Love is a four letter word.
Like common expletives, its meaning and usage can morph. The word love is erratic, irregular, and thus, often misunderstood.
People have striven to define and categorize love for a very long time. As just one example, the ancient Greeks sought to delineate between what they called amor, eros, caritas, platonic love, and agape.
To invoke the word love in certain scenarios renders it a toothless platitude. And that’s because in certain scenarios, it is a toothless platitude.
Hyperbole has stretched the word love to apply just as often to the commonplace (“I love this cookie”) as to the sublime (“I love my wife to her soul”).
More importantly, the word love’s universal and localized expressions get confused. This forms the crux of the current matter.
While on the surface it may sound like the ultimate toothless platitude, “loving everyone,” “loving the World” is indeed possible. To even countenance such a notion, we must first delineate among the varying expressions of love, the proper places and ways love manifests.
To begin considering pure love as such:
Love in its fullness, love in its biggest and most complete sense, lies beyond opposites. It is the ultimate. The reality left staring back at you once all illusions fall.
As you can see, this contrasts to the smaller, more casual definitions and understandings of love. Even honest romantic love is often conditional when push comes to shove. As opposed to the big, universal Love indicated above, small “l” love certainly can engender opposites, such as hate, fear, or apathy, depending on the context.
Admittedly we’re on a slippery slope, however, because there are no hard lines here. Sometimes that “smaller,” localized love eventually opens a person up into the more expansive vistas of the cosmic love that bestows the experience of wholeness.
Any honest writer knows that language fails, that words at best point to what one attempts to share from the deepest urges of the heart and mind as one writes. Despite these longings on the part of the writer, words remain but pointers, not the thing itself being pointed to.
Perhaps this phenomenon rings never more true than when attempting to write about and define love.
The spiritually-inclined may equate the big, whole love with the godhead, the transcendent source discussed in earlier foundational articles.
The sensitive atheist or materialist may liken this notion of big love to the experience of profound awe and wonder when contemplating the majesty of the cosmos or the new life of an infant.
Both I would say involve an ache for meaning and a tantalizing urge pulling us towards a more complete experience of life.
Ultimate Love contains, synthesizes, and thus transcends what we call human emotion.
As Dante wrote in Paradiso, Canto 29:
Where every where and every when are focused…
In his eternity outside of time
Outside of all other limits, as he pleased,
Eternal Love then opened in new loves.
To experience even this ultimate love in time and form (that is to say, to experience love as a human), we need, well, time and form.
The more work an individual has done to become conscious, to activating and harmonizing the complete spectrum of their sub-personalities, and to simply practicing awareness, the more likely that individual can remain receptive to love and experience love in its varying guises, both grand and minute.
However, even the biggest rays of complete and transcendent love need grounding and realization through the details of our earthly story.
The specific people, places, and circumstances that inspire love within you are not abstractions.
The others human beings in your life come with their faults and foibles, as of course do you.
In order to let love live through you, it becomes necessary to understand and encounter as real the nested layers of consciousness and identity in other people, the levels discussed in the earlier foundational articles.
If we do not realistically confront and deal with another person’s full spectrum of identities (as we in turn express our own), the so-called relationships or group dynamics we participate in are not really relationships. They remain transactions, personas negotiating pleasures and pains with other personas.
Understanding and accepting another human in the totality of their identities (and that individual’s unique essence that combines and yet transcends those identities) also makes possible the very tricky, very misunderstood notion of loving the (whole) person while condemning their actions.
As author Peter Russell says, unconditional love is not unconditional approval.
The dance of living this life involves finding an equilibrium in loving oneself, loving others, and loving generally– loving Life itself.
A parent loves their child, but very often must direct the child. A healthy couple loves one another, but also themselves.
Just as molecules interact, or man and woman join to create new life, we witness here an interplay between giving and receiving. Between melding together and also asserting boundaries.
The organs of a healthy body work together in concert, a harmony– a love one could say–but there exist boundaries between your liver and your kidneys. Delineations between their specific functions. You wouldn’t want it otherwise.
Love creates an order.
As an aside: the chaos that love (especially romantic) can seemingly introduce into your life actually reveals the faults and flaws in your own understanding.
Yes, love sometimes turns our worlds upside down.
Love functions as a great purifier. When love shakes you to the core and changes what you thought you knew, well, it’s not Love; it’s you.
The apparent chaos and disruptions actually reveal your own imbalances and blind spots. Love helps the small you become the big you, if you let it, by acting on its lessons.
