Updated: Nov 4
One of my favourite hobbies is trying to squeeze as much thought, experience and (dare I say it) wisdom into as few words as possible. There is a special beauty in brevity. The same beauty of seeds, nuts, eggs. The beauty of a vibrant potency waiting to express itself. There is also a sense of vulnerability, even fragility, both in these wandering points of knowledge and power, and in the inclination towards them. Trying to go through life with the whole universe compressed into a formula is a way of negotiating one's fear of the unknown. I don't know what's going to happen or what I'm going to do, but I know that I can ask for this little seed of wisdom, I can crack this nut, I can incubate this egg, and something will happen.
I like a certain fluidity that language can have. When I write, I often step aside and let the words flow. They flow quite a lot and quite quickly, so conciseness is sometimes not the first priority. Perhaps to compensate, it remains one of my philosophical and stylistic ideals. I've tried several times, here and elsewhere, to condense everything into the shortest formula(s). It's time for a new experiment.
Love is the conscious feeling of oneness with something other.
All things act out of love.
The only difference between things is the scope of the love they can express.
To grow is to expand the scope of love.
This is the nut. Let me crack it for you.
1. Love is unity, but not all unity is love. Love is that particular kind of unity in which there is consciousness and feeling (i.e. fully lived experience) of unity (oneness) with something that is not one, but something else, something different, another. Love is unity-within-difference. Even in self-love, one can love only one’s own self-representation, which already entails an act of othering with respect to oneself. Otherness with no unity at all is sheer alienation. Unity without any glimmering of differentiation is sheer voidness. Only when unity and otherness, identity and difference come together, is there love.
This is, of course, a very general and abstract definition of love. It is general and abstract in order to capture something that runs through all levels and realms of reality. But it can also capture more ordinary forms of love. Even in romantic love, you can't really love someone if they are so identical to you that the difference between you and them disappears completely. And you can't really love someone if you can't consciously feel some degree of oneness, unity, communion with them.
What the generality of this definition makes clear is that love comes in a broad, vast spectrum of possibilities, nuances, declensions. This is crucial to understanding the next bit: all things act out of love.
2. From this general perspective we can ask: what is the basic condition and motive for anything to happen? Actions always have definite ends and goals, but why is there any action at all? If there were only Oneness, there would be no need for any action at all, since everything would be the same One, the unique emptiness. If there were only difference or otherness, there would be no need for action either. Everything would just be a scattered universe of dust without glue, dots of beings that cannot be connected in any way. But if there is unity-in-difference, then one is many, many are one, I am you, you are me, we are one, but we are also different. Only in this scenario does a whole range of infinite possibilities arise for expressing in what ways this play of unity-within-difference can articulate itself. This is the play of love: all things act out of love, for the sake of playing it out.
Does the star that burns in the sidereal spaces act out of love? Well, yes. The burning star moves and acts in its own way within a web of physical forces that express its own way of enacting oneness within difference. Is the terrorist who kills innocents acting out of love? Well, unfortunately, yes. A very narrow, misguided, desperate, distorted and cruel kind of love, but a kind of love nonetheless. If you take love out of the picture, you're left with either pure oneness or pure otherness, but no room for action either way. As mentioned above, love is not a thing, but a spectrum of possibilities, ranging from so-called 'inanimate matter' to vegetal, animal, human and divine experiences. This leads to the third point: the only difference between things is not what they are, but the range of love they can express.
3. What does it mean to express love? It means to express (enact) a form of unity within difference. There is a conscious sense of oneness and at the same time a conscious sense of otherness. The broader the sense of oneness, the broader the basis of love. The deeper the sense of otherness, the deeper the articulation of love.
The basis of oneness can be understood as the ability to listen. Through listening we come into contact with the other, we open up to it, and as we open up we become (at least to some extent) one with it. Listening is a way of merging with the other or of letting the other come to us, become us.
The articulation of otherness can be understood as the capacity to respond. Once we've listened, we can move, respond or even stand still and still act out something different in relation to what we've received. To respond is to be sensitive to whatever has come through us (or become one with us), to allow it to flow through us, and in that flow to allow it to be transformed by us. We become like filters or moulds for the articulation of the One and the Other. This leads to the fourth and final point: in order to grow, we need to expand the scope of the love we can express.
4. In several contemplative traditions, development is understood through the metaphor of 'healing'. There is an illness, a diagnosis, and a medicine that can cure it and restore health. This is good enough to some extent, but it has a number of drawbacks. First, it assumes that we need to restore an initial state of health that we had at some point but lost for some reason (which may or may not be our fault, depending on the tradition you ask). Second, the healing metaphor tends to pathologise the ordinary state by creating a sense of inadequacy, lack, failure, and a relative need for tools and means capable of restoring something lost.
Thinking in terms of a process of growth (characterised by a progressive expansion of the range of love that can be expressed) offers a very different picture. We do not have to assume (contrary to the first point) that we already had or even knew a better state from which we fell. In order to grow, it is not necessary to know what it will be like to be mature, nor to assume that we were mature already at some point in the past. Growing is a natural process of development that does not seek to restore an original state of perfection, but rather to develop and strengthen the potential for perfection that is always there.
Being a child is not a disease to be cured of, but a state of freedom to be developed and cultivated into adulthood. In this respect (as opposed to the second point) we do not need to feel that we have messed up, that we have 'corrupted' an original state, that we have fallen and sinned. Instead, we can look at our current state as one in which we are already immersed in a certain degree of potency (no matter how depressed, if we're still here, we're still loving something to some degree, the spark is still burning). What we need is not to go back to an idealised state, but to find out how to cultivate, expand, develop the state we are already in. We do not need a doctor to heal our existential alignment, we just need support to allow what we are to fully mature. This certainly requires education, tools, friends, circumstances, practice. It can certainly fail or go wrong in so many ways. But it is fundamentally different from trying to go backwards. In order to grow, we need to move forward. We do not need hospitalisation, we need schooling.
Since the process of growth is a process of progressively expanding our capacity for love (i.e. our capacity for listening and responding), it will be natural at some point to discover our wider connection with others and with the Other, with many and with the One. To see or not to see it is only a matter of scale and perspective. From this point of view, what contemplative traditions have often called 'ignorance' (avidya) and condemned as the culprit of all evils, turns out to be just a stage in our development, a state of relative immaturity in which we are still too fragile to be able to handle too much, a state of stiffness and rigidity that protects our still soft tissues like the shell of an egg or nut protects the inner potential to create new life. The shell is only a tool for our growth, a scaffolding that performs a function and through which we will eventually pierce. Even ignorance is not an evil agent or a cage, provided we learn its nature, its use and the way to crack it.