“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.” – Mother Theresa
Some of humanity’s wisest minds weren’t known so much for their answers, but the questions they asked. They were masters at first finding the right problems before quickly diving into solutions. The quote above is a great example.
Mother Teresa worked with some of the worst conditions on the planet – from leprosy, to hunger, to disease. Yet amidst it all, she said a lack of love is what most in the world suffer from more than anything else.
The truth is, most of us run around with an empty cup in our hands dying for it to be filled. That’s why we work so hard in our careers, why we buy nice things, why we yearn to find companionship. Yet when we dig beneath the surface, we start to realize it’s not the promotion, the nice car, or the partner we’re searching for, but the feeling we experience from having those things. That’s the point B we all want to arrive at.
For most of us, this place isn’t home. It’s like vacationing at a resort you only get to stay at for a period of time. You work for a plane ticket to get there, but ultimately its round trip. Money, fame, success will bring you that sense of love for a period, but just like that your times up and you’re back where you started.
In this article we’re going to explore this topic of love. It’s a type of energy that’s literally pulling the strings of our lives, yet widely misunderstood. We’re going to demystify the term and clear up many misconceptions you might have. In the process, you’ll find out a little known version of love that great minds such as Martin Luther King, CS Lewis, and even Plato found as the secret to happiness.
THE LOVE MISCONCEPTION
In the English language, we use an overarching blanket term for love…
- I love my friend.
- I love the Yankees.
- I love bacon.
- I love my mom.
- I love God.
One word for so many different scenarios. One description for such varied feelings. As a result, love turns into a vague, misunderstood idea that causes mass confusion in our lives. Much of the struggles we go through are rooted from misunderstanding of what love is to begin with.
We can turn to the Greeks to help clear this fog. Ancient Greece was one of the most influential civilizations of history. They were the trailblazers of democracy, they produced history’s greatest thinkers from Plato to Aristotle, and much of the language we use has its roots in Greek. They were also brilliant enough to understand and articulate the different flavors of love.
There are 4 greek words for love: storge, philia, eros, and agape. We’re going to give brief introductions to storge and philia, and do deep dives into eros and agape. Let’s get started…
THE 4 GREEK WORDS FOR LOVE
The first Greek love is storge. This can be roughly thought of as an affectionate, familial quality of love. It’s the feeling you have for your parents, for your brother or sister, or for your kids. It can even be the affection you feel towards for your dog or cat.
The great writer CS Lewis was fascinated with the 4 greek words for love. To Lewis, he says storge is the most organic form of love. It’s something anyone can feel. Something as natural as falling asleep at night. He says it’s the most comfortable and least ecstatic of all loves. It’s not the rapturous feeling you have when falling in love with a partner. Lewis describes it as soft slippers, or what an old, worn out chair might feel to your body. Storge wraps you around like a blanket, almost like sleep itself.
The second type of Greek love is philia. Philia is the reciprocal quality of love you feel for a friend. Lewis describes Philia as having a dispassionate quality. It was to him the least natural of all loves. He says “There’s nothing that quickens the pulse, or makes you red or pale.” If you compare it with the romantic type of love that makes your heart race and palms sweat, philia is much more dispassionate.
However, Lewis doesn’t discount it. He says philia love is very necessary. It produces the fewest pains and most pleasures. He described philia as the “crown of life.”
The Greek philosopher Aristotle described three levels of philia.
LEVEL ONE: FRIENDSHIPS OF UTILITY
The first level of philia is friendship of utility. These are your acquaintances, work friends, or other relationships where some practical benefit is received by both parties. These types of relationships come and go throughout your life.
LEVEL TWO: FRIENDSHIPS OF PLEASURE
The second level of philia are friendships of pleasure. These are you drinking buddy’s, friends you might have at your Yoga class, or even a friend who might be going through a similar hardship you’re experiencing. Just like the first level – these types of friends come and go.