Returning to the notion of boundaries, let’s consider larger societal implications:
If someone attacks you on the level of your creaturehood–your physical space and safety–to defend yourself in the moment of the incident asserts and embodies the love you possess for yourself and your kin.
Later on, it is possible to forgive the assailant on a deeper level of his being; we may call this his spirit or soul. You understand that behind the skewed action of the assailant lies that purer level of being, like a light that became distorted when it was shone through a dirty glass.
The dirty glass metaphor refers to the perversions that warped the mind, heart, and perhaps even body of the assailant.
That does not change the fact that on the level of the assailant’s creaturehood, he must be contained and dealt with by society. Forgiveness does not require weakening yourself, it does not require your own self-love and self-protection to go slack.
Where possible, we exercise wisdom and compassion by giving the assailant a chance at rehabilitation, examining the systems or experiences that may have given rise to the perpetrator’s perversion.
We attempt to address how the assailant’s glass got dirty in the first place, and what can be done about it.
While we’re called to do what’s in our power to set things to rights, the other side of this coin asks us to accept life as it is, saying “yes.”
Living honestly demands that we accept the nature of the wolf and the nature of the lamb.
This acceptance can be understood as a love of destiny. Destiny here is not a sentence, but rather an alignment with what one is.
On the path of destiny, one may find trials and pains; but fulfillment and honor prop up and nourish the person of destiny. Nothing can substitute.
In his book The Love of Destiny: The Sacred and the Profane in Germanic Polytheism, author Dan McCoy writes:
…the visible world is not a negation of the invisible world of spirit, but its fulfillment. The words that William Blake chose to end The Marriage of Heaven and Hell with, ‘Everything that lives is holy,’ apply to all that we perceive and experience, no matter how grand and luminous, no matter how vile and distressing.
This, too–this “yes” to life in its totality– is an expression of love.
We find the the wider, societal expressions of love currently being manipulated and twisted, throwing out love’s necessary relations to levels of being and boundaries.
The act of isolating and removing sugars from natural sources in order to produce processed, artificial sweeteners comes to mind. This process leave so-called “love” a shell of its former self; a syrupy, saccharine parody.
If you let your notions of a charitable love for others–the ways you can “love the world,” as we began this essay with– usurp your love for yourself and closest kin, you will meet chaos and destruction. Any good parent knows that they cannot totally shield a child from the ways of the world, even at a young age.
If a parent only tells their child that “every human has a spark of the Divine in them” (or something to that effect) but then fails to teach the child about the people out there with the capacity to hurt, doesn’t teach the child proper caution regarding strangers, that parent fails their child. The child unfortunately becomes much more susceptible to kidnapping and abuse.
Why would we not apply the same principles on a larger, societal level?
Yes, love involves seeing the potential in others and the world at large, imagining what could improve; love equally involves a clear assessment of the world as it is, so that one can move and thrive in the world without getting eaten alive by it.
The “greatest commandment” (besides loving God) that Jesus gives in Mark 12: 30-31, the direction to
love one’s neighbor as oneself
often gets invoked amidst such considerations.
Let’s take that “neighbor as thyself” premise seriously, but really do that passage the service of thinking it through fully. Again, the following will demonstrate that love’s power naturally contains within it boundaries and self-organizing principles.
Firstly, to truly love oneself often involves self-discipline. Right there we see that the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself does not imply a free-for-all.
Secondly, the “love” invoked in that utterance must necessarily be a more general, charitable, affectionate love. Clearly, it does not imply the same expression of love one has for oneself.
While I feed and bathe myself daily, I can love my neighbors without feeding and bathing them daily.
To bring it out of my own self-love, of course we find other expressions of love, such as between husband and wife. I don’t see many Christian teachers taking the “love thy neighbor” verse as encouragement to engage in nightly spouse swaps with all of the other couples in the neighborhood.
Love manifests in various ways, but in doing so, creates an implicit order.
One cannot love one’s children or spouse in the same exact way that one loves strangers, or even other friends or other family members. To confuse and mix these up would be an affront to all types of relationships, a mockery.
When a woman loves her husband, it of course does not mean that she hates other men. She can, in a more universal/charitable sense love other men.
Needless to say, the same applies to children.
Every healthy parent thinks the sun rises and sets on their child, and that’s the way it works. And everything else works because of it.
Considering this as we ripple out into the wider levels of experience, we see that one can love one’s own people and culture without hating others.
Unfortunately, current ideas and forces advocate to convince people (against their better instincts, so, with much propaganda) that the two ideas are mutually exclusive. That to love and defend one’s people is to hate others. Again, that’s as absurd as saying that the day a man proposes to a woman is the same day he declares his hatred of all other women.
