Monday, February 26, 2018

Whats Meant To Be....

Hi all,

Finding myself considering recent life events, both along my own path, as well as for more than one person close to me, I decided on writing about the universe and how things tend towards playing out in our lives.

Back when I was getting divorced about 5 years ago, I read a little book that had a profound effect on my life mantra and thoughts going forward.  This book, non fiction, self help, inspirational of sorts, based loosely on Buddhist theory, had an overarching theme of how we interpret the events in our lives, which I believe has the power to shift the way in which we move along in our own life in very profound ways.

The book talks about the fact that everything right now in your life is exactly as its supposed to beAll of it.  The good, and the seemingly bad.  The universe does not make mistakes.  That everything which occurs is just what is meant to be happening.  Each and every thing, making up the bigger picture of whom we are supposed to grow into and become.  And that additionally, the universe hand tailors each of our "problems" or own personal challenges to be the very things that will both, 1. challenge us where we personally need it the most, and 2. thus, inspire the greatest amount of new growth within- if we are so apt to meeting said challenge.

If you are able to guide your thinking toward along these lines, it can become a source of comfort, resilience and inspiration when experiencing the difficult, heartbreaking, more trying times throughout your life.  That is not to downplay, nor dismiss them.  Its not to brush painful things under the rug and say, "eh, its what's meant to be, so get over it."  Not at all. 

Instead, the point is more along the lines of: things throughout your life will be immensely painful.  But, in looking at painful events through this lens, knowing the universe has your back, that its happening for a bigger reason and in trusting this reason (which maybe you cannot see clearly at this very moment, but likely will at some point down the road on reflection).

To me, this can allow one to feel less afraid of the pain.  Potentially less scared of letting go.  It can help one to feel braver and stronger, in whatever difficult thing you are experiencing.  Knowing that while it hurts and its hard, its what you personally are meant to be going through at that very moment.  That its an important piece of the puzzle along your life path, making up the big picture of whom you are meant to become and grow into.  That the universe knows what its doing.

That, while you still will feel pain, at the same time though, you can feel safe and trust in what is happening as well.

I know for many, even most, this is easier said than done.  I found this to be a resonating, poignant, helpful way of thinking though when I was going through a major loss myself.  Keeping these thoughts in mind transformed the way I handled the challenges and sadness, (and in how I have experienced loss and heartache since).  It still hurt deeply.  There were moments even, when I could barely breath, crying so hard, my heart actually aching.  Beneath it though, I carried a new sense of hope and comfort in knowing it was what was meant to be happening.  That it was ok, I would be ok, and that in the big picture, it was leading me along the way of who I am meant to be and become.

This line of thinking is closely tied to the concept of Grace, as well as synchronicity and meaningful coincidences.  The woman who laments wanting to find love, searching for it as months go by, feeling dejected and sad.  Someone close to her assuring her, just be patient, love will come when its the right moment.  The teacher doesn't show up until the student is truly ready, she reassured this woman she loves, who so wants romantic love.  And thus, a handful of months later, a seeming wonderful romantic relationship comes along.

Take the handfuls of people who get into devastating car wrecks, their cars totaled, crunched into obliteration.  Accidents that, no human being would walk away from at least without being quite injured, let alone alive.  And yet, several people have crawled out from this very level of wreckage and walked away without a scrape on them.  While loads of other people who get in less severe wrecks are killed.  How does one explain this?  You could brush it off as coincidence, or, in looking at the bigger picture, acknowledge that too many people have walked away from serious, death defying wreckages unscathed to brush it off as mere "coincidence."

How about the person who is thinking of someone with whom they were once quite close but haven't spoken to in years.  And that very day, said person emails or calls them?  Shocking this person to the core, as they haven't communicated with one another for years and years.  This would be synchronicity at its finest.  Though it could either be a positive or negative lesson meant to be learned in this coincidence-only time will tell, its still synchronicity.

How about the job someone loses, finding themselves devastated, feeling lost, dejected, not knowing what to do or where to turn to next, only to find a few years later that in having lost that job, it led them to a far better one.  A career path way more rewarding than they had ever imagined previously having.  That at the time, the job loss had seemed like the worst possible thing, only to have it turn out to be one of the best.  In the short term though, this was an impossible thing to see.  Only over the long term, in looking back months or even years later, was the reason for why this happened to them made clear and obvious.

Or, the relationship that ends, leaving someone heartbroken and crushed.  This someone ruminating on said ending for months and months and months.  Assuming they will never meet someone "so great" again, that this loss was the worst thing to happen to them, that now they are alone, feeling wracked with regret and sadness.  Only to find a few years later, once they have finally healed, let go and moved on, that they meet a far deeper, healthier, more poignant love.  That actually, they hadn't even meant their greatest love yet.

In allowing the universe to do its work and trusting in said work for each of us individually, that the universe is presenting each of us with exactly whatever it is we are meant to be learning, experiencing, letting go of, or solving, this can be an uplifting, inspiring, resilience increasing way to live. 

Again, it doesn't mean we will not feel pain over difficult things.  We will, most certainly.  However adapting such beliefs can be life changing with regards to how we process and move through both positive awesome experiences, as well as challenges, losses, and difficulties.  Trust that things happen exactly as they are meant to.  That its all making up the bigger picture of who you are meant to become and the direction in which you are meant to be going.  

