I know not everybody feels a sweet warmth in their chest, because I don’t always feel it. However when it comes back for a visit, quality of life improves.
Buddhists like to go on about “the precious heart of Boddhicitta”, and place a huge mantle of status upon compassion. Some even go so far as to say that a compassionate love and self love are inseparable from the big Enlightenment.
It turns out that that feeling we get has some physical and biological correlates. We can measure vagal tone, and then perfom statistical analysis to untangle what effects flow from the cause. Or at least find correlations.
From this article in TheAtlantic.com “There is no such thing as everlasting love“:
Historically, vagal tone was considered stable from person to person. You either had a high one or you didn’t; you either had a high potential for love or you didn’t. Fredrickson’s recent research has debunked that notion.
In a 2010 study from her lab, Fredrickson randomly assigned half of her participants to a “love” condition and half to a control condition. In the love condition, participants devoted about one hour of their weeks for several months to the ancient Buddhist practice of loving-kindness meditation. In loving-kindness meditation, you sit in silence for a period of time and cultivate feelings of tenderness, warmth, and compassion for another person by repeating a series of phrases to yourself wishing them love, peace, strength, and general well-being. Ultimately, the practice helps people step outside of themselves and become more aware of other people and their needs, desires, and struggles—something that can be difficult to do in our hyper individualistic culture.
Fredrickson measured the participants’ vagal tone before and after the intervention. The results were so powerful that she was invited to present them before the Dalai Lama himself in 2010. Fredrickson and her team found that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, people could significantly increase their vagal tone by self-generating love through loving-kindness meditation. Since vagal tone mediates social connections and bonds, people whose vagal tones increased were suddenly capable of experiencing more micro-moments of love in their days. Beyond that, their growing capacity to love more will translate into health benefits given that high vagal tone is associated with lowered risk of inflammation, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke.
The article then goes on to mention how love is always biological and biological love is always temporary, but concludes that those with high vagal tone can fall in love twenty times a day.
Lonely people who are looking for love are making a mistake if they are sitting around and waiting for love in the form of the “love myth” to take hold of them. If they instead sought out love in little moments of connection that we all experience many times a day, perhaps their loneliness would begin to subside.
I’m spending a few lazy hours listening to Gordon Lightfoot’s greatest hits. I rarely listen to lyrics, so it’s taken until my old age to realize that this Canadian folk-music superstar was hip. Or at least highly socio-sexual. Many of his songs are about leaving women. Noni Mitchell had a lot songs like that too. There is a satisfaction in empathising with those who feel the call of the road. I love to leave places. And while I love to love, that has nothing to do with multiplicity or permanence. Just because we loved doesn’t mean you own me – bye bye.