The second article of this series briefly detailed the extremes of globalism and chauvinism. In it, I advised exercising nuance to parse through the differences between actual chauvinism/xenophobia versus a healthy love of one’s homeland, people, and culture.
Considering that in light of the present discussion of universal, eternal principles, with love being the ultimate, may appear on the surface as contradictory.
How can I talk about a robust love and defense of one’s home culture on the one hand, and espouse the ultimate unifying reality of transcendent, eternal love on the other hand?
Hopefully these nine foundational articles taken together will clarify that these two ideas really function as two sides of the same coin. We nourish one by nourishing the other, maintaining a harmonious equilibrium as always.
Again, scaling it down to a smaller level of life will help clarify.
To return to family as an example: two healthy families are still not two identical families. Similarly, the broader “families” of cultures and peoples need the space to work out the details of how they navigate life and answer its questions.
Sometimes, cultural and ethnic practices result from basic physical facts, like adaptations to environment. Customs and practices that work in Sri Lanka may not work in Switzerland, and vice versa. This doesn’t make either expression less “true” necessarily; these cultures are just building their “houses” with the sources available around them.
Laws of physics and engineering apply to architecture the same way everywhere, yet a pagoda and a Greek temple look different, exhibit their own styles.
A true appreciation of diversity would have us investigating and enjoying the differences of how real principles and truth work themselves through the vast garden of human life, without trying to just squash it all together. Again, the second foundational article’s discussion of globalism mentions the nefarious motivations behind such squashing.
The simplest way to illuminate the question of how universal principles and the particular expressions of those principles work together is this:
Consider how limited a design the human face is.
Two eyes, a nose, a mouth, and some different shapes those can be set upon. An inherent structure informs the human face, a universal principle one could say. However, within such confined parameters exists a seemingly infinite variety.
How amazing to consider that so many different human faces exist, when there’s such a small amount of space and elements to play with!
The same could be said of a guitar fretboard or piano’s keyboard: within a limited, coherent, organized structure, infinite variety can be produced. Thus we see that structures and variety do not contradict one another; rather, they need, and at a deeper level, are one another.
We can of course easily extend this metaphor to peoples and cultures at large.
Sometimes, more fundamental differences exist among differing cultures’ abilities to collectively embody and teach the value of real principles.
Postmodernism’s assertion that all cultures are equally valid in all ways could only be possible in an age when people have already accepted the notion that there are no overarching, eternal principles to begin with.
If we dare explore the taboos around this, we find cultures may exhibit varying strengths and weaknesses in how they express the rigors of true principles. As a Westerner and ethnic European, I can celebrate the gifts, and yet, criticize the shortcomings of my civilization in the hopes to add to its story for the better.
Certainly, cross-cultural exchanges and experiences can help us learn, grow, and strengthen our blind spots. As mentioned in a previous article, I can study and immerse myself in different cultures to help learn about and address the weaknesses of my own, but I still do so as a Westerner and son of American/European civilization.
When a Westerner reads the ancient Chinese writings of Confucius, in English, translated by another Westerner, the reader no doubt gets a lot of West mixed in with that text’s East.
Then again, regardless of goodwill and cross-cultural exchange, sometimes elements of other cultures view you as their enemy, plain and simple.
Being that the West and Europe was shaped by (and shaped) Christianity, what then can we conclude about that other famous Christian proclamation found in Matthew 5:44 to
Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.
Like the “love thy neighbor as thyself” verse discussed above, “love thy enemy” gets touted out in certain quarters as a shallow, conversation-ending, do-gooder panacea to manipulate the more altruistic strands of the Western heart and mind.
What’s about to be discussed in the following paragraphs can also apply to Jesus’ utterance in Matthew 25:40, regarding those judged in the end of times as wicked for not seeing God in their fellow human beings,
The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’.
The preceding section in this essay about punishing an assailant while realizing that the light of his soul has been distorted by the “dirty glass” of the perversions on his mind and emotions provides a beginning framework. A few more thoughts follow regarding the “love your enemy” and “least of my brothers” question.
Even within the New Testament, we find whiffs of a dialectic, a seesaw, that exists within Christianity. For example, a less-quoted line comes from Jesus in Matthew 10:34:
Do not think I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
We can see this sword as performing the great cutting action of truth, which in the broader sense, corresponds with love. Love and truth and wholeness are one.