LEVEL THREE: FRIENDSHIPS OF THE GOOD
The third and highest level of philia that Aristotle described are friendships of the good. It’s these rare individuals you can call your true friend. These are people where you can go without speaking for years, yet see each other and feel like you hung out just the other week. These relationships are rare and shouldn’t be taken for granted. They say if you have even three of these friendships, you’re living a rich life.
It’s the type friendship where both people enjoy the person not because of what they do, or because they’re fun to be around, or they have a shared hobby, but they genuinely click on a deep level. The love you feel from this type of relationship is most often referred to as the true quality of philia.
Eros is the romantic flavor of love. It’s passionate, it’s rapturous, it’s euphoric. It’s what the greatest songs have been sung about, what the greatest poems have been written about. Thousands throughout history have died over this feeling. It’s what many consider the greatest feeling of the human experience. If you’ve been walking around with a void in your life, when you find someone who can wipe it clean, it can truly feel like heaven on earth for a period of time. Dr. Seuss once said..
“You know you’re in love when you don’t want to fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”
Remember the love resort we mentioned earlier? When you find that right person, they’re able to take you there anytime, anywhere. It’s no longer a vacation, but your home. Entering a relationship essentially becomes an agreement – you take your partner to that place, if they take you there too. You become each others vehicles to love, and overtime you start to confuse the feeling with the person. You think that your partner is the love you feel. As you’d imagine the leads to an incredible amount of anxiety.
You become addicted to you source, akin to a junkie to their drug. You want to protect, to keep, to maintain your source at all costs. Jealousy, obsessiveness, insecurity and constant unease inevitably begin dominating your life.
Eros love can be the greatest source of pleasure, yet at the same time can bury you into some of the darkest, most painful periods when it goes away. Since this volatile quality of love is so central to us all, let’s go deeper and describe the qualities of Eros.
EROS IS DISTORTED
As amazing it is to fall in love with a partner, understand that it distorts your reality. In the movie Her, there’s a great quote where they say:
“Falling in love is a socially acceptable form of insanity.”
When you’re in love, all rational thinking, all logic, any degree of sense you had gets thrown out the window. A different set of lens are placed over your eyes. As Anthony DeMello once said
“You are never in love with anyone. You’re only in love with your prejudiced and hopeful idea of that person.”
When you fall in love, your mind begins constructing an idea of that person. It magnifies their strengths, downplays their weakness, and builds them into an upgraded, artificial version in your head. This image colors the lens through which you view them. As they say, “love is blind.”
The worst part is, you expect them to behave like the image you’ve created. It’s quite literally crazy if you stop and think about it. You’ve replaced a living, breathing, dynamic person with an imaginary image in your mind, and get upset when they don’t live up to it. It’s no surprise, unmet expectations are one of the leading sources of breakups/divorce throughout the world.
EROS IS FLUID
Eros love isn’t something you can chain in a box to have forever. The energy is dynamic, it’s fluid, and it can come and go at anytime. Yet we expect love to be stationary, to be static, to have the same type of love we felt for our partners the day we met them. That’s just not how love works. The french philosopher Roland Barthes once wrote:
“Love at first sight is always spoken in the past tense. The scene is perfectly adapted to this temporal phenomenon: distinct, abrupt, framed, it is already a memory…”
When you’ve fallen in love, it’s already a memory. The best moments you’ve shared with a partner, by the time you stop and realize how incredible it is, it’s already in the past.
EROS IS CONDITIONAL
This may come off cynical, but in a lot of ways, love is transactional. You live up to the type of person your partner needs, while they live up to the person you need. They give you a certain set of feelings, and in return you give them it back. If any person fails to live up to these expectations, the love between the two begins to diminish.
The first day you get into a relationship, your partner is flying on cloud nine. But for examples sake, say overtime you start to gain a load of weight, stop going to work, stop showering, and stop being the happy person they knew to love. Chances are your partner will start falling out of love. As special as we believe romantic love is, it’s always dependent on certain external factors. That’s the nature of the energy. It simply to keep being the best version of yourself you can be, always be good to them, and let the chips fall where they may.
