I was giving a reading at some university. Down in the front row of the auditorium was a young lady in a leather microskirt and a leather microbolero, tied with a leather bootlace, and nothing else whatever. I said, “I have an extremely wide repertory. What would you like — sex, revolution, or mysticism?” She looked up and said quietly, “What’s the difference?”
Love can be revolutionary — for a certain kind of love is a universal social solvent. It knows few, if any, boundaries and it crosses most — perhaps all — societal lines. That love does not respect differences in race, religion, gender, social class, caste, politics, occupation, income, intelligence, virtue, age, values, and has even been known to scandalously throw dignified epistemologists face forward into the depraved arms of poets.
One depraved poet, D. H. Lawrence, might have had that kind of love in mind when he wrote, “Love is the flower of life, and blossoms unexpectedly and without law…”, for it seems just as impossible to command that love — to tell it when to come and go, and what it ought and ought not do — as it seems impossible to safely pluck even a modestly well-formulated epistemology from the unruly rapids of a poet’s mind. Poets are always saying things, you see: Contradictory things, paradoxical things, irresponsible things, alarming things. Things that leave the rest of us to tidy up behind them.
Now, people mean many things by the word “love”. Like any large family, not all the members of the love family are compatible with each other. Indeed, some are never seen in each other’s company. Yet, if you will take a moment to think about it, I am certain you will agree with me the whole family is suspect. Several of them are revolutionaries. The remainder are apt to be scandalous each in their own ways.
It is my opinion that any sensible person — by which I mean, for example, an epistemologist — would not often bother themselves with such a subject as love. The cruder emotions are most properly studied by intoxicated couples, all youths during their adolescence, passionate women in their thirties — or failing anyone who might be even remotely suspected of possessing a decently well-thought-out epistemology, by poets. As it happens, however, there would appear to be at least one kind of love of potential interest to everyone of us here.
That is because a certain kind of love might possibly — and I must emphasize the mere possibility — lead a sensible man or woman to an insight or two of an epistemic nature. As you might imagine, the topic of love can possess no greater power to excite than if that indeed happens to be the case. To word the key point in terms utterly stark and blunt: There seems a possibility that at least one kind of love is more than merely an emotion — it might also be a way of seeing the world as the world is.
If so — and I say this with confidence — if so, then there would be implications [emphasis mine].
◄Love and Fear►
Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.
Of course not all loves are revolutionary. For one thing, they are not all universal social solvents. Most of the things “love” refers to are downright picky. So, we usually mean by “love” something less than universal. Something that loves some things, but not all things.
Not too long ago, I overheard a woman of about 20 or 22 discuss with her friend the Biblical Commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. I gathered she regularly attended her church, and that the sermon that prior Sunday had been on the Commandment.
She was firm in disagreeing with her pastor: The Commandment only applied to her neighbors, and even then, only to the folks in her congregation: They alone were her true neighbors.
I found myself doubting the Jesus of Mathew 5:43-45 would have raw-rawed her interpretation:
You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.
I suppose Jesus would have empathized with her, though. I think most any of us would empathize, even if we would not cheer her on. Isn‘t love — any kind of love — a bit dangerous? Love makes us vulnerable. Because it makes us vulnerable, it opens us to hurt. And we often enough respond to the hurt by becoming closed off, scared of loving, willing only to be loved, and willing not for ourselves to love. The common wisdom of the world seems to be that only a fool does other than to measure out his or her love like tears — a drop or a trickle at a time — and then only for a select few.
It concerns me that many young women these days lack confidence in themselves. They are a bit too dependent on the opinions of others, especially the opinions of males. So the young woman that day happened to be refreshing: It took her less than 20 minutes to correct the pitiable mistakes of both her god and her god’s clergyman. A part of me wanted to cheer her on for that. Except at 54, I’ve seen where she might be headed, and I would not wish for her the kind of unhappiness, or dukkha, that being a bit too picky with our love can bring us.
It’s odd, though, isn’t it? How someone can be confident enough to correct her god, but perhaps not confident enough to love without loopholes.
◄Love and Desire►
If our love is only a will to possess, it is not love.
Like the young woman, most of us have our congregations; love only those within them; and usually love only a fistful of those folk’s entire field of pixels: We love their pixels that please us, and that’s it. Moreover, we feel we are quite wise to love in such limited ways.
I used to do odd jobs with a man about my age who’d caught his best friend fucking his wife. At least, they’d been his best friend and his wife at the time. We’d be in someone’s attic, installing a set of folding stairs; Chuck would bring up his ex-wife. We’d be hanging sheetrock in someone‘s basement; Chuck would bring up his ex-wife. We’d be at the coffee shop comparing notes on local nudist resorts; Chuck would bring up his ex-wife. It wasn’t every day, but maybe once or twice a week that Chuck would bring up his ex-wife. It was a ritual with him. Maybe, even a religion.
