When it comes to love, we all start out as beginners.
It’s like picking up a tennis racquet for the first time. We may like to think that we already know how to hit the ball, and that with a little practice we could be the next Federer or Nadal.
But that’s just the human ego talking. That’s just us being ignorant and flattering ourselves so that we can protect ourselves from feeling lost and inadequate and not as good and proficient as those around us appear to be.
The reality is that when we first pick up a racquet, between us and our inner-Federer or inner-Djokavic or –Sampras lies about 10,000 hours of serious on-court work—lessons, practices, matches, tournaments. To get really good at tennis, we are going to have to bust our butts and do the work and put in the time and learn by studying those who are our betters.
And in all likelihood the same holds true for us and our inner-Buddha or inner-Christ. About 10,000 hours of serious inner work and reading and practicing and praying and meditating and contemplating lie between us and our inner-Christ or inner-Buddha.
Many teachers and gurus and authors want to make the learning of Love or becoming our best out to be something easy—that all we need to do is just let our accumulated bad habits and defenses and maladaptive patterns slough off, and the “real” us—our Buddha-nature or Christ-likeness—will effortlessly begin shining and taking charge and leading us forward to our best and highest and shiniest self.
Maybe. Personally I doubt it, but maybe. I can’t discount this possibility completely—life is, after all, nothing if not certainly larger and more mysterious and surprising than my little inchoately educated ideas about it. So perhaps it may actually be the case for a few people—for an anomalous few, in all likelihood—that waking up and awakening their GIANT within and unleashing their inner-Buddha or Christ happens in such an effortless and quick way.
But I think for most of us 10,000 hours of “day labor, day labor, God knows there is no other word for it” (Rilke) is required for us to get in touch with our inner-Buddha or -Christ and to learn how to become genuinely more Loving and how to do human relationships in a truly healthy and loving way.
In other words, I think that 99% + of us have ideas about love running the gamut between warped and distorted all the way to false and fallacious if not completely unloving.
I think that 99.5% of us are more or less in the dark about what Love really is.
Thus when it comes to love, we all more or less start out as beginners—on the kiddie court with little sponge tennis balls, a lower net, and smaller racquets.
I think that almost every one (including me) when we are first starting our in love and intimate human relationships tries automatically to conceptualize love as a feeling—as this super-intense and overwhelming feeling. And so we run through person after person, one relationship after another, looking for that AMAZING chemistry!
But in reality that that super-intense feeling isn’t actually love. It’s limerance, lust, infatuation, romantic attraction, addiction, fusion, merging; and whatever it is it’s an incredible intoxicant!
But it’s not Love, because it’s not really about the other person—it’s only really about how the other person is making us feel. And so what’s going to happen to how we treat the other person once we no longer feel the same way about him or her—once the other person no longer makes us feel so intense, alive, happy, giddy? In all likelihood we will discard the other person just as quickly and easily and glibly—and even intensely—as we tried to seduce and merge with the other!
Whenever love is a feeling—whenever love is defined as a feeling—ultimately the other person is expendable, discardable, even replaceable.
And that’s not love.
Because real Love is about the uniqueness and irreplaceability of the other person. When we truly love another person, we see the other person’s uniqueness, essence, core. And moreover, we actually care about who the other person is and who he or she is becoming as a person, in their own right, and not just in reference to us and what we stand to gain from that person.
But when love is a feeling, none of this really matters. We’re not really concerned about the other person or seeing the other as a person in his or her own right, even though we may move our lips and form words that sound as if we are, but really we’re not concerned. When it comes down to it, we will choose ourselves and our feelings over the other person.
When love is a feeling, it’s not about the other person, it’s primarily about ourselves and how we “feel” primarily (how the other person makes us feel), and the other person secondarily or as a means to that. In other words, the other person serves as a prop or a tool—an intoxicant and or a delivery system for that intoxicant, a prop in our roundabout self-medicating, a means we are using to make ourselves feel better, more alive, less unhappy.
And thus when that effect wears off—when “drug tolerance” develops, and the intoxicating effect that the other has one us starts to lessen—then so too will our use and our desire for the other person.
And he or she will be taken for granted; or discarded, ditched, abandoned, cheated on, lied to, mistreated, et cetera.
And all because the other person no longer makes us feel so special, validated, prized, giddy, euphoric, alive.
What unfresh ‘ell is this?
Genuine Love operates in the world in an entirely different way. Genuine love isn’t just about us and how the other person makes us feel; it’s also equally (if not more so) about how we treat the other person and how we regard and respect and care about and for the other person. At the very least real Love is about putting the other person one the same level as ourselves and treating another as well (hopefully) as we treat ourselves, as well as we want to treat ourselves and ought to be treating ourselves. Genuine Love means giving the other person the same consideration and high regard that we give ourselves, wanting the best for him or her just as we want the best for ourselves.
But most of us just don’t put much thought into what Love actually is or might be. We all start out from zero, with little to no idea what Love really is, then someone comes along, stirs these amazing and intoxicating and euphoric feelings in us that make us feel as if we’re on top of the world, and we go full-Disney with the idea and start escalating what we’re feeling into this romantic end-all be-all ideal of what Love actually is.