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

How Labels Shortchange Us

While labels do serve several purposes (convenience, easy quick explanation when needed), I believe that more often than not, they actually instead tend towards shortchanging us, offering only minute levels of understanding of much bigger and more complex pictures, and just generally tend to be sort of lame.  Allow me to please explain.

1. The same labels are used and applied as blanket titles of sort, when actually, they are likely being used on what are vastly different types of relationships, connections and experiences

Such as, the labels of boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, sister/brother, and friend.  For instance, in considering the word "husband," while one husband might be kind hearted, doting, loving, and in love with his wife.  The two of them sharing a deep emotional connection and friendship.  All while another husband routinely ditches his wife, isn't attentive or kind, and even occasionally gets physical with her.  

Those are two opposing extreme examples, I realize.  But the point being, both are called "husband" when the nature of what they mean to their wives, as well as the roles they tends towards filling in general, are worlds apart and completely different from one another.  So why is it that they earn the same title/label?  This, to me, seems not quite right.  The same word is used though simply because its easier.  However, the problem with this is that easy labeling gives us zero understanding into what the relationship actually is.

Additionally, take the label of "friend."  Or even, "close friend."  While one of these people in our life might be consistently there for us, loyal, kind, fun to be with and puts in much effort to the relationship, another friend by whom we call the same title might be generally kind and fun, someone we really like and often confide in but also frequently flakey, someone who lets up down a fair amount, and someone who isn't especially awesome all the time.  Yet, how is it that both of them are given the same title?  When these are clearly two friendships with very varying nuances to them.

The words "brother/sister," tell you nothing about the nature of that relationship.  Some siblings absolutely hate each other.  Others have soul mate like depth and closeness between them.  Many others have some graduation in between.  But that label doesn't tell you much of anything with regards to such.

2.  Labels are narrow and immediately conjure up certain assumptions, which may or may not be true.  In fact, very likely much of the time, they will not be. 

A few examples: one with regards to human sexuality.  The labels we have available for use are "straight," "bisexual" and "gay."  That's it.  When in reality, human sexuality exists on a wide swinging spectrum.  Something more along the lines of a 1-20 type of rating (1 being straight as an arrow, 20 being gay, with much possibility in between).  Most people are not a "1" or a "20."  Most fall somewhere along the continuum.  Someone might be a 3, another person may be a 7, while another is a 16.  Someone can generally be attracted to one gender, but have fleeting moments of attraction to the other.  This doesn't make them "gay," nor even "bisexual" necessarily, depending on the level and depth of attraction felt fleetingly for the less commonly attracted to gender.

Yet, we live in a culture that loves labels.  So most people would respond to such a situational with something like, "well, then that means he/she is bisexual.  If they feel attraction, ever, to the other gender too, then they are bi.  End of story."  But does it?  What is they have merely fantasized about kissing the same gender once or twice, but the idea of going further with them feels over the line and un-arrousing.  To me, that isn't so simple as being bisexual.  Its less so, but not quite a "1" either.  Thus, this person falls on the continuum somewhere.  Our society is not one that likes ambiguity.  We need to label things clearly, in neat little boxes.  It makes us feel more comfortable.  Black, white.  Good, bad.  Right, wrong.  Ugly, beautiful. 

Another example of labels being narrow and conjuring up certain (often untrue) assumptions.  The label of "mentally ill."  This carries, for a lot of people, much stigma.  People make assumptions like "crazy," or other detrimental, simplistic, more often than not incorrect assumptions about such a label.  All of which remove possibility and complexity from all that make up who a person really is.

3.  Labels can be, sometimes, possessive.  "My" girlfriend.  "My" best friend.  Connections between people are complex, layered, fluid, and yes, tenuous.  Attempting to posses someone by calling them "mine" is both unfair and unhealthy.  They are someone with whom you have a unique connection, whatever the nuances and depth of that might be.  They are also a free, independent being.  You do not posses them in any way.  While I don't think this is usually intentional, I do think sometimes labels can carry this tone to them.

4.  While labels serve to quickly, conveniently convey to an outsider some fast, basic facts in a nutshell, they often equally serve in cheapening or shortchanging whatever they are attempting to be conveying.  Such as, the label of "girlfriend" or "boyfriend."  Maybe over the course of a persons life, they have had 2, 3, 4 significant others, but each of these have been wildly differing connections, experiences, and have brought forth very different emotions.  

For example, maybe significant other #1, while seemingly at first was an exciting, good thing, turned out to be unhealthy, stressful, a toxic and generally negative match over the big picture after all.  That what you thought was love, in many ways, actually wasn't in retrospect.  Then, maybe significant other #2 was a happy relationship.  Someone you cared for very much.  It was a healthy, positive union, potentially even a bit more so of a close friendship.  Then possibly significant other #3 was more short and sweet, but intense.  For someone you felt strongly, but knew all along wasn't going to work.  Maybe it was an extramarital affair, maybe there was an expiration date on the relationship of some kind-which both of you knew of going into it, whatever the reason, while powerful, it was short lived.  And finally, maybe in significant other #4, this one had potent, intense chemistry between the two of you.  The relationship was somewhat challenging, but equally such fun.  It was healthy and supportive.  Deeply emotional.  This being the one that packed the most powerful emotional wallop of them all.  The one for whom you felt the strongest.

Each of these connections/relationships and emotional experiences were quite different from one another.  And yet, we would label them all collectively as having been either "girlfriends" or "boyfriends" (depending on the gender).