Chuck talked a lot, but he wasn’t articulate, so he repeated himself. The story itself was classic: He’d come home one afternoon unexpected; found the couple in his marriage bed; filed for divorce within a day or two. And gawd was Chuck bitter. According to him, there was not a bitch on earth who was not a slut, a cheat, and a whore.
That included his girlfriends, even if he was fond of them. He was a good looking man, and he usually had a girlfriend, although they had a high turnover rate. Sometimes, Chuck would say something about his current friend that was mildly heartwarming. Maybe even a little touching. Say, a word or two along the lines of how becomingly her breasts jiggled. You’d start feeling happy for him to be enjoying life.
Then a moment or two later, he’d bring up his ex-wife. He’d didn’t even need to make the comparison explicit: His anger compared the two women for him. The good thing was his speeches didn’t last too long: Chuck always ran out of words before he ran out of hatred.
The obvious often escapes me, so it was a few months working with Chuck before I thought of the question, “How long ago did you find them in bed together?”
“Twenty years, Paul.” I didn’t hear what else he said. My brain was too busy doing double-takes. Everything in Chuck’s tone and manner for months had led me to assume six or eight weeks before I‘d met him. There was no way I thought his shocked feelings could be staler than that. In my experience, about the only thing that can keep a guy fresh like that for decades is fear.
I guess we’re all fools in one way or another. Whatever we fear — whatever that thing is — that is what owns us. That is our truest master. And it is our master regardless of whether or not the gods themselves have sworn before the fates that we are fully justified to fear.
You see, the gods will freely swear to the righteousness of our feelings, but what the gods won’t tell us — what they are too hard laughing at to mention at the moment — is that our status has not changed one single bit despite all our divine righteousness: So far as the fates are concerned, we are still no more than mere slaves in the possession of fear, and the fates just love to mess with slaves.
Chuck would not have recognized himself as a fool, though. And, in that, he had a lot of help. A lot of sympathetic people reassuring him his wife was indeed a bitch who’d done him wrong. Worse, that he was fully justified — righteously justified — in his bitterness towards her.
Of course, everyone meant well — or at least, seem to mean no harm — but no one that I know of told Chuck to simply face it. Face the fact his wife had cheated on him, mourn it, and get on with his life. When I did not hear folks sympathizing with Chuck, I heard them offer the sort of advice Pema Chödrön somewhere mentions, “No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear…the advice we usually get is to sweeten it up, smooth it over, take a pill, or distract ourselves, but by all means make it go away.”
Jiddu Krishnamurti used to insist fear and desire were merely two sides of the same thing, and that, when they manifested themselves as desire, they were often enough mistaken for love:
Is love desire? Don’t say no. For most of us it is – desire with pleasure, the pleasure that is derived through the senses, through sexual attachment and fulfillment. I am not against sex, but see what is involved in it. What sex gives you momentarily is the total abandonment of yourself, then you are back again with your turmoil, so you want a repetition over and over again of that state in which there is no worry, no problem, no self. You say you love your wife. In that love is involved sexual pleasure, the pleasure of having someone in the house to look after your children, to cook. You depend on her; she has given you her body, her emotions, her encouragement, a certain feeling of security and well-being. Then she turns away from you; she gets bored or goes off with someone else, and your whole emotional balance is destroyed, and this disturbance, which you don’t like, is called jealousy. There is pain in it, anxiety, hate and violence. So what you are really saying is, `As long as you belong to me I love you but the moment you don’t I begin to hate you. As long as I can rely on you to satisfy my demands, sexual and otherwise, I love you, but the moment you cease to supply what I want I don’t like you.’ So there is antagonism between you, there is separation, and when you feel separate from another there is no love.
Fear and desire. They’re everywhere we want to be.
◄Willing to Love►
Christian love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will.
When I was a kid — still too young to really know what I was doing — that is, still placing trust in Respectable Adults — I read C. S. Lewis’s slim little book, The Abolition of Man. Alarmed? I was shocked!
To this very day, almost 40 years later, I recall the month, exactly where I was, my posture, and the even the weather at the moment I finished up that terrifying final chapter. I was 15, sitting cross-legged in the long grasses of my aunt’s pasture. The June sun, a bit too warm on my hair, a bit too bright on the book’s pages. A breeze across my shoulders, a cloudless sky. The climatic ninja attack in the novel Shogun was still years in the future: Until then, the final chapter of The Abolition of Man was destined to be my standard for literary shock and awe.
