I’ve looked at love
From both sides now,
From win and lose
And still somehow,
It’s love’s illusions
I really don’t
Know love—at all.
Lyrics of “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell
For reasons that we will explain in this article, we do not use the word “love” in the content of Simple Reality except to say that the word is worse than useless because it is too ambiguous. “Love” in all its bewildering connotations is perfect for causing confusion in the illusion of P-B. Compassion makes more sense in describing the expression of wholesome human behavior grounded in the present moment. Nevertheless, we will explore the various meanings of love that have confused and tortured humans searching in the hot, sweaty, chaotic jungle that is love.
Oh, by the way, why do we prefer the simple, clear and endearing word compassion? Read the article on compassion found in this book and you will see why. Forward, love’s illusion awaits us.
Love does not lend itself to reductionist examination or as T. S. Eliot said, we should not attempt to place it under a microscope “fixed and sprawling on a pin.” Love belongs in a realm beyond the province of the scientific method. Nevertheless, conventional philosophers, psychologists and scientists, and others generally enamored of their own intellects haven’t hesitated to plunge into the tangled growth of love’s embrace. We will seldom hear a coherent phrase from their mass of mumbles but we can examine a few of their better insights. They provide an instructive contrast to the simple insights of the more intuitive explorers who knew how to avoid the hostile realm of P-B.
Rollo May is one of those insightful psychologists who knew how to define love or as we prefer—compassion. “We define love as ‘a delight in the presence of the other person and an affirming of his value and development as much as one’s own.’ The capacity to love presupposes self-awareness, because love requires the ability to have empathy with the other person, to appreciate and affirm his potentialities.”
“In the first place it should be noted that love is actually a relatively rare phenomenon in our society. As everyone knows, there are a million and one kinds of relationships which are called love: we do not need to list all of the confusions of ‘love’ with sentimental impulses and every kind of oedipal and ‘back to mother’s arms’ motifs as they appear in the romantic songs and the movies. No word is used with more meanings than this term, most of the meanings being dishonest in that they cover up the real underlying motives in the relationship.” Exactly!
Love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Roumania.
Certainly, the fundamental task for anyone wanting to wake up is to distinguish illusion from reality. Eros or romantic love resides firmly in the realm of illusion. The deepest, darkest region of the jungle of love is when the fever of romantic love strikes. Lust can challenge natural morality itself and even conventional reason when lovers become hopelessly lost. “To a psychologist like Freud, the conflict between the erotic impulses and morality is the central conflict in the psychic life of the individual and society.” The Roman philosopher Lucretius warned of love’s passion. “Venus should be entirely shunned, for once her darts have wounded men, ‘the sore gains strength and festers by feeding, and day by day the madness grows, and the misery becomes heavier.’”
When did humankind or at least westerners enter the jungle of erotic love? Romantic love, a major delusion especially in the West, comes under a persuasive attack by Lucretius. “Marriage is good, but passionate love is a madness that strips the mind of clarity and reason. If one is wounded by the shafts of Venus—whether it be a boy with girlish limbs who launches the shaft, or a woman radiating love from her whole body—he is drawn toward the source of the blow, and longs to unite.” No marriage and no society can find a sound basis for healthy relationships in such erotic befuddlement.
Psychologist Robert Johnson may disagree on the timing of the emergence of romantic love in the West but his insights are persuasive. “Something extraordinary happened in the twelfth century when the age of romanticism sprang up out of the Western collective unconscious and we discovered the art of seeing the godhead in another human being. This was known much earlier in the Eastern world, but confined to the relationship between a guru and his student. Aware of the great power of this experience, the Eastern world kept it in the narrow confines of the religious life and forbade it in ordinary relationships. It is wise to put such a force in a container large enough to bear it. Ordinary human relations where we play out this divine drama are not of this magnitude. The faculty of in-love-ness, romantic love, is relatively recent in our history. With it, Western humanity has loosed the most sublime feeling we are capable of and set ourselves up for the greatest suffering we will ever know.”
Love is a form of lethal glue.