Don't get me wrong, I get it.  Labels serve as a quick, easy stamp on something to help convey some semblance of meaning and the nature of the relationship to outsiders.  Going into in-depth explanation about all the nuances, as in the example above regarding different relationship experiences, there are only specific times and places for such.  So I realize that labels do serve a purpose, for sure.  There are times when the label is needed, and is the only appropriate explanation or answer for a given situation.  So I am not arguing against labels totally.  I am merely making the point that sadly, while they do serve a purpose, labels do tend to severely lack any depth or true sense of explanation to all that really lies behind such a label.

A label tells you nothing of what one person means to the other.  A label tells you nothing about whether or not a couple is in love, whether or not they are well suited, how strongly they feel for one another, or the depth of their emotional closeness.  A label tells you nothing about the true quality of friendship between two people.  It tells you nothing about what two people really feel for one another, of the layers of their relationship or experiences with one another.

5.  Labels are static, where life, emotional states, relationships, anything really, are not static at all. 

If I say, "I have depression," this is something that can ebb and flow, fluctuate and even disappear entirely, depending on the day, week, month or year.  If someone is devastated, lamenting having lost the "love of their life," only to realize later on down that road upon meeting someone else that actually, they were wrong about the previous one.  That there were bigger loves to come.  Having labeled that first, initial person as "love of their life" was incorrect.  These are two examples of labels that, despite being given in the moment with certainty and confidence, can change and evolve.  

Thus, labels in general, are rather narrowing.  They do not make much room for something great, different or new, now or down the road.  They don't invite in possibility.  They close it off.

In conclusion, I totally get that there is a time, place and purpose for labels.  Sometimes, we need them.  They offer a quick, easy explanation in many moments when just such is needed and even is the only socially appropriate way to go.  Labels in this sense, can be a good and functional thing.  However, I think we overuse them. 

I feel that labels tend towards shortchanging, sometimes cheapening, or taking away from the explaining of and understanding the things in our lives.  Whether it be our relationships with others (friends, romances, etc.), our sexuality, other passions and loves in our lives, etc.  There is a time and a place for labels.  But I believe its also rather crucial that we remember, labels only tell us so much.  In fact, they don't really tell us much at all.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

How seeking perfection can lead to misery

Being perfect.  Sounds awesome right?  Clocking in at your ideal weight, totally in shape and finally looking perfect.  Securing your ultimate dream job-and lets not stop there.  Your colleagues are all the most awesome BFFs you could possibly ask for, and your boss?  The bomb diggity.  He or she lets you work from home, take vacation whenever you want, and invites your departure on three hour lunches daily.  Now, imagine you are also a part of the most perfect romantic relationship, with never any challenges or bumps in the road.  Ever smooth sailing ahead.  Your partner always reacts the right way, is romantic, thoughtful, patient, never makes any mistakes or missteps, a dream person to date for sure.  You also have your dream house and ideal car.  Likely to be a pretty sweet life eh?  The bummer in there?  Unfortunately, it's impossible.

The quest for perfection is one of the quickest routes to misery, disappointment and resentment.  

Want to know why?

Because perfection doesn't exist.

Many of us out there, some more than others, have struggled with the urge towards perfection.  I too have had moments of frustration and disheartenment in accepting less than the top of what I had so hoped for and idealized.  However, those who ever strive for or chase after such perfection are chasing something they will never reach.  Ever leaving them frustrated and feeling as though having fallen short.  As though they aren't good enough.  As though having failed.  Inviting in emotions such as perpetual shame, regret and sadness.

Perfection is like a mirage.  Something you chase and follow, rushing after, only to have it vanish upon supposedly nearly reaching.  Seeing that each time you think you may have gotten there, instead it vanishes.

Ever seeking perfection ultimately means being caught in an endless cycle of seeking, and disappointment.

Why do people do this?  Get caught in such a cycle?  Those who are plagued with the need to be perfect are often attempting to mask insecurity.  Because if one is perfect, then there is nothing about them that could be seen as "less than."  Thus, a perpetual race after flawlessness is often a disguise of ones own lack of self worth.  For not believing they are good enough as they are.

Seeking high standards and striving towards being the best one can be is a great thing.  Having such a mindset can instill one with a sense of ambition, motivation and thirst for life.  It can also guide one towards making decisions that are likely to result in their having a deeply satisfying life.  A job they will truly love, high quality/emotionally fulfilling/healthy personal relationships, and hobbies that set them alight.  When one has high self esteem and strives towards being their best self, this can provide a great sense of direction to ones life path.

However, perfectionism is not the same thing.  Perfectionism, on the other hand, can create much added stress and sadness in ones life.  For instance, perfectionists can be so focused on the elusive perfect (aka non existent) thing they wish to obtain that they lose sight of what's around them.  Missing out on much beauty that would be likely to bring them significant and possibly even greater joy. 

Perfectionists often think they know what they need, that they already know the best way of doing things, and thus may not be as open to personal growth as those who aren't perfection striving.  This can hinder those with perfectionist tendencies from actually growing into the people they are capable of being. 

Additionally, perfectionism can impact ones health.  This can look like ever going, going, going, even at the cost of ones own mental, emotional, social or physical health.  Potentially resulting in detriment to ones body (loss of sleep, poor self care, etc), or damage to ones relationships as a result of either neglect in connection to their tunnel vision or to such unrealistic expectations.

To hone in on one aspect of how perfectionism can damage our lives, how does/can it affect relationships?

