09/03/2014 12:33 pm ET Updated Nov 03, 2014

Love as a Virtue and a Principle

Hafiz, the Sufi mystic and poet stated,

"The subject tonight is love and for tomorrow night as well, as a matter of fact I know of no better topic for us to discuss until we all die."

We often think of love as an emotion we experience, an emotion characterized by the desire to be close to another person, the sense of cozy pleasure we feel in a relationship. This emotional aspect of love is usually perceived as warmth, attraction, intimacy, closeness and excitement. In the ancient Greek language, this kind of love was called Eros. If we limit our understanding of love to the experience of transient emotions alone, we are on extremely unstable ground. So what is the concept of love that is not dependent upon changing circumstances and varying perceptions? Is there a kind of love that endures under all circumstances?

Whether we enjoy someone's company or not, whether we admire their character or not, we can still honor a person from a spiritual perspective simply because, we are all created from the same spirit. The 19th-century poet, author and transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, coined the word "oversoul" to define this shared relationship.

In this definition of love we make a commitment to remember the truth of our oneness and treat others with respect and kindness no matter if they are worthy of such sentiments or not. Loving another person in this way is respecting their divinity, which is the same as ours. This is a reliable foundation for a positive relationship. When we find ourselves angry or fearful, all love is not lost. We must turn our attention to the principle of love, which calls us to be gentle, kind and to treat others with respect despite the life-constricting emotions of anger and fear. This concept of love is what the ancient Greeks called Agape love -- a love that honors all others.

Gary Chapman, in his book, Love as a Way of Life devotes a chapter to each of the seven characteristics of an authentically loving person: kindness, patience, forgiveness, courtesy, humility, generosity and honesty. These are not vague characteristics of a person; they are habits that we train ourselves to put into practice in our daily lives. These habits create profound satisfaction in our relationships. Cultivating these habits in all of our relationships requires we think of love as a principle of respect rather than a transient and unreliable emotion.

This practice is more relevant now than ever before because of the feelings of alienation and disconnect in our high-tech society. When we have love to give, we can express it with respect, kind words and actions, even when the conditions don't seem to warrant loving-kindness. To foster love, we have to be honest in little and big matters.

To demonstrate love, we can give our undivided attention whether we are at work or at home. Just silently listening and being present can be a loving gesture. Never forget that love can be applied to any problem. Since this life is short, savor moments by being fun-loving and relishing connections with others. Each day, make a conscious choice to live lovingly and express love to yourself and others.