When we look into the questions of how to love, many different types of love come into our minds. Take a second to think about what you refer to when talking about love. You might find it hard to define. It could brighten our days or it could cause us to stop living a free and peaceful life. If either of these is the case, then it is worth examining. We shouldn’t only focus on the emotions or states of being we deem negative. But also on those passions that we tend to praise. Love is one of them because it can rob us quite unexpectedly of our freedom if not approached correctly.
It’s time to divide the different kinds of love and see where we should keep our focus and when we should be cautious. I can hear some asking why they need to caution themselves with something as beautiful as love. This requires us to distinguish the passion we call love and the state of being we view as deep affection for what we care about. In this post, we will look at all sides and see how we should react to them. How we should perceive it and where our focus should lie.
Understand what you love
“In a similar way, you too should remind yourself that what you love is mortal, that what you love is not your own. It is granted to you for the present while, and not irrevocably, nor for ever, but like a fig or a bunch of grapes in the appointed season; and if you long for it in the winter, you are a fool.”Epictetus, the Discourses, Book 3, Chapter 24.86
Who else but Epictetus to start us off with a reminder when talking about love, especially concerning living beings. We must keep in mind what it is that we hold If it’s a person, we need to realize that they can be taken away from us. And why is he saying this? Is it to tell us not to love? No, we need to keep in mind that we shouldn’t love it out of its season. Nowadays, we can eat fruits at any time of the year. But back in his day, they didn’t have this luxury. Therefore, wanting figs in the winter would only cause you sorrow. But when they are in season, that’s when you need to love them and be grateful that you can taste them. The same goes for those around us. Be grateful in the moment when they are with us.
If we wish to remain free, we shouldn’t become attached to things that aren’t under our control. Love can drag us out of our peaceful state. It can hold a power over us that can bring us straight to something that resembles grief. We need to be careful with our emotions, even one that sounds as beautiful as love. And let me be honest, love can be wonderful as long as we apply it in a tempered and reasoned manner. We have to examine what it is that we love and how we love it. When we look into emotions such as anger, we try to prevent or resolve them, while love is one of them we seem to be looking for. And when we can’t find it, its very absence can bring us despair.
You’re fond of a jug
“In the case of everything that delights the mind, or is useful, or is loved with fond affection, remember to tell yourself what sort of thing it is, beginning with the least of things. If you are fond of a jug, say, ‘It is a jug that I am fond of’; then, if it is broken, you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your child, or your wife, say to yourself that it is a human being that you are kissing; and then you will not be disturbed if either of them dies.”Epictetus, the handbook, 3
Being in love is a great feeling of course, but how rational is your mind in that state? This is a powerful way how love can overwhelm us. And this is the form of love we have to be more attentive to. As a wave that can reshape the coastline, so can this emotion conquer even the strongest fortifications in the mind. Our thoughts go to only one place and keeps us from sleeping and even from eating or drinking. How wonderful it is to have this feeling. But what if it is not returned? And what is it that caused this feeling inside of us? We can put this feeling into the category of the passions we wish to avoid if we want to keep our peace.
If it is outward beauty that triggered the love in us, then we need to remember that even the most beautiful flower will at one point lose its colors. So is it with humans and that is one more point we need to remind ourselves of. But if we learn to dig deeper, we can see a more pure and long-lasting source of affection. As we can see, there are so many layers that might bring us into a state of ecstasy. A passion that we wish to avoid or at least want to transform into a more stable form of love. The one that will listen to our rational mind and our reason. Getting a good and deep understanding of this emotion is key.
How good is love for us
Where we can take our anger away, sometimes by taking a breath. Or sadness by allowing a moderate cry to release the first wave. Being in love is something different. It can stick with us and be ignited by a single thought of the person we have fallen in love with. Would we call ourselves free in that state of mind? What would you do to pursue the source of this great feeling? Would you follow them to the end of the world?
But what if this takes you off your path and down the cliff? Then we need to reconsider how good it is for us. And it might feel good and seem what we are after, but it has a short time span. And since we are dealing with people who are not you, we can’t say whether it is still there for them or has been there to begin with.
Falling in love, the verb falling can give us a hint to its nature, which is something we can’t always control. It’s one of those emotions that hits us with a sudden strike. Now it is time to take that same breath we do when we find ourselves becoming angry. We need to learn to apply temperance to this feeling. It might make you feel great, but risks are involved. And the Stoics teach us to use reason and a rational mind. We must remain true to the virtues, how high the cloud might take us, and remember that you are on a ball of water molecules. It could turn into rain and then we need to be ready to return to earth unharmed.
How and what we should love
How should we love and what should we love? For this next question, we point our attention again to Epictetus.
“What a man sets his heart on, that he naturally loves. Do men set their heart on evils? – By no means. Or on what does not concern them? – No again. It remains for us to conclude, then, that good things alone are what they set their heart on: and if they set their heart on those, they love them too. Whoever, therefore, has knowledge of good things would also know how to love them; and he who cannot distinguish good things from evil, and things that are neither good nor evil from both of these, how could he still have power to love? It follows that the wise man alone has the power to love.”Epictetus, The Discourses, Book 2, Chapter 22.1
We love what we set our hearts on. And we should be focused on what is good. The more superficial the thing that we set our sights on, the more erratic the love is. But if we learn to love profoundly and find the true nature of the object of our love, we can be more grounded in it. We can stay true to ourselves because part of that what we love is within us.
