Cultivating Love on On Valentine’s Day

Cultivating Love on On Valentine’s Day

By Rabbi Menachem Feldman and Dr. John S.Tamerin

First, we need to start with the practical and then get to the philosophical.

The practical question is: “I want to feel love but I don’t feel it. So, how do I unlock it?” It might be in a relationship or in a marriage, but the love isn’t there. It may be blocked or obscured. It may have been replaced by boredom, disinterest or anger. Or I may have been so hurt by a prior relationship or relationships that I am unable to feel love. So, what can I do? Where do I start?

The fantasy of so many people is that this feeling will or would emerge if only they were to meet the right person. This keeps the focus on what is external and not on what is internal. Therefore, the outcome is up to chance or perhaps to the dream of connecting with the right person on the right dating site.

The problem with this type of thinking is that even if you meet or even fall in love with someone whom you may think is “the right person for you” (i.e. “your soulmate”) at some point you will not feel the same love. So, the real question is how do you awaken that emotion? (i.e. the feeling of love).

This is especially relevant in a marriage where the initial passion and love may have disappeared.

The Kabbalah teaches that one key to awakening or re-awakening love is through compassion. According to the Kabbalah, love is quite selective. We don’t and can’t love everyone. What is far more inclusive than love is compassion. For example, if I watch someone hit by a car, it is much easier to feel compassion for that person even if they are a stranger and we have nothing in common.

The theory in Kabbalah suggests that compassion triggers love. And that once the emotional bridge is built through compassion that love can flow on that same bridge.

Love may not be strong enough to build the bridge – or love is more careful where it builds its bridges. The secret is that if I want to awaken my love and allow it to flow to a person then I must first build a bridge of compassion.

Compassion is about seeing the world through the other person’s eyes. This is really empathy. Another example: A person does something that upsets and hurts me which then, at that moment, blocks my love towards that person. If I am able to see that the person is and/or was in pain when they said something that hurt me and I understand that this was the reason why they acted the way they did, that awareness will help me to build a build a bridge of compassion/empathy and then love will flow. This type of thinking is so important in friendship and in marriage. Kabbalah teaches that if there is a sense of pain in the story, the bridge is quickly constructed.

Remember … love is both fickle and highly selective and can easily be stopped, disrupted, the bridge can break. Interest is lost. 

We think that if we want to create or feel love we have to focus on the love. Instead, the Kabbalah teaches that if we want to feel love for the other person we have to focus on our soul’s capacity for compassion and empathy. To get there we must be willing to make the effort to see the experience entirely from the other person’s point of view at that moment. This is not easy. Indeed, it may be very difficult and it takes a great deal of effort and  practice. However, if we really want to experience love again in this relationship, we must endeavor to reach the level of compassion which enables the bridge to be built so that the love can flow again.

Clearly, this is not relevant in all relationships. We are not talking about abusive or negative relationships. In situations like that we must find the courage to escape, leave or run away from those toxic relationships.

The philosophical and spiritual Kabbalistic premise is: the person has both a self-oriented soul and a transcendent soul. For the self-oriented/ego-driven soul, it is impossible to feel true love because the only reason the self-oriented transactional soul feels love is because of “what you can do for me” which is really self-love. On the other hand, the more I am in touch with my spiritual/ transcendent soul the more I can feel true love.

Finally, to build the bridge from the self-oriented soul to the transcendent soul you need spiritual moments where you can give expression to your spiritual side. There are numerous routes to awaken our spiritual souls. One of these is music. People experience and express their souls in listening to, singing and/or composing country music and related lyrics. “Soul” music is called that for the reason that it has emerged from gospel music and suffering and that it expresses the soul of the singer and touches the soul of the listener. 

Rabbi Menachem Feldman is the director of the Lifelong Learning department at the Chabad Lubavitch Center in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Dr. John S. Tamerin lives and practices psychiatry in Greenwich. He is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Cornell/Weill School of Medicine.