November 17, 2017

How To Master the Art of Love

How To Master the Art of Love
Perceptual Intelligence Cover

Who better than a cardiologist to unpack the many dimensions of love, the emotion that has long been depicted as emanating from the heart?

A comprehensive, multifaceted exploration into the nature of love is precisely what Dr. Armin A. Zadeh, who is both a cardiologist and a professor at Johns Hopkins University, offers in his new book entitled The Forgotten Art of Love: What Love Means and Why It Matters.  

We hope you’ll enjoy this short excerpt from the book.

Over the centuries, people have developed various techniques for maintaining a focus on love.

The Buddha taught exercises in mindfulness and meditation to improve our focus on everything we do. These practices are effective and still popular today. They involve training the mind to live in every moment without constantly assessing it. The result is that we gain control over our impulses, conquer distractions, and allow love to flourish freely.

Instead of thinking about our lives all the time, we experience life in every moment.

Like learning to focus on love, however, mindfulness training is hard. Formal meditation, in particular, is not for everybody: it requires sitting still for an extended period each day. Many feel they cannot incorporate such a commitment into their daily lives. Nowadays, meditation teachers offer practices that fit more easily into people’s schedules, such as brief periods of meditation with the aid of smartphone applications, or walking meditation.

Another proven method for mastering selflessness is praying.

Prayers in most religions involve focusing on love, usually love of God. Prayer serves the same essential purpose as mindfulness training, teaching us to control impulses, and it requires similar hard work to achieve results. Some may find that prayer has a motivational advantage over meditation without spiritual guidance: if we believe in the reward of heaven or a similarly appealing afterlife, we may be more inclined to follow through.

While practices like meditation and prayer improve our focus on love, they typically occupy only a small fraction of our days, leaving us exposed to self-serving drives for much of the time.

How can we learn to be mindful of our thoughts and actions all the time?

We may do this step by step, starting by spending a few minutes a day trying to achieve a dedicated focus. For example, each time we get into our car, we might dedicate fifteen minutes of driving time to total concentration on our driving — avoiding other thoughts. We might start with only ten or five minutes and extend the time as we make progress. We may use any downtime during the day, like waiting in line, for mind exercises, which improve our awareness of our thoughts.

Some people like to set an alarm every hour to take one minute to focus on love. What we think about during these few minutes may vary, but in general, it involves asking ourselves how we can make life nicer for those around us. These exercises are essentially mindfulness training that is specifically applied to the art of loving.

Any glimpse of awareness of the constant influence of egotistic impulses is a step toward our goal, and we immediately feel its effect.

As soon as we reject such an impulse, we feel contentment. To identify a self-serving drive, we just have to ask ourselves if a particular inclination is directed at helping ourselves or others. For example, thinking about going to the golf course is serving our drive for pleasure (unless we do it solely to please a friend who asked us to go along). While there is nothing wrong with enjoying a round of golf, we need to realize that the satisfaction is brief.

In contrast, spending time on loving activities, such as visiting our parents, taking the children out, and doing household tasks, is associated with lasting contentment because these activities increase the happiness of others. Obviously, some self-serving impulses are essential to follow, including eating, drinking, and sleeping. Taking time for ourselves for exercise, recuperation, and rest also is critical. We should strive, however, to remain mindful of love all the time.

The bad news is that there is no easy way to maintain our focus on love.

Meditation, prayers, and mindfulness exercises typically require years of practice to master. Each of us has to figure out what method works best for us, but all approaches require discipline and patience. Whether and to what extent we succeed largely depends on how important the goal of mastering the art of love is to us. If we prioritize it over other concerns, we will make good progress. The good news is that it gets easier with practice.

Many will feel that the entire process sounds dreadful and antithetical to the ease and spontaneity we associate with love. Unfortunately, love is not magical in the sense that it simply comes over us and remains forever. Love is magical because it is life’s amazing, central force.

Another way to think about this undertaking is as a wonderful opportunity to choose a certain path to happiness.

Focusing on love requires work, but the dedication pays off. It’s like learning to ride a bicycle: at first, it is hard and requires our full concentration. Once we have mastered the skill, we don’t even have to think about it.

We tend to proceed along the path of least resistance.

The lures of instant gratification are tempting. When we feel anger, it is gratifying to release it by swearing or acting out. When we feel aggression, it seems empowering to channel all that energy into acts of violence. When we feel lustful, it is rewarding to engage in sex. Giving in to these impulses is easy, but they bring only short-term satisfaction, and sometimes they endanger our chances of experiencing lasting love.

Excerpted from the book The Forgotten Art of Love: What Love Means and Why It Matters. Copyright ©2017 by Armin Zadeh. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.

About the author

Armin Zadeh, MD, Ph.D., MPH, is the Director of Cardiac Computed Tomography and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. He has authored more than 100 scientific articles, is an editor of scholarly books in medicine, and is a regular speaker at scientific meetings around the world. 

Dr. Zadeh was born and educated in Düsseldorf, Germany, where he attended medical school. After initial postgraduate training in Germany and the United Kingdom, he came to the United States in 1995 to complete his education and training in medicine, public health, and research. He is the author of The Forgotten Art of Love: What Love Means and Why It Matters.

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