I was inspired to explore the five “A”s of love after attending a performance of Chicago’s Natya Dance Theatre’s new work, “The Seventh Love.” Based on the ancient Buddhist discourse known as “The Five Aspects of Love,” a narrative was brought to life through expressive East Indian dance and dialogue. The message: learning to embody these five aspects—attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowance—helps one attain a sixth, perfect love. The seventh and ultimate aspect is universal or selfless love. The essence of these five aspects can be found at the core of religious, spiritual and philosophical traditions—and forms a foundation in all relationships.
My research became a personal quest to become a more loving person, not just in my close relationships, but with everyone I encounter. In the process, I discovered social psychologist Barbara Fredrickson’s book Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection. She defines love as those “micro-moments” when we feel deeply connected to another human being, no matter the relationship or circumstance. Her studies have shown that living a “life of love” can have healthy rewards even at the cellular level. I found her ideas to be quite in sync with the Five Aspects of Love.
As you read about the Five Aspects, reflect on various people in your life—loved ones, co-workers, even strangers—and how you may or may not be expressing love for them.
In the busyness of our multi-tasking world, paying attention to others can be a challenge. It requires that we be fully present with all our senses—observing, listening, and noticing feelings and reactions in others and ourselves without judgment. Being fully present is a natural state. Just notice babies and young children with their deep curiosity and involvement. But as they develop, they become easily distracted and many youngsters and adults struggle with attention deficits.
Attention increases awareness when we focus on our body, feelings and thoughts through meditative practices. Over time, these practices can promote full presence of mind and being awake to each experience. The reverse can lead to surfing through life with insensitivity to others’ needs and desires and even to one’s own needs. It may manifest as remoteness or indifference.
There is a tendency to expect perfection from ourselves and others. Acceptance, however, means taking or receiving what is being offered. Instead of having unreasonable expectations, can we lovingly accept others—just as they are? Can we do the same with ourselves?
Often long-term relationships reveal flaws and inadequacies in one’s partner, which might actually be a reflection of our own inner conflicts. If not processed and accepted, these conflicts can show up as our inner gremlin holding us back from being our “best self” and seeing the best in others.
When rejection, disagreement, or disharmony enters our relationship, we must step back and reach beneath the conflict to discover our loving nature and offer compassion and empathy. Accepting what is provides space to set aside negative thoughts and emotions and uncover the best solutions.
To appreciate is to “esteem or value highly.” Life itself is a gift to be cherished, as is the body that carries us along our journey. Everyone wants to be loved and appreciated. Showing one’s appreciation for another is a gift of great value. Appreciation goes a long way in helping us realize our true self-worth. Often it’s the little things and acts of kindness—a thoughtful word, a simple gesture—that can touch the heart.
Heartily receiving appreciation is like giving a gift in return. I’m reminded of etiquette guru Emily Post, who taught us to always receive a compliment or gift with grace. I love this concept: what we do for others, we do for ourselves, and what we do for ourselves, we do for others—perfectly expressed in the infinity symbol ?, the energetic flow of giving and receiving.
Sometimes we may have reason to express criticism of others. But blatant criticism may deeply affect another person’s self-worth. The communication/leadership development organization Toastmasters taught me a more palatable, kindly and loving method: “sandwich” the criticism between compliments. This method can be applied to ourselves as well; we can temper our “inner critic” by simultaneously contemplating our positive qualities and achievements.
Affection can be expressed through affirmative loving words, as well as physical touch. Teasing and humor are other ways to express affection. Playfulness, too, can have an affectionate quality. Expressing affection enhances the connection with another. I often find myself spontaneously reaching out with the old handshake when meeting someone new so as to feel connected. There’s nothing better than sharing a big hug—which is why I love Argentine tango so much, being enveloped in the arms of my partner.
Michelangelo said, “To touch is to give life.” We were born with the life-giving need to be touched. It’s the richest means of emotional expression. Studies have shown that we crave touch more than sex, money, or social status. Appropriate physical contact experienced regularly can generate hormones that produce a “calm and connect” response from the brain. Supportive touch from a teacher, sympathetic touch from a physician, massage from a loved one—can positively affect performance, and generate feelings of being cared for. Touch can soothe pain or depression and strengthen relationships. Supportive touch conveys to the recipient “I’ll share the load.”
Withholding affection gives the impression of dislike or aversion; here again, receiving affection is as important as giving it.
Relationships can present circumstances resulting in a spectrum of feelings ranging from ecstasy to pain. Intimacy begins with allowing ourselves to be loved and loving our self. Allowing requires opening one’s heart and welcoming life and love just as they are. It doesn’t seek to control, possess, or judge. Allowing offers another the freedom and space to pursue their deepest wishes, needs, desires, and values.
None of us consciously seeks conflict or suffering. Yet inevitably, disagreement, disapproval, or possession may creep into our relationships. They present valuable opportunities to be open and honest, and to understand and be comfortable with our vulnerability. This can create an opening to explore a deeper understanding of the hurts and fears beneath the conflicts.
Awaken your heart
Integrating these five aspects of love into your life may be a tall order and long-term process. Achieving the sixth aspect of love, perfect love, and ultimately the seventh, selfless love, may be the end reward. Ask yourself what you truly want in your life. Reflect on how life and your relationships might be when more of these aspects are embodied. If you want to awaken your heart to these aspects and bring them into your relationships, you might find David Richo’s book How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Relationships enlightening.
If you would like some help in integrating these five aspects into your life, contact me and let’s explore ways we might work together.