Love: A Mystical Experience & A Series of Chemical Reactions?


“All year round the lover is mad,
unkempt, lovesick and in disgrace.
Without love there is nothing but grief.
In love… what else matters?”-

One afternoon early in 2009 my wife made a scathing comment on my insensitivity towards romantic love. “Why do you call yourself an author on love when you can’t even write one article about love?” In those early days I had barely written a few words in what was to become Yoga and Love a good three years later.

“Wow!” I thought to myself. “I must either be totally crazy or a very brave soul to dare venture into the sanctum of the finest of human emotions, love.”

Before beginning I chuckled to myself thinking Rumi, Shakespeare, Tagore and the likes must be turning in their graves to see a rookie attempt an arduous task. To write about love, I thought, one must have the sensitivity of a poet, the nobility of a Samurai, the precision of an eagle and a mighty heart of a lion. As I dwelled on my insufficiencies, a quote from Plato gave me hope. “At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet.”

What is Love? 

The dictionary defines love as “a deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness.” This insatiable seeking towards underlying oneness is probably the true goal of all lovers where a lover longs to unite with his beloved. Love, culturally, in common parlance has been predominantly assumed to be romantic love between man and woman. Most people are not even aware of the difference between selfish and unselfish love.

The best examples of love offered to us are the tragic love stories of Antony & Cleopatra, Laila & Majnu, and Romeo & Juliet. These stories, though inspiring at a certain level, by no means are the standard. Digging a little deeper we find that throughout history the engines of love, from generation to generation, have been mystics with a romantic heart. The great ones love all equally. As Swami Vivekananda once said, “I will come again and again, for I have fallen in love with humanity.” The towering monuments of love have been Christ, Buddha, Krishna, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Rumi, etc. Their definition of love is a mystical experience, infinitely expanding, and all inclusive feeling of ever deepening ecstatic exhilaration.
Can everybody feel this love or is it exclusive to only a privileged few? Is it possible to have a scientific basis to this? I thought of presenting love from both a biological and mystical point of view and ending with an inspirational love story that would probably give us a holistic view.

What happens biologically when you are in love?

There has been extensive study on neuronal reactions and how our brain responds when and during love. Some scientists have likened it to a concoction of chemical reactions. According to Helen Fisher, anthropologist and well-known love researcher from Rutgers University, “when you are in love two chemicals are released in the brain; dopamine (pleasure chemical) and nor epinephrine. Together these two chemicals produce elation, intense energy, sleeplessness, craving, loss of appetite, and focused attention.”

She also says, “The human body releases the cocktail of love rapture only when certain conditions are met.”

Is Love a mystical experience?

Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School began to research the intersection between the brain and religious and spiritual experiences. In this work, also sometimes referred to as Neurotheology, Newberg described the possible Neurophysiological mechanisms associated with religious and spiritual experiences.

Some of the questions that intrigued Dr. Newberg were “Is divine love related to human love, and if so, how? Can studying human love perhaps provide useful clues about the neuroscience of divine love? After all, Sister Diane, one of the Carmelite nuns, whose Unio Mystica state was neuroimaged by Mario Beauregard. As reported below, it compares her love for God to the way two people love each other. When they fall in love, they feel a physical rush. They blush. They feel tingly.”

“That,” she says, “Is the kind of love young nuns feel for God when they experience Unio Mystica. But over time, the love deepens and matures.”

Inspirational Story

At its core love is an individualistic mystical experience which happens within one’s own self either stimulated by a significant other or humanity or an idea. Love has been important enough to cause wars & take lives. So let us spread this precious gift which is the only commodity which multiplies when shared. I end with a beautiful quote from Bertrand Russell.

“Love brings ecstasy and relieves loneliness.
In the union of love I have seen
In a mystic miniature the prefiguring vision
Of the heavens that saints and poets have imagined.”