense, impermanent, although love itself is eternal.
While romantic love may leave us feeling complete at one level, there is a need for more and the river flows on. The fifth chakra is where we find our particular passion or calling and the love we feel for those who share our truth. This kind of love comes from resonance at a ‘soul-ular’ level. The goal here is not to seek pleasure or validation per se but to find connection and joy through our shared search for meaning. While it is most commonly experienced in our Sangha, Bible study group, or other spiritual community, fifth chakra love could also be found in any relationship where our struggles together lead to our mutual soul searching.
The sixth chakra is a love that awakens us to deeper possibilities. The love for those who remind us of who we are beyond our appearances and victories, and the love of our spiritual teachers falls under this category. Inspiration is a form of sixth chakra love.
As the river of love flows through us, and we enjoy love in these various forms, there is an increasing hunger for something more. Often, relationships that have served us for years could now leave us unsatisfied. There arises a need to be seen and heard and to connect in ways we never desired before. As we age and face our own mortality, many yearn for a more abiding connection–a love that is deeper and deathless.
The great Rumi said, “Show a mirror to a loved one so she may fall in love with herself.”
He was not referring to a mirror that fed one's narcissistic need to look and feel special, but one that reflected our intangible Presence. Filled with an unname-able longing, we look for that mirror, our quest to find ourselves taking us in different directions. Through relationships, heartbreaks, rituals, and practices, we finally arrive at the fountain head of love, the seventh chakra.
The river of longing finds its destination as our humanity meets with eternity. Love in the seventh chakra is self-realization, bringing forth deep joy and fulfillment in oneself. This ultimate union in turn creates true peace and honesty in all other relationships because we are now neither needing to receive nor to give. We are simply there shining our love upon the other, open to the journey of enjoying togetherness.
It was the poet Hafiz who wrote this beautiful verse about love:
“Even After All this time,
The Sun never says to the Earth,
"You owe me.”
Look What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.”
Self-realization is the love that enables us to love as Hafiz suggests, with no conditions or expectations and no need to keep score. But getting there takes a journey through the varied shades of love. Along the way, our relationships grow or change based on which kind of love we need for where we find ourselves on our journey. So it is that we find friends with whom we remain for “a reason, a season, or a lifetime” and with some, through all three!
While self-realization is the ultimate expression of love, how could we ever get there without the love from our family, friends, coaches, cheerleaders, lovers, fellow seekers, and teachers? Every form of love, every relationship, is a sacred and precious step in helping us to grow into beings who shine the light of our love on earth freely and unconditionally.
So as Valentine’s Day arrives, let us celebrate the various expressions of love in the many relationships of our life and move forward to love with even greater breadth and depth.