But it’s not LOVE !
In fact, this false ideal—this Hollywood / fairy-tale idea—of love where love is defined as a feeling—gets us into all sorts of problems and messes and stunts us—our growth—as human beings.
Genuine Love is so (as in sooooo) much more than a feeling.
In fact, to genuinely love another requires that sometimes we may actually need to act contrary to our feelings, especially when we’re not feeling particularly loving.
Because it is at those moments when we are in a relationship with another but we’ve lost that “loving feeling” that we come to a fork in the road:
Do we choose to act in alignment with our feelings (and thus act out on our feelings)—feelings which may be rather negative and unloving?
Or do we choose to act contrary to our feelings and act in a genuinely Loving and caring and kind and decent way toward the other person.
Such a moment shows us what we’re really about, what our true colors are—
Are we really beneath it all this horrible grubby parasitic selfish and unloving creature fixated on our own feelings at the expense of those around us?
Or are we truly heroically trying to climb out of the psychological crib and the psychological muck and act as we ought to act and as we would want to act if our negative feelings weren’t clouding us and our judgment over?
As beginners in love we often choose the former instead of the latter. That’s the high price of being born into this world with little to no education in terms of what Love is and likely isn’t.
There is another HUGE variable in all of this aside from the unconscious and surreptitious (or not so unconscious and not so surreptitious) tendency to use and exploit one another emotionally whenever two people (two beginners in love) are trying to “love” each other.
And that is that whenever two people meet, usually one or both of them are disguising themselves, sending out their curb-appeal false-self, their representative (as Chris Rock calls it in one of his comedy bits. See min 2:10 to 2:40 of the linked clip). One and usually both people are presenting themselves not as they really are, and not even as they really want and or intend to ever genuinely become. Rather both people are usually mis-representing themselves in the way they each think that they need to in order to be desired, wanted, presentable, deemed sex- and “love”-worthy by the other person.
And so the problem with this is that when one or both people disguise themselves like this—when one or both is defrauding the other like this—the “real” person underneath that each actually IS can be a real bastard or bitch to deal with—a real pain in the ass, and thus not at all like the likely charming, sexy, charismatic, easy-going, open-minded, curb-appeal, air-brushed, PhotoShopped, person they first showed up to the relationship as.
And so what can any of us—any of us who are basically decent and well-meaning and who aren’t completely tone-deaf to their own conscience and to what’s best in them—to do about all of this?
The only thing a person can do when presented with such a hot mess of a situation as this—as a world where most people are tending automatically towards relating to each other in a selfish and self-serving and exploitative way—
Become the change you wish to see!
That’s all any of us can do and aspire to in such a situation as this.
We can either each continue on as we are; and in doing so we continue being part of the problem.
Or we can get wise, we can begin educating the heck out of ourselves (a long process, a “long apprenticeship,” as Rilke put it)—read the books (the right effin’ books, a la “Good Will Hunting“), do the writing and reflecting and inner work that is also necessary; we can nurture and grow our conscience and our intellect and our spiritual-side, we can put our time in on the practice courts and we try our best when we do go out and practice. And in doing all of this we can become part of the solution and raise the bar on what Love actually IS, and we can start engaging other humans in this new and likely much healthier way.
“There is only one way in which one can endure man’s inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one’s own life, to exemplify man’s humanity to man.”
– Alan Paton, “The Challenge of Fear,”
in Saturday Review, September 9, 1967, pg. 46
We all start out as beginners in Love—all of us. We all start out knowing very little to nothing about what Love actually is. And we all likely start out with some fairly faulty and errant ideas about what Love is.
And we can either do nothing about this and lead essentially an unexamined life and instead just “follow our hearts” without ever really consulting our heads or our souls or God or our conscience or what’s best in us.
Or we can approach Love the same way we would approach any other endeavor we would like to get better at and become more proficient at and perhaps one day even master—we can start putting in our 10,000 hours, and take it up as an apprenticeship, as a course of study, and approach it the same way we would if we were trying to get an undergrad or a Master’s degree or even a Ph.D. in the subject.
“We are born for love, but it will die if not nurtured. We are all born with God-given, unique traits and skills. But, as with all possibilities they will remain unrealized unless they are developed, nurtured, and put into practice. You may have the ‘capacity’ to love, but if left undeveloped, you will never gain the ‘ability.’ Love is life. And if you miss learning how to love, you will miss life.”
– Leo Buscaglia
“We take love for granted. We assume we are all perfect lovers and all we need do is wait and our love will grow and blossom as readily as a flower in spring. Not so. Love doesn’t grow unless we do. It takes patience, knowledge, experience, determination, and every positive trait we possess. A life of love is one of continual growth, where the doors and windows of experience are always open to the wonder and magic that life offers. To love is to risk living fully.”
– Leo Buscaglia
“How do we create healthy, loving relationships? . . . By caring enough to work on them as diligently as we would if we wanted to perfect a game of golf, or tennis, or become a gourmet chef. These things don’t just happen. They require continual work. Yes, we are born for love, but it will die if not nurtured.”
– Leo Buscaglia