Sunday, July 21, 2013

Love and being yourself

Being yourself is not being someone you remember being in the past, someone lost in the judgment of others. Being yourself, finally, is about becoming that which you feel is perfect. Be yourself. Make yourself.

Sartre says, "Hell is other people." Because of other people's judgment we are never free to be ourselves. Therefore, in a way, the worst hell is to love and be loved, because as soon as we become involved with another conditioned human being, we immediately become wrapped up in their expectations of what we should be or become.

On the other hand, Scott Peck defines love as the ability to "extend oneself" or to make sacrifices for the spiritual welfare of another person. I think that what he means here by "spiritual welfare" is that selfish expectations are not what a person who loves is interested in, i.e. conditional love.

But, of course, we are all fallible and conditioned, and even our concept of other people's spiritual welfare is not always pure. Moreover, even when we extend ourselves, we are often inexpert, often causing more trouble than good. So even in Peck's conception, love is a very tenuous business.

Anthony de Mello says as soon as you have any expectations, as soon as you even want someone to love you, you become revealed as a clinging and selfish weakling.

Another person said that love means a feeling that in the company of another person, the beloved, I will not only become a better person, a better person in the sense of becoming what I really want to be, but that there will be mutuality. At least in that "I am happy because this other person also feels that they can be a better person by being with me."

In other words, love is sadhu sanga.

Now what you have written above is an example of what I call the "singular." It is very important, no doubt. And usually when we are disappointed or frustrated in love, we retreat to the singular. Actually, it is a necessary result or consequence of our failure to love or be loved adequately. For without being personally adequate, without being complete in ourselves, self-fulfilled and self-complete, how can we love adequately, or be worthy of love?

Nevertheless, there is a limit, in my opinion, as to how far we can go with the singular alone. To me, not only the rewards but the challenges of the dual are necessary for the true fulfillment of the singular. As are the rewards and challenges of community. No one can be a complete human being without perfecting love.

No one is an island. We do have to make compromises. Anyone who achieves singularity still has to come down from the mountaintop.

Can intense love exist without any attachment, as Anthony de Mello seems to think? Is it possible to have both intense and spiritual love side by side the kind of detachment that makes it possible for both lovers to experience the fullness of their individuality even while being in the orbit of another? And what would be required to make that a reality?

The singular, though necessary to the limits that it can achieve, is incomplete without accepting the Other. Mayavada is ultimately denying the other because it is felt that the other limits you. You are Brahman, all expansive, all encompassing, so why let another person confine you or restrict you with either their hatred or their love?

Yet, at the same time, without acquiring this awareness of the self-limitation that comes from bodily consciousness (the upādhis), one cannot love either. One will be caught up in the game of expectations. Not only do I have expectations, others have expectations of me, and I bounce around like a ping pong ball between these two poles.

De Mello is not a Mayavadi (a Jesuit who is much influenced by Eastern thought), but he accepts that attachment and expectation limit your capacity to love, because it puts you in the trap of attempting to be the viṣaya. (He does not use this language.) He nicely points out that the vicious cycle of attraction, passion and boredom, are the consequences of this mentality. But he is not in favor of dry renunciation either.

Here is how de Mello defines love: "What is love? It is a sensitivity to every portion of reality within you and without, together with a wholehearted response to that reality. Sometimes you will embrace that reality, sometimes you will attack it, sometimes you will ignore it and at others you will give it your fullest attention, but always you will respond not from need but from sensitivity." (p. 149, The Way to Love: The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello).

"It is a sobering thought that the finest act of love you can perform is not an act of service but an act of contemplation, of seeing. When you serve people you help, support, comfort, alleviate pain. When you see them in their inner beauty and goodness, you transform and create."

"[Love] is so frequently equated with good feelings towards others, with benevolence or nonviolence or seervice. But these things in themselves are not love. Love springs from awareness. It is only inasmuch as you see someone as he or she really is here and now and not as they are in your memory or your desire or in your imagination or projection that you can truly love them, otherwise it is not the person that you love but the idea that you have formed of this person, or this person as the object of your desire, not as he or she is in themselves." (132)

So, the point here is that kaivalya, i.e., being in one's aloneness, i.e., singularity, is the only tenable position in which one can love, because only there can you harmonize with Sartre's fear of other people. And yet, love is a necessity for further progress in personal development. You cannot love until you are alone, but if you are alone, there is no love. Of course, for the Vaishnava or theist, there is no such thing as being alone, in the sense that the self is with the Self.

You cannot actually be in a liberated state until you have perfected love, and yet you cannot perfect love unless you are liberated. This is the meaning of acintya-bhedābheda.

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