What is Unconditional Love?

When the founder of Mens Yoga shared with me his purpose in starting the company was, in his words, “to feel unconditional love”, I felt like this was something to discuss, to share, to appreciate. Then, I realized, that we first had to define what unconditional love really is before we could build a company with this in mind.

For many, a love without conditions might mean something like, “You can just be you, and I love you anyway”. For me, it was always more along the lines of, “Even if you destroy my house, steal my things or intentionally hurt me, I still love you”. Which sounds ridiculous as I type it – but what if I were speaking of a dog? An infant? A grandparent with dementia?

Conditional Love

By saying to ourselves, “This person deserves my love, while this person doesn’t,” or, “I can only love them when they act the way I want them to,” we’re attaching conditions to our love. This is different however than creating healthy boundaries; while love can be unconditional, relationships always have conditions. Let me explain.

I can say to a loved one, “I love you unconditionally”, and my love exists no matter what happens. (Which, depending on your spiritual practice, lies true 100% of the time). I can also say, however, “I love you unconditionally, yet I have conditions on how I want to be treated”, instead of, “I love you unconditionally, but you have to act this way to earn that”.

What’s the difference?

In one instance, we say it doesn’t matter what someone does, they’re Love. They just are.

In the other instance, we’re saying they’re Love only if they behave a certain way. Which of course, isn’t true.

The last instance – and the most realistic and healthy – we’re saying it doesn’t matter what someone does, they’re Love. We’re also saying that if they want to be a part of our lives, they need to respect our boundaries. Loved, yes, no matter what, but perhaps not physically present or in each other’s lives.

A Very Wet Metaphor for Love

Using another perspective, let’s look at a gent in the rain and these three different options:

  • He’s being rained on, and the water feels like love coursing over every inch of his physical body.
  • He’s being rained on, and he gets upset at the rain for making him wet. “Hey, rain! I don’t want you to make me wet, that’s not our agreement!” He yells. Nothing changes, and he gets more and more upset with every drop that touches his physical body.
  • He’s being rained on, and while he recognizes the value in the water showering down upon him, he wants to remain dry. So, he grabs an umbrella.

Of course, there are an infinite number of examples I could use here. Hopefully, you find one that works for you, and one that feels right. (Please do share them in the comments, we all want to hear them!)

What We’re Really Saying When We Say We Want Unconditional Love

Like anything in life, when we say we want anything, it’s because we feel there’s a part of us somewhere, somehow, that doesn’t have it. Perhaps we feel undeserving, or that other people don’t show us space where we’re fully loved just as we are. Maybe we’ve yet to grab an umbrella, or we feel that only someone else can give us this feeling. Whatever the perception, the belief or the reasoning, while we believe it’s something we can or do find outside ourselves, it’s really (again, like anything in life) something we must find within ourselves.

So when the founder of Mens Yoga said he wanted to base the company on unconditional love, I can only assume he meant, “I want to be accepted for whom I am, as I am, no matter what I do or don’t do”. Which, of course, is a valid and honorable want, and one that many of us can identify with. The focus, however, just like with yoga, is that we must start with ourselves.

What Yoga Says About Unconditional Love

If we look to the philosophy of yoga for answers, we find that there are four states of mind to cultivate that embody unconditional love: lovingkindness (metta), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha). Usually, yoga teachers and/or gurus will focus on the first two with beginner students, moving towards the last two with time, persistence and attention.

Metta is very much related to two, seemingly disconnected words: gentle (like a soft rain – there’s that water analogy again), and friendship. It refers to the kind, non-grasping, detached yet very loyal feeling we have towards someone we know, but perhaps not intimately, or at least, with any sort of negative attachments. It is, literally, loving and kind. Karuna, on the other hand, refers to the removal of suffering, the transformation of suffering into an understanding, an acceptance, peace.

Interestingly, of the thousands of meditations I’ve ever done solo, followed, or took part in with a focus on lovingkindess, all of them took metta and karuna and compiled them into one practice. Almost always – except in Tonglen where we “breathe in suffering and breathe out compassion” – we focus on loving ourselves with gentle friendliness, and then we work on accepting ourselves wholly, as we are. Only then can we focus outward, and share this practice with strangers, loved ones, and even those we dislike strongly.

Mudita, according to yogic theory, is found in everyday moments. The smell of your first new car, gulping fresh air on top of a mountain we’ve just climbed, a beaming smile from a beautiful stranger. When we love unconditionally, completely, and fully, we’re surrounded by these moments. They come with every breath.

The last of the four states of mind, upekkha, offers the most challenging of the group for most. It states that it’s not only possible, but, preferable to find non-attachment with others. It falls somewhere outside of indifference and detachment, and very, very difficult to describe. I personally only discovered equanimity when I chose a Day of Namaste, but many find it in other ways, and usually only once they’ve found some level of mastery with metta and karuna.

How Do We Love Unconditionally?

In my experience, loving anything or anyone unconditionally means first learning to love ourselves. It means understanding where we’ve put conditions on our own experience, perception and beliefs, and learning to let go of whatever isn’t true. (Hint: you’re loved, no matter what). It also means understanding when we need an umbrella, and being willing to just grab it peacefully and softly, instead of needing to yell at the rain for being wet.

So, am I saying our beloved founder doesn’t love himself with this post? Nope, nada, not even close. Instead, try to think of it like this:

When it rains, you can choose to complain, feel loved, or any matter of things. When you get dressed in the morning, you can pick clothes that make you feel amazing, just okay, or anything, really. So, if it’s your choice – and it is – why not choose to love whatever you have, whomever you are, whatever you wear, wherever you live, unconditionally?

This is what we want to do with Mens Yoga, to help people understand it’s a choice. To reunite them with their true Selves, their highest good, the Love that’s within all of us. Can a clothing company offer this? You betcha, and we hope to prove it to you.

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