The Need for Love: Reflections by a Mystic

An Indian Sufi Muslim woman prays as she and others are in trance at the Nizamuddin Shrine in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Feb
An Indian Sufi Muslim woman prays as she and others are in trance at the Nizamuddin Shrine in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012. The shrine is dedicated to the much revered saint Hazrat Nizamuddin who died in the 14th century. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

In a recent conversation for Super Soul Sunday, when Oprah described to me how so often in her conversations and interviews, people said to her how they just wanted to be happy, I found myself responding, "I think they want to be loved."

All of us want, or need, to be loved. The need for love is one of the most basic human impulses. We may cover this need with patterns of self-protection or images of self-reliance. Or we may openly acknowledge this need to our self or others. But it is always present, whether hidden or visible. Usually we seek for love in human relationships, project our need on to parents, partners, friends, lovers. Our lack or denial of love often causes wounds that we carry with us. This unmet need haunts us, sometimes driving us into addictions or other self-destructive patterns. If our need for love is met we feel nourished in the depths of our being.

Love calls to us in many different ways. Yet while most people seek for love in the tangle of human relationships, the mystic is drawn deeper under the surface -- in Rumi's words "return to the root of the root of your own being." And here we discover one of the greatest human secrets: that the source and answer to this primal need is not separate from us, but part of our own essential nature, our own true being. Again to quote Rumi:

The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.

Lovers don't finally meet somewhere.
They're in each other all along.

The mystical truth of the oneness of love is something both simple and essential: the real nature of the love that we all seek is not other than us. I remember my first direct experience of this love. I was in my late 20s when one afternoon while I was in meditation I felt what I can only describe as butterfly wings touching the edge of my heart. And in that instant my whole being and body were filled with a love I had hardly known existed. Every cell of my body was loved, gently and completely. Love was present in all of me. And this love came from within me, from my own heart. There was no other.

Other experiences of the oneness of mystical love have followed -- deeper, more ecstatic, more blissful. But that first direct experience carried the sweetness of a first love. From that moment I knew that I was loved completely, and it changed everything because it gave me a security I had longed for -- the security that only love can give.

In every other relationship, even in the most deeply passionate love-affair, there are two -- us and the one we love. We may long to get closer and closer to our lover, and when we make love there is a momentary taste of union on a physical level. But then again we become two, we are separate. Mystical love may begin with the illusion of separation, that we are separate from God, that we long for our Beloved. But the journey takes us back to our own heart and the truth of union: that lover and Beloved are one and were always united. And in this union there is a passion and depth of belonging that can only be dreamed of in human relationships. As I discovered in that first experience, just one touch of this love nourishes every cell in the body, meets every need in ways I could never have imagined.

And the deeper truth is that this love is not just within the heart, but underlies the whole of creation. It is said that in the whole of the universe there is only lover and Beloved. God loves the creation and the creation loves God. This is the mystical secret of all of life. What is discovered within the heart belongs to everything. And the oneness of this love embraces everything. When I physically felt how love touched every cell of my body, and how I was nourished by this love, I was also experiencing what belongs to all of creation. The love that belongs to God is not limited and does not discriminate. It is present within everything. The greater human mystery is not that this love is present, but that it is hidden, veiled from our perception. Like a fish in the ocean looking for water, we seek what is all around us.

It is a longing for this love that draws the mystic on the journey of the soul. The mystic is one who is not satisfied with the surface drama of love, with the give and take of human relationships, but is called to go deeper. It is a dangerous and demanding journey into the depths of the heart, into the sorrow and endless love that one finds there. Here there are few signposts but the primal vulnerability of the soul and the seemingly endless longing for love. In an outer, human relationship one can protect oneself, create barriers against one's vulnerability and wounds. In a relationship that is born on the inside of the heart, in which there is no "other," it is much more difficult. It is one's own deepest love that calls: the Beloved is within one's own soul. The vulnerability of oneness is both painful and intoxicating.

But what is revealed within the heart of the mystic, of the one who has given him or herself to love, is the great secret of creation: that love is always present. Love is present within our own heart, within every breath, within every cell of our body and the whole of creation. There is nothing other than love, and the whole of creation is a continual outpouring of divine love. The great mystery is then not that this love is always present, but that it is hidden from ordinary everyday human perception -- that we do not know how much we are loved -- how we are made of love. That we are love seeking love.

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"Oprah and Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: Sufism and The Wisdom of the Heart" will air on the Emmy award-winning series "Super Soul Sunday" 11 a.m. ET/PT Sept. 2 on the Oprah Winfrey Network and will stream worldwide on and