Love. Is there any other word in the English language that stirs us so immediately and so deeply?
Love is most often associated with relationships: with other people, love for oneself, love of country, or love for “God” (by whatever name). And let’s not forget the teams we love, the celebrities, and our favorite ice cream! Is that what love really is, a verb we attach to anyone and anything we cherish?
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Love as a verb is routinely applied to everything from a romantic partner to dish soap. But Love with a capital L names something fundamentally different. Love as a noun is transcendent; it describes the animating energy of life itself, the fundamental quality of all existence. Love, big L, is experienced in relationship with “others,” but it’s not experienced because of those relationships. Ironically, real love is an experience of no other at all, that is, the experience of oneness, the embrace of the Divine.
History is replete with accounts of rare individuals who lived in this state; we refer to them as saints or mystics. Modern mystic Andrew Harvey describes them this way: “A mystic is someone who has a naked, direct relationship with the divine presence, direct cognition of the Godhead. I used to believe that there were very few real mystics; I now believe that everyone is a closet mystic. Everyone has deep glimpses of the Divine in dreams, in love making, in exalted moments of friendship, in moments of aesthetic ecstasy, looking at a great painting or listening to music.” 1
Are you a closet mystic? What glimpses have you had of the Divine? Most importantly, do you want more? The journey from closet mystic to realized mystic depends on commitment and Love is the experience we nurture on that path. Our one true and lasting love affair is with the source of life, whether we call it Source, essence, life energy, God… labels don’t matter to her, him, it, etc. As we deepen into the experience we learn the truth: it’s “me.”
The concept of learning to love may seem strange. Isn’t loving natural? Yes and no. Ultimately, love is who/what we are. But even fish — who are born to water — must learn to swim. And every fledgling bird must learn to fly. To suggest, then, that humans must learn to love is to acknowledge the obvious (and how often is the obvious overlooked?). If the concept remains difficult to accept, consider how disrupted our world has become, because we have failed to love. We don’t love, not the unencumbered way that nature does.
The first step in learning to love is the one we are taking right now; differentiating between human concepts about love and the Divine reality. Those glimpses of the Divine we’ve all had? We touched this reality and it’s always here. It wasn’t really the sunset, the symphony, the love making; it was what lived in those moments.
Richard Tarnas writes about this as illumination. “Our philosophical illumination, then, is a reawakening to and remembrance of forgotten knowledge, a reestablishment of the soul’s happy intimacy with the transcendent ideas that inhere in all things.” 2
“The soul’s happy intimacy…” what an engaging description of Love. Note that the intimacy he describes is with the transcendent. Surely that’s exactly what Love is, and what better word to explain the magical, mystical feeling of those moments? Somehow, for some reason, an otherwise ordinary moment becomes transcendent, is transformed into a focalized force that penetrates the heart and then remains as a memory of mysterious merger with that “something” at the heart of all.
Mystics are known for their passion. Author Karen Armstrong includes us all, at least potentially. “There isn’t a single human soul who will be able to experience the fire of endless love unless he first forsakes all worldly ideals with the firm intention of studying heavenly things. He must long for the love of God ceaselessly, but he must also give to each created thing the love that is its due. For if we love everything for God’s sake, we love God in it rather than the thing itself, so it follows that we do not take delight in the creature but in God–in whom we shall rejoice and glory forever.” 3
If we can read her words not as religious doctrine but as a celebration of this Love Principle, we are welcoming the mystery of Love. Source, life energy, God, the essence of all, the Divine, by whatever name, is what we long for and Love encompasses it all. And, like every gift, Love magnifies in enjoyment and meaning as we share it.
Learning to love is another way to describe the path of enlightenment. Just as there is no final enlightenment, no goal to reach, our explorations of Love will continue forever. Who would want it any other way?
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1. Radical Passion, Andrew Harvey, Page 385
2. The Passion of the Western Mind, Richard Tarnas, Page 43
3. Visions of God, Karen Armstrong, Page 13