Romantic love also plays a key role in western mythology. Freudian psychologist Bruno Bettelheim joins Robert Johnson to riff on eros in mythology and eros in the East. “In order for sexual love to be an experience of true erotic pleasure, it must be imbued with beauty (symbolized by Eros) and express the longings of the soul (symbolized by Psyche).” In the East we find an alternative version of P-B, at least, as far as romantic love is concerned. “People in the Orient do not ‘fall in love’ the way people in the West do. They approach their relationships quietly, un-dramatically, un-touched by the arrows of Eros. Marriages are arranged.”
“Being in love is an intrusion, for better or for worse, of an archetype, a super-personal, or divine world. Suddenly one sees in one’s beloved a god or a goddess; through him or her one sees into a super-personal, super-conscious realm of being. All this is highly explosive and inflammatory, a divine madness. The worst thing about being in love is that it is not durable; it doesn’t last. The transpersonal godlike quality dims and the personal, down-to-earth, ordinary man is revealed. This is one of the saddest and most painful experiences in life.”
Psychiatrist Scott Peck found the myth of romantic love had created havoc in the lives of many of his clients. “While I generally find that great myths are great precisely because they represent and embody great universal truths, the myth of romantic love is a dreadful lie. Perhaps it is a necessary lie in that it ensures the survival of the falling-in-love experience that traps us into marriage. But as a psychiatrist I weep in my heart almost daily for the ghastly confusion and suffering that this myth fosters. Millions of people waste vast amounts of energy desperately and futilely attempting to make the reality of their lives conform to the unreality of the myth.”
Psychotherapist Thomas Moore, writing in his book Dark Nights of the Soul, draws an indictment of romantic love that is indeed very dark. “Love is also a kind of madness. It seals you in a bubble of fantasy where emotions are intense. You feel unbalanced. You do silly things. Your sense of responsibility disappears. You are deaf to the reasonable advice of friends and family. In your delirium you may get married or pregnant. Then you spend years in the aftermath trying to make a reasonable life. At any point you may fall into a dark night of the soul created by the profound unsettling that love leaves in its wake.”
“After years of practicing psychotherapy with men and women of all ages, I am convinced that love is the most common source of our dark nights. It may be romantic love, it may be the love for a child. The lure is strong, but the darkness is intense. It is as though love always has two parts, or two sides, like the moon, a light one and a dark one. In all our loves we have little idea of what is going on and what is demanded of us. Love has little to do with ego and is beyond understanding and control. It has its own reasons and its own indirect ways of getting what it wants. Robert Burton, who lived in the time of Shakespeare, diagnosed love as a sickness and at one point suggest that it might be better to avoid it if you can.”
Robert Johnson is among the most insightful of the psychologists we encounter in this article. “Romantic love is not love but a complex of attitudes about love—involuntary feelings, ideals, and reactions [emphasis added] … like Tristan actually to worship the universal feminine, symbolized by the fair lady whom he served and adored.”
“We might expect that a cult of love that specifically opposes marriage, that encourages passionate relationships outside marriage, that seeks to spiritualize relationship into a perpetual and superhuman intensity, would be a very poor basis for marriage and a very risky approach to human relationships. Yet these are the ideals that underlie our patterns of courtship and marriage to this day! Taken on the wrong level, these inherited ideals cause us to seek passion and intensity for their own sake; they plant a perpetual discontent that can never find the perfection it seeks. This discontent grays over every modern relationship, holds an unattainable ideal before our eyes that blinds us perpetually to the delight and beauty of the here-and-now world.” Note this all-important observation: romantic love is a barrier to the awareness necessary to living in the present moment.
“This is why romantic love, this curious blend of the numinous and the deadly, has become the strongest single force in our culture: It has become, by default, the vessel in which we struggle to contain everything that has been excluded from our ego empires, everything of the unconscious—all that is numinous, unfathomable, awesome, all that inspires us.” This very powerful manifestation of the false self must be deprived of its ability to devour our energy or our True self will remain unfed, starving in the realm of a P-A unknown to us.
Anticipation wheels me around!
The imagined relish is so much sweeter
that it intoxicates the senses.
