I love love, but love is difficult to understand. What is love and how does it manifest in me and in my life?
Most of us romanticize love. Love is joy, happiness, deep affection, kindness, generosity, gratitude, sugar and spice and everything nice. We want to believe that there is a purity to love. It transcends the calamities and suffering of this Earth, and lets us soar into the vastness of the heavens. Love is our reward for suffering.
Similarly, we vilify fear and pain. They are the tools of the devil, to be avoided at all costs for the monstrosities that they are. In purity there is certainty, and in certainty there is a kind of peace.
Unfortunately for us, reality is not pure, neither is love, nor fear or suffering. When we aspire to a love that is pure, we inflict more pain and more hurt on ourselves.
Purity of Love
Our search for a pure love or a perfect love comes from a desire to escape the impure and imperfect. Impurity and imperfection are seen as failures, weaknesses, something less than divine. Our fear of failure or of weakness drives us toward a hyper-desire of success, which leads to a need for purity and perfection.
There is nothing wrong with aspiring to success. It is only when this need is fueled by fear, leading to an intolerance of failure that we run into problems.
In reality, love is not pure. When we love, we fear and we suffer. When we love someone or something, they become precious to us and we naturally fear their loss. The deeper the love, the deeper the fear. Since nature is impermanent that loss will one day occur, at which time we will feel pain and suffering. The deeper the love, the deeper the suffering. Those are the rules of life, the way we humans are wired, and the way our reality works.
Love and Addiction
What is addiction and how does it relate to love?
Addiction is “the state of being compulsively committed to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”
Addiction can be seen as a condition of loving too much or loving compulsively. Life gurus commonly advise us to “not love too much”, as if love can be measured out in tablespoons, cups, and ounces. We have no more control of whom or what we love than the measure of that love.
But does addiction really originate from love?
I would argue that addiction originates from fear. When we love deeply, we fear loss. Because we fear the pain of loss, we develop an intense desire to permanently hold onto the object of our deep affection. This hyper-desire can become an addiction. We become clingy, quick to jealousy, and cannot let our love out of our sight.
After we suffer a loss, we can also become addicted to drugs, narcotics, or some other substance, person, or activity to numb or redirect our emotions from the fear and pain of loss.
My grandmother was a gambler. She lost much of her money and the family’s money due to her gambling habit. Ultimately, she was only given a fixed allowance because she could not control her addiction. I believe that she was addicted to gambling not because she loved playing cards but because she feared not having money and thus not having any value or love in life. As many of us are taught, she equated money with self-value and self-love.
Such gamblers often lose everything because they fear failing and losing their money so much that they play not based on skill but based on emotion. They make risky big bets and strategy goes out the window because fear is frequently in total control. They do not enjoy playing the game, and experience only brief enjoyment in the winning of a hand. Even the pleasure of winning quickly disappears as fear once again takes the helm and induces the gambler to win the next one and the next. Most of the time she is in terrible agony, anticipating an upcoming loss.
Love and Suffering
When we love deeply, everywhere we see love,
When love dies, everywhere we see loss and pain,
There is no escape, even for our agile consciousness.
We cannot travel to the past,
We cannot stay in the present,
We cannot go to the future,
Everywhere there is suffering.
Suffering is a human condition because love is a human condition. We are born to love and from love comes fear and suffering. When we try to deny this fact of life, we fear and suffer more. This was what happened to me when I lost my two beloved Huskies.
We are naturally wired to avoid or fear pain and suffering. However, if we overly fear suffering, then we develop a deep fear of loss, which can in turn cause us to reject love. Love can be very painful when we lose a loved one and that pain stays with us for as long as we love, which in many cases is for the rest of our lives.
Unfortunately, every time we reject love, we feed our fear of loss. As our fear gets stronger, we reject more and more, thereby leading to a very narrow and isolated life. My mother led such a life and it was not a happy one. In her quest to avoid suffering, she ended up creating a lot more unnecessary suffering for herself. She spent her life rejecting everyone and everything so she ended up alone, depressed, and full of fear.
After my dogs died, I was well on my way down that dangerous path. Luckily, an open minded doctor pointed me in the right general direction and I have since realized that the best way to deal with the fear and pain of loss is to face it head-on.
Facing fear and pain is difficult because I have to override my natural body’s inclination for protection. However, it is a very worthy endeavor because by facing fear we free ourselves to truly live and truly love. I never knew how much I let fear control my life and make decisions for me until I stopped running away from her. When I started really listening to fear, I saw that she permeated every aspect and most moments of my life.
Fear and suffering are often seen as terrible things that must be avoided at all costs. As we go through life, this fear grows. It is no coincidence that Hell is seen as a place of eternal pain and suffering.
However, when we start tending to our fear and pain, we see that they are not as monstrous as our fear and society may lead us believe. In fact, fear can be exciting, which is why many people ride roller coasters or go bungee jumping and sky diving. Fear can also enhance attraction as has been shown in many experiments. This is why scary movie date-nights are popular with the young. Emotional pain or suffering can also evoke deeper feelings of love. James Cameron’s Titanic was particularly moving because the pain of loss added a poignancy to the love.