Anyone who has seriously read and considered the Gospels cannot countenance the one-dimensional view that presents Jesus only as a peace-loving hippie, or worse, spineless.
The whole idea of Jesus as an avatar/earthly expression of the “Father,” probably another way of saying the transcendent (“I and the Father are one,” John 10:30), is that he radically and solely told the truth, so aligned/one was he with reality.
Whether taken literally or figuratively, do you really think you could walk up to such a character and mess with him? Do you think he didn’t have boundaries? Do you think it was all just feel-good fluff and he’d tell you what you want to hear? Do you think you would not have a profound amount to reflect on and change within yourself after trying to challenge and debate with him?
Jesus of course also displayed righteous anger when he physically attacked and destroyed the money changing tables that were set up in the temple. This story appears in all four Gospels and involves Jesus overturning tables and chasing out the money changers with a whip.
Furthermore Jesus often called out religious leaders in his time as “hypocrites,” taking them to task as described in the 23rd chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.
Another consideration of “love thy enemy” reveals that meeting any type of energy in kind only produces more of it. Everyone knows (at least deep down) that if someone comes at you angrily, and you respond with anger, it only breeds more anger.
I interpret “love thy enemy,” and that other much-discussed line about “turning the other cheek” (Matthew 5: 38-40) as edicts to alchemically shift the energy of a situation, to short-circuit, re-direct, and perhaps transform the environment.
This does not mean taking a defenseless stance.
Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, we also find the following in chapter 10, verse 16:
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.
This line, when applied to the “love thy enemy” verse, shows us that when we love our enemies…we still love them as our enemy.
As our enemy.
That is the key. To understand where another party is coming from. And to adjust yourself accordingly. Again, context matters. You can wish someone well from afar, and also assert your own boundaries and protection should they attack you.
A sense of fair play, sportsmanship, honor, and even good humor can permeate conflict–a posture acknowledging how we’re all playing our role in the grand story of life (2).
Like the quote above from The Love of Destiny referencing Blake’s line “everything that lives is holy,” there’s a way to see life as a game–and a way to do so that is wise rather than nihilistic. This requires keeping an eye on the big picture, the transcendent, which will be discussed more below.
Jesus’ “innocence of doves” we can understand as a call to maintain a light heart, while “shrewd as serpents” denotes a keen, observant, strategic mind.
So he’s calling for a balance, a harmonization of these two aspects that live in us, the dove and the serpent.
Bringing all that to bear leads us, once again, to the following.
The collected wisdom of varying traditions essentially boils down to teaching us about the life-creating, universe-sustaining harmonization of opposite poles:
male and female,
positive and negative charges, or magnetic poles,
left and right hemispheres of the brain and body,
Inhaling and exhaling (building up and cleansing),
yin and yang,
action (logic on the mental plane) and receptivity (intuition on the mental plane),
dynamism and rest,
the experientially known and the yet-to-be explored (past and future.)
This is a basis of living in three dimensions, as two elements always interact to create something anew (note this is a harmonization, not a conflict a la the Marxist dialectic).
As we practice balancing and harmonizing the poles that we encounter in our earthy lives of time and form, we open ourselves more fully to the potential for the light of the eternal and infinite reality to shine through us, reveal itself to us.
The eternal, infinite principles of reality–denoted by words like Love, Truth, Wholeness, in their full majesty–exist beyond opposites.
Such ultimate principles are self-sustaining, self-evident, immanent in all things and yet beyond all things.
They are the ground state of being in which all of the drama of life and the cosmos plays out. In their purest sense, they are synonymous with the transcendent plane discussed in previous foundational articles.
As mentioned in the fourth foundational article: since choice fundamentally makes us human, it is up to us to determine the degrees to which we pursue and at least remain open to the transcendent–as opposed to denying it and fighting it–which is where the tragedy of our necessary separation from the transcendent in this fragile world crosses a threshold and becomes evil.
Even so, the transcendent remains the pivot point–what we’re running towards or running away from–which proves its ultimate power and finality. The eternal Good/God beyond opposites can thus be understood as transcending our more narrow definitions of good vs. evil in this world: pleasure vs pain, war vs. peace, tribe vs. tribe, enemy vs. enemy.
Though love in its fullest sense necessarily lies beyond the particulars of our earthly life, it depends upon the proper harmonization of the complementary opposites of this earthly plane (like those pairs listed above) in order that we get a taste of that whole, total experience that love bestows.
Some people, regardless of the “work” they’ve put in or not, do have spontaneous experiences of the transcendent (it is, after all, unlimited), referred to in certain traditions as “grace.”
