What Is Love?


The labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral
The labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral

“There is no linear evolution;  there is only a circumambulation of the self.” ~Carl Jung

My last post concluded with the question, “And what about my prayer for love?  Did that work?”

For the past 35 years I’ve traveled a slow and circuitous route to unravel the mystery of love. First, I had to learn what love is not. Here’s what I’ve discovered.

Discovery #1.  Love is not a role we play or an act we perform.

In my early years I was largely unaware of my inner life and the fact that my behavior was dictated by a compulsion for safety and approval.  I just wanted to be good, and being good was easy for me….until it became hard.

“The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.”

Letting go of ego starts with recognizing and dissolving the persona (social mask) we built in our youth. If we continue to identify with our role—in my case, being the loving and devoted daughter, wife, and mother; the pious believer; and, to a certain extent, the compassionate savior—we’ll pay a price for not seeing our shadow.

For example, after noting that, “…the pious Drummond once lamented that ‘bad temper is the vice of the virtuous'” Jung added,

“Whoever builds up too good a persona for himself naturally has to pay for it with irritability.” ~Jung (CW7, par.306)

images-2Jung said of a patient that when she first came to him “…she was able to play her traditional role of the supremely wise, very grown-up, all-understanding mother-daughter-beloved—an empty role, a persona behind which her real and authentic being, her individual self, lay hidden.  Indeed, to the extent that she at first completely identified herself with her role, she was altogether unconscious of her real self.  She was still in her nebulous infantile world and had not yet discovered the real world at all.” ~Jung, (CW7, par.248)

Discovery #2. Love does not grow in a nebulous infantile world.

Love needs familiarity with our real self. As Ghandi said, love is not a “garment to be put on and off at will.  Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being….If one does not practice non-violence in one’s personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken.” ~Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi, ed. Thomas Merton, On Non-Violence, pp. 36-38.)

Discovery #3. Love is a choice.  It has taken me many years to learn that love is a practice we willingly engage in minute by minute, day by day. The goal of our practice is not to use our ego’s willpower to love, (or act like we love) others, but rather to use our healthy, mature ego in service to acquiring self-knowledge. But isn’t that egotistical, people often ask? No. Because love dwells in the Self. And with daily practice—that long, slow, circuitous route to the Self—we will eventually connect with the love at the core of our nature. Only then can we truly love others.

In other words, consciousness travels hand-in-hand with love.  As consciousness grows, so does love. This leads me to the inevitable conclusion:

Discovery #4. Love is consciousness. Consciousness is love.

Catholic monk Richard Rohr, one of the foremost spiritual teachers of our time, affirms this conclusion and describes the practice which led Ghandi to consciousness, love, and non-violence:

“Gandhi’s answer is always the same: steadfast, persistent, dedicated, committed, patient, relentless, truthful, prayerful, loving, active nonviolence. In other words, universal compassion must become your whole way of moving through life.” ~Richard Rohr

unnamedSo have I learned to love?  Well, yes and no. I know that love dwells in the unified Self, but I also know that knowing about love is not the same thing as loving.  Unless the knowing is accompanied by authentic loving words, motivations and actions, it’s just dualistic thinking that values the head and mind over the heart and matter.

But yes, in my 35 years of circumambulating the Self I’ve experienced love, and sometimes I manifest it…when I remember it’s already there, waiting for me to choose to access it. But no, I don’t access the love that indwells me all the time. First, I have to be conscious of my non-loving feelings and attitudes. Then I have to choose to connect with love and act from it instead.

But I’m hopeful knowing that love is a process of growing increasingly conscious through recognizing and integrating the opposites in my life: ego and Self, persona and shadow, even yes and no! And yes, I’m involved in that process. Anyone can be. You don’t need to be a saint to enjoy the benefits of awakening to your life.

“Life becomes infinitely more meaningful when the focus of our existence changes from separating to connecting. The more opposites we unite, the more conscious we become.  The wiser we grow, the more sacred significance we see…and the more deeply we experience our lives.” ~Jean Benedict RaffaHealing the Sacred Divide

Image Credits:  Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, Wikipedia via Google Images. Jungian image quote:  Lewis Lafontaine. Quote image:  Brooke Snow via Google Images.

Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications.

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0 Responses

  1. It begins with a choice, doesn’t it, to act out of love. To do the loving thing. And yet somehow in making these choices we become, not consumed, but enLIGHTened. We become Love.
    Passion and Desire burn and consume at the outer edges but as the misunderstood Aleister Crowley knew “Love IS the Law”.
    It is patience and understanding. It is being true.
    As you say, it is there for us when we choose to manifest it.

    1. Hi, Brian. So good to “see” you here. Yes, it does begin with a choice. And yes, with enough choices to love we become permeated, enLIGHTened by love, as you say. Which makes me wonder if light and love might also be the same thing. Light=Love=Consciousness: all the same thing, the underlying meaning of the sacred trinity at the heart of the unitive MYSTERY. Wow. Light bulbs turning on….
      I like your Aleister Crowley and agree with him that Love is the Law. I don’t know who he is, however. Can you ‘enlighten’ me a bit?
      Thank you for your comment. It motivated me to make a few edits in this piece to clarify the “choice” aspect of the process of learning to love. In the 80’s there was a movement in the States called Marriage Encounter. They taught couples that love is a choice, and I toyed with the idea of whether or not to make that saying one of the big ideas in this piece. I opted not to, but with further thinking, and prompted by your observation, I see that choice is, indeed, a major element of the equation. Choice HAS to come before consciousness, because seeing the conflicts and constantly choosing to reconcile them with love is how we grow into consciousness and love, as you say. Again, thank you.