The will to become a better partner and person is one of the most desirable traits a prospective romantic partner can posses.  However, striving to be the "perfect" partner not only isn't possible, but it is not conducive to having happy unions with othersIn fact, intense perfectionists often hinder relationship growth and closeness.  These types often tending towards vacillating between two primary emotions: relief and dread.  A tumultuous rollercoaster of an emotional pattern for sure.  Perfectionists tending to spend a lot of time dreading the next failure, while successes are usually met with only temporary relief as opposed to feelings of long term fulfillment and satisfaction.

Perfectionist individuals are often highly sensitive to perceived rejection or possible evidence of failure, coupled with a rigid stance of bracing oneself in response to perceived failure.  And when a person is caught up in this kind of cycle, they are less likely to be interested or able in developing healthy, mutually satisfying, real relationships and instead, often spend much time chasing the elusive rabbit of perfection in his or her own head.

Perfectionists often struggle with being emotionally available or vulnerable.  Feeling as though they have to be strong and stoic all the time and thus, are less likely to tend toward showing their insecurities, worries and vulnerabilities with those to whom they are close. 

They can be fiercely competitive, which can set the stage for constant comparison and a sense of one-upmanship in relationships.  The exhaustion that comes with the perfectionists elusive search for such can lead to their giving up in the face of obstacles (some of which, they may have actually created with their own unrealistic expectations).

People who tend towards perfectionism can struggle with body image.  They can tend towards workaholism and burnout.  Nothing is ever enough, because it isn't "perfect."  They have to keep working, because it isn't perfect and thus, not good enough.  They have to push their bodies harder and harder, because their body still isn't good enough.  

Last but not least, the final caveat of perfection?  Believe it or not, if your life was absolutely perfect, as outlined in the opening statement of this article?  Talk about boring.  A major part of what makes life awesome, exciting, interesting and rewarding is in not knowing what's going to happen next.  Its within the striving towards something, and not knowing if you'll make it or not.  Its found within being surprised at the way things pan out, if you are able to delight in and roll with the surprise.  Its found in pushing through and navigating challenge. 

Stars cannot shine without darkness.  You cannot have one without the other.  So you see, its within the triumph, as well as failures, challenges, and setbacks, that make the whole canvas of life as awesome as it is.

For those who struggle with such a perpetual elusive search, there is a possible other way of living which doesn't mean giving up the striving towards being as great as you can be.  Remember, there is a difference between striving to be your best versus striving to both do and be perfect.  Perfectionism is a mindset and its of course, possible to re-wire ones way of thinking (though this can take some effort and active work). 

Truly happy and successful people will have, instead of a "perfection" mindset, a growth mindsetThey understand that life is a process of ups and downs

That we are constantly growing, shifting, succeeding, and yes, failing.  That we will do things right, and do things wrong.  That this is par and parcel to life.  That its what it means to be real and human.  

Authentic joy and genuine life satisfaction is found in striving towards your best, while in simultaneously accepting what is.  Reveling and finding awe, as well as worthwhile lessons, in both the light and the dark of life.  In finding worth within, accepting, and even embracing both of these opposing shades of life.  In being open to the people close to you being both beautiful, awe inspiring and wonderful, as well as at times, flawed, those who will make mistakes and who will have bad moments too.  Real happiness and life fulfillment is found in feeling the thrill of achievement and success, but also, in facing with bravery and acceptance, moments of failure, hardship, or less than what they had hoped for in that particular moment. 

Life is messy.  Its complicated.  This is what makes it really tough at times.  Its also what makes it wildly, stunningly, achingly and awesomely beautiful.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

How do you know its love? You all told me.

Hi Everybody!

I am excited to share this particular blog entry, as it isn't just my thoughts but a compilation of the thoughts from some of those nearest and dearest to me as well.  That's right, I asked a decent birth of people within my life, several questions with regards to their own thoughts, perceptions and personal experiences, about love.

-For instance, what is love?  Is it a feeling?  An action?  Both?
-How do you know when its love?  What does this both look and feel like?
-What differentiates between, say, just caring deeply for someone versus actually loving them?
-Do you believe in soul mates?

To name most of the questions.

Anonymity was promised to my participants, so instead of names I have assigned each one of them a random, arbitrary letter.  So for example, if someone is Respondent "C", they will remain that same letter throughout the article.  Each of their answers being labeled "Respondent "C."

What I so loved about this little project was, in reading the answers and perceptions of those to whom I am close, finding myself gaining new insights, stumbling on thought provoking epiphanies myself via their own lessons and perceptions on love, and just really enjoying reading all their varying thoughts on this topic. 

My aim with this little project of sorts was to both prove that: everyone perceives, experiences and feels love a bit differently than others.  But, that at the same time, there are constants that remain similar for all with regards to love- both how it feels and what we think of it. 

The answers I received supported this hypothesis.  Its true, everyone experiences and perceives love differently.  Yet, most of the responses also touched upon similar trajectories, impressions, and ideas.  All of them were a little bit different, but all sang like minded tunes.  Way cool, and lots of fun to read.  I hope you too enjoy reading it.

(Side note: And yes, I responded to the questions as well.  So within the grouping of respondents, I am one of them).

So, without further ado, the first question and then each persons individual responses to it.

1. What is love exactly?  A feeling?  An action?  Both?  Something else entirely?  How would you describe love, from your perspective?

