Animals don’t struggle with this question. They do or they don’t love. Pride doesn’t get in the way, there are no judgements or moral strictures, no morbid fantasies or irruptions of ego to require psychotherapy. They just do or they don’t.
Love angst and the absence of love are the great human flaws. They can destroy friendships, families and civilizations. Now we arrive at a juncture in our current organization of human affairs where the lack of love is destroying the earth that sustains all life. If humans don’t find the spirit of love in themselves, it’s over on planet earth.
That brings it all down to the personal level and how I myself can find what the implications are of my feelings, reactions and actions in the world. How I think and feel shows who I am, and raises the question whether I, in my little corner of the world, am unconsciously destroying some of the web of life or helping it thrive. The crux here is love, or its absence.
We each have a responsibility to find the roots of love in ourselves, and to nurture it. The world is being killed by profiteers who are blind to the beauty all life is sustained by. Survival of the fittest is a lie. Cooperation is threaded throughout creation, tying all living beings into an unimaginably immense orchestra of existence.
Looking at the waves of hate engulfing the world right now, we see this issue in dramatic terms. We see the challenge to human hearts smothered by belief systems — systems that may have sustained a kind of order in the past, but which are wholly inadequate to the present.
A heart truly capable of love is an intelligent heart. Accepting received wisdom without question becomes betrayal of our human potential to be stewards of life on this planet.
It’s obvious that humans have to change course, that the present way of living is unsustainable. I’m simply saying that it won’t happen without a change of heart in the literal sense. Logic, data and evidence will not turn this ship. The captain is not the brain, it’s the heart.
But any individual journey away from romanticism, small ideas and ego is a fraught journey. On the level of billions of humans caught in cultural and familial blinders it looks unlikely to happen, and yet no one can say we humans aren’t capable of evolving.
My personal journey through failures to love has given me a glimpse of the nature of the impasse. I was young and stupid once, completely unconscious of my role in trapping myself in a loveless universe, caught by my version of rational self protection. Fear, judgments, self protectiveness, withholding, lack of understanding — all of it. I was captured by the culture I was raised in. I was steeped in its unspoken values of isolation. But I was lucky. I just happened to fall out of the system.
That didn’t protect me from my own stupid mistakes, of course. I joke about all the holes I fell into, only to have to dig myself out again. Disengaging from false ways was part luck, part instinct on my part.
When I look back I’m astonished at how long my luck held up, as well as how slowly I learn.
I was a typical romantic, a romantic idiot you might say. Growing up, I cast powerful projections left, right and center. Slowly though, the world began to become real to me, and it was not the world I had immersed myself in through books. Over time I have become a little less of an idiot, although I must admit I still identify with the Tarot card depicting The Fool, with his little dog, skipping along the cliffs, always the cheerful optimist.
What does this have to do with love? Everything. Love is grounded in reality, not illusion. The fevered dreams of youth center around being loved. Loving the kind of love that can’t hold grudges is of another order of caring.
But this is all philosophy. The rubber meets the road in living your life day to day. That’s where philosophy risks becoming mere words. Your reactions, thoughts and feelings show who you really are.
I had to learn to love real people instead of characters in the stories I was making up in my head. Emptying my head of these stories was my introduction to myself, to the quality of mind that exists underneath and alongside my “educated” mind. Art, reflection and meditation helped. Aging helped, nature helped, kind people helped, reading, psychotherapy, making mistakes, even catastrophies — it all helped.
Painting connected me with deeper currents of feeling in myself and writing was no different. Occasionally an inner voice showed up with something to say that was worth listening to and I would write it down. For years I kept a journal of dreams, insights and reflections.
When I returned to try to reconnect with my American roots and revive my rusty English, I met and fell hard for a woman who had three children and a husband. She was unusually taciturn, never mentioning her life. I had to ask others if she was married. “Oh yes, very married. Three kids and a very big husband. Professional football player”
Merde. I kept my mouth shut, but I couldn’t stop thinking and dreaming about her. Fortunately, just then she went to New York for several weeks, enough time for me to get myself under control.
Two years later she said she was leaving her husband. I knew I was going to stutter and tremble, but I had to confess. She was taken aback, but kind.
On the one hand, I’m not her type; I wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. But on the other hand we’re both in love with beauty, especially the beauty of the old world, history, the arts, food and living environments. We started our adventures from there. We’re still on the search for beauty and meaning in the world and in ourselves, over three decades later.
That flush of romance became something mysteriously deeper over time. I’m aware that this kind of love is only one among an infinite variety, but once the eye of the heart starts to open, a world of possibilities open as well.
Everyone has their own path. Being wedded to a person for thirty-five years can either defeat you or teach you what you need to know. I’m lucky. I expect to be in love-school the rest of my life. I’m studying, I’m paying attention.
In talking about love, it’s important to first discuss what it isn’t. It isn’t romance, it isn’t sex, it isn’t pure chemistry, although it can include those things. It isn’t a transaction, it isn’t bargaining, it isn’t always fair or just.
It’s mostly respectful and kind interest, caring. Self regard takes a back seat. Attention, listening, hearing what’s not being said, keeping your own side of the street clear, not making assumptions, keeping communication open, paying attention to the quality of energy in everything, these things encourage love, give it a place to grow.
Callous disregard of others, plant, animal or human is what is not included in love. Loving only your own family, your own tribe, is not included. Kindness towards all and malice toward none is the maxim, but for the heart to reach this state naturally, free of coercion, free of inculcated rules and regulations, there may have to be some upheaval, some shocks and suffering, something that cracks open the heart. Not always, but often.
Some people, like me, have more to learn about love than others. I’m still in kindergarten, but some things are obvious. Paramount is kindness in all things, large and small — emanating from a calm mind and undefended heart.