“We too often love things and use people when we should be using things and loving people.”
“We have lost our sense of values: when your fence falls, you mend it; when your friendship fails, you run.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Real love is something we do. It is not a feeling; it is not primarily (or even secondarily) something we feel. Real love is about being loving much more than being loved.
If more people bought into this, practiced this, and lived this way, imagine how much better life would be.
But to be genuinely loving requires a lot of personal growth and inner rewiring on our part. It takes effort—real effort. It’s not easy. If becoming more loving were easy, then everyone would be doing it.
In order to become more genuinely loving we have to overcome some fairly daunting default wiring that focuses each of us more on the quality and amount of what we’re receiving rather than on the quality and frequency of what we’re giving.
Self-preservation—in all its forms—is something that has been hardwired and embedded deep into each of us.
As is laziness—the path of least resistance, the lust for comfort and ease—in all its forms.
To become more genuinely loving, we have to overcome our laziness and many of our self-preservative tendencies.
We’re up against some pretty daunting odds.
We will each have to learn to go against the grain, against our own nature, act different from what comes natural to most of us most of the time.
Because real Love is effortful, real Love is often difficult; real Love takes work, requires attention, dedication, requires inner work—requires us to work on ourselves and in many ways significantly rewire parts of our self. And this is an ongoing and lengthy process.
Which yet another reason why real Love is so rare—because it is so difficult for us to learn certain things, grow in a certain direction.
Real Love requires that we confront and deal with and even overcome our own laziness, irrational fears, tendency to get bored easily, tendency to be impulsive and reactive, tendency to think in discursive ways, tendency to not to want to think (thinking criticially and deeply, after all, takes effort. One of the biggest pains to deal with in life is the pain of a new idea. Thinking widely and honestly and deeply is not something that most of us want to do, let alone embrace).
In order to become more genuinely loving and able to actually produce love—to love another, and not just be loved or receive love—we will each have to learn many habits that are simply not natural for us.
And if we fail to learn these habits, we will not be able to genuinely Love.
To learn how to love we will each have to learn for ourselves how to extend ourselves, walk the extra mile, even turn the other cheek, take on for the team, and begin thinking about more than just “what’s in it for me?” and quid pro quo.
We have to begin focusing more on the quality and frequency of what we’re giving and begin seeing what another or others are actually giving us or doing for us (which may hurt our pride).
Most people—most of us?—when we/they “love,” love in a fairly lazy and stingy and ungrateful way—giving just enough to keep the flow of getting.
But how often do we look at ourselves and really take stock of ourselves? How often do we look at the quality of what we are giving and the quality of what we are receiving and do so in an objective and unbiased (and thus honest) way?
Loving is not natural. It’s not what we naturally do or are.
And I know that that statement runs contrary to what is found in many New Age books and runs counter to what those offering cheap grace are preaching and would like us to believe—that deep down only love is real, and fear and hate are unreal, that deep down all we are is love.
The reality is we’re not. All we are is not simply love.
If deep down we were only truly loving, then would we really be mucking up things so badly in our personal relationships and as a society?
The truth is that deep down we each have some pretty deeply embedded selfish, narcissistic, self-centered, impulsive, emotional, and non-thinking tendencies. We have been hardwired by nature to preserve ourselves (self-preservation) and “look out for number one” even at the expense of others.
We may each have some original goodness to us, but we also each have a lot of original badness or selfishness or “the world revolves around me“-ness to us—some potentially pretty heinous nonsense going on in each of us.
And the battle in life that we each must wage is dealing with ourselves—separating wheat from chaff, crooked from straight—within ourselves. That’s the “wooden beam” we each must wrestle with and wittle away at.
And to fail to do so—to fail to confront ourselves and our own blindness, selfishness, ego, impulsiveness—is to fail to learn how to genuinely Love.
Many, many people are simply not up to or interested in confronting or facing themselves. They are not interested in real self-knowledge or real self-understanding—in facing themselves and what they’ve done and become and confronting themselves honestly about their patterns and denial and avoidance mechanisms. Most people are not interested in wrestling diligently with themselves about who they are becoming—who they are becoming by the choices they are making today, right now—the choices of how to act, what to eat, what to read, what to right about, what to think about, how to think, and whether to try and be deeply aware of their own thinking and the seeds they are sowing right now, now, now. . . .
The truth is that deep down we—some of us, perhaps many of us—may be warm, affectionate, kind, caring, empathetic, compassionate. And these emotions may get covered over through the harshness of this world, through heartbreak, through bad parenting.
Other people’s lack of love mangles us. and unless we go inward and deal with it, our “love” too will be much less than love and will have a greater or lesser mangling effect on those we try to “love.”
So going through therapy (with a really good and loving therapist) may (hopefully) allow us to release the pain of our past and remove many of our blocks to the warm and nurturing emotions we have or once had within us and live life with a more open heart.
But that is not enough. As Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us (paraphrasing): “A soft heart offers us no protection against a soft mind.”
Thus even if we reach a place where we are (once again) much more warm-hearted, affectionate, empathetic, compassionate, caring, kind, we are still not yet loving.
Loving requires more.
Genuine loving also requires an explosive growth in terms of our own self-knowledge, wisdom, insight, and discernment. When we are on the road to becoming truly loving, we are constantly learning, noticing, reflecting, examining ourselves, digging ever deeper into ourselves and uncovering our underlying motives and fundamental assumptions and payoffs.
When we are on the path to becoming more truly loving, we are at the same time becoming psychologists and philosophers in the truest sense—philosophers, meaning “lovers of wisdom,” and psychologists—meaning dedicated students of the mind and soul.
Until we become dedicated students of human nature and of our own nature—and committed to learning without ceasing about others and ourselves and our own patterns and tendencies and biases (as well about what it means to be mentally healthy and be fully born as a human being)—and until we become dedicated fully and continuously to becoming wiser, more insightful, our ability to Love genuinely will be very limited and tenuous at best.
Real love is much more than a feeling. Real love requires that we overcome loving reactively and in a quid pro quo or tit for tat, like for like, way. Real love also requires that we take on and deal with many of our lazy and selfish tendencies—our receptive and unproductive and parasitic/dependent tendencies.
Genuine love also requires that we be able to give wisely, consistently, that we be able to not just invest ourselves—which is hard enough—but that we be able to extend ourselves beyond what would make sense to most people—that we learn how to love in a more extreme way and in more extreme (outside our comfort zone) situations—that we learn how to love difficult people, unsightly people, people who we think may not deserve our love or time or attention—people where we think our time and efforts may be water down the drain.
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”
― Thomas Merton