When I let myself feel the pain of loss fully, I also feel a very deep love. Just as the dark makes the light seem brighter, fear and pain can make love more powerful. Frequently, we feel many different emotions simultaneously. Some may dominate at certain times but there is usually a mix. Love can be achingly beautiful and memories can be bittersweet. This is the reality of being human.
After facing my fears I finally understand that many of the things I thought I loved, didn’t come from love at all but from fear. I had to be perfectly successful, beautiful, youthful, happy, and productive in order to be loved. Love came with conditions … conditions set by fear. I feared failure, aging, suffering, pain, and not being useful. Most of all I feared not being loved.
I never received unconditional love from my parents and didn’t really know what it was until I met Shania and JJ. I love Shania and JJ no matter what. I love them through good and bad times, through aging and illness, and also through death. It did not matter whether they loved me in return. Every day with them was a song because I love them.
True love is unconditional love.
Many of us go through life busily looking for unconditional love, but in our mad striving we are never able to find it or even give it to ourselves. In our grasping for love we fail to recognize that true love cannot be directly pursued but ensues from us giving it to others and ourselves. Shania was especially easy to love. Whatever love I gave her she mirrored back to me many times over. Even though she is no longer with me, I will forever be grateful for sharing ten wonderful years with her.
Loving my mother is much harder. She rejected me my whole life so there are few positive memories and many painful ones. Yet, bitterness and anger of her and my difficult childhood has only created additional and prolonged suffering for myself. When we hold onto grudges and reject our natural state of loving-kindness, we hurt ourselves most of all.
In life, we often dole out love in little miserly bits as if it were a scarce resource. Love is highly valued by all, we have limitless amounts to give, and yet we selfishly hold onto it. We have silly rules and silly games that we play with each other because we fear rejection.
We are so hung up with conditions on love that we even made God’s love be conditional. There are God’s rules that must be followed, sins to avoid, karma to be accrued. We cannot enter Heaven’s gates until our ledger is properly balanced in the right way.
How to Find Love?
Since we have boundless love to give, should we give unconditional love to all? Should our love extend to even the vilest figures of history?
I do not think it is possible to give unconditional love to all. We are, after all, limited by time, and like all things we want to grow, love needs tending. Part of life is choosing which loves we wish to nourish.
The tragedy of life is that we frequently spend so much of it running away from fear that we have little time left over to tend to love. Therefore, the first step to finding love is to face our fears. If we tend to our fears, do deep listening, and weaken its hold on us, we will leave a lot of room for love to expand.
By recognizing the nature of fear, we can also start to recognize those who are filled with and controlled by fear. Sadly, both my parents fall into this category. It is important to remember that all of us have fear. It can neither be wished away nor trained into extinction. Fear will always be part of us. The trick is to tend to it properly and not be controlled by it. We can start tending to our fears at any time of our choosing. However, we have no control over the chosen time of another.
Your happiness and suffering depend on your actions and not on my wishes for you.
It would be marvelous if my parents were able to give unconditional love but they are too beset by inherited and self-made fears to do so. It would be fantastic if they decided to change, but they have thus far chosen not to. Still, my inner child loves them in an unconditional way, and that is ok.
I was in conflict with myself for a long time over loving my parents. My adult self did not want to love people who continued to hurt and reject me, parents or no. But there is nothing wrong and in fact much good in letting a part of myself continue to love them. However, I am not on speaking terms with my father because it is only possible to have a one-sided relationship with him. Him dictating and demanding large sums of money, and everybody else following his dictates and giving him what he wants. If he ever decides to change I will happily accept him with open arms, but in the meantime, I am not holding my breath.
Memories of my childhood will always be painful and I have accepted that. My parents are not capable of giving unconditional love and I have accepted that as well. I am not sure if this is true forgiveness but this is the closest I have ever come to it.
Many life gurus advise us to practice forgiveness as if it were the easiest thing in the world. I believe that real forgiveness can only come after facing our fears and pain, going through them, and reaching a true understanding of those who have harmed us. It is this real forgiveness that is earned through pain, which can ultimately bring us to a place of peace and love.
Meaning of Life
All of us want happiness and to be loved. So we rush this way and that way looking for both. But the urgency and mad grasping comes from fear and not from love. When we realize that and stop running, when we face our suffering and stop feeding it, unconditional love will naturally emerge because it was there all along.
When we give unconditional love, it will come back to us many times over. There is no need to hurry, true love is everywhere and always within us. We only need to open our eyes and see it, through our fear and pain.
No one knows the true meaning of life, if there is one to be known. But not knowing is the essence of freedom, and freedom is a very good thing. With this freedom we can listen to the stories of others, decide for ourselves what is good and honest, and come up with our own stories to warm our hearts and fill our souls with love.
Honestly, I think many of your observations and questions are the same ones that haunt so many people, myself included. While you may feel like an island, you’re one of thousands, or millions of islands, separated by a stretch of water that seems to be impossible to cross. Hopefully one day the tide goes out, and you’re able to meet someone else in the middle of the passage…
Aya Hajime says
Yes, I agree with you. I think love, fear and suffering are a shared human experience. Your words are beautiful and I love the island metaphor you used. I think isolation or loneliness is another shared human experience. Language can only express so much of ourselves to others, so perhaps that is part of the sadness. But of course, there is also much joy in living, mixed in with all the other emotions. The trick I am learning is to embrace them all.