Learning to Love

“If a man decides that it is better for him to resist the demands of a present feeble love, in the name of another, of a future manifestation, he deceives either himself or other people, and loves no one but himself. Future love does not exist. Love is a present activity only. The man who does not manifest love in the present has not love.” ― Leo Tolstoy

What is it that prevents us from experiencing love in each moment? Perhaps, to better understand this question, we must take several steps back. A good starting point would be somewhere near the question of “What is love?” or better yet “What prevents or restricts love from being manifest in our lives?”

We have been endowed with an incredibly complex system for interpreting the world. It has been suggested by psychologists, that our nervous system is created to not only understand the world but to become modified based on the conclusions drawn from all situations. This description is to say; we are adaptation machines.

Based on what we have experienced in the past - will not dictate how we act - but it strongly influences it. To quote Friedrich Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil, while speaking about the non-existence of “free will” and “non-free will,” he asserts “...in real life it is only a question of STRONG and WEAK wills.” Pg.14 The powerful and frail assertions in this quote are rooted in our combination of experience, and the nature of being. This composition determines how we face our problems.

If we can move forthrightly toward our issues, problems, and insecurities, then we will continue to build confidence. If we can build confidence, then trust should be lurking somewhere in the shadows. This trust along with vulnerability is the prerequisite for love. We can trust another, but never indeed be sure if they will ever hurt or leave us. However, the alternative is not to trust; this is a much worse scenario. Not trusting, means not to love, and that implies at best a lonely life.

If we are faced with a tough situation and we recoil, then this remains as unexplored territory. When we do such a thing, we teach ourselves that the pain of recoil is less than the pain of confrontation - or so we think. By recoiling to early, or too often, much of the world is unexplored and therefore a fear-provoking landscape. This fear-based mindset occurs when our emotions dysregulate. Along with this fear, anxiety can arise. When we get anxious, it is because we worry. If we allow ourselves to sit, inactively and worry, we start to worry about worrying. It follows that we then degrade to a center of being worried, about worrying about worrying, ad infinitum. This pattern is the cycle of anxiety, which does not include the space or trust for love to grow.

The first step out of this downward spiral is as Jordan Peterson said: “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.” We are the only ones that can see our entire inner landscape. Within this space resides all of our shortcomings, faults, insecurities, fears, etc. When we meet someone else, and they mess something up, we are quick to reassure them that everything will be okay, and their mistake is not as bad as it might seem. On the other hand, when we are in a situation that does not work out as we expected, and we judge it as a failure, then we immediately become harsh to ourselves. The inner dialogue can turn toxic very quickly. This change is because we can see all of our faults, so not only are we facing the error in this situation but potentially the reserve of all of our shortcomings across all time.

We must realize that at first a flaw or error is only present in our judging mind. Secondly, all the mentally stored baggage happened in the past. It is no longer with us in the here and now. To release all of this is much easier said than done - I happen to know from experience, as we all do. However, we can make the conscious decision to not shy away from these shadows and to bring our light of consciousness upon them. If we can do this, then like a bat coming into the sun for the first time, it will be painful, but it is of paramount importance.

It is when we reframe our insecurities and anxieties that we can begin to overcome them. Squaring up to a shortcoming and walking headlong into it is the optimal path through it. It is perhaps the most intense and painful experience as well. This is much like the blacksmiths forge, or a plane flying between two points. The path is short, yet severe. This high road is where the most profound growth happens.

This type of growth predominantly occurs when we are alone when we descend into the darkness that is within us. We come face to face with this chasm that exists between every human - the space that is there no matter what. Within this space, the fear of not being worthy of love starts a crack in the dam of self-confidence. If it is bad enough, the fear of not being worthy of love and acceptance is able to live and grow. The worst possible scenario is for this to pervade unconsciously. Therefore, the first step toward love is a recognition of our faults and insecurities. The second step is a full acceptance of them.

When we realize what love is, we can span this space between humans as much as possible. There are two primary types of love. The first is self-love and the second being, love of another. However, the ironic part is that we cannot love ourselves, without loving others.

