1-The Physiology of Love
To explain the physiological source and manifestation of love, we need to give a brief insight into the mechanism of brain activities in general.
The nervous system responsible for processing information is called the central nervous system (CNS) and consists of the brain and the spinal cord. This is composed of two types of cells called neurons and glia. Neurons are the basic information processing structures in the CNS and glia are their helpers (providing structural framework to synapsis and after math support). We have 200 billion neurons in one brain, and 10,000 specific type for each task that the brain does. Their general function is to receive INPUT ‘information’ (from the senses), process that information then send it as OUTPUT to other areas that lead to resolution of actions, feelings, emotions, sensations, and every thing else.) All these receiving/sending functions happen through connections among the neurons called SYNAPSES. The number of these synapses is so large that it is predicted to be greater than the number of starts in the entire universe.
The love symptom: Thanks to Neuro-imaging, nowadays we can map the brain activities into the CNS, and tell the location of most feelings.
Dr Ortigue and colleagues from Syracuse and Western Virginia universities and the University Hospital of Geneva, believe that there are 12 areas of the brain involved in passionate love – the caudate nucleus/putamen, thalamus, ventral tegmental area, insula, anterior cingulate, posterior hippocampus, occipital, occipito-temporal/fusiform region, angular gyrus/temporo-parietal junction, dorsolateral middle frontal gyrus, superior temporal gyrus, and the precentral gyrus.
According to an fMRI-scan-based study, romantic love takes place in the Caudate Nucleus and Putamen areas of the brain, which is part of the Striatum, a subcortical part of the forebrain and a critical component of the reward system, which are associated with the brain chemical dopamine and with sensations of euphoria and reward. Through a study based on experiment with 17 man and women described as being truly and deeply in love with their partners, it was registered that other brain activities was also seen to increase after presenting the lover with photos of their beloved. This increase took place in the post-erior hippocampus, an area involved in memory and mental associations. However, there was a considerable drop in activity in areas associated with anxiety and fear. Deep love involves brain areas that specialises in emotion, motivation, reward, social cognition, attention, and self-representation or body image. Increase in activities in these areas lead to similar change in the levels of chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, vasopressin, and a decrease of serotonin, which results in the classic love symptoms, like obsessively thinking about the beloved, craving for a union with him/her, euphoria, and greater energy.
The collection of brain areas that are active in passionate or romantic love appear to be unique to that particular kind of love, with research showing that maternal and unconditional love involve other areas.
Whereas a study at the University of Montreal into unconditional love (as practiced by Buddhist monks) shows that brain regions not implicated in romantic or maternal love (including BA 13 and BA 32) were activated.
An MRI based study was conducted on Tibetan monks practicing “love kindness” proved that the medial prefrontal cortex was activated (an area usually associated with empathy) and the Striatum (an area associated with other types of love, such as maternal love).
3- An fMRI Scan based study on maternal love found the location to be the caudate and putamen (Striatus), Insula and ACC, exactly like pure romantic love when it does not involve sexual desire. The most important fundamental in maternal love is found to be the oxytocin’s ability to shut off certain areas of the brain that usually stirs negative ideas and uncomfortable feelings such as the Putamen (part of the Striatum) which is capable of very negative thoughts.
2- My Second Conclusion
Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Personally speaking, I agree with all the above theories that pure love can be in fact altruistic or unconditional; which means a readiness to give without seeking a selfish reward. My sole reservation about this perspective here is, when studying the phenomena of unconditional love in a group of complete strangers who are not interacting, the concept of Love is usually confused with the actual feeling of acceptance or appreciation. What makes researchers usually slip into this misconception is the fact that unconditional love is claimed to be applied, at least in theory, towards everyone and everything around us. Because a full interaction with the subject of unconditional love is seen to be impossible, there is a tendency to call a positive view about the world; love, which is in my opinion wrong.
In essence, the elaboration of unconditional true love within us (as oppose to mere acceptance) cannot be achieved through the bringing forth of the idea of the will to love into the mind during meditation. In other words, no matter how much and how long we spent pondering about the concept of love, and no matter how long we spent commanding the mind to love unconditionally, genuine love cannot take place. This is due to the complex mechanism of love and to the fact that most factors that lead up to it, are in fact by-products of the subconscious. The best we can achieve actually from such training is a deeper insight into the Self in relation to altruistic love, and the elaboration of acceptance through the overcoming of aversion. The overcoming of aversion itself leads to a neutral state of feeling towards things that we have, prior to this, perceived to be intolerable. This state of neutral feeling is also at times mistaken for unconditional love.
When I first gave my life to Jesus based only on one truth: his unconditional love for me, I suddenly felt a love fountain growing inside of me. This became a source of another life from within.
Psalm 63:3 ESV “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”
It’s hard to describe this with mere words but it may help you to understand if I said that coming out of this experience eight years later has caused me to feel death from within, even though everything else was functioning well in my life. The nagging feeling of death was extremely subtle compared to our overwhelmingly eventful reality, and so I needed to develop a focused consciousness through Mindfulness meditation to realise what was happening.
“When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions”
Buddhism is one of the spiritual movements that are big on both love and meditation. It teaches its followers to practise loving and kindness meditation to cultivate love and compassion for others. When I was discovering Buddhism back in 2011, I practised that too. After about two years, I reached two conclusions:
First, opening oneself to love cannot happen upon command. Talking about the concept of love is nothing like experiencing the real feeling. And so, instructing someone to love is just futile. This feeling can only be experienced through a one-to-one relationship with someone we trust. And though they maybe in desperate need for love, people usually only love if they feel loved unconditionally.
Second, I realised that what Buddhism calls ‘love’, I would call ‘appreciation’ instead. Therefore, I realised that the Loving and kindness meditation tries to reinforce acceptance in the followers’ minds towards their fellow humans, rather than love in the sense that I experienced before, when I was filled with the Holy Spirit, and felt dead without it. I, therefore, concluded that Buddhism didn’t have the answer to the need for a personal and loving relationship with a creator. It is unable to fill that bottomless pit within one’s soul.
Buddhism, I found, could encourage people to be polite and considerate towards each other, help one another and secure a peaceful and contented life. Though it could never teach them to feel true love, joy and peace, because the love, joy and peace I’m talking about here (those I know from my own experience) are not something that could be achieved through learning and training.
Therefore, I conclude that man cannot develop love by himself.
1 John 4:10 “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Love is God’s gift to his children who seek him passionately and diligently. So, love and the Holy Spirit are one. We can only truly love if we were filled by the Holy Spirit.
Romans 5:3-5 ESV “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”