Of course, today, it is no more than merely embarrassing I once fell, heart-tumbling, for Lewis’s notions. I was simply too young, too inexperienced to know what was factually wrong with his premises and what was logically wrong with his reasoning. But, there were clues.
Maybe I should have picked up on those clues: I mean, you begin with a tourist refusing to call a waterfall “sublime”, and a hundred or so pages later, there is a psychological jackboot firmly planted on your face — and planted on the face of humanity for a thousand years.
Any sensible kid might have gone, “WTF?”, and safely returned to doing whatever it is that sensible kids do with their summers. Naturally, the absurdity of it escaped my notice. I got upset and stayed upset for three or four years. I was still writing about Lewis in papers I handed in my freshman year at university.
Of course, most of us know Lewis was right in part. To all appearances, there is a new tyranny coming. Some people are fighting it, but most don’t even see it. And the freedom fighters are heavily outnumbered by the folks on their way to the mall. Lewis got all that approximately right. Approximately? Hell, frighteningly right!
Yet, Lewis might have been wrong about objective values. It probably doesn’t matter all that much how many of us have been properly educated, or at least trained, to believe we can objectively describe a waterfall as sublime. Fashions change. Educations change. Today, you begin teaching kids that values are objective; tomorrow you’ll be teaching new kids that values are subjective. Then, at some point, you will teach kids facts are subjective. And, at that point, you begin to resemble today’s society. Maybe as many as a quarter or more of us these days can’t honestly say how a fact might be reasonably established to be a fact, and not a factoid. Lewis thought you could stop such arbitrary intellectual mood swings if everyone would just agree that values were objective.
For that and about a dozen other reasons, I’ve come to question whether Lewis spent as much time as he needed thinking through the problem of objective values. Asking someone to believe in a set of values, no matter what values they are, can be like asking someone to believe in an exotic farting tree. Who wouldn’t want to believe in an exotic farting tree? Damned attractive idea.
But the problem is, we discover the exotic farting tree is undetectable. It’s not something that can be directly experienced. Instead, we know about it only through written and oral traditions, and sometimes through a little inconclusive reasoning. Acceptance would be impossible: We would be forced back upon mere belief. Perhaps, you can imagine all the bug-tussles that would soon flourish around our exotic farting tree, and our set of values would never be secure from fashion.
The same problem occurs with Lewis’s notion of Christian love as will. If that’s all Christian love is, merely a matter of will, then Christian love is on the same solid grounds as belief in our exotic farting tree. “Damned attractive idea. Read the book, loved the movie. That’s the very love that changed my life. I‘m off to war for oil now.”
◄The Miracle of Love?►
The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.
One evening, someone told me she was absolutely convinced it was just a matter of belief. If you believed, without any doubt, that you could walk through a brick wall, then you could walk through a brick wall.
She went on to state she herself lacked the necessary conviction to walk through the wall behind her, but she then insisted a few Enlightened Masters, who by chance were unavailable that evening, had reduced the challenge to a routine. I felt her comments worthy of a Capital Shrug, except, as she warmed to her subject, enthusiastic lights began dancing in her eyes that made her rather pretty. I have a fondness for bright-eyed women, and so I embarked upon an admittedly foolish experiment.
First, I closed my eyes and silently concentrated on making myself believe — believe without any doubt — there were no barriers to my faith. That I could make anything happen if I believed in it. After a few intense moments, I had mustered my available faith to its very last ounce. My conviction was as near to complete as I could make it. Yet, as you might imagine, when I at last opened my eyes, the beautiful mountains on her chest had moved not an inch in my direction. Not an inch! I have never before nor since been so disappointed in the laws of physics.
The bright-eyed woman got me wondering, though: What if we perceived love? What would happen if we had the same sense of “realness” in regards to love that we routinely have in regards to brick walls, pleasantly jiggling mountains, trees, and all the other things we can see, taste, touch, smell, caress, and lick?
Well, what would happen?
These days, when I recall that evening, I think of Stace’s comment on mystical experiences:
By a single such experience of only a few moments’ duration a man’s life may be revolutionized. He may previously have found life meaningless and worthless, whereas now he feels that it has acquired meaning, value, and direction, or his attitude to life may sometimes be radically and permanently changed.
In other words, would it take much more than a few moment’s experience of “love as real” to forever alter our whole attitude towards love and loving?
◄The First Twelve Times►
Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.
The first twelve times in my life that I’ve had a damn good idea, I’ve immediately thought, “Damn! That’s a good idea.” But after a dozen or so times, I’ve learned from experience to think, “So, I wonder who has had that idea before me, and done a whole lot more with it?” That’s what we will find out in our next post in this series.