Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Spectrum of Love

People mean so many different things when they refer to love. For some it means desire or lust, for others compassion, for some need, for others compassion, for some need, for others generosity, for some an impersonal ideal, for others devotion or yearning. Love is one power that is reflected on many levels of our being: physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and cosmic.

Love is not primarily an emotion. Sometimes the greatest enemy of love is sentimentality, the cheapening or trivializing of the greatest power in the universe. Once a certain sheikh, someone who had given a lifetime to the path, was visiting us. He spoke about the efforts and sacrifices that are needed if we truly want to know the Truth. There was a guest in our circle that day, someone who was filled with a sentimental enthusiasm. “But what about Love?” she asked with her dreamy eyes.

“Love?” I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” our foxy mentor replied.

“Well, love is wonderful, love is incredible, love is what spirituality is all about. You mean you don’t know about love?” An excruciatingly long pause followed.

“My dear,” he said to her, “should one use a word unless in the moment that one uses it, one is that love?” There are dangers in talking about love without being love. The dangers of not talking about love are also great. Worst of all may be convincing ourselves that love is far removed from ourselves.

The most elementary and limited form of love is desire, or eros, to use a more suggestive term. We all have desire, or passion. At the most basic level it is animal desire – desire of the desirable, love of the lovable. Eros is attracted to what it finds desirable or beautiful. Its power is valuable as long as we are not enslaved by it, but often eros knows no limit in its desire.

The domain of eros is attraction and pleasure. Eros is the power of the universe as it is reflected at the level of our natural, animal self. From the spiritual point of view, eros is a derivative, metaphoric love. It searches without satisfaction through many objects of desire but never reaches full satisfaction. Sufis refer to it as “donkey love,” because the donkey brays – not a very pleasant sound – when it is aroused.

Philos is a form of love characterized by sharing or participation. It is a more comprehensive form of love, wider, less self-centered than desire. It brings people into relationships. Philos engenders all forms of sharing: family life, social clubs and political organizations, brotherhoods, sisterhoods, cultural bonds.

The highest, most comprehensive level of love is agape – a spiritual objective, unconditional love. Immature love needs to be loved; mature love simply loves. Agape, or unconditional love, can dissolve the false self. By removing the obstacles we put in the way of agape, by grounding ourselves in the principles and knowledge of love, and by being with those who love Spirit, we may come to live within the reality of agape. Eventually agape will refine and expand our sense of who we are to infinite dimensions. It will dissolve our separate existence. Then, instead of seeking the security and consolation of the ego, instead of seeking to be loved, we will be love itself.

I once asked someone whose spiritual maturity I trusted, “Is there ever a time when you no longer need other’s love?”
“Yes, when you love.” When you are love. When there is no difference between you and what you love.

Once a certain man knocked at a friend’s door. His friend asked him, “Who’s there?”
“It’s me,” he answered.
“Go away. This is not the time. There’s no room for two at this table.”

Only the fire of separation can cook the raw. Only loneliness can heal hypocrisy. The poor man went away and for a whole year burned with longing to be with his friend. Eventually his rawness was cooked, and he returned to the door of his friend, but no longer as he had been. He walked back and forth, in humility and respect, cautious lest the wrong word should fall from his mouth. Finally, he knocked.

“Who is there?” the friend called.
“It’s only you here at this door.”
“At last, since you are I, come right in, O myself, since there isn’t room for two I’s in this house. The double end of the thread is not for the needle. If you are single, come through the eye of the needle.”

Intimate conversation is one of the most important practices of the way of Love. Without a spiritual friend/teacher/guide our possibilities of advancement are very limited. The spiritual friend should be a humble human being who has melted in God. The implicit call of such a person is: “Fall in love with me, just as I fall in love with you; then in our mutual nonexistence we will be complete.” The phrase “to fall in love” is not to be confused with romance or any form of possessiveness, but it strongly suggests a kind of intimacy and mutual devotion that is necessary in this spiritual relationship. A Sufi of the twentieth century, Ishmael Emre, has said, “The compassionate and perfect human beings kill the secret of Truth with humility and the sword of love.”

Yet despite these high-minded thoughts on love, we must acknowledge that we have all failed in love. This is our starting point. We have all been broken and disappointed in love because our love has been identified with our egoism, when it was meant to dissolve that egoism. We can love when we expect to get something. We can love when we have the perfect person to love. But there is no such perfect person, and even if there were, we would not know it unless we too were perfect, because we would inevitably project our own imperfection onto the others, as the masses have always done to the prophets. God’s messengers were not loved; they were more often hated. Hatred is frustrated love, the shadow of love. It implies the presence of love corrupted by egoism. Egoism can turn beauty into ugliness, generosity into selfishness, love into hatred.

(Kabir Helminski. The Knowing Heart: A Sufi Path to Transformation. Shambala Publications, Inc. Boston, 1999. P.46-49)

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