The concept of love predates mankind as a species. Some claim, it is even older than time itself. Whereas our ancestors knew mutual respect, comradeship and shared understanding is essential to the continued survival of their tribe, we believe we perceive love in a more sophisticated light…but do we, really?
“One result of the mysterious nature of love is that no one has ever,
to my knowledge, arrived at a truly satisfactory definition of love.”
However, nothing can restrain the curiosity of spirit. Over the epochs, we have attempted to fit love into various categories, such as eros, philia, agape; perfect love and imperfect love and so on…In a very real sense trying to understand love is attempting to examine the unexaminable and to know the unknowable. It is different every time and with every person in very apparent but also quite subtle ways. Overall, love is too large, too deep ever to be truly understood or measured or limited within the framework of words. Its versitable, adaptible nature makes it beyond the explainable.
Scott Peck defines love as the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of ones own and anothers spiritual growth. I, however, disagree slightly…It is the compulsion to do so…
By use of the word “will”, he tried to transcend the distinction between desire and action. Desire is not necessarily translated into action. Will is desire of sufficient intensity that it is translated into action. The difference between the two is equal to the difference between saying “I would like to…” and “I will….” Thefore, the want to love is not love itself. After all, love is as love does. We cannot choose who we converse well with on a platonic level, nor can we choose whom we fall in love with. By defining love as an of will, he inferred that it is an act of intention as well as action. He argues, he we dont have to love, as it is a choice. In my professional opinion, this is only partially true. What when we like someone very much, each day we see them but never pursue them because we have decided not to? We would continue to feel a great deal of affection toward them, there would simply be no desire translated into action, which is rather essential for the bonding process to begin.
Yet, before we continue as to the reason why, it must be noted that in many cases, we may be motivated by something other than love without conscious knowledge, and that what seems to be love is often not love at all. One of the major distinguishing features between what we perceive to be love and that which is real love is the conscious or unconscious purpose in the mind of the person. Furthermore, love is a strangely circular process, which we expand our consciousness in an evolutionary sense.
In other words, when we love, we extend our limits, give our all, or even learn to love parts of ourselves that we don’t.
The act of “loving” is an act of self-evolution even when the purpose of the act is someone else’s growth. It implies effort. We can only extend limits by exceeding them, but exceeding limits requires work. However, when we love someone, this exertion appears to make the connection demonstrably real. It can make any sacrifice worthwhile. Moreover, as a form of energy, love can power the extra step, we take for others, if we let it. Just beware, love is not effortless. To the contrary, love is effortful.
Falling in Love
“Of all the misconceptions about love the most powerful and pervasive is the belief that “falling in love” is love or at least one of the manifestations of love.”
It is a potent misconception, because falling in love is subjectively experienced in a very powerful fashion as an experience of love. While we are still wearing rose-coloured glasses, we perceive a romanticized image of the person rather than the person itself. When we fall in love what we certainly feels is “I love him” or “I love her.” More importantly, two complications become immediately apparent:
- The experience of falling in love is an intimate experience directly related to our sexual desires. We do not fall in love with just anyone. Even though we may love our family and friends very deeply, we do not fall in love with them on a whim. Often the attraction predates the decision to simply be friends. We typically fall in love only when we are consciously or unconsciously sexually motivated.
- The experience of falling in love is temporary. No matter whom we fall in love with, we sooner or later, we fall out of love should the relationship continue long enough. This is not to say that we ultimately cease loving the person, but the honeymoon phase ends and the rose-coloured glasses must be discarded.
To understand the nature of the phenomenon, it is necessary to examine the nature of our ego boundaries. As infants, we do not distinguish between ourselves and the rest of the universe. The animate and the inanimate are the same. There is no distinction yet between I and thou. We and the world are one. There are no boundaries, no separations. There is no identity, just personality traits in the early stages of development.
With experience, a sense of the “me” begins to develop. This interaction between the infant and the parents is believed to be the ground out of which the child’s sense of identity begins to grow. It has been observed that when the interaction between the infant and its parents is disturbed. For example, due to the breakdown of the family unit [i.e. when there is no parent, no satisfactory substitute or when because of their own mental illness, they are uncaring or uninterested, then the infant grows into a child or adult whose sense of identity is lacking in the most basic ways.]
The development of such boundaries is a process that continues through childhood into adolescence and even into adulthood. Generally, the boundaries established later in life are more mental than physical. For instance, at every stage of life, we typically come to terms with the limits of our power on various levels. For instance, it is namely known as the “terrible twos” because of this learning curb. It is the hope and feeling of immediate gratification that can make any twoyear-old usually attempts to act like a tyrant and autocrat, trying to give orders and respond with regal fury when they won’t be dictated to. By the age of three the child usually accepts the reality of its own relative powerlessness.
“Still, the possibility of omnipotence is such a sweet, sweet dream that it cannot be completely given up even after several years of very painful confrontation with one’s own impotence.”
Although we come to accept the reality of our boundaries, we will continue to escape occasionally for some years into late adulthood.
Falling in love is the world of Batman and Captain America. By the time of mid-adolescence, we have already been conditioned that we are individuals, confined to the boundaries of our bodies and the limits of our power…that each one of us is a relatively frail and impotent organism, existing only by cooperation within a group of fellow organisms called society. Within this group, most of us are not particularly distinguished, but we often separate ourselves from others through our individual identities, boundaries or limitations.
