Love Doesn’t Die, It Transforms
Even in darkened times, light lives on the other side
On one hand, love is a tricky business. On the other, it’s the simplest and most profound force of nature — and it’s often sorely misunderstood. When someone we love leaves, it can feel as though love has drained from all of our pores. Tied up within a complex array of tricky emotions, we often miss the truth: that love has not died it has transformed.
What makes love appear more complicated, fleeting, or sensitive than it actually is, is that over centuries we have entwined its raw nature with the messiness of human experience. This entanglement has led us to the belief that when some tangible aspect of its expression has left our presence (in other words, when our lover is no longer present in the flesh), that love itself has died along with their departure. Intertwined with personal expectation, love suffocates beneath our misguided belief about what it is. Love, unlike what we have been taught, is in fact free and unbounded. It lives unconditionally within us and despite what we may feel in one moment, it does not dissipate with the ending of one relationship.
As I write these words, something bitter brews in my mouth wishing not to be swallowed; some part of me hopes that this shimmering view of love isn’t true. It satisfies my ego to believe that someone whom I have come to love somehow owes me something. Or alternatively, that they owe me something unless I come to feel for myself that the necessity for their presence has dwindled. How one-sided our limited notions of love can be…
Love as an Unbounded Force
For a long time, I have feared that embracing this expansive notion of love would leave me without emotion — that it would leave me disconnected from the raw feeling aspect of my humanity. And yet I have come to swallow another truth satisfyingly palatable: that love as a force unbounded does not need to invalidate human emotions such as grief, fear, anger, joy, and envy. Love can stand side by side with these complexities of the human experience so long as we are able to identify their true source.
We run into trouble when we confound love with any of these things: love with joy, love with grief, love with emotion. Further trouble erupts when we declare someone else to be responsible for our momentary suffering or ecstasy. Suddenly, the thing which we claim to love becomes a pawn in our own story — valid only insofar as he or she plays by our own set rules.
But true love cannot be controlled or manipulated; it cannot be held or restrained. It is not a person, it is not a place, and it is not a thing. Love is our innate guiding light that allows us to share our human experience with another person; it does not come from this co-star.
When we love another human, we often set expectations (either consciously or unconsciously) for how this loved-one should think, feel, and act. Even when our expectations are “high” and represent how a “good and moral” person might behave, all expectations come with the notion that our love is conditional. Due to cultural stories and personal experience that inform us of how love “ought to be”, we have become individually conditioned to believe that love looks, feels, and acts a certain way.
The truth is that individually-interpreted love is often a far shot from the truth of the unbounded, unconditional, universal nature of this force. Whether we like it or not, love cannot be manipulated into what we want it to be.
Great freedom comes from opening ourselves up to this alternative notion. Great freedom is granted to not only our partner but to ourselves as well. Suddenly, we and them, are enabled to experience the simultaneous beauty of togetherness and separateness.
From his 1923 work of art, The Prophet, Khalil Gibran writes,
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
He carries on:
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
When A Relationship Ends
It is all very inspiring, and quite beautiful. But what happens when love feels to have faded or to have left completely? What happens when we have lost a partner or any other loved one for that matter? How do we integrate the raw state of our tenderness?
By slowly opening ourselves to the notion that love is still present, even within the piles of rubble. As we begin to pick up the pieces of what has come crashing down, we begin to come in contact with the truth of our innate wholeness — the truth that love has not died, but rather, it is transforming.
Beneath the raw sensations lives an unshakeable core. We can begin to tap into this innately whole and everlasting self through meditation and mindful self-reflection. By coming into the fire of the present moment and by softening our tightly held beliefs about love’s departure, we make room for our emotions — without stories of expectation and blame. We sit within the fire that threatens to consume us and after some period of time, we come to see what lives on through the ashes.
If we look to nature, we see that fire serves its purpose. Wildfires, though destructive, bring new life to old growth. In fact, allowing fire to occur naturally can reduce the frequency and intensity of uncontrolled blazes. By suppressing natural forest fires, old growths become unnaturally overgrown; within these forests, the accumulating kindling becomes the perfect environment for uncontrollable fire to rage.
What do forest fires have to do with our human experience of love? Well, if we wish to free ourselves from the heavy weight of love, we might consider burning away all old notions of what we believe it to be. By opening our hearts to encompass a wider view, we find that we, too, transform alongside the love that feels to have left us.
Opening our hearts in this way requires a new vulnerability to emerge; and in some way, we might feel that this makes us more susceptible to the heavy human emotions commonly associated with love. But, as Thich Nhat Hanh’s book title suggests: No Mud, No Lotus.
Only through opening ourselves to a new relationship with love can we begin to see that it never leaves us. Even within darkness, light exists on the other side.
Love is not only the flower at full bloom; it is also the seed. And like a flower, love transitions. Even in death, life carries on. Love is formless; it is eternal. If we open our eyes, despite darkened times, we come to see that love has been there, all along.