It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all– Joni Mitchell
When a rosebush starts to bloom, we know what to expect. We don’t stand around waiting for little green men to pop out. When we enter a relationship, however, our expectations are often for little green men – singing, dancing, bearing gifts and cracking jokes. Many of us carry all kinds of illusions about love, and end up missing out on the real thing.
What we now imagine love to be is a more subtle illusion. It’s like the myth of the youth Narcissus who sees his reflection in a pool of water. He becomes so captivated by his reflection that he loses all awareness of himself, till he eventually starves to death gazing at himself reflected in the pool.
This is what many lovers nowadays seek to do. They look for someone who will reflect their image back to them in such a way that they become enraptured with themselves. Men seek women to appreciate and praise them, and women do the same thing. Each person becomes a pool of water for the other, reflecting back an enhanced self-image to his or her partner.
If our chosen pool of water starts reflecting unpleasant things back to us, we become very disturbed. They may be telling us some truth about ourselves, but this is not what we want to hear. We are not really interested in the other person, but only in what they can reflect back to us about ourselves. Eventually, like Narcissus, we lose awareness of ourselves, and become starved – of genuine companionship and of love.
The true nature of love
Love is an energy that arises spontaneously in the heart. There is nothing we have to do to make it happen. Love is our intrinsic nature. Inside each of us there are wellsprings of love, which are always ready to flow. If we are not experiencing love right now, it’s not because we are failing to create it. Not at all. The only reason we don’t experience love right now is because we are preventing it from arising. We are blocking its flow.
We can think of love as like water flowing in a stream. Our illusions about love are like dams across the stream. When we see the flow is dammed up, it doesn’t help to jump into the stream with a paddle and start trying to move the water along. Simply remove the dam.
Here are seven ways in which we prevent the flow of love from happening:
Possessiveness turns the other person from an autonomous being into an object. It demeans the other, and is self-centred rather than loving
Dishonesty cuts the other person off from who we really are in that moment, creating confusion and mistrust.
Demands are an attempt to force a response from another person. They inhibit the possibility of love arising spontaneously.
Judgements show a lack of tolerance and acceptance for the other – qualities that the heart needs in order to open.
Narcissism has already discussed.
Idealism lacks acceptance of the frailties and imperfections that are part of everyone’s human nature. It makes the other person feel unnecessarily inadequate.
Projecting into the future takes us away from the only place where love is found – the present moment.
We may know these things intellectually, yet in spite of this we can still find ourselves acting in unloving ways. The barriers that we place in the way of love are generally put there unconsciously. Other people may see what we are doing, but we are usually blind to it. The first step to removing obstacles is to recognise that they are there. Once we have seen them, then removing them becomes easy. It is just a matter of giving up old habits.
I have three treasures
The first of these is love– Lao Tsu
Devotional qualities of the heart such as love and prayer happen spontaneously. Yet, cultivating love doesn’t mean that we can make love happen. Love happens spontaneously – but only when we stop blocking its flow. Love will not just happen under any circumstances. There are certain universal laws that govern the arising of love. We need to understand and respect these laws if we want love to appear in our lives.
A universal law is something that you have no control over. It controls you. We learn to respect the physical laws of the universe as young children. This happens through trial and error – we fall over a few times, get our fingers burnt, stuff ourselves with sweets – till we realise that these things are painful. A boiling kettle hurts. Indigestion hurts. So we learn to adjust. Don’t touch that hot thing. Stop after a few cookies. Don’t climb on the edge of that chair.
It is our body – and the feeling of pain – that gives us these messages. Our body acts as a feedback system for dealing with the world, educating us in the ways of the world.
While most of us have come to understand and respect the physical laws of the universe, the same cannot be said about the universal laws of love. We continue to get our hearts bruised, and completely misunderstand how this happens. We continue to suffer loneliness, yet fail to learn what works and what doesn’t work in a relationship. We think we can be judgemental, demanding, dishonest, or just merrily project into the future – and that these things will have no impact on our love lives.
However, the world of the heart is governed by certain universal laws. If we fail to recognise how we have shut ourselves off from love, then we don’t see that our suffering is telling us something about ourselves.
When it comes to loving relationships, people generally fall into two categories. There are those who believe in romance, meeting the ‘right’ person and letting the magic happen. If the magic doesn’t happen, or if it fades away, then it could not have been the right person.
The second type believes that relationships have to be worked at. They believe in the active side of love. They will do and say all the right things, follow the guidelines and generally ‘try’ to create a loving connection.
Each approach is incomplete, representing only half of the story – not enough in itself to ensure a life of love. Love is magic – but it also needs an understanding of the laws of love to make it endure. Otherwise we can easily stifle the magic with our foolish behaviour. Love can cause you to soar up into the clouds – but you need two wings to fly: the left wing of spontaneity, and the right wing of acting in harmony with the underlying order of nature. Without this you’ll be like a one-legged duck in a pond – just going round and round in circles.
Love is far grander, wiser and more powerful than we are. It cannot be reduced to a few words or gestures. Our thoughts and actions can support the arising of love – but they cannot cause it.
What causes love? Nothing. Love is not caused by anything we do or say. Love is our essential nature. It is already there, waiting deep in our hearts for us to give up trying to control our lives, and surrender to it. Love demands from us a surrender – and then it rewards us with the greatest fulfilment in life. It gives us a seat at the table of the Gods, where we can drink a glass of their nectar with them.
Love connects us to our divinity. It is the bridge between heaven and earth. Love lifts us out of the mundane world, and allows us to soar in freedom, high above all of our petty problems. Love is the doorway to the divine, and the practice of aligning your thoughts and actions with the underlying order of nature removes the rust that has collected at its hinges. The door then swings open, and ushers you into the palace of the gods. In the palace, a life of magnificence awaits you. When the heart awakens to its full potential – when our actions are in harmony with our feelings – there is a peace and tranquillity that arises in us, beyond anything we have previously known.
In the end, love is beyond words. In stillness, in silence, its ineffable beauty and radiance are revealed to us. As the Sufi mystic, Rumi, puts it.
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