Love. We all talk about it, but how much do we really understand this mysterious force field?
We refer to love frequently in poetry, religion, and mysticism. “The universe would disappear without the existence of the force [of love],” said Gandhi. When the Beatles released “All You Need Is Love,” more than 400 million people in 25 countries watched via live satellite and raised their glasses in a resounding “hell, yeah.” So there’s no disputing its fundamental importance.
Today’s Experience of “Non-Love”
Yet, it’s also clear that “non-love” is a dominant experience today: Loneliness is more prevalent than connectedness, and the longer-term effects of global lockdowns and enforced isolation are only just starting to emerge. Take a look at the most recent statistics in PubMed where new cases of anxiety and depression are documented, and you’ll understand why psychotherapists’ and psychiatrists’ schedules are fully booked. Consider the incline in suicide and divorce rates, not to mention warfare in recent years. Even the climate crisis may have its roots in a deficit of love.
It’s not that we don’t share a sense of collective urgency about resolving these situations. However, because we don’t know how to measure love specifically, or diagnose “not-love” so that we can prescribe remedies, we don’t know how to get down to the originating cause. This leaves us shuffling the best cosmetic solutions we can find.
This is simply because we don’t have an adequate understanding of the true nature of love as a healing force. Beyond romantic love and attraction, it gets left out of scientific and medical discourse. Apart from a few courageous explorers of love as a transformational field, it is generally overlooked by the experts. We don’t pay attention to it; we don’t try and measure it; in scientific research, we’re not even curious about it.
What creates such indifference? By holding this question throughout recent years as we have been developing Heart Based Medicine, I have become aware of how much the disposition of being an expert gets in the way, particularly in a white male mind like mine. A part of all of us wants to be an expert, and leaning into things that we don’t understand can make us uncomfortable. Yet, the capacity to explore and acknowledge things we don’t know about opens the possibility of intelligent, creative, generative conversations.
Let’s look at an instructive example: The Black Death, which primarily affected Europe and the Middle East from 1346 to 1353, was the most fatal pandemic in human history. It killed somewhere between 75 and 200 million people, wiping out 30 to 60 percent of the European population and about a third of the Middle East. It reduced the world population from 475 million to about 350 million in just seven years, taking until 1500 to return to the same pre-plague levels.
Faced with the magnitude of this health crisis, the world was gripped by a tremendous sense of urgency, but without having an accurate and comprehensive system to understand the origins and to address the catastrophe. There was an intuitive sense of the nature of the infection, without yet understanding the mechanics. The transmission was attributed to smells, so gowns and masks were worn for protection. There was no microscope or other direct way to measure bacteria and no one had even considered antibiotics back then.
Centuries later, we now know that the plague was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. This knowledge resulted from open-minded curiosity, and the willingness by scientists to acknowledge that there was something present that they didn’t yet fully understand. The inquiry took rigorous questioning of previously held assumptions. It then took decades of piecemeal science before we shifted from a medieval view of infectious disease to the modern scientific view that allows us to deal with a bacterial infection.
This approach is the opposite of, and the antidote to, the arrogance of expertise. The expert leans into what she thinks she knows, while the inquisitive explorer has the humility to be curious about what she doesn’t know.
When Antonie van Leeuwenhoek came up with the first microscope in the 17th century, he amplified the capacity of our eyes in such a way that we could see things we had not seen before. That could be a useful clue here. To embrace love as a healing force, it may not be the eyes but the heart that you want to see through. Your heart has the capacity to experience and to know things. It may well be that, by learning to amplify the messages that come from the heart, we will be able to develop coherent diagnostic tests for not-love as well as a prescriptive attitude toward love.
Humility and an open-minded disposition may finally lead us beyond the limited view of seeing love as the byproduct of human thought, emotion, and action. Maybe one day we will come to recognize scientifically what most people already know intuitively: that love is a universal generative healing force available to us all.
I would suggest that what is needed today—more than anything else—is to bring the same open-minded curiosity to the nature of love that Pasteur and Koch brought to infection. If our greatest minds were fueled and funded by that same degree of urgency and tasked with discovering the potential of love as a transformational field, imagine what the effects might be on health care and society.