  2. Much maligned Crowley was an occultist in the first half of the 20th century. The religion he expounded was called Thelema (derived from the Greek word for will). “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will.”
    Portrayed as a drug addled hedonist by the British press of the day, who confused what they thought as a call to individual will and hedonism with acting according to Divine will.
    He also had more than a passing interest in Magick. Good articles on Thelema and Crowley in Wikipaedia.
    And of course his “love is the law, love under will.” Is not a Nietzschean will but more akin the divine will of loving choice.
    Love=Light=Consciousness, that feels intuitively right. And yes, as you say, we do grow into love.

    1. Thank you for this. The comparison between what Crowley meant by the divine will and what Nietzsche meant about the ego’s will says it all for me. People didn’t know what Jesus meant either when he said “the kingdom of God is within.” They thought he was talking about the willful ego somehow being God, and they thought that was blasphemy. And, of course, the Roman authorities wanted him dead because to them he was a dangerous threat, a rebel trying to bring more consciousness to the people. Anyway, Thanks for the great explanation. 🙂

  3. I ‘love’ this Jeanie thank you! You say of the need to become conscious of when we are experiencing non-loving thoughts feelings etc … this is so essential to make this discrimination and from there to make a conscious choice to act in a loving way.
    And, I’m glad you note the value of the healthy ego, by implication not the ruthless demanding ego who is not in service of the Self.
    I ‘love’ all the quotes too …

    1. Awareness, mindfulness, consciousness….all these ‘nesses’ are necessary before we can manifest the love that’s already in us. Reconnecting to that love is essential. And necessary. And thanks for highlighting the difference between the self-serving and Self-serving ego; one is rooted in immature narcissism, the other in mature oneness. Sorry. I can’t seem to stop with the esses. 🙂 I always enjoy your thoughtful responses, Susan.

  4. Oh Jeanie!
    ‘But mama said …
    You can’t hurry love
    No, you just have to wait
    She said love don’t come easy
    It’s a game of give and take’
    Ha-ha! I couldn’t resist! I love how your pre-empting, anticipation of ‘love’ enabled you to miss the preview and head for publish! … talk about performance anxiety! I know you’ll revel in that one! … for love, love is Supreme, all three of them! (pun intended!) 
     
    What a deep joy it is to read your discoveries on the theme of love … quite naturally I ‘love’ them all, most especially number three (hmm it’s that love number again!) as I hadn’t given ‘choice’ much airtime and agree with you wholeheartedly. There is such accuracy and wisdom in your belief ‘that we’ll pay a price for not seeing our shadows’ and found myself somewhat reassured when reading ‘I don’t access the love in me all the time’ phew! I thought, nor do I … and then what a relief from feeling ‘loved up’ all the time!
    Love, light and consciousness … oh how I love these interchangeable words! Recently I posted my poem ‘Love is a Layer, a Layer of Light so lots of nodding going on over here. I love reading your comments from other like-minded souls and have greatly enjoyed reading your comparable Crowley and Jesus stories with Brian.
    And as for ‘the more opposite we unite, the more we become’ well that’s just sparked off my new article even moreso … all thanks to you and a truly wonderful comment that Susan wrote last week.
    Love and blessings, Deborah.

    1. You know, I always liked that song but never really knew why. For some reason, I always pay more attention to the melody and rhythm of music than the words. But what a perfect background for this post. It’s playing in my mind as I write.
      You are absolutely, spot-on right about the performance anxiety I had when preparing this post! Initially I was afraid I was out of my depth to even consider tackling this topic. But my mistake was also a function of enthusiasm and intensity. And lateness. When the ideas started coming I was in such a rush to get them down that I was in danger of being late for an appointment, so I clicked on a link and ran for my car keys. It’s true that “haste makes waste.” Of course, there’s many a lesson in that.
      “…for love, love is Supreme, all three of them!” Now that was a really, truly excellent pun!!
      I read your ‘Love is a Layer, a Layer of Light’ and loved it. Sorry I don’t always have the time to comment on every poem. But please know that I read them and always admire the enormous skill and dazzling insights, not to mention the many ‘layers’ of meaning, you bring to each one.
      It’s really lovely to know that some of my posts inspire the writing of others. I, too, often get inspiration from the blogs I follow. I think that must be one of the reasons I follow them. This sharing of ideas is such an extraordinary gift of the internet. I can’t stop marveling at the wonder of it.
      Love and blessings,

  5. Great post! Very empowering. I have had similar issues of sacrificing authenticity to uphold a persona, so this was incredibly relevant to me.

  6. How courageous to take on this essential and very big topic, Jean. You do it well with wonderful points and psychological revelations. Number 3 struck me immediately. I watched my husband take on the practice of kindness as he was dying. It was a practice of loving everything and everyone, no matter what. To keep choosing love and gratitude no matter how lousy he felt or how bad the news. To keep choosing love and patience when life sent too much suffering. I’m practicing. I feel a long way away, but sometimes there is a glimpse of this huge reservoir of divine feminine support.

    1. I love that part of your story, Elaine, about how Vic kept choosing kindness, love, and gratitude. I think of it often and it inspires me to do the same. What a legacy he left with his graceful suffering. And what a legacy you are leaving with your beautiful book about how the two of you lived your lives with such consciousness and integrity. I too, am practicing. That’s all we can do isn’t it?

  7. This is great reading to contemplate. And fittingly, it seems, here is some Bob (as in Dylan) who made some mistakes, lost his love (Sara) and grieved for so many years… “Love is all there is, it makes the world go round, love and only love, it can’t be denied….no matter what you think about it, you just won’t be able to live without it, take a tip from one who tried…’ (Nashville Skyline album)

    1. Thank you for those lines. The man speaks truth! Maybe that’s why his music resonated so deeply with the baby boomer generation. We were ready to get real, a revolutionary wrinkle in human evolution.

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