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Love is the Gift of Recognition

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You need it. I need it. The whole world needs it. Your cats and your dogs need it. Your iguana and ferret need it. A little love in the morning. A little love in the evening. All day and all of the night. Love sweet love.

We know the world needs love. And yet we are no closer now to a world of love than we have ever been. As the comedian Chris Farley insisted; “Sweet Mother of God, what is the hold up?”. http://wavcentral.com/sounds/televis/snl/hold_up.mp3

So why don’t we get on with it? Do we even know what love is? Maybe we think it’s a feeling, that fuzzy-warm lightheaded sensation. Like that song about walking on sunshine.

That’s the kind of love that just sort of happens. An effortless, passive, swept away state that just rolls over us. An intoxication. An enchantment. Love is something that strikes us.

Except that’s not it. And that’s why we don’t live in a world of love. Because we sit around waiting for it to arrive. We forget that it arrives with us. Like so much else in this world, it starts with just showing up.

Love is something else than that. But what exactly? Maybe it’s not just a feeling. Feelings come and go. Love is the power of awareness in action for good. It’s attentiveness, patience, listening. Its offering assistance. It is recognition. All in an effort to deliver this message: “I see you there. And I think you are valuable.”

You might notice a directional change there. It’s this re-definition as outward motion that I want to talk about for a minute. The fixation on the inward, the “what’s in it for me”, breaks up how the world is truly arranged. Is the world created to serve you? It seems to me that the world could get along perfectly fine without me. The real question is; can I get along without it?

It suddenly dawned on me. I don’t need the world to love me. I don’t need the world to recognize me. I need to recognize the world.

This is the connection between love and recognition. Because behind the besotted, hormonal love that generally kick starts any romance lies the call to join in an alliance of mutual recognition.

The author and some of his art

A word here about art. Since doing art is a natural part of me, and art of any kind (especially music) has always been associated with the mating dance, it must have a place somewhere in this conversation. Freud drew a straight line between what artists do and Eros. And far be it for me, a mere mortal, to challenge his analysis about artistic creation being nothing more than a request to have sex.

But isn’t there more to it than that? We make art for recognition as well. My discussion here will be about giving recognition as a more encompassing approach to gaining recognition. Before I go there let me freely confess to crassly seeking it through my art. I am like any other, I do what I love and hope people notice.

It is absolutely true that getting recognition is key to a creating a healthy person. And getting some of that is just darn great, no debate about it. Everyone needs it to have a solid sense of who they are in this world. And that implies that we are all recognition hustlers, a mad scramble in search of it, right? Our problems of greed, power mongering and rampant narcissism are part of this desperate craving for recognition. One dynamic about the very rich is that they want more, not because it incrementally makes their life any better but simply to increase their social standing.

Now if recognition is both corrupting and vital to our psychological health then, how do we resolve this? A little nugget of wisdom comes to mind. i picked it up somewhere along the way years ago (though I can’t for the life of me place the source). It is this: We must find a way to feed the wolf while maintaining the lamb. Offering recognition does just that.

Detail from “The Peaceable Kingdom” by Edward Hicks

There is undoubtedly an element of personal transformation involved here. If I were to isolate any element that gets in the way of changing from a taker into a giver of recognition it’s the unreflective self, defined only in its own terms. But this “self thing” is pretty elusive. Saint Augustine said something about time that applies to the concept of self as well, “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.”

So I face a dilemma of demanding recognition for myself without even being able to recognize myself.

“When I don’t know who I am, I serve you. When I know who I am, I am you.” (Hanuman in the Ramayana)

The wisdom traditions, whether religious or philosophical, include some version of a change that moves us away from the illusion that our purpose is to be self-serving. The image of where this leads is called a variety of things; blessedness, enlightenment, surrender.

The world is a request to serve it. If we get this backwards and force it to serve us then that request is denied. When it comes to recognition, getting this backwards puts us in a perpetual state of deficit.

It starts by recognizing those who don’t appear to deserve it; the poor, the prisoner, the refugee. And not recognizing those who actually don’t deserve it. There is no reason to idolize someone simply for being rich. There is no reason to pay any attention to someone just because they are famous. Only a rich and famous person who does right by the world deserves recognition.

If every thought that says, “I wasn’t recognized today” was changed into “I will recognize someone else today” it would veritably shift the earth on its axis. The big reason for this messy life piling trauma on disaster is not that we are starved for recognition but that we fail to offer it. Our focus on demanding it for ourselves kills the spirit of love and withdraws the opportunity to bring the gift to each moment.

Semana Santa parade in San Miguel de Allende

I kept thinking of how to describe this and thought of the phrase “transpersonal”. That’s a term from the Human Potential Movement but I think it fits well here.

It describes this thing I’m getting at because it suggests that the personal is not obliterated. The essential agency of the individual is retained, but transformed. It’s not a denial of all things we’ve come to associate with our own sense of “me” but a relationship of the personal to all things and all people. It suggests that we can’t recognize ourselves until we begin to recognize others.

A shift of focus starts to happen. I begin to make it my business to give recognition to others in every act I take, in every thing I say. If when I hurt, I offer healing. When I am treated unjustly, I offer justice. Then the dynamic of recognition gets turned on its head. The general need for recognition begins to be satisfied and our personal need for it less desperate. If we listen instead of talk, neither of us will be required to shout. If we love without demanding love then the lonely will find solace and our very own loneliness will dissipate.

This is transpersonal awareness. It involves offering the world what we need first and then letting the world return it to us. It acts as if generosity was not in short supply. It taps the wellspring of goodwill only after we have become part of the source for it.

We begin with a new image of our selves and of others, one that is only defined as it is recognized. We take a path towards recognizing and serving others and it becomes a path back to discover ourselves. This is life as service. This is love as effort.

This is what makes a good marriage work as well. This part about giving up on individual needs and putting the other first is key. Sometimes it seems that part is skipped in arranging the contract.

If we spend too much time self-defining we become insulated from this electric world. If we can rid ourselves of this shell of accretions that are taken to be our identity we regain the circuit. We become open to our true potential in this undefined self. We reconnect and become conduits for the electricity of a kind of spiritual power.

The only self that is real is the one that recognizes others.

I’m not delusional here. “Don’t let the world define you” still holds. But only when it limits you. Though the truth in that phrase seems clear it hides something else that is true; in the eyes of others the best in us is also brought to bear.

The goal is still to gain recognition, but only through the abject priority of recognizing others. If we self-define and then demand to be recognized it does nothing but increase the general pool of the lack of recognition. We draw down this tide that manifests in hate, greed and war not by demanding recognition but by offering it.

I’ll just close here by speaking personally. I’ve written all of this and I’ve read all of this many times over. I’ve tried not to pontificate but the subject is important to me. In the same breath that I speak of this vital feature in our world I also hear a voice that speaks to my failings. Because this is really about aspiring to live out what I realize to be true. I can only get on with the project by getting this part right. And when I do the rest can proceed.

Bali Frangiapani (David Lucht)

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David Lucht

David Lucht

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