Respondent “D”: 

Love is many things that get lumped into one word.  There are many different types of love.  Some people speak of following the golden rule.  That’s how I think of love.  To me that is soul-love because it holds someone’s basic being as unconditionally deserving love, dignity and respect even if we need to set boundaries with people’s actions or disagree with their thoughts.  
Some people become infatuated with someone’s mind or body because it brings them pleasure or stimulation because, well, they are smart or hot.  But this is a lower frequency.  It is important for compatibility but it is not unconditional love and it doesn’t last.
Some people become infatuated with attraction chemicals, the ones that bond us when we say we are “in love” but those are ephemeral and don’t last either.  
Some people say “love” and actually mean possession.  They mean to say “I possess my lover” or “I possess my friends” or “I possess my children”.  This is, of course, a corruption of the concept of “love” in my opinion but I think it is common enough to name “possessive love”.  Also, possessive love can exist in a spectrum, as can soul love, body love, mind love, and emotion love or even social love (if you love someone’s personality).  
The highest vibration of love is soul love and on that level it is a concept, a principle, and stated most simply is the golden rule.  It is guided by kindness, compassion, and by courage.  It is not always pleasant or easy.  It is not always glamourous.  And it often asks of us to take the high road, which could bring suffering and extra difficulties upon us. 

Respondent “R”:
Love...hmm. Love is having the deepest respect and admiration for someone who inspires equally deep personal affection. Love is the desire to be emotionally open with that person and do all you can to make their lives fuller. 

Respondent “H”:

Romantic love to me is mostly a feeling. It's an excitement about the other person, knowing you can rely on them, sharing your life, feelings and passions with them. But it's also respecting the other person as well as providing them with freedom.

Respondent “C”:

Love is innate, it makes us human.  I feel love first and then it comes in to the action in different forms like gifting somebody, hug, kiss ,writing letters,  spending time or simply thinking about him/her in mind and sending those positive, love full vibrations.

Respondent “I”:

I believe that love is inexact. It’s so complex and it can be different in every situation, between any pair of entities. One may love through feeling comfortable without human interaction, as if star gazing or reading. Another may know it through caring for a pet. Still others may find it with partners, who give to each other experiences, pleasure, and support, certainly never in the same form from one partner to the next. 

Respondent “A”:
Love means a lot of things to me and takes many different forms. Sometimes it means having a deep connection and understanding of someone. Sometimes it means having an unswerving devotion and passion for someone. Other times it means accepting someone for who they are and caring about them in a way you can't always put into words. Love expresses itself in different ways and is specific to each person. The way I love my mother is not quite the same way that I love and cherish my childhood best friend. I love them both but in different ways. And only we know this love that we have. 

Respondent “E”:
To me, love is both.  A feeling, as well as action.  I don't think you can really have much of one without the other.  Someone can say they love someone, but if that's all it ever is, just words, and the person never displays such love through expression or action, to me, the words become empty.  As in the example, plenty of people say they love someone (a family member, a romantic partner, a friend) and then actually, don't treat them very well overall.  Sure, sometimes they may treat them decent, but too often, they treat said person they supposedly love pretty crappy.  This isn't love- whether they say "I love you," to that person or not.  So, the words "I love you," do not make it true.

Love is what you say, sure, but its less what you say and more about what you do.  But, ultimately, (to me) it’s both.  As well as, while someone may do all sorts of wonderful, kind things for you, if they never vocalize what they feel for you, this can be disheartening as well as doubt provoking too.  Because, what someone doesn't tell you, you cannot possibly know.  Yes, certain conclusions can be drawn and/or assumed based on action, but one can never know for sure unless said feelings are expressed and vocalized. 

So I believe that love goes hand in hand with both.  One hand, holding love as a feeling, and the other, holding love as an action.  
Love is a feeling.  You feel love.  A surging of affection for someone dear to you.  A sense of immense closeness with someone.  Yearning to be near them and in their company.  Thinking of them often.  A sensation of warmth and intense joy when spending time with them.  A deep concern for their wellbeing and that person in general.  A sense of protectiveness towards them.  A cherishing of who that person is, their personality overall, their good qualities, and yes, acceptance of their not so great ones too.  Feeling a sense of awe and major respect for that person- thinking that they are just an awesome human being.  To me, all of this makes up the big picture of what love can feel like.
Love is also action.  To name a few: going out of your way for someone.  Sometimes making huge sacrifices, even when it’s not convenient.  Love is truly listening.  Being fully present.  Giving someone the gift of your attention.  Love is responsiveness.  Love is forgiveness.  Love is thoughtfulness.  Making it clear that someone is on your mind.  Remembering their favorite things.  What is happening in their life.  The details of their inner experience as well as their past and present.  Love is generous, giving things for the other person.  Love is romance.  It’s also recognition.  Telling someone of their importance to you.  Remembering their birthday and acknowledging such.  Calling them, just to say hello.  Taking time out of your day to write someone important to you an email, even when you don’t have so much time.
To me, all of this is love.  Love can be and does manifest itself in so many different ways.  But ultimately, I think love is both a feeling and action.

Respondent “Y”:
I think there are 3 types of love:  Eros - love that is romantic and has a sexual component to it, Philos - love that is between people who like each other as friends, and Agape - love that is not about the characteristics of another, but a love that includes everyone because it is modeled after the love that God has for us all.

