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Love: Healing & Suffering

Dr. Dean Ornish, founder of The Preventive Medicine Research Institute offers an excellent article entitled Love and Survival. The article gives us a glimpse into his book Love and Survival: 8 Pathways to Intimacy and Health. In a society that seems to have developed a dependency on prescription medication, it is both refreshing and inspiring to read ideas about the importance of connecting mind-body-spirit through love. In addition, love is viewed by Dr. Ornish as a healing power, that is, a powerful intervention and source of resilience that can both cure and promote health and well-being...

Our survival depends on the healing power of love, intimacy, and relationship... Love and intimacy are at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well, what causes sadness and what brings happiness, what makes us suffer and what leads to healing... anything that promotes a sense of isolation often leads to illness and suffering. Anything that promotes a sense of love and intimacy, connection and community is healing... the profound sense of loneliness, isolation, alienation, and depression that are so prevalent in our culture with the breakdown of the social structures that used to provide us with a sense of connection and community. It is, to me, a root of the illness, cynicism, and violence in our society... We are creatures of community. Those individuals, societies, and cultures who learned to take care of each other, to love each other, and to nurture relationships with each other during the past several hundred thousand years were more likely to survive than those who did not...
- Love and Survival: 8 Pathways to Intimacy and Health

As Dr. Ornish reminds us, love is a source of both connection and isolation. When we see ourselves as being in love and that love comes to an end, we are faced with emotional turmoil. When the love we feel is revealed to us as being misguided or misdirected, suffering will result. And this suffering is ultimately not at the hands of another person, but something that is uniquely our own. Unfortunately, our society has done a great deal to commercialize love for mass consumption, and it seems as if the obsessive path of acceleration has distracted us from the fact that our lives are both fragile and transient.

Success, I believe, is something we cannot understand without consideration of our own death. Yet death, like love, has suffered from mass marketing and vacuous forms of "entertainment." It is also a topic that people tend to avoid since the consideration of one's passing from this life may invoke a fear that prevents open consideration. Success, then, has a great deal to do with embracing and inviting the fear of our own death, traveling down the path of that fear, and coming out the dark forest.

It is true to say that in order to receive love you must first give it. Stop giving it authentically and we become unreceptive to it. Love can make us feel at peace, and it can also inspire us to battle. It is a vital source of energy to craft a way of living and I would suggest that any meaningful ideas about lifestyle must be intimately connected to ideas about love.

I have read a number of articles about the idea of authentic learning that make little to no reference to love, compassion, empathy, intimacy, connection, relationship, etc. Does this not seem at least unusual? There is, perhaps, a fear of making reference to things religious, a topic that organized education tends to side-step. Yet if we are to apply the word authentic to the word learning then love, like death, are unavoidable experiences that essential to living life as widely and broadly as possible.

Society is the place where we learn to develop our potential and become competent… Belonging, on the other hand, is the place where we can find a certain emotional security. It is the place where we learn a lot about ourselves, our fears, our blockages, and our violence, as well as our capacity to give life; it is the place where we grow to appreciate others, to live with them, to share and work together, discovering each one’s gifts and weaknesses. - Jean Vanier in Becoming Human

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