Troilus in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida
Romantic love is seated in the sensation center of the false-self survival strategy. The pleasure or sensation is in the anticipation, the craving, and the longing. C. G. Jung, like many of us had experience with the illusion of romantic love. “The language of love is of astonishing uniformity, using the well-worn formulas with the utmost devotion and fidelity, so that once again the two partners find themselves in a banal collective situation. Yet they live in the illusion that they are related to one another in a most individual way. Very often the relationship runs its course heedless of its human performers, who afterwards do not know what happened to them.”
Flames for a year, ashes for 30.
Like all challenges emanating from our false-self identity, we can respond rather than react to this particular illusion. Romantic love or “being-in-love” presents us with an opportunity for growing in awareness, for the creation of consciousness itself.
“The very act of being torn to bits by being in love presents its own possibility of solution. If one has the strength and courage for it, out of this dismemberment may come a new consciousness of one’s own uniqueness and worth.”
“Romantic love is the single greatest energy system in the Western psyche. In our culture it has supplanted religion as the arena in which men and women seek meaning, transcendence, wholeness, and ecstasy.”
“We are the only society that makes romance the basis of our marriages and love relationships and the cultural ideal of ‘true love.’”
“One can translate being in love into love. This is what a successful marriage does. A marriage begins in-love and hopefully makes the transition to loving.”
And now for the observations of the mystic Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now who takes us to a deeper level of understanding the toxic effects of romantic love. “So, I’m not saying that the deeper, true love cannot be present occasionally, even in a normal love/hate relationship. But it is rare and usually short-lived.”
“What is conventionally called ‘love’ is an ego strategy to avoid surrender. You are looking to someone to give you that which can only come to you in the state of surrender. The ego uses that person as a substitute to avoid having to surrender. The Spanish language is the most honest in this respect. It uses the same verb te quiero, for ‘I love you’ and ‘I want you.’ To the ego, loving and wanting are the same, whereas true love has no wanting in it, no desire to possess or for your partner to change. The ego singles someone out and makes them special. It uses that person to cover up the constant underlying feeling of discontent, of ‘not enough,’ of anger and hate, which are closely related. These are facets of an underlying deep seated feeling in human beings that is inseparable from the egoic state.”
Of course, the personal shadow contains contents related to romantic love and the dynamic of projection is also common in the kingdom of eros. “To fall in love is to project that particularly golden part of one’s shadow, the image of God—whether masculine or feminine—onto another person. Instantly, that person is the carrier of everything sublime and holy. One waxes eloquent in praise of the beloved and uses the language of divinity. But this experience is from the extreme right-hand side of the seesaw and invariably constellates its opposite. When in-loveness turns into its opposite, there is nothing more bitter in human experience. Most marriages in the West begin with a projection, go through a period of disillusionment, and God willing, become more human. That is to say that they come to be based on the profound reality that is the other person. To make this examination all the more difficult, we have to say that the divinity we see in others is truly there, but we don’t have the right to see it until we have taken away our own projections. How difficult! How can one say that the projection is not true but that the divinity of one’s beloved is? Making this fine differentiation is the most delicate and difficult task in life.”
“Though no one notices at the time, in-love-ness obliterates the humanity of the beloved. One does a curious kind of insult to another by falling in love with him, for we are really looking at our own projection of God, not at the other person.”
“When the projection of in-love-ness is exhausted, the other side of reality—and the very dark possibilities in human exchange—take over. If we can survive this, then we have human love—far less exciting than divine love, but far more stable. We forget that in falling in love, we must also come to terms with what we find annoying and distasteful—even downright intolerable—in the other and also in ourselves. Yet it is precisely this confrontation that leads to our greatest growth.”
“As Titania’s falling in love with the transmogrified Bottom reveals [he is a human with the head of an ass], under love’s spell reason vanishes, and one behaves as if asleep.”
Nor hath Love’s mind of any judgement last;
Wings and no eyes figure unheedy hast;
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguil’d.
Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
What can we conclude about the relationship between romantic love and the process of creating consciousness? Robert Johnson begins our summation about the most misunderstood type of human love. “But one of the great needs of modern people is to learn the difference between human love as a basis for relationship, and romantic love as an inner ideal [the anima], a path to the inner world. Love does not suffer by being freed from the belief systems of romantic love. Love’s status will only improve as love is distinguished from romance. This is the correct meaning of ‘analysis’ in psychology; to analyze is to separate out the entangled threads of one’s inner life—the confused values, ideas, loyalties, and feelings—so that they may be synthesized in a new way. We analyze romantic love, not to destroy it, but to understand what it is and where it belongs in our lives. Analysis must always serve synthesis in order to serve life; what is taken apart must be put back together again.”
“In the symbolism of the love potion we are face to face suddenly with the greatest paradox and the deepest mystery in our modern Western lives: What we seek constantly in romantic love is not human love or human relationship alone; we also seek a religious experience, a vision of wholeness.”
“Man-in-love has made of woman a symbol of something universal, something inward, eternal, and transcendent. Then we have adopted the beloved as the image and symbol of God.”
“We assume we know what romantic love is, although we know nothing; we assume that we understand it perfectly, although in fact it is incomprehensible; we assume that we are controlling it, when in fact it possesses us. One does not ‘do’ it, one does not control it, one does not understand it. It just happens to one. This is why the Western male ego has such trouble coping with romantic love: It is by definition, ‘out of control.’” Without awareness, romantic love can manifest as craving, possessiveness, and irrational passion.
“It was as if approaching his eightieth year he [Jung] has not only escaped the emotional ties with Toni [his mistress] and his wife but also achieved a degree of objectivity which was an essential prerequisite of true individuation [awakening]. This was the final objective of his psychotherapy which had to occur before the birth of the true Self.”
Where love is a scream of anguish.
Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.
The love of friendship is unconditional or makes few demands. “‘In true friendhip, wherein I am perfect,’ Montaigne declares, ‘I more give myself to my friend, than I endeavor to attract him to me. I am not only better pleased in doing him service than if he conferred a benefit upon me, but moreover, had rather he should do himself good than me, and he most obliges me when he does so; and if absence be either pleasant or convenient for him, ‘tis also more acceptable to me than his presence.’”
Seth contrasts eros and philia: “Love, as it is often experienced, allows an individual to take his sense of self-worth from another for a time, and to at least momentarily let the other’s belief in his goodness supersede his own beliefs in lack of worth. Again, I make a distinction between this and a greater love in which two individuals, knowing their own worth, are able to give and to receive.”
The false-self behavior of repression gets in the way of being able to respond with “brotherly love.” “At one extreme of repression, ‘the claims of our civilization,’ according to Freud, ‘make life too hard for the greater part of humanity, and so further the aversion to reality and the origin of neuroses;’ the individual suffers neurotic disorders which result from the failure of the repressed energies to find outlets acceptable to the moral censor.”
In addition to repression, the behavior of projection also becomes an obstacle to philia. “We must differentiate between loving and being in love. Loving another person is seeing that person truly and appreciating him for what he actually is: his ordinariness, his failures and his magnificence. If one can ever cut through that fog of projections in which one lives so much of his life and can look truly at another person, that person, in his down-to-earth individuality is a magnificent creature. The trouble is that there are so many people, and we are so blinded by our own projections, we rarely see another clearly in all his depth and nobility.”
In the Buddhist teaching, it’s clear that to love
oneself is the foundation of the love of other people.
“Loving is not illusory. It is not seeing the other person in a particular role or image we have designed for him. Loving is valuing another for his personal uniqueness within the context of the ordinary world. That is durable. It stands up. It is real.” However, only self-love can open the door to the “love they neighbor” imperative. Notice in the closing section of our article on love that both philia and agape are definitions of love wherein self-love is the foundation.
All a sane man can ever cares about
Is giving love!
The one synonym for love that does mean compassion is agape. Charity from the Latin caritas means esteem, affection and, translated from the Greek agape, means disinterested and therefore selfless love. Selfless love, that is to say love expressed by the True self, is a good definition of compassion.
Rollo May elaborates: “Also, we had no norm of agape (the form of selfless love, concern for the other person’s welfare) in its own right. Agape cannot be understood as derivative, or what is left over when you analyze out exploitative, cannibalistic tendencies. Agape is not a sublimation of eros but a transcending of it in enduring tenderness, lasting concern for the other.”