EROS IS PLEASURE, AND ALWAYS LEADS TO PAIN
Another quality of Eros is by its very nature, comprised of pleasure. And pleasure will always lead back to pain. Studies have shown the avalanche of dopamine firing off in the brain during a relationship’s honeymoon phase. It’s similar to having a shot of drugs blasted into you. As amazing as it can feel, it will always lead to a hangover.
The reality is, everything in nature is constantly changing, constantly being born, constantly dying. We can’t escape this fact. Everything eventually falls away, even the love you have towards one another. As harsh as this may sound, every relationship in history has either ended in a breakup, or the death from one of the partners. As much as we’re conditioned into believing the opposite, love doesn’t last forever.
I know this may all sound depressing, but sobering yourself to these facts of life actually allows you to live with a greater degree of joy. You’re able to stop clinging, enjoy things as they come, and stop depending on any one particular outcome in the future.
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So that’s Eros Love. It’s distorts your mind. It comes in only to go when you need it the most. It causes both the greatest and most painful feelings of your life. But at the end of the day, amidst it all, it’s still a beautiful thing and something you should never avoid. If it comes, enjoy the music will it’s playing. When it’s over, be grateful you had the chance to listen to it while you did.
Agape love is one of the most important discoveries I’ve personally made in my life. The funny thing is, it’s a flavor of love few people have heard of, let alone understood, let alone experienced. Tapping into this feeling can truly change your life. To introduce Agape love, let’s start with a story from Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth:
A beggar had been sitting by the side of a road for over thirty years. One day a stranger walked by. “Spare some change?” mumbled the beggar, mechanically holding out his old baseball cap. “I have nothing to give you,” said the stranger. Then he asked: “What’s that you are sitting on?” “Nothing,” replied the beggar. “Just an old box. I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember.” “Ever looked inside?” asked the stranger. “No,” said the beggar. “What’s the point? There’s nothing in there.” “Have a look inside,” insisted the stranger. The beggar managed to pry open the lid. With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw that the box was filled with gold.
This is what the fourth and final love is all about. There’s something within you containing all the love you could ever ask for. You don’t need a partner, don’t need your family, you don’t need anything to tune into this energy. Imagine this: never feeling lonely again, never feeling empty again, always feeling fulfilled. This is what you’ll gain when you experience Agape.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH AGAPE LOVE
I stumbled upon Agape Love almost by accident. I never read about it, never heard of it, didn’t have some guru teaching me about it. I had no clue it even existed before.
One day I was laying in bed meditating. I was dis-identifying with my thoughts, with my emotions, with my body, with everything and anything, and simply connecting with awareness itself. I meditate regularly, but in this particular session the noise in my head quieted down to a level I’ve never experienced before.
To my surprise, a profound feeling of love started to come out of me. It was a quality I’d never experienced before – more pure than any other feeling I felt for family, friends or lovers. The strange thing was I didn’t intend for this to happen. It wasn’t something I read about or was trying to replicate. It naturally arose when I quieted down, and peeled the layers of my ego away.
THE DEFINITION OF AGAPE
Walking away from that experience, I thought I’d gone bonkers. Again, I’d never heard anything or anyone experiencing this before. I later realized the Greeks pinpointed what this was over 2,000 years ago. If you google agape love, you’ll see it linked with a lot of Christian theology. Martin Luther King talked frequently about agape in his sermons. But the term was actually coined well before Jesus was even alive.
Agape, in it’s root form, means “wide open”, in a state of wonder. To me, agape love means the love resulting from an open mind in a state of wonder. When you connect with awareness itself, that’s exactly the state of mind you’re in. Completely wide open. Not focusing on any one thing. Not clinging onto anything. Constantly letting go. Constantly opening up to what’s in front of you.
This was the exact state of mind I was in when I experienced agape for the first time. When this occured I never felt more connected before, never feel at ease with my life, never felt as joyful as I did then. Paulo Coelho describes Agape Love in his book The Pilgrimage:
“Agape is total love, the love that devours those that experience it. Whoever knows and experiences Agape sees that nothing else in this world is of any importance, only loving. This was the love that Jesus felt for humanity, and it was so great that it shook the stars and changed the course of man’s history.”
