Recently, I wrote a post asking whether our love of G-d couldn’t be as palpable as our love for our children — especially the very young ones.

In it, I recounted my own “euphoric” feelings when holding my then-infant son.

Not surprisingly, there’s been some research about the physiological effects of loving, as measured by our experience of physical pain:

“Looking at a picture of a loved one reduced moderate pain by about 40 percent and eased severe pain by about 10 to 15 percent, compared to viewing the picture of an acquaintance. The distraction task also provided similar levels of pain relief, but researchers noted that the analgesic effects of love and distraction occurred in different pathways of the brain. Love-induced analgesia was associated with the brain’s reward centers, while the pain relief resulting from distraction occurred mostly along cognitive pathways, the researchers said. The findings were published online in the journal PLoS ONE [1] based on research conducted at the Stanford School of Medicine [2]

Other studies have shown that romantic love activates the brain’s dopamine system, much as addictive behaviors like gambling or drug use do. Researchers speculate that looking at a photo of a romantic partner prompts the dopamine system to interact with other brain systems that release natural opioids, or painkillers, in the body, similar to those credited with the “runner’s high” that can occur with exercise.” [3]

I had a related experience, myself. Once, when having intense pain from a kidney stone, I kept repeating to myself that the pain, too, was an expression of G-d’s goodness. I don’t remember the exact words that I was using, but it was based on the idea that G-d’s midat Gevurah (quality of “Judgement”) is itself an expression of G-d’s midat Hesed (quality of “Kindness” or “Love”). Mentally, I thanked G-d for the pain. At the moment, it actually helped me moderate the pain — or my experience of it — until the ambulance arrived to bring me to the emergency room at the local hospital.

I’m not someone who seeks to define all religious experience by physiological or neurological data alone. These, I think, are “effects,” not causes.

But the data does indicate that “loving” isn’t only a subjective mood or experience. It’s a distinct state that can have observable features.

We need never be satisfied with the degree of our love for G-d. There’s always room to love more. And while our love might not cause any change in G-d’s Love for us — unchangeable as it is — research shows that we, too, can be the beneficiaries of our own loving!

It leads me to ask again: Should we be satisfied with liturgical expressions alone of our love for G-d — expressions that might not ease and soothe us in the stresses of life?

Could we rather take those liturgical expressions as a starting point for developing a more personal love for G-d that eases and elates us — and that, at the same time, illuminates a deeper, more intimate meaning of the words we’re saying?

If it should seem that this is a “selfish” love — loving for our own sake because it makes us feel better — I tell you: Nothing could be less selfish.

When loving G-d fills your heart even for a moment, you wish that all the world felt it, too.

And you thank G-d humbly and deeply for the gift.

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[1] http://www.plosone.org/home.action

[2] http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2010/october/love.html

[3] well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/13/love-and-pain-relief/