We are herd creatures, who tend to think and behave in conformity with the prejudices of the masses. Plato called the admiration of the masses the Great Beast. The philosopher Simon Weil, in Gravity and Grace, wrote that this evil beast, the collective, is the object of all idolatry, is what chains and binds us to earth. In the case of avarice: gold is of the social order. In the case of ambition: power is of the social order. Science and art too are steeped in the social element, Weil wrote. “And love? Love is more or less the exception: that is why we can go to God through love, not through avarice and ambition.”
Almost everything we do is done within the social order. Love, in its pure sense, is one of our only opportunities to transcend this order, to be who we are. It is the most intimate act and therefore also the most anarchic. The place where any convention, norm or demand could be abolished. The search for truth and goodness is always personal. And so is love.
Roland Bartheswroteabout the ability of love to be enclosed within itself, independent and uninfluenced by anything external: “I inhabit no other space but the amorous duel: not an atom outside, hence not an atom of gregarity: I am crazy, not because I am original (a crude ruse of conformity), but because I am severed from all sociality.” One could say that the lover is closer than anyone else to the mystics of antiquity, who have cut themselves off from any religious or social establishment, not confronting or contesting. Barth wrote: “quite simply, I have no dialogue with the instruments of power, of thought, of knowledge, of action … I belong to no repertoire, participate in no asylum.” The true lover does not belong to any broad discourse, be it psychological, religious, Marxist. He has no philosophical system to belong to. He is completely cut off, and goes beyond any existing order. He overcame the great beast.
The basis of our love we usually acquire already as toddlers. The way we were loved in our early days shapes the way we will love, or the way we will wish not to love, as adults. The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott wrote that the baby of what he called a “good-enough mother” – when he looks at her he sees himself, for she looks at him. A baby of a mother who is not “good-enough” sees her, because she is busy with herself, her mood, etc.
The same is true in romantic relationships. A true lover always sees the beloved. “The man who falls in love with beauty is different from the man who loves a girl and feels she is beautiful and can see what is beautiful about her,” Winnicott wrote. llove is finding the beauty of the beloved, which means seeing the beloved, and not seeing-myself, seeing my tastes, my desires. The good-enough lover sees his beloved, her needs, her weaknesses, her talents, her looks, and loves them, because he loves her, and does not love her because he loves them.
Kierkegaard wrote: “It is a sad upside-downness, which, however, is altogether too common, to talk on and on about how the object of love should be in order to be lovable enough, instead of talking about how love should be in order that it can love.” When we love, we always love the person, not his qualities. “He who loves the perfections he sees in a person does not see the person and therefore ceases to love when the perfections cease, when change steps in.”
There was an Indian maharaja who used to conduct a full funeral ceremony to himself every morning. Throughout the ceremony, he would chant “I lived a full life, I lived a full life.” He did that to remind himself that he was mortal, so that he would live every day as if it were his last, to remember that the time to live life to its fullest was not tomorrow but today, only today.
American teacher Steven Levine also tried to live in this way, for one whole year. He described his experiences inA Year to Live. The awareness of death makes clear the importance of living life fully. Makes clear the understanding of what is important in life. Levinesaid: “Love is everything. One of the things that we saw during this ‘year to live’ practice, is that to come back and practice a religion or even a spiritual practice is really absurd. When you see the absolute emptiness of things, you really come back. Love is the only rational act of a lifetime.”
Everyone wants to be loved. But it is not certain that this is the most important thing. Psychoanalyst Nina Coltartwrote: “it is healthier and more beneficial to the whole system to love rather than to be loved. There is a potent myth to the contrary, but this way of looking at it is true nevertheless and can be tested by long-term observation.” And George Elliott remarked in Middlemarch: “In marriage, the certainty, ‘She will never love me much,’ is easier to bear than the fear, ‘I shall love her no more.’” It is a greater disaster to stop loving, than stop being loved.
The ancient Greeks, those creatures of profound understanding, knew this well. We tend to see the opposite of love as hate, but for the Greeks the opposite pole of love was the desire to be loved.
And perhaps the most beautiful pronouncement of this is by the poet, W. H. Auden:
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
What is love? Countless answers were given to the question. Poets and lovers see it as the highest thing, the purpose of life. Chemists explain it as an expression of hormone secretion. Brain researchers reduce it to neurological functions. Sociologists see it as a product of culture. Psychologists interpret it as a narcissistic reconstruction of infantile experiences.
Perhaps the question should be phrased differently. Not “What is love?” But “Is there love?” In the scientific age in which we live, many tend to answer that no. There isn’t. There are hormones, there are conventions, but love, as an entity, as a force of nature external to us, of course not.
In this blog I will argue differently: There is love. A complete and total love, true love (which I call ‘llove’), the love that the soul yearns for from its depths – exists. Throughout history, great lovers have known this, felt it. John and Yoko are probably two of them. He wrote a wonderful song, full of joy, a love song for love.
You can hear Lennon soothing: “No need to be afraid, it’s real love.” But the same words can also be understood as conveying a much more radical statement: “No need to be afraid, It’s Real – Love.” If true love, Love, llove, does exist – there really is no need to be afraid. What is there to worry about – that she will not want? That he will not call? If love Is – eventually the right one will be found, and she will necessarily want, he will necessarily call.
Kierkegaard wrote: “Believe in love! This is the first and last thing to be said about love if one is to know what love is.”