Let’s begin our search with the teacher for whom agape was the highest human expression. Love thy neighbor as thyself and all of Creation [God] was Jesus’ entreaty. Clearly, we all want to be loved but many of us fail to appreciate that we have to love ourselves first before we can love others or appreciate the truth and beauty inherent in Creation itself. “Richard III, aware that he ‘wants love’s majesty,’ implies that he cannot love anyone because he is unable to love himself. Why should ‘I love myself,’ he asks, ‘for any good that I myself have done unto myself?’”
It has been said that Jesus’ whole teaching was “love thy neighbor as thyself.” We would change the order and say that we must love ourselves before we can love our neighbor. Psychologist Philip Kavanaugh has found in his practice that healing neuroses must include self-love. “We learn the only place any of us can find the comfort of unconditional love is within ourselves. We must let ourselves in before we can trust or love someone else.”
“The art of loving yourself begins with self-acceptance. They are essentially the same.” The next step is to recognize the illusion of the other. “The love that you perceive coming from another is just the reflection of your own inner love. Love of another becomes the unconditional acceptance of your perception of the other. You give because you increase yourself. You have gone beyond a limited sense of personal ego.”
Ken Wilber reminds us that our worldview must be that of Oneness to achieve the fullest expression of compassion. “‘At the personal level, you might feel love for your wife,’ Wilber explains. ‘As you move to a higher stage, you don’t give up that love but you are able to expand it to include the community and ultimately the universe. At the highest level, the statement ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’ is not a moral injunction but a description of a state of consciousness in which you and your neighbor are experienced as one and the same.’”
Love is our highest word and the synonym for God.
Philosophers, psychologists and scientists naturally “love” this subject that we are attempting to unravel. Emerson, tells us what the ultimate goal is, the love of all Creation, and Locke and Dante describe the process. “True self-love, according to Locke, necessarily leads to love of neighbor; and, in Dante’s view of the hierarchy of love, men ascend from loving their neighbors as themselves to loving God.” Christian teachings obviously rest on a firm foundation, theoretically at least. Christian practice is a horse of a different color as we all know.
Blaise Pascal thought that Christian commandments to express love were unnecessary because love of self, one’s neighbors and God came naturally. “The heart has its reasons, which the reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things. I say that the heart naturally loves the Universal Being, and also itself, according as it gives itself to them; and it hardens itself against one or the other as it will.” In other words, free will has its role to play in love as in the rest of human life.
The inherent nature of the Spirit must consist
in the eternal interaction of Love and Beauty
as the Active and Passive polarity of Being.
Where do Christians, and to be fair, most of the rest of us (even with the best of intentions), fall short of our behavioral goals? Politicians make good examples because they so vividly demonstrate what it is to be disoriented among the dense and almost impenetrable, smothering undergrowth of P-B. Machiavelli’s The Prince targets the false self we have become so familiar with. “The princely examples with which Machiavelli document his manuel of worldly success are lovers of riches [plenty], fame [pleasure] and power—that triad of seducers which alienates the affections of men for truth, beauty, and goodness.”
There is a relationship connecting love, the false self and Hell in Dante’s worldview. “Hell is made by the absence of God’s love—the punishment of those who on earth loved other things more than God.” The worldview of Simple Reality would hold that humankind is not culpable for the scarcity of love in the global village today. The largely unconscious population of our planet cannot choose compassion if it is unaware how the P-B narrative and false self identity continually frustrate our realization of Heaven on earth.
In the final analysis of a complex and often bewildering subject, how do we use our free will to reduce our personal suffering and also play an active role in creating a sustainable global village community on this planet? Choosing to respond to what our life has to offer rather than to resist that life by reacting is always the effective strategy to achieve the highest human expression, that of compassion.
“Unconditional love is always the answer on the level of negative and hurt feelings; shadow figures and subpersonalities are no different from our egos or people in general in this regard. We all need the transformatory power of unconditional love to bring out the best in us.”
References and notes are available for this article.
Also find a much more in-depth discussion of Simple Reality
on this blog and in published books by Roy Charles Henry.