Eros love would have attraction and feelings but also would, in my viewpoint, require commitment and action to keep it alive.  Philos love is about mutuality and would also require a commitment and investment of time to deepen the shared connection.   Agape love has nothing to do with whether you like a person or what you do to earn their love, we are accepted because of what God does in loving them and us.

Respondent "G":

Love is both--a feeling and an action. You can not have one without the other. Love to me means the ultimate as far as your opinion of someone or something.

2. What does it mean to love?  What does this both look and feel like?

Respondent “D”
I think people mean different things when they say they love someone.  I think we have to define that for ourselves.  I think that there is romantic/partnership love which has its own sub-categories of love.  We are attracted to someone because of their personality and our chemistry together, that’s companionship love.  That has legs.  There is initial infatuation, often built on mental and physical attraction.  A lot of people call that love.  I think that when someone has that and also this deep companionship compatibility is when a lot of people actually say “wow, I’ve really fallen in love” as opposed to a crush.  It’s like, when we are mutually mentally/physically attracted to someone and our personalities fit together because of what we have to share, what we have to learn from one another and give to one another. 

Respondent “R”
To love is to treat the recipient with respect and honesty, to take their needs and feelings into consideration when your actions or decisions will affect them. Love is doing your best to be a positive presence in their life. Love is taking their criticisms seriously and not getting defensive. Most of all, love is wanting the person to be happy and healthy, even if that means you need to back off  and give them space for them to achieve that. 

Respondent “H”
Enjoying the presence of the beloved person. Looking forward insanely to spending time with them. Missing the beloved person when they're not around. That's always a good check :)

Respondent “C”
It’s a beautiful feeling when I love somebody I feel satisfied, after the action I took towards it.  On the other hand, when the person makes these actions towards me, I feel valued, special and content.

Respondent “I”
To love means to be one’s best self to another, one who’s best qualities complement the others. Love is having a true best friend with whom to share the best moments in life while knowing that one will be there for the other in tough times. It’s an insatiable desire for two entities to share time and space. Love is being dependable, being vulnerable, and being trustworthy. 

Respondent “A”
When I hear the word love I automatically think of a romantic love. I imagine the big smile across my face that I get when I think of the person I love... the complete joy and happiness I feel when I am close to this person. When they say something that makes you laugh and you just think that you couldn't love them anymore. However, I think love also looks like someone taking out the garbage every day. Or someone cooking homemade meals every evening. Love is a feeling and also an action. We all have our own specific ways of accepting love and expressing love. Some people need physical touch from another person to feel loved and accepted, while others need to hear words of affirmation from others to know and feel that they are loved.

Respondent “E”:
To me, some of the things love can look like: to love is to prioritize someone.  It’s to make a point of being present in that person’s life.  Everyone is busy.  Everyone has loads of competing priorities and "must dos" in their lives.  But ultimately, love is about those not getting in the way of still maintaining close connection with those who are special to you.  This is a key component of love.  As well as to vocalize what that person means to you.  Love is also being present with someone.  Giving them the gift of your full attention.  
To me, some of the ways love can feel: love feels like warmth.  Like a buoying in your heart.  A huge smile on your face.  Love can also feel like yearning, when missing someone or wishing for their company, to be able to spend time with them in person.  Love is having the upmost respect for someone.  It’s both, liking them immensely as a person, as well as loving them.  To me, love is knowing all about someone, the great/lightness/awesome aspects of them, as well as the challenging/darkness/tough stuff, and liking them just as much, your opinion of them not wavering with such knowledge.  Love is reveling in someone's company.  It’s also feeling incredibly comfortable and close to someone.  Its feeling a lot of joy when with them.  Love is not wanting to imagine your life without that person in it.  Romantic love includes feeling deeply drawn to someone.  Reveling in being close to them physically, whether just hugging, or for more intimate physical affection.
If you take any one of these as a singular item, in and of itself, that doesn’t necessarily make it love when singled out apart from the others.  But when combined, I feel like these (as well as things I haven’t listed) are much of what make up the sensation and action of love. 

Respondent “Y”:
I think that love, no matter what kind, puts a priority on the other person.   It does not require you give up who you are, but that priority recognizes someone is special enough to put their needs ahead of yours, and to trust that they are making your needs a priority to them.   My sister said before she was married that what she valued about her husband-to-be is that he is a person who loves her more than he loves anyone else.
It is not always easy to do that, and sometime we take the people we love for granted.   So, living love may not always feel like walking on clouds and being happy.  But with a healthy relationship, the feelings can be rediscovered, and are, continually, in a lasting relationship.   The miracle of my marriage is that we continually fall in love with each other.

Respondent "G":

To love means to respect, and desire. When you love a person you respect them. If you love something (like candy) you desire it.

3.  How do you know you love someone?  In comparison with say, experiencing feelings of strong caring and affectionate for a person, but not necessarily something as strong as love.  What differentiates the two of those?  Strong caring/affection versus love.

Respondent “D”
I would defer to what I said earlier, different types of love not usually distinguished and how people mean very different things when they use the same word.  Similar to the word ‘god’. 

Respondent “R”
You know you love someone when you're so mad at them you can't see straight, but you still remember to pick up their favorite juice from the store. When they make your insides glow when they are happy and devastate you when they let you down.

Respondent “H”
Affection vs love - for me, I would go to Point #2 to distinguish those two. :) The feeling that having the loved person around is absolutely essential to your life.

Respondent “C”
If I see an accident on the road which involved small kids or baby, I feel sympathetic towards them want to take care of them but that's not love. 