At this juncture, we should ask several provocative questions: 1) Who is the “self” that I must love? 2) If I love myself, isn’t that being selfish?

The first question ties back to the assertion that to love ourselves, we must love others. If we think about something that we love, even if we deem it something about ourselves, we will realize this aspect is not us. We could love our intellect, body, some food, sex, or alcohol. None of these are a result of us. Intellect comes through the development and studying of other people’s work. A well-maintained body comes from following the advice of others. Food, sex, and alcohol are all stimuli that come from the outer world. The key point here is that we only know “our-self”, in relation to another. To find the self, it is much like unwinding a ball of yarn. We can start to ask fundamental questions like, “Who am I?, or who is the “I” that I am asking about?” The more we pull this string, the smaller the “I” becomes, until eventually, we get to the center of the ball of yarn only to realize that there is nothing there.

Now, to elaborate on this topic, and answer the second question of “If I love myself, isn’t that being selfish?”. We should at first recognize that if we are selfish and self-centered in a non-genuine way, then this leads to misery. For example, if we say that we love someone, when in reality, what we mean is that we “should” love them, this is deception. If on the other hand, we are genuinely selfish, or, in love with ourselves, we can see the connection of what we love in us as an assimilation of the other. Once we understand this, we realize that for us to exist, we depend on others. We are relative. So, if we are genuinely selfish, we must conclude that the best thing to do is to give to and ensure the happiness of others. It is not until we fully let go of our attachment to ourselves and move forthrightly into the world to love others that we will feel loved. So then, when we are feeling lonely or depressed, is it not because we are entirely focused on ourselves?

Let us be clear that love is not the same thing as possession or control. To quote Alan Watts:

“You don't know yourself because you never can. The Godhead is never an object of its own knowledge just as a knife doesn't cut itself; fire doesn't burn itself, light doesn't illumine itself, it's always an endless mystery to itself. I don't know and this I don't know other than the infinite interior of the Spirit, this I don't know is the same thing as, I love, I let go, I don't try to force or control, it's the same thing as humility…”

So in the same way the birds fly the nest at the proper age, we must recognize love as a constant, ever-evolving thing. Love comes when and as it should, just as much as when the time comes, it will leave the nest to take flight. By possessing a bird, it loses all of its majesty and cannot fly. The same can be said for love and a caged heart.

“Self-transformation is precisely what life is, and human relationships, which are an extract of life, are the most changeable of all, rising and falling from minute to minute, and lovers are those in whose relationship and contact no one moment resembles another.” - Rainer Maria Rilke

We are born of insecurity, fear, pain, regret and the like. It is our sole responsibility in life to recognize these for what they are. We must also realize that we are the only people that can see the full landscape within our heads. This topology includes all good and evil, happy and sad, all things raw that are generally hidden from the outer world. We must work to break down this mask that we wear and be true to who we are. If we do this, then the love and connection that we will experience will be more profound and more genuine than ever. When we do the work, we will start the stream of love. This flow is an energy that does not desire; it does not hold onto, it merely flows, enjoys, appreciates, cares for and is. Love is like a river if we restrict somewhat, it will flow more violently, if we create a damn, we will stop the flow completely. If we cannot come to this full acceptance, we will very likely be alone, afraid and always feeling like a tumbleweed across a dry, and barren desert.

“To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. For this reason young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love: they have to learn it. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered close about their lonely, timid, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time, and so loving, for a long while ahead and far on into life, is — solitude, intensified and deepened loneliness for him who loves. Love is at first not anything that means merging, giving over, and uniting with another (for what would a union be of something unclarified and unfinished, still subordinate — ?), it is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world for himself for another’s sake, it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things. Only in this sense, as the task of working at themselves (“to hearken and to hammer day and night”), might young people use the love that is given them. Merging and surrendering and every kind of communion is not for them (who must save and gather for a long, long time still), is the ultimate, is perhaps that for which human lives as yet scarcely suffice.” - Rainer Maria Rilke

Original quotes by Rilke were found in several posts over at Brain Pickings with links below:

[1] https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/09/03/rilke-love-marriage/

[2] https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/01/29/rilke-on-love/