In truth, it is lonely within the socratean confines of the fractured self. Some, particularly those who’ve suffered traumatizing experiences, perceive the world outside of themselves as unredeemably dangerous, hostile and unnurturing. Such people feel their ego boundaries to be a protecting and comforting influence. Through them, they find a sense of safety in their loneliness. However, the majority feel our loneliness to be painful, so yearn to escape from behind the walls of our individual identities to a condition in which we can be more unified with the world outside of ourselves. The experience of falling in love allows us this escape temporarily. “The essence of the phenomenon of falling in love is a sudden collapse of a section of an individual’s ego boundaries, permitting one to merge his or her identity with that of another person.” We experience the sudden release of ourselves from ourselves. A surcease of loneliness accompanying this collapse of boundaries ensues and we feel freer than we did before.
In many respects, but certainly not all, the act of falling in love is an act of deep regression. The experience of merging with a loved one reminds us of a time when our identities were submerged in a unified state of universal consciousness. Along with the re-emergence of this microcosmic oneness, we also re-experience a sense of omnipotence which we had to give up in our journey to take form.
The unreality of these feelings when we fall in love is essentially the same as the illusion of separation. We feel the world at our fingertips with unlimited power at our disposal. However, just as reality intrudes upon the fantastical notion of omnipotence as an individual, so does reality intrude upon the fantastic unity of any couple in love. Sooner or later, in response to the problems or daily routine of life, our individuality reasserted itself. For example, he wants to have sex, she doesn’t. She wants to go out, he doesn’t etc.
Our desires are not always going to be in harmony with the wants of others. In the beginning, we can be who we are, pretending to accept and be accepted unconditionally, but honeymoon phase will ultimately pass. Over time, ego boundaries to snap back into place, which is when couples fall out of love. At this point they begin either to dissolve the ties of their relationship or initiate the process of real love.
Actual love often occurs in a context in which the feeling of love is often lacking [i.e. hen we act lovingly despite the fact that we don’t feel all that affectionate].
Falling in love is not an act of will. It is not a conscious choice. No matter how open to or eager we may be for it, the experience may still elude us. Contrarily, it may capture us at a time when we are not seeking it, when it is inconvenient or even undesirable. We are as likely to fall in love with someone with whom we are obviously ill-matched as with someone more suitable. Indeed, we may not truly like or admire the object of our passion, just as we may not be able to fall in love with a person whom we deeply respect and with whom a relationship would be a decent match in all ways. This is not to say that the experience of falling in love is immune to discipline. To be frank, we are usually able to abort the collapse of our ego boundaries and give up our romantic interest. The struggle involved can be enormous. Furthermore, such a strategy is frequently recommended by mental health professionals, when a liaison is dangerous, self’destructive or inappropriate for either person.
Only disciplined will can control the experience, but it cannot create it.
In other words, we can choose how to respond to the experience of falling in love, but we cannot choose the who, how or when. We can’t control the nature of the experience itself.
Whereas falling in love is a partial and temporary collapse of ego boundaries, love is permanently self-enlarging experience. The extension of our limits requires effort. Once the comparatively short moment of falling in love has passed, we are usually none the wiser for the experience. When limits are extended or stretched, however, they tend to stay stretched. While falling in love has little to do with purposively nurturing our spiritual development or that of others. If we have any purpose in mind when we fall in love, it is to escape our own loneliness. We are certainly not thinking of enlightenment. Perhaps, after we have fallen in love and before we have fallen out of love again…
It is through reaching toward evolution that we evolve .
Falling in love is in fact very close to real love. The misconception that falling in love is a type of love is so potent precisely because it contains a grain of truth.
The experience of real love also has to do with ego boundaries, since it involves an extension of one’s limits. One’s limits are one’s ego boundaries. When we extend our limits through love, we do so by reaching out, so to speak, toward people, whose growth we wish to nurture. For us to be able to do this, we must first be attracted toward, invested in and committed to an object outside of ourselves, beyond the boundaries of self.
When we bond with an object outside of ourselves, we also incorporate a representation of that object into ourselves. For example, let us consider any hobby. When we develop an interest in something, like cooking, we start small but before we know it, we “love” doing it. Preparing our own meals instead of microwaving pre-processed junk gradually means more to us. We invest in learning the skills involved in performing that particular activity in order to improve. We inadvertantly learn a great deal about our abilities [i.e. strengths, weaknesses, how to overcome the limitations of either…]. We also understand more about our environment as well as the people surrounding us. For instance, historical context, preferences, problems, future possibilities etc.
Despite the fact that the act happens outside of us, through our attention to it, it comes to exist within us. Our knowledge of it and the meaning it has for us are part of him, part of our identity, part of our history, part of our wisdom. In doing so, we have incorporated it in quite a real way within ourselves, and through this incorporation, we expand our consciousness.
What transpires then in the course of many years of “loving”, of extending our limits in the act, is a gradual but progressive enlargement of the self, an incorporation within of the world without, and a growth, a stretching and a thinning of our ego. In this way, the more and longer we extend ourselves, the more we love, the more blurred becomes the distinction between the self and the world. We become identified with the world. And as our ego boundaries become blurred and thinned, we begin more and more to experience the same sort of feeling of ecstasy that we have when our ego boundaries partially collapse and we “fall in love.” Only, instead of having merged temporarily and unrealistically with a single object, we have merged realistically and more permanently with much of the world.