Plenty of mystics, saints, and religious thinkers have deeply examined unconditional love, but only recently have scientists begun studying it. I’m one of them, and I’ve been wondering lately what gets in the way of more research into this profoundly transformative, self-transcendent, and motivating human experience. I have come to believe it’s because scientists are trained to think unconditional love belongs squarely in religion’s camp, a camp we are trained to ignore.
As an academic, I was raised in a secular humanist tradition that wouldn’t touch the G-word unless we were trying to understand why people would ever believe in such foolishness. After lots of personal experiences, I am grateful now to say that I have a private relationship with God that I treasure.
But I still spend time with many people who assume that by claiming such a relationship I am basically implying that my brain doesn’t work right.
So to be inclusive of diverse feelings about God, I won’t say the G-word again once I’ve finished this sentence: If anything can be said to matter to God, what matters most is working towards whatever improves our capacity to access unconditional love.
Said in a secular way, I think boosting awareness of how to access unconditional love will lead toward positive outcomes for humanity.
Toward that goal, here are five provocative ideas about unconditional love — some can be tested by any scientist willing to go there, others are probably not testable. Some of these ideas arise from work we’ve done at TILT: The Institute for Love and Time with our collaborators and partnering institutions, and others are from my own experience as a mystic-scientist.
1. Unconditional love is an inside job.
Unconditional love is related to agape (divine love) and evolutionary love (transformative love), both of which have many definitions of their own. These have been combined into a definition that, as far as I am aware, is the only secular definition of unconditional love to have been used in multiple psychology experiments.
Here it is:
Unconditional love is the heartfelt benevolent desire that everyone and everything — ourselves, others, and all that exists in the universe —…