Note: The respective podcast and Youtube episodes for this post feature content that is different than what you will read below. This is because (as noted in the episode) Teresa felt that the way I phrased things could be a bit alienating for some. That's why we took an extra week and redid the podcast/video. However, the original text I wrote is below, so we'll have both versions people can reference if they want to know more about the origin of the name.
We are not born knowing what love is; we must experience it, and some experience it to a greater extent than others
When you are a kid, love doesn't really have meaning to you, it's just a word that describes something you've never felt. It's even more abstract of a concept if you had a toxic relationship with your parents growing up—or no relationship at all—because then you may not even know what it's like when someone else loves you. Eventually though, most of us develop some sort of affection for another person, often first in the form of a "crush", and for a while we might think that's love. However, it's usually not until we enter our first serious romantic relationship and spend a significant amount of time with another person that we truly fall in love. It's not something that happens instantly — crushes we might have, love at first sight, these things are infatuations based on assumed characteristics of a person. It's only when you take the time to really pay attention to someone and get to know them that you begin to understand what love actually is: it's a special kind of deep-felt concern for the well-being of another — and note, you can feel this way with an animal too, and indeed for many people their earliest experience with love comes in the form of pet companionship.
Now, for most people the first time you love someone isn't the last time, because what initially draws us to someone isn't necessarily what we experience as we get to know them more deeply. Relationships are complex, communication is fraught with challenges we are often ill-prepared for, and our own desires evolve over time as well, and thus it's not uncommon for people in various parts of the world to have many relationships and experience the waxing and waning of love several times in their lives. It comes and goes, thus despite what we hear in fairytales, love seems very not infinite. In fact, it seems limited to just a few people around us, and to varying degrees among them.
For many people, they experience love essentially only in relation to their family (spouse and/or children). Others with more positive familial relationships experience love in a greater circle, perhaps with their parents and members of their extended family as well. Some people are fortunate to be able to say they have a friend who they love, so close is their bond. On the other hand, some people experience almost no love at all, for various reasons. The point is that the amount of love one experiences varies (both in the love we give and the love we receive), with some people ending up loving many people, and some people having few or no people in their lives that they love (or worse still, some people may not even see the value of love at all and they dismiss it outright).
Some entrenched dogmas impede the development of love, but the right experiences can overcome them
What makes things more complicated is that for many of us, our individualist, capitalist culture ingrains within us the idea that life is all about ourselves, and this greatly inhibits the development of love and our connection with others because we see others as competitors rather than allies. We're competing with our peers to get the best grades, competing to get into the best schools, to get the best jobs, etc. Surrounded by competition at every corner, our entire life becomes focused on ourselves, an endless struggle to climb the ladder of financial success, and because of this mindset our relationships with others tend to start off very transactional. We measure relationships by what we can gain from them, and often treat people as a means to an end.
Now, many people never break free of this mindset, and that's a tragedy, no doubt. However, after a while, if you've been fortunate enough to experience at least a few strong, healthy connections with others, many people do begin to realize that there is much more to relationships than the transactional aspect. When you become aware of the world around you, the reality of the tremendous inequality and suffering that exists, you begin to become more in touch with the empathy within you. When you start to recognize your own privilege for having gotten what you have compared to so many others in poorer places in the world, you become grateful for the advantages you've had, and you may even feel an obligation to use your privilege to help those less fortunate. Instead of focusing on what you can get from relationships, you focus on how you can help the other person, and how you can improve the lives of everyone around you.
There's a quote from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross that I think describes this transition well. She said, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
And I think that quote is spot-on because to understand the meaning of Infinite Love, you must not only have loved, but you must also have known suffering and struggle, and have worked your way through it. It is this experience that fills a person with a sensitivity and gentleness that is the foundation of what we mean by "Infinite Love" -- a universal, unconditional love that extends to all.
Infinite Love is about universal, unconditional love
So while many people's love stays localized to the people in their family, to those physically near them, as you hopefully recognize, love does not have to be limited to people close to you. It’s about coming to the realization that we are all more similar than we are different, that we are all part of this world together, and most importantly that we are all better off working together rather than against each other or independently. Once you have this understanding, and as I said, once you have experienced love in many different forms, as well as suffering, and you understand that life is full of suffering for so many people, you begin to develop a compassion that is no longer limited to those merely around you, but one that extends to all human beings, and ultimately to all living things. You only want the best for everyone, truly from the bottom of your heart. It is this kind of love that Infinite Love refers to. It's a kind of warmth that radiates from a person, a deep-loving concern that sees us all as part of the same family.
Now does it mean I love everyone to the same extent, or that I would go to the same lengths for every living thing in the universe? Of course not. I value my two cats more than I value any two random mosquitos, of course, and yet mosquitos are living things. Infinite Love is not about loving everyone to an infinite extent, it's about being able to empathize with an infinite number of people (in other words: anyone). It's about compassion and selflessness — living one's life in such a way that, in every decision you make, you always consider the needs of everyone and not just your own.
And yes, this compassion even extends to those we dislike, believe it or not. Of course it is challenging sometimes for me to empathize with people who inflict great harm on others and who seem only to care about themselves. But you have to understand, we are all broken in our own ways. Every living thing in the universe is faced with its unique struggles and we are all shaped by circumstances that are outside our control. None of us choose where we are born, what kind of body and brain we end up with, whether we're born smart or dumb, with long legs or short legs, healthy or unhealthy. We don't choose who our parents are and how they raise us, the values of the culture we grow up in, or even the friends we end up growing up with who will greatly influence our lives — they too just happened to be born under circumstances they had no control over, to parents they didn't choose, in the same town they didn't pick, and they just happened to go our same school, and happened to be in our same class, and happened interact with us in the right circumstances to become friends with us. We grow up and become the people we are often without ever really thinking about all the forces that have influenced us, and not always in healthy ways.
The good news is that once we realize this, we can change it. Once we are aware of the factors that have influenced us, we are in a better position to more objectively evaluate where our beliefs come from and whether they should remain or be discarded. Knowledge really is power here — the power to change. Indeed, that's our very purpose here: to share knowledge and raise awareness to important truths so that we can all lead more intentional lives: lives of our choosing, and not simply what was thrust upon us at birth from our parents and peers and culture.
That's pretty much everything I have to say about the origin of the name, but I will say in passing that in retrospect Infinite Love was probably a poor choice when it comes to marketing because a lot of people seem to conclude at first glance that it's about the love between Teresa and I, or they find the concept of loving anyone other than your family as ridiculous nonsense. I grant that from a branding perspective it's not as straightforward for all audiences as other options might have been, but that's alright. It's just a name. The message is what's important, and if we do our job well enough, if at the end of the day we are able to help people with the insights we share, then that'll be enough for me.