Respondent “I”: 
One of the distinctions is the extent to which those who are in love will go for each other. Namely, lovers will “drop everything” when the other is in need. Love will bring out the most creative side of people to offer their partners memorable experiences. Love is a deeper connection on emotional, intelligence, and physical levels. One can strongly care for another yet not yearn to speak to or spend time with the other for long periods while maintaining that bond. In contrast, time apart is almost painful for those in love. 

Respondent “A”
For me, there isn't a line I wouldn't cross for the people I love. In strong caring relationships there is usually a breaking point that people are not willing to cross, not because they don't care about them but because they don't have this deeper love. I can't think of anything that I wouldn't do if someone I loved asked of me. I am extremely loyal to those I love.

Respondent “E”:
This is a tough one.  I think with love, it’s a deeper, more powerful, poignant feeling.  As opposed to just strong caring and affection.  When you love someone or something, you will sacrifice or be willing to give up much for it/them.  Go majorly out of your way, give you’re much of all, to that person or thing.  If it really came down to it.
However, with strong caring, I don't necessarily think that same degree of sacrifice and going out of one’s way would apply.

Respondent “Y”:
The 2 factors that I can identify which influence the difference between strong affection and love are time and commitment.   I admit that others may be able to do this more quickly than I can.   But it has taken me time to recognize the shared experiences and love for that person are deep enough that they are more than fun times and casual connection.  Love stands up well to the long run and has the capacity to grow deeper.
Sometimes, I think it is the commitment to the other that does the work of turning an affection into love.   Commitment allows us to stay in the relationship long enough for it to deepen and grow, or to discover that it won’t/can’t grow.   Commitment is being purposeful in our thoughtfulness and allowing for mistakes to be made and forgiven so that we can learn how to love.   

Respondent "G":

When you love someone you want to be with them and do things for them--even if it means costing you dearly. Ex. I love Lucy so much I would give my life up for her, and I would give all my worldly possessions up for her up for her A parents love for their children and grandchildren is just as powerful. However, the husband and wife relationship has that "added attraction of an intimate sex life" that makes it different and special from all others.

If you care for someone you like you may not sacrifice for then. Such as, I like my friends Patty and Jerry but I would not sacrifice my life or worldly possessions for them.

4. What, in your perspective, is an oft misunderstood idea or belief with regards to love?

Respondent “R”
Love, even romantic love, isn't necessarily always limited to just one recipient. You can love people equally, if differently, without one detracting from the other. Most importantly, loving someone does not mean that person is the only relationship you need in your life. 

Respondent “H”
That having a romantic partner necessarily means becoming one single entity. That there is no Me and You but only We. Which is sad because you felt in love with an individual for certain reasons. I believe people should always think of themselves as individuals AND as a couple. But not just as one of those options.

Respondent “C”
I think, sometimes people says it's not love we just feel affectionate towards each other or something similar but I think when you go deep in the feeling and try to understand the roots, it’s always love. This is what I experienced. 

Respondent “I”
That love is strongest or most meaningful between a man and a woman. People tend to scoff at the notion that same sex couples, pets, and other passions are inferior to spousal love. Just because it is common doesn’t make it more important, and so it unfair to not put oneself in others’ shoes and understand how people can find true love with other entities. 

Respondent “A”
That there are many different ways you can love. Love isn't black and white. It's not only a man falling in love with a woman. It can be, but it's also someone loving their dog so much that they will pay thousands of dollars in medical bills just to save their life. It's someone still loving their ex-spouse because you can't always get rid of those feelings. Love can sometimes be messy but that's okay. That's what can also make it beautiful! 

Respondent “E”
That to truly love, one must be willing to give up their whole self for another.  I don't agree with this. You can love someone immensely, but draw lines with that person, and/or even decide to walk away.  And for any number of reasons.  Maybe realizing they are no longer good for you, for your emotional health or that the two of you just aren't a good match any longer.  Maybe your life values/desires/goals diverge widely and this requires one person giving up a lot in order to be with the other- things that, giving up, would devastate them inside and go deeply against the grain of who they are.  Maybe a new deal breaker surfaces- such as, one person decides they do want children after all while the other person does not.  Potentially, after the rose tinted glasses wear off, a person might realize that with whom they are in a relationship is not actually such a great person after all- so actually, its best that they exit the relationship.  Any of these with high possibility for resulting in a parting of ways.  The list can go on.  
But, I do not think loving someone means sacrificing all, beyond every means, to all end, for that person.  Sometimes, it does.  Absolutely.  This is of course, relative to each situation and to the specifics involved.  But other times, and often enough, it does not mean such.  Sometimes, you do love someone, but you also either have to say no, or even further, to let go.
(This can also go for platonic connections too, such as friendships or familial connections.  Letting them go as well, in realizing something no longer fits or one of them isn't good for you.  Same logic applies).

Respondent “Y”:
What I am talking about is love in a committed relationship/marriage.   And the misunderstanding is that sometimes love goes away so the relationship should end.  I know that love goes away, but in making a commitment to this relationship, it is our responsibility to our partner to recognize that early enough to deal with it before love is completely destroyed.   I will never claim that this is easy and it depends on good self-awareness, communication, and desire to do the hard work.

Respondent "G":

Love is often used flippantly such as " I would love to see a certain movie" or " I would love to have a pizza" . What the person means is they want to have a certain thing--has nothing to do with love. People use love all too often to mean things other than love.

