Where do these words take my thoughts? Love is such a much used and abused word with almost as many meanings and connotations as its speakers. The philosophers of ancient Greece gave it two names, “Agape” and “Eros” and their mythology gave their management to different deities. So, it seems complicated, even mysterious, at times in legend and popular imagination and art a blessing or a curse from beyond the mundane realm. Seeking a definition of the core of what the fictional Mr. Long is talking about, I come to this:
When I love another (I’ll get to self later), I want or wish for them every good thing, possible or impossible, no matter how it happens, how they find it, who brings it, who they find it with, or how they create it. There is a sort of catch to this wish, this desire. We do this, we create this context of relationship in the knowledge that the reality will not be so. We desire this in the face of pain, and grief, and illness, and death, and all the misfortunes that go with our mortal existence. When we are willing, in so far as possible, to know and share both the desirable and undesirable experience of others, we call that compassion and empathy. Desiring the best and sharing in the worst, we love. In our mortal journey there is much that can and will break the loving heart, and much that will give it solace and healing. The true path accepts both, takes life and our fellows whole.
It has been said that hate is the opposite of love. I think it is more accurate to say that the opposite of love is indifference. What is hate? It would appear to be a desire that another suffer. If I try to dig a bit deeper into it, I come to the idea that it is a defense against love, born of a fear of what one would have to feel and do if one related to that other with love and compassion. If that is so, then hate is still about love. And, hate is a great deal of work. It requires effort and a distortion even of one’s physiology, a flooding of stress hormones, changes in blood pressure, cognitive changes, tensing of the musculature, and obvious facial expressions. Hate is not healthy. It is destructive of body, and mind, and soul.
Set aside that mask. How does the sort of love this vision sees work in the world? It is not the manic excitement and desire of new romance, the subject of a large portion of the world’s poetry. It is a current of context of feeling and knowing that runs deeper, a wider embracing. We are admonished in a famous teaching to love our neighbor as ourselves. I find two ways to read that. If I love my neighbor as I love myself, what if I do not love myself well? That would be a problem. On the other hand, what if I can love my neighbor as not separate, feel a part of a shared beingness, a greater unity. There, I think is the meaning. Does the desire for the good of all and each require great deeds and noble sacrifice? I don’t think so, although those can happen. Mostly, I think it is nurturing where and how we can, doing our best.
Aiming to be one’s best self we will often miss the mark, but that is no reason not to practice at it. Hoping to be wise, we will often be foolish. Seeking to be loving and kind, we will still know anger and judgment. Thee will be weeds in our practice. Never the less, it is important to remember that the real failure is indifference, not to care, to dwell in ignorance and apathy. We may not all be sages or saints, most likely we will not, but we can have our moments of that and that is no small thing.