“It is the love that consumes the person who experiences it. Whoever knows and experiences agape learns that nothing else in the world is important – just love.”
So what are the qualities of Agape Love? How can we describe it?
AGAPE IS WITHIN
Agape love comes from within. This can be a big paradigm shift for most people. Our whole lives we’re conditioned into believing the very opposite – that love comes from the outside world. We feel in order to be “in love” we need a partner, our family, our dog, etc. It’s a very unhealthy way to live your life, as it always leads to a certain degree of dependence from others.
Yet Agape is something you can tap into at anytime, independent of those around you. You’re able to live your life with a full cup, not expecting those to fill it for you any longer. The amount of freedom, independence, self-reliance that comes along with this is game changing.
AGAPE IS DIRECTIONLESS
Agape Love is directionless. Notice with storge, philia, and eros – there’s a directionality, an orientation the energy move towards. In eros, you forgo other partners to dedicate your love for one. Same is true for even storge, the familial love. If you’re a parent, you might argue you love all you children equally, but the numbers would prove otherwise.
There was a study done by the University of California, which followed 384 sibling pairs and their parents for three years. Surprisingly, 65% of the mothers and 70% of fathers actually showed a preference for one child. They would never outwardly admit this, but they had a favorite. The funny part was, all parents knew that they were being monitored. Imagine how much higher those numbers would be if they weren’t.
Agape love is the only love without a direction. This may sound like woo-woo talk, but when you’ve tuned into this energy, you love everything, anything, anyone. You have no bias to the love you feel. From you parents, to the guy on the street, to a tree, to most importantly yourself.
The night before Jesus was crucified, he gave his final message to his disciples – “love each other as I have loved you.” He urged his followers to follow the actions he set forth throughout his life. If you read about him, he loved and cared for everyone – from his disciples, to the poor, to prostitutes, to lepers. Even when he was nailed to the cross he had love for those that put him there. There was zero direction to the love he showed and was one of the best examples throughout history of an individual living with agape love.
AGAPE DOESN’T HAVE LIMITS
Another great quote from the movie Her is the following:
“The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love.”
Someone could hear that and think those are just cheesy words from a rom-com. But if you’ve come into contact with agape you realize there’s an incredible amount of wisdom behind it. With agape, there’s not a finite amount of it to go around, it’s endless. Moreover, the more you experience agape, the stronger and stronger it becomes. That’s when words like ecstasy or rapture come into mind – you literally become overwhelmed by it.
Again, you experience agape when you move beyond your ego. There’s many vehicles to do achieve this – meditation, holotropic breathwork, flotation tanks, and the use of psychedelics. During my own Ayahuasca experience, there were moments where agape love flooded my reality to the point where I was moved to tears. I’ve seen instances of people on DMT trips who were literally moaning as if they were in orgasm, after the flood of agape love overwhelmed their reality. This is because there are no limits to the energy and the more you tune into it, the more it grows.
AGAPE IS CONDITIONLESS
Another quality of agape is it’s conditionless. To experience agape, you don’t need a certain IQ. You don’t need to have to have any specialized knowledge. You don’t need to follow any religion, or be taught by any gurus. You can even be an Atheist and have it in your life.
The only thing you need to have is the ability to let go. The greatest minds throughout history have all pointed towards that fact that to get it all, you need to give it all up. Empty your mind. Let go of your thoughts, your emotions, everything. Peel back the layers of your conditioned ego one by one, and you’ll find Agape coming into your life. At any moment in time, you can be “in love”.
But this is a difficult concept for some people to comprehend. We live in a world in a constant state of waiting. Waiting to find to find that partner… Waiting to get that job… Waiting for the weekend to come… Waiting for the next vacation… Waiting to be retired… Waiting to get the right knowledge…
With agape, there is no more waiting. Like the Eckhart Tolle story above, you already sitting on the box of gold. You simply have to open your eyes to see that it’s there.
What’s your experience with the 4 greek words for love? Have you experienced agape before? Share your experiences in the comments below.
Image: Spiral Genesis by Mark Henson ©2004