Love, too, has to be learned

Related imageThere are many types of love, different in their objects, in their intensity. “The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them,” wrote Margaret Atwood. “There ought to be as many for love.” But we only have one. This is perhaps the greatest confusion of language.

Among the many expressions of love, there is a sublime one, aspired by all. This is True Love (or “llove”). Most loves are mixed with other emotions, with jealousy, with resentment, with hatred. A complete, total love is rare.

Image resultYoung people, wrote Rainer Maria Rilke, bewildered and impatient in their love, escape into one of the many conventions that society has put up in great numbers like public shelters on this most dangerous road. “Since society preferred to take love life as an amusement, it also had to give it an easy form, cheap, safe, and sure, as public amusements are.”

Image result for erich frommThere is hardly a man who has thought of love and has not come to a similar conclusion: true love is not common. It is much simpler to be satisfied with amusements. Erich Fromm wrote: “No objective observer of our Western life can doubt that love – brotherly love, motherly love, and erotic love – is a relatively rare phenomenon, and that its place is taken by a number of forms of pseudo-love which are in reality so many forms of the disintegration of love.” And British philosopher Simon May observed: “Everyone needs love; many find it; but few live it.”

Almost everything that is meaningful in our lives, we need to learn to do, and we devote considerable time and effort to this. But loving, we think, is a natural ability. Therefore many tend to not take it seriously. But if we want not only to find love, but to live love, active efforts are required. Nietzsche likened it to music. Any person, if not deaf, is capable of receiving sounds. But really hearing is another matter. He wrote:

Image result for Nietzsche“First one has to learn to hear a figure and melody at all, to detect and distinguish it, to isolate it and delimit it as a separate life; then it requires some exertion and good will to tolerate it in spite of its strangeness, to be patient with its appearance and expression, and kindhearted about its oddity:—finally there comes a moment when we are used to it, when we wait for it, when we sense that we should miss it if it were missing: and now it continues to compel and enchant us relentlessly until we have become its humble and enraptured lovers who desire nothing better from the world than it and only it.— But that is what happens to us not only in music: that is how we have learned to love all things that we now love. In the end we are always rewarded for our good will, our patience, fairmindedness, and gentleness with what is strange; gradually, it sheds its veil and turns out to be a new and indescribable beauty:—that is its gratitude for our hospitality. Even those who love themselves will have learned it in this way: for there is no other way. Love, too, has to be learned.”

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Beyond the social order

Simone

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.

RolandBarthes

Roland Barthes wrote about 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 only rational act

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 in A 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. Levine said: “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.”

Better love

Everyone wants to be loved. But it is not certain that this is the most important thing. Psychoanalyst Nina Coltart wrote: “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.