What’s love got to do with it?

The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.

hooks (1994: 298)

When I first read Zajonc’s ideas about an ‘epistemology of love’ in 2014 (Zajonc 2006), I decided that this talk of love wasn’t for me. I could stand up and talk to students and educators about the value of contemplation but talk about love? No way.

Yet now, in 2019, love suddenly feels important and relevant. I have recently started reading bell hook’s work for the first time. I have been touched by her willingness to talk about love. She liberates love from the suffocating shackles of the romantic ideal and celebrates love as a liberating force in a way that makes my heart tremble. She also talks about love not just being a feeling but an action too. The idea that we can simply ‘love everyone’ may seem trite, yet the desire to act lovingly is accessible and grounded: ‘openly and honestly express[ing] care, affection, responsibility, respect, commitment and trust’ (hooks 200: 14).

The current political difficulties facing the UK have also brought this to the forefront of my mind. When I was pondering what banner to make to attend the anti-prorogation protest in London last Saturday I decided I just wanted to take a love heart on a stick. That for me encapsulated why I was going and yet I did not have the confidence to make that banner, fearing ridicule. Didn’t I have anything sensible to say? Didn’t I want to take sides? To ridicule Johnson?

Whilst there, although I had attended because I had disagreed with the action taken by the government, I came to the conclusion that my overwhelming motivation was love, not sentimental love, but an embodied sense of care, affection, responsibility, respect, commitment and trust that hooks so pertinently describes. My fear about what was being lost through the government’s action was not just about me (although that was certainly part of it) but part of something much bigger – our collective freedom.

So what has this got to do with contemplative pedagogy? My contemplative and spiritual practice has been fundamental in making me wake up to love and the responsibility that this entails. Mindfulness practice in particular (both on and off the cushion) has helped me see how fear and ignorance contain and restrict me as I mould myself to accommodate and ameliorate dominant world views, ensuring that I am OK often at the expense of seeing the realities of others. Embodied practice such as yoga has also facilitated access to my experience of heart and body where injustice cannot as easily be explained away as it can in my mind. It is felt and once felt, at least in my experience, it cannot be easily dismissed.

In recent months I have come to see that contemplative practice, critical pedagogy and love are intertwined. By engaging with direct experience and seeing more clearly what drives my actions and decision making, my commitment to creating social change grows. I can see, and more importantly feel, how interconnected we are all are. The friendships I have developed with others who are wiling to be honest about the terrifying vulnerability of what it means to be human, have helped to open my heart and acknowledge how recognition of this fear can reveal love. Bristow (2019) describes how mindfulness practice can help to shift thinking from ‘me’ to ‘we’ and support the development of equanimity and insight capable of holding the complexity of the difficulties we face. This is not to say that love instantly makes everything OK – this is not naive hocus pocus, but it does mean I can start to see the world differently and want to take action as a result.

The relevance for educators is that if we are to start drawing critical and contemplative pedagogies together, establishing deeper connections between the personal, internal world and the social, external world we also need to be prepared to talk about love. Friere in his development of critical pedagogy did not shy away from love, identifying it as both the means and ends of a critical education. He noted that education occurred “when [the teacher] stops making pious, sentimental, and individualistic gestures and risks an act of love.” (1970: 34), seeing his work as contributing to the creation of a world ”in which it will be easier to love” (1970: 24). However he was not explicit about how he defined love and the centrality of love in his work is often over looked (Schoder 2010).

My experience suggests that if we start to speak of love in education we also need to acknowledge fear too. Seeing ourselves and the world differently can be fearful. It requires courage and yet it is through touching our own vulnerability and seeing that of others that love can emerge and become a force capable of transformation, that can help us move towards freedom.

‘As our cultural awareness of the ways we are seduced away from love, away from the knowledge that love heals gains recognition, our anguish intensifies. But so does our yearning. The space of our lack is also the space of possibility’

hooks 2000: 221


Bristow, J. 2019. Time for new thinking about mindfulness and social change https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/transformation/time-new-thinking-about-mindfulness-and-social-change/

hooks, b. 2000. All about love: new visions. New York: Harper Perenial

hooks, b. 1994. Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations. New York: Routledge

Freire, P. 2000. Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum

Schoder, E. 2010. Paulo Freire’s pedagogy of love. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/27183/

Zajonc, A. 2006. Love and knowledge: recovering the heart of teaching through contemplation. Teachers College Record, 108, 1742–1759.

One thought on “What’s love got to do with it?

  1. I really valued receiving this post in my inbox today. Thank you! The weaving together of the threads of the critical, the contemplative and (dare I say it) the ‘glue’ that is love feels very important at this time. And yes, I feel that we must recognise fear since it’s that which pulls in the opposite direction to love. With love, and appreciation, Heather x



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