Love: we hear and use this word every day. However, rarely do we think about what this word really means. Love is hard to explain and easy to recognize. My natural personality style is a director. Although my intention is never to hurt anyone, my past actions have resulted in a few strained relationships. With time and financial pressures, occasionally I gave more importance to getting the job done than to my sensitivity to others. This approach has neither served me well in my personal life nor in my professional life.

To turn things around, I set out to work on myself. I wanted to become a more loving and gentle person. In this process, I have interviewed four women, who I consider to be very loving. They are: Jan Born of The Cool Plant Lady, Elaine McGillicuddy, founder of Portland Yoga Studio, Jessica McKneally, Yoga teacher, and Deborah Knighton Tallarico, co-director of Spiritual Renaissance Center.

McGillicuddy emphasizes, “Love is everything.” She explains, “It is the whole purpose of life. It helps us in the choices that we make and how we spend our time. My late husband, Francis, showed his unconditional love for me. I was able to cater to him because of it. We could be there for each other.”

Loving helps us to nurture good relationships. It enables us to be more productive and to live happier and more peacefully. McKneally says, “Love is the essence of life. There are two kinds of love. One is conditional and the other is unconditional.”

Tallarico describes the difference between conditional love, which is personal, and unconditional love, which is divine or universal. She says, “Personal love has attachment. Divine love and universal love do not have boundaries. Love is something that radiates from the heart. It is very spiritual. It is vibration. Love is the glue that holds everything in the universe together. When love is around, everything opens like a flower.”

Universal love is to love people of all beliefs, colors, looks, ages, and genders. What happens if we do not love? Born explains, “If we do not love, other emotions such as fear, anger, or sadness fill the void. If we connect with fear, anger and sadness, we get back the same and disconnect ourselves from love. Love has profound divine presence. Love is healing. It is a balm. When a baby is hurt, mother says let me kiss it and baby feels that it is healed. Love comes in to us and goes out of us. Being human, we are not happy all the time. However, if we dwell in fear, anger and sadness, it becomes a habit.”

It is easy to love when we are at peace. The challenge is to love others when we are under stress. Self-awareness and meditation help us to prevent negative reactions to stressful situations and to hold that calm, loving place.

The other day, while waiting at a stoplight, a man wanted to move into my lane and I did not notice. When the light turned green, I started driving. That man was yelling and screaming at me. I let him go first with a smile, and I kept my peace. Hopefully, my response calmed him down.

At times, loving another can feel difficult. Born suggests, in such a situation: “If someone is in your face, you need to realize that it is not about you, it is about that person. You may ask, what I have done to aggravate you to act like this?” Tallarico says, “If something really irritates me, I stop and look at myself. Why is this irritating me? What is this person reflecting back to me? Is it showing me a part of me that I have not loved in myself? When we are in a bad mood, everything looks bad. Everything mirrors. It is a law of resonance. We must strive to have compassion and understanding of what the other person may be going through. We can nurture our hearts by loving kindness or imagining a flame that radiates energy outward.”

McGillicuddy shares, “My teacher Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz is a very loving person. He values people genuinely and accepts them with all their voices.” McGillicuddy quotes Jean Houston, who wrote that we want to see someone who is not naturally attractive and say to ourselves “I know you! — God in hiding.”

Tallarico believes that, “Unconditional love is possible.” She explains, “Love is connected with unity and oneness. I believe we are all connected. When I believe this, whatever I see in a person, it is a reflection of some part of myself. Unconditional love of someone goes hand in hand with unconditional love of oneself. We are always mirroring each other. When I see someone being irresponsible, my heart goes to that person and I say maybe that person didn’t get structure as a child. Maybe that person never learned how to be responsible. Maybe that person doesn’t love him or herself enough and is self-destructive. Love is not about what that person does. It is about who that person is, about loving that person’s soul. You can see the soul beyond the irresponsibility and love all. Unconditional love of oneself is the key to unconditional love of another.”

At a young age, Born had her own revelation on the importance of loving herself. She recalls, “I see you and me the same. I see a homeless person the same. We are all the same. When I was 16, I had a relationship with someone, and I was gifted with a profound thought — before you go any further, you need to love yourself. I contemplated on it and started thinking how can I learn to love myself? I decided to BE love. Through a process of several months, I became love. When you love yourself, you are plugged into the source energy and you don’t deviate from it.”

McKneally’s friend Traca expresses love for herself as well as all beings. “One could feel how open Traca’s heart is when you are around her. Anybody in her presence feels welcome. She accepts all people unconditionally no matter who they are or where they are at.”

A loving person has traits such as presence, acceptance, kindness, patience, generosity, gratitude, honesty, forgiveness, courtesy, gentleness, humility and empathy.

I have learned by loving and accepting ourselves, we will feel the love for others. Loving is a continuous practice.

As a result of my recent work, I have found that my relationships are getting stronger. For example, my teenage daughter recently wrote to me, “Daddy, you are the best dad that I could hope for”; one of my colleagues who usually sees things differently told me that she liked the way I was more open to suggestions from others; and a good friend told me that I am much more empathetic now.

My children and I started sharing kind things that we have done for others on that day. Thus by loving others, we will have positive relationships and live happier lives. Since we see things as we are, when we are happy, we see the goodness in others. Let us love more and live more.

Ashok Nalamalapu can be reached at ashok@SadhanaMe.com, www.Sadhaname.com, 207-772-6898.