I’m bothered by my previous post. It doesn’t say what I wanted it to say. I’m thinking the problem is to do with understanding the nature of ‘love’. Thinking about it got me nowhere, though. As with so many concepts, when you focus on figuring it out, understanding becomes more and more elusive. It’s all very mysterious and quantum-like (is that Zen, then?). I wasn’t going to bore anyone (myself included) with plotting out my ponderings, but then this morning this quote from Mum Theresa appeared my Facebook profile:
‘There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.’ (http://www.facebook.com/InstituteofHeartMath)
So, I got to pondering again. Is love a feeling or a behaviour? I think it’s both. Loving feeling inspires loving behaviour and loving behaviour inspires loving feeling. You can have one without the other, though. You can behave in a loving manner to people you feel no special connection with – that’s a good thing, very civilized. You can also feel love for someone but not behave accordingly. That’s not such a good thing. Psychologists will come up with many reasons for it, but I think the root cause is fear. I can’t remember if Hedy (the TEDxTelAviv video that sparked this off) spoke specifically about fear, but I do remember she says something about perceiving danger, so she must be referring to fear even if she doesn’t specify it.
Coming back to the problem we all experience sometime or other in our lives, one that often starts with our relationship with our parents: when we love someone who isn’t loving us in return, no amount of rationalizing will lessen the pain of unrequited love. And when I use the word ‘unrequited’ I’m not only referring to how someone might be feeling, but how also they behave. In other words, someone can still be at the receiving end of unrequited love even when their beloved feels love/desire for them, if they are inhibited in their behaviour and therefore not expressing, ie withholding, their loving feeling. (I hope that makes sense.)
Yesterday a post popped into my inbox entitled ‘Kissing Approval Goodbye – the Key to Happiness?’ I ignore most of the blog posts that come my way on account of being too busy to read them, but I reckon anything to do with kissing is worth investigating! Here are a couple of quotes I liked:
‘When you base your confidence on the approval of others, you are giving people a power they don’t deserve. Often, you’re overvaluing the opinion of a single person (as in the case of a professor or boss).’ (I might add… or a parent or a love interest…)
‘People will be misguided, judge you wrongly and treat you poorly, but so what? Sometimes it’s better to let someone have the wrong opinion of you than waste your energy trying to correct it.’
That sounds sound. Stop requiring the world to ‘love’ you: you’ll be free to act how you choose and you won’t care how people behave towards you. That sounds liberating.
I was thinking how ‘love action’ (wanting someone’s attention, wanting them to behave as if they’re fascinated by us, wanting them to share their existence with us and spend time with us, behaving as if interaction with us is joyful for them, wanting physical contact, etc, etc, etc) sounds like ego-affirmation stuff and that our hunger for it might be pathological and that we really need to get over it. But then I remembered that very young children suffer when they are not sharing these things and therefore it seems more like a hard-wired thing than a soft-wired one (I think of the ego that way, ie as plastic programming). A few summers ago I sat and watched parents and toddlers on the swings in a play park. There was a big difference in the behaviour of the children who had eye-to-eye contact with their parents (or whoever the adults were) and those who didn’t. The former were laughing and wriggling about and focused on the adults; they looked as if they were having a brilliant time, almost as if the swing was irrelevant. The latter were staring blankly around the park and not laughing; they looked bored. I found it disturbing.
There’s a lot of talk in some philosophies about ‘letting go’. I think ‘giving up’ is more appropriate. Letting go sounds gentle (and easy!), but usually if you have an issue that requires you to ponder the concept of letting go, it’s something you really don’t want to let go of at all and giving up with a feeling of hopelessness is usually what you end up doing. Yes, it’s a defeat, but flogging dead horses is a pointless waste of energy, and it’s demoralising.
That possibly sounds pessimistic, but actually I think it’s not as bad as I may be making it sound. Alongside the giving up, we can choose to make the effort to go hungry with grace. Accept that there is lovelessness in the world. Forget about understanding why. Forget about trying to change it.
You don’t have to join the crowd of the loveless, though. By that I mean, if you want to live in a world of love, you can create it within yourself. You can live in a bubble of love. Yes, I know that sounds airy-fairy and New Agey, but so what. Love is good for you: it floods your body with health-enhancing neurotransmitters; whereas fear floods your body with health-demeaning ones. (Maybe love is not a thing of its own, but is the lack of fear, like happiness can be defined as a lack of stress… hmmm, I suspect the advent of another blog post…).
So what I’m practising at the moment is: if I feel any fear or anger welling up I think about what’s likely to be causing it and consciously think of something relevant to counteract it. For example, if I make a mistake at work and fear that I’m perceived as incompetent (not an infrequent occurrence!) I tend to conclude that it’s an ego thing and the other person isn’t necessarily thinking I’m incompetent – it’s just my fear at the thought that they might be. I also think about the mistakes of theirs I’ve picked up on!
If it’s a love-related thing I do also wonder if it’s an ego thing, but I also feel like I’m powerless to override my attachment to that person or my desire for attention from them – so it doesn’t matter whether it’s an ego thing (soft-wiring) or not (hard-wiring) – and I think about how it is that I’m feeling this pain as a result of loving that person (because the same behaviour from someone I don’t love wouldn’t cause the same reaction) and how I have no power whatsoever not to love them, so I focus my thoughts on my feelings of love for them as the origin of the pain; that is, the pain emanates from the love, so the love precedes the pain, or love is the root of the pain, or something like that (hopefully I’ll think of something more eloquent later). In other words, the experience is emanating from a base of love, but is being perceived as something painful instead of something joyful, and it’s the perception of the experience that I’m trying to alter. It doesn’t solve the (perceived) problem that caused the emotional reaction, but it certainly transforms the painful feelings, and surprisingly quickly, too! However, I don’t believe the feelings themselves are transformed from one to another thing – I believe it’s my perception that changes, so the intensity of the emotional energy is the same, but the perception of the experience of that energy is different. (Too long-winded?)
I suppose it might have something to do with willful manipulation of my own perception (cool!). I could be wrong, though. Whatever – it works!
Perhaps it’s also got something to do with learning how not to depend on loving interaction with the external world in order to generate loving feeling internally. Perhaps that’s what my subconscious was trying to say the other day about not requiring love (whether felt or acted out) to be a condition of a relationship.
(NB: I’m not talking about my ‘mother’, in case anyone’s wondering. Just like I feel I have no power not to love certain people with a passion (that’s just the way it is), I have no power not to hate that woman with a passion. That’s just the way it is.) (Inverted commas have been used because the word is meant as a definition of a biological connection and not as a definition of a relationship that involves love and care, as is the common definition of the mother archetype in our culture, just in case anyone’s wondering.)