Be that as it may–just as the two sides of your body, the two hemispheres of your brain, are bound and hopefully harmonize to act in unity, so too do the other complementary “opposite” poles of earthly life await our bringing them into greater harmony.
Such a meeting releases and realizes the full power and potential of these earthly aspects.
As the most obvious example, the harmonization of male and female has the tremendous power to create new life. And this is why no human being can have peace if they don’t deal with the wild magnetic pulls of masculine and feminine energy, within and outside of them. Hence, romantic relationships are a source of endless fascination, endless strife, and plays an endless central role in our stories.
The love expressed through/as the cosmos itself is an ineffable conception that goes beyond any attempts at categorization, and yet simultaneously is present and immanent and woven into all things.
Perhaps the worst cleave one can make is to either conceptualize God (or oneself) as only transcendent, which often results in flighty “super spiritual” people (at best) and world-denying, world-hating people (at worst), or to make an idol only of earthly creations, living solely for the physical, which often results in materialistic, callous, and dried-up souls. Either extreme can lead to heinous choices and great harm to one’s self and others.
On any level, severing complementary poles, like severing the halves of your body, brings dis-harmony, dis-ease.
The disorientation of our times largely stems from perversions or misunderstandings about balancing the poles (witness current gender confusion) and a lack of understanding how the transcendent, timeless principles are “born” into our human experience by the proper meeting and harmonizing of those poles.
An ideology that tells a society to only consider the feminine, or only consider action, or only consider rights at the expense of responsibilities, or only consider the collective interest at the expense of the individual, is akin to asking a person to only walk around using one leg.
Or, to again use the masculine/feminine polarity, it’s like trying to have a male create a baby without a female, or vice versa.
When an individual properly balances between action and receptivity within themselves, or properly balances their own innate talents with service to the groups they’re a part of, or realistically deals with the areas between the known and unknown in their life, that individual lives in a zone, a sweet spot, that confers purpose and meaning. This registers as a sense of “rightness” that such an individual experiences as worthy deeds are accomplished, springing from a relaxed yet alert state of being.
Often, people struggle to put this sense of “rightness” into words. They just know they’re on the path they need to be on.
Couples truly in love also experience this sense of “rightness.” It’s not perfection, because perfect, sustained equilibrium as such doesn’t exist on this earthly plane of constantly changing forms.
The “rightness” experienced by a couple in love is the feedback that between them, the couple created and subsumed themselves into a space—more than the sum of its parts, a space that transcends the two people as individuals—in which to fully express, experience, and refine themselves and one another.
This couple is truly “in” love–contained within a state, a self-generating force field, as the power of life flows between them.
This ground state of love is present, humming along, and always there to tap back into, even as the more petty and short-sighted (all too human) sides of the two individuals may temporarily take over and roar for a bit. Arguments and ebbs and flows of emotion will not prove critical if a reversion to the mean exists within the relationship, a firmly established space of love that the couple always returns to and lives within.
The conscious encounter with the opposite poles of life, within you and outside of you, begging to be brought into harmonization, and the ultimate, transcendent Love and Truth such acts of harmonization provide you glimpses and experiences of, line the path of return to meaning and fulfillment.
Note that “Truth” is not invoked here in the sense of factual truth as much as it is in the sense of one’s “heart being true” or “aim being true.”
I attempted to remove my personal preferences where possible and instead focus on principles.
Every generation receives a call to assert such principles anew. They require our stewardship.
The nuanced discussions of how the big principles are expressed and negotiated within the particulars of our present day and age will inform much of the material I produce going forward.
To wrap up the discussion of Love as both the alpha and omega, the impetus and the goal, the great synthesizer, doorway to Reality and Reality itself, our gift to experience the transcendent while living on Earth, I’ll leave Mozart with the last word…
…one of those souls who brilliantly expressed that most bittersweet fact of the human condition: the aching for the eternal while gripped in this necessarily limited experience of time and form.
Neither a lofty degree of intelligence, nor imagination, nor both go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.
(1) McCoy, Dan. The Love of Destiny: The Sacred and the Profane in Germanic Polytheism ASIN: B00FB0S9QQ
(2) Christian apologist, scholar, and author, C.S. Lewis, sums up that spirit of honor, sportsmanship, humor and fair play, even in the context of deadly battle, in the following passage from his book, Mere Christianity:
I have often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served in the first World War, I and some young German had killed each other simultaneously and found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot imagine that either of us would have felt any resentment or even any embarrassment. I think we might have laughed over it.”
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