“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)
Jung 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
So 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 Raffa, Healing the Sacred Divide