5.  Do you believe in soulmates?  If yes, please describe what "soulmate" means to you.  If no, please describe what you believe with regard to how people choose one another, and with how they might love one another.

Respondent “D”
Yes and No.  I think that the soul mate thing isn’t one person.  It is a spectrum of compatibility and there are more than one person who we are compatible with, usually.  I do think that finding that person is maybe luck.  Maybe there is fate?  Who knows?  That’s not provable.  Certainly, not everyone meets their soulmate and I think it’s ridiculous to presume it’s because they weren’t meant to or they weren’t open to it.  But, ya never know.  My version of soul mate is different enough that I am not really into the concept but when taken loosely, I get it and can be on board. 

Respondent “R”
I think 'Soulmate' has become somewhat trite. It seems to be a go to term for defining a relationship in its honeymoon phase. People are meant to pass in and out of our lives in ways we probably don't appreciate until much later, but in that way, they are all our soulmates. We were meant to influence each other at the appropriate time.

Respondent “H”
Generally yes. I think there are soulmates around. I believe though, there can be only one real soulmate at a time :)

Respondent “C”
I believe in intimate and close relationship. I don't want to call it soulmates. 
What is soulmates?  Somebody who is connected to me by soul?
Spirituality says in my last births the karma I make with the people and the transactions I make with them come with me in this birth as well so in that case my mom, dad, sister, brother, kids all are my soul mate because they also have some soul relationship with me.
Then why only Partner do we call as soulmate? Soulmate sounds to me as a positive, goody word, which can never go wrong. But I don't think any relationship works same for years. People change and priorities differs. 
I believe in Karma and strong relationship. So even if I am close to somebody he may not be my partner and with my partner, not necessarily all the time I will have same relationship. 
For me it's the intuition which I feel for the person that I want to spend my life with him, of course it is supported with love.

Respondent “I”
Certainly. Soulmates form the deepest bond imaginable, one that never goes away in spirit even if one individual departs. Once again, observing soulmates isn’t limited to witnessing romantic partners. Soulmates may be a promising student to a professor, an opportunity for one to leave a lasting impression on the other and the other to carry on a legacy. It could be a soldier and his/her war dog, a formidable team in which they work to keep each other alive. It could be someone pulling a friend out from drug addiction and working tirelessly to put the other back on track. All of these examples have a common thread: two individuals come into contact and intensify each individual’s purpose in life, due to their love for the other. 

Respondent “A”
I don't believe that there is only one person on this entire planet that I could possibly connect with enough to be soulmates, forgetting all the other potential people I could easily be a match with. However I do believe that God has chosen someone (or more than just one person) for me who will be placed in my life when the time is right. This person is not someone to complete me but someone to complement and enrich my life. I am whole and satisfied on my own.

Respondent “E”
Yes, completely.  However, I believe soul mates can be romantic or platonic.  To me, what makes a soul mate is the nature of the connection.  This is a connection that is incredibly deep.  Very poignant.  Resonating.  There is an immense affection for one another, going both ways, between the two people.  A sense of deep understanding between the two.  They just get each other, and one another's temperaments.  There is an openness between- you can be your whole self with this person, tell them anything.  And you love them immensely.  There is a magnetism and intense draw between the two of you as well.
I don’t believe with regard to soul mates that this means there is only “one” person for you in the world, your ideal match, and that if you don’t find them, that’s it, doomed.  This is silly.  I think there are many people with whom each of us would be very well matched.  To me, soul mate more refers to the profoundness of connection you feel with someone.  An intense attachment to and depth of understanding between the two of you.  An openness, trust, and wild love.
A note with regard to soul mates: while I think some people meet and they just click, something about their connection and personalities sliding into place and fitting right off the bat, I generally think that people grow into being soul mates.  Maybe they have a poignant base/initial connection.  A resonating attraction and deep draw to one another initially.  But people do not start out right upon meeting, as being soul mates.  I feel like it’s much like a cake baking.  
Two people may have the ingredients that make them possible soul mates (assuming they stay together over the long term), but then, with time (aka the cake baking, and adding additional ingredients with time- which would be things like commitment, experiences together, surmounting challenges with one another, and getting to know each other, growing ever closer), you become each other’s soul mate.  You already had the makings of such, and then, it actualizes with the blooming of your relationship.
I think some people, no matter how long they are together, will never be soul mates.  Simply because they are a mismatch.  Loads of people stay together over the long term but are not especially happy or well matched.  So to me, being with someone a long time does not a soulmate make.  You need the personality ingredients that match as well.  With time and commitment, plus aspects about each of you that fit and stir/challenge the other in awesome ways, this is what leads to soul mates.

Respondent “Y”:
I do not believe in soulmates if what that means is this is the only person in the world who I have a perfect connection to.   I think we could probably love any number of people, and because of the individuals involved and what each brings, each relationship would look very different.
I do believe that over time, when you have committed yourself to someone, he/she becomes someone who fits you better than anyone else.   Some of that comes from a history of learning each other and experiencing love in a very particular way.  And it comes with deepening trust and repeated experiences of joy, so that there isn’t a relationship that is like it.   But I do believe it is possible to have several of those very special relationships, like in the case of widowhood or divorce. 
I am older and old-fashioned and these thoughts reflect this.   But I speak from the point of view of a 40 year marriage that has been fulfilling and feeding to me. 

Respondent "G":

Yes-Soulmate means you want to be with them forever. You want to share your life and everything about your life with them.