Now we can begin to recognize that our object of love also belongs to Nature and thus is like us. Then when this aim of our affection would depart, we know it remains with us. We loved its nature, and that’s what we all belong to. This deeper, more honest sense of love is a feeling we can give to everything around us. It will stay with us like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s day. Let’s try to approach the wise woman and find that power to love.
Start with yourself
“There you’re still below your quota. You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 5.1
Why not start by giving that love to ourselves? To do so, we need to know ourselves. But that sounds dangerous as it might bring up our flaws. And how can we love things that aren’t good? Let’s be a bit kinder to ourselves and see these parts of us for what they are. We can change our view when we stop looking at them as our flaws and instead see them as room for growth. When we learn to embrace ourselves as a whole, we can show true love for ourselves. As Marcus says, if we can learn to love our nature, then it can make us lose ourselves. This would be the sense of ultimate freedom, since we are now living in accordance with our nature.
A pure form of gratitude
From here we – Marcus A start to expand that love to all around us. Once we learn to accept ourselves as a whole, we can do the same to that which we wish to love, its flaws included. And now that we know that there is an expiry date on everything, we also know that we must love the moment. Whatever we find in that moment is there for us and we can see it for what it is and in all its beauty. How to love is to love all. All that is there around us. Love what was and what will be, by loving this moment right now.
Take a moment to look around you and feel the love from everything that is there. The known and the unknown. Because it all shares the same and is part of everything. In this sense, we can learn to know what Nature meant with love: A pure form of gratitude and harmony with the moment. I will leave you with Marcus Aurelius since no one can say it better than he did.
“The things ordained for you—teach yourself to be at one with those. And the people who share them with you—treat them with love. With real love.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 6.39
“To love only what happens, what was destined. No greater harmony.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 7.57
18 thoughts on “How to Love: A Stoic View”
Benny, you drop so many gems in the post; they are very thought provoking, but also true. This statement you wrote spoke to spirit bro: “If we wish to remain free, we shouldn’t become attached to things that aren’t under our control. Love can drag us out of our peaceful state. It can hold a power over us that can bring us straight to something that resembles grief. We need to be careful with our emotions, even one that sounds as beautiful as love.” Great post!
Thank you, Kevin. I appreciate the kind words. I’m glad you found my post interesting and helpful.
I agree, why not start with ourselves? I realized it late and was always giving love more to others. What a lovely read and learned tons from it. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you, Fransic. I’m glad you liked it and learned something from it.
I like that love can mean many things to different people. When it comes to people, we need to love them beyond the superficial things. We definitely need to start love with ourselves. This is the core value.
Thank you, Nancy, for your kind words. I’m happy to see that you highlight those two points. To start with loving ourselves and then go beyond the superficial things.
I’ve been reflecting on this topic and I particularly enjoyed reading your words about starting with yourself. Thank you for this great reflection from a stoic lens. Love as passion (eros) and love as nurturance (agape) are often split in our inner reality and as you said reason and temperance are two of our best allies. I think (emotional) maturity has a lot to do with it. Knowing yourself – what you value, what you react to, why you react to it, how you can outgrow dysfunctional ways – feels to be the key to all our greatest personal mysteries. The trouble is we are not always confident that the best way is through and so we run – away, into addictions, or love with a small L. All distractions from facing ourselves – and pardon my french own and transform our crap (e.g. illusions).
It’s great to see that you are using the terms, I forgot to enter. And when I read them here, I thought, ah yes. haha. But that shows how well versed you are in the topic of philosophy and psycology. There is a great many things I always learn from you. Thank you for your great insights and I love what they add to the discussion.
This was really thought-provoking; something I will have to examine more carefully as this raised some really great points!
Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you took something out of it.
Beautiful article. In my own experience, I had to learn to love that which is making me mentally unwell, according to the “experts”, in order to regain my balance. I had to learn to accept that I have some dark, deep depths of emotion that can cause me harm. It turns out that loving the dark has lessened its power over me and I am happier. As you say, being whole. I loved what you said in this. The key to life is love, and a little hint of madness.
Thank you, Zac. I always appreciate you insights. And as you point out, we have to learn the dark side. It is a part of us just as the good is. And we need to learn to love them both. A little hint of madness is never wrong, haha.
A thoughtful and insightful post. In the end, it all starts within. Thanks for sharing. Be well. ✌️
Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed my writing.
I love the poetic nature of your thoughts on how love often dulls our rationality and how looking past physical attraction leads us to appreciate a deeper kind of love! I feel it is also important for me to start with myself, as knowing myself gives me a deeper appreciation and understanding of who I love. <3
It’s nice to see you find the poetic nature of my writing. It seems to be going a bit more that way. We should go past that physical aspect and learn to look at who we really our. Starting with ourselves. Thanks for your kind words.
Love is something I’ve never really understood, nor is it something I’ve ever felt. I felt lust, but I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced being in love, at least not in the way it’s portrayed in films and TV shows.
Just because love makes us feel good, it doesn’t mean it’s good for us. Heroin feels good, but we shouldn’t be doing it.
We have no control who we fall in love with and no control over who we fall out of love with. We can find ourselves loving some truly horrible and abusive people, and that feeling of love can trap us in such unhealthy relationships.
Would I burn heaven and earth for love? And if I would, is that even a good thing? All kinds of horrible acts and questionable choices are made in the name of love, decisions we wouldn’t make if we were able to remain rational. For example, if the love of your life was at risk, how many lives would you sacrifice to save them? Think of the trolley problem
I think I’d gladly swap love for caring for others
Thank you for your insights as always and also for the interesting quesions you pose. It’s wonderful to read your take on my writings. Because it shows me how others can view the same topic differently, yet there are similarities there. Great to read your comment.