People talk of love as if we all know what love is.
Do you know? I do not. I do not know what love is.
Certainly, I have been nourished by the ‘love’ of others and seen others flourish from my ‘love’. But I have also been hurt by the ‘love’ of others and shamed for my pain. My ‘love’ has hurt others and left them reeling. I have been told that my love is not love and that their abuse is true love. I have believed that my love is a distortion and their love is the norm.
So, when you say you ‘love me’, what exactly do you mean?
- You want to be with me?
- You want the best for me?
- You want something I have?
- You like something about me?
- You like how I make you feel?
- You like how I make you look?
- You like something you imagine about me?
- You see in me good qualities you’ve denied in yourself?
- You see in me bad qualities you think you can fix?
- You see strength in me to shore up your weakness?
- You see weakness in me you can lend your strength to?
- You see in me a new member for your fan club?
- You see in me an easy target for your projections?
- You see in me empathy for your dysregulated emotions?
- You see in me an extension of your personal fantasy?
- You see in me a little child who needs your compassion?
- You see in me a minion who can be exploited?
- You see yourself in me – the good, bad, and ugly?
- You see your beauty in me where it can be adored?
- You see your ugly in me where it can be disdained?
- You see the victim in me that you can rescue?
- You see the hero in me that you can worship?
- You see the humanity in me that you can identify with?
- You see the child in me that you can parent?
- You see the parent in me that can parent you?
‘Love’ is one of those qualities – like ‘truth’, ‘life’, even ‘God’ – that we intuitively understand at a mostly subconscious level. Rising to consciousness, and expressed in thought and language, they emerge under whatever labels our language assigns to them: in English, ‘love’, ‘truth’, ‘life’, and ‘God’. We toss these words around casually, assuming we all know what they mean. Their meanings seem so obvious on the one hand, and yet on the other, so frustratingly vague. Their vagueness stems from the fact that they have yet to be fully explored with an awareness that can articulate and differentiate their internal richness.
Take Truth, for instance. How long had we assumed that we know what ‘truth’ is and that the meaning of a statement like ‘it is true’ is self-evident and unassailable? During the 20th century, with the transition from modernism to postmodernism, the traditional meaning of ‘truth’ was critiqued and deconstructed. Up till then, ‘truth’ was widely believed to be an absolute, objective, and universal big-T Truth. But advances in such fields as anthropology, linguistics, hermeneutics, literary theory, sociology, and philosophy rendered this understanding of truth untenable. In the vacuum of absolute Truth arose the philosophy of truth-relativism which holds that only small-t truths exist and that they are individual, private affairs with no necessary connection or coherence between them. The idea of a monolithic Truth was shattered, and this precipitated widespread disillusionment and meaninglessness, the results of which are still evident today. Before this radical deconstruction of Truth, we all tended to believe we knew what Truth was. It was whatever we knew and felt to be true. Whatever others knew and felt to be true – if it contradicted our truth – simply did not compute. It had to be wrong. This state of affairs, although completely natural, perpetuated bigotries, prejudices, and tribalisms of many kinds.
Fortunately, a third way can be seen between the two extremes: there is absolute Truth, but it can only be known relatively. That is, we cannot all know the same Truth together in the same way in our different situations – the world is far too diverse for that. But we can all know the same Truth through our unique small-t truths and by learning the small-t truths of others. Instead of being divided by our diversity, we can actually be united through our diversity. ‘Truth’ is an emergent property of local relationships, through which a universal property of cosmic relationships is perceived. It is absolutely relative, and relatively absolute!
While the Monolith of Truth was shattered into a million pieces, it remains to be seen whether we’ll succeed in piecing together a mosaic more beautiful than the Rock ever was.
The Monolith of Love is about to be similarly shattered.
The unconsciously embodied emotions and intuitively assumed notions about Love are being penetrated by the tool of scientific analysis. This process is already underway as advances in fields such as attachment theory, personality theory, neurobiology, psychoendocrinology, psychopathology, sexuality, and traumatology are shedding more and more light on the psychosomatic patterns and imprints that govern our beliefs and behaviors of ‘love’. As a result of these gains in knowledge, and their adoption by helping professionals and popular culture, many people are waking up to the discrepancy between their ‘love-styles’ and those of people they relate to. Many are finding that they can no longer assume the meaning of ‘I love you’ in the current interpersonal climate any more than ‘it is true’ in the current political climate. Getting by with familiarity, vagueness, and unexamined assumptions in these areas will no longer suffice. Old regimes are crumbling.
The abuses of absolute Love mirror those of absolute Truth. For just as we typically equate Truth with our own personal ‘truth-style’, we also typically equate Love with our own personal ‘love-style’. We are discovering that imposing a dominant love-style on someone whose love-style is different is a kind of injustice, much as imposing a dominant truth-style on those with different truth-styles is. It is an injustice not only because absolutist impositions (of truth or love) prevent and punish deviance from the norm – which is itself an abuse of the life principle – but also because within the very impositions themselves are abusive elements directly following from the psychologies of the impositions’ originators.
When Life enters an ecological landscape not yet fully exploited, an explosive proliferation of new life-forms is soon to follow. Similarly, when Consciousness enters an epistemic landscape not fully explored, a proliferation of conceptual ‘life-forms’ is soon to follow. As an instrument of both Life and Consciousness, Science, when it enters a material-energetic landscape – for example the human body-mind – it produces an efflorescence of new facts and theories. These facts and theories – cognitive species and populations – can then be technologized, popularized, and utilized for the flourishing of humanity and the planet.
Once the underground root networks and cave systems of Love are mapped and tapped for their resources, they could – let us hope – energize our species to meet the wicked challenges of now and the future, challenges whose overcoming will require our newfound unity-in-diversity of love-styles and success-through-synergy of interrrelationships.
A growing collective understanding of what Love really is is so important, I believe, because it is Love that supports and permeates all the rest. Love is the preeminent quality of relatio (relation, relationship, and interrelatedness), which is the grammar of Reality. What we have in the study of how human beings love could be the mother-lode of liberating truth.