In contemplation there is always a word that mystified me. It is ‘love’. I’ve always wondered what it was. I know the concept of it, as an idea, but what was it really?
Over the years I’ve found myself using the word ‘love’ in certain contexts. I never liked the word ‘love’, though, as it refers to a romantic notion of the word. Contemplative ‘love’ is not of the romantic sort. It’s something totally different. I’ve always wanted to find another word to describe it but I never could. As a result, I keep using it.
‘Love’ is actually hard to define. I never felt that I could say what it was exactly. Here are some thoughts on its qualities:
– It is a connection between two things, a bond. In that sense it’s like a rope that holds two things together.
– Love implies a sense of incompleteness as well as a need for something. As a result, love is motivated by a hunger and a starvation within us.
– Love is predominately a passion that is experienced.
– Love tends to make you feel a part of things. In a way, it connects you with life. A person without love is unconnected.
– Love seems to require an exertion of oneself. It does not just happen. Part of the power of love is that it requires effort on our part. We have to work for it. I’m sceptical about love that comes too easily.
– Love tends to transcend material life and things. In that sense, it’s very spiritual.
Overall, love seems to be a reaching out for something. In a way, it can be called a reaching out into life and for life. In some ways, it is the most genuine form of reaching out that there is. But, in reaching out into life in love, you feel ‘within’ life, as if a part of it. Through love life is not observed but lived, experienced. And in this living and experiencing there is a calm, an acceptance, a belonging. In some ways, in love is the ‘resting’ of life for it is there that a ‘rest’ is found in life.
As a result, I see two types of love in contemplation:
Active love, which is the reaching out. It is an act of will, something a person chooses to do. But this reaching out is not easy. It is, in actuality, a reaching out in faith. A lot of love in contemplation is nothing but this reaching out in faith, as if putting your hand into some dark hole in the ground, not knowing what’s in there. This often becomes a dominant trait in contemplation. We are always having to reach out into a darkness. In some ways, this is a great act of courage. As such, contemplative love can be described as requiring courage. It seems to consist of these types:
– The grasping love. This is the type of love that entails a want of some thing. Basically, you are reaching out and trying to grasp this thing. This type of love is really a hunger for something, something you need, and you are reaching out to try to get it. You are usually reaching out for something that’s tangible, like an object or a person.
– Yearning love. This type of love is similar to the grasping love but it’s deeper. Here, you do not reach out for an object but something intangible, like the presence of God. I feel a lot of contemplation is spent in this form of love.
Static love, which is the reward of reaching out in love, a result of that belonging in life that love creates. It seems this form of love is not willed, as in active love, but just happens. In that sense, it’s almost like a ‘reward’ for practicing active love. It seems to consist of these types:
– Feeling you’re a part of something. This type of love is sort of like an ingestion of something, as if it is a part of you. Sometimes it’s just a love of being aware of something. It makes a person want to associate themselves with the thing loved. Often, people will identify themselves with it. Often, people will lose themselves within it. This means there is often a loss of a sense of self with this love.
– A particular type of calmness – a ‘loving calmness’. This is not just any calmness. It’s a calmness with a passion. Usually, most calmness is passionless. In many ways, that what calm means to a lot of us – without passions. We seem quiet, undisturbed. In this type of calmness, though, there is an emotion, a passion that’s felt. To me this passion has the qualities of the ‘yearning love’ and the wanting to be a part of something. In this love is felt the yearning love in the midst of a mental calm. As such, it seems very pure and dominant. I often compare it to being like a flame or fire. In some sense, this is when faith becomes love.
And so the active love has the quality of an ‘asking’, a ‘searching’ or a ‘reaching out’. The static love has the quality of an ‘acceptance’, a ‘receiving’, an ‘answering’, a ‘finding’.
Love also has the quality of a giving and receiving. Both are needed. It’s like a big circle of passion. You give, than it goes around and you get it back. In contemplation this is often a problem because you give love but it seems you never receive it back. This can lead to great turmoil, doubt, and despair in contemplation. I think anyone who contemplates will confront it. As a result, you often have to practice being aware of what you get and receive in life. You have to appreciate the things given to you. We have to remind ourselves of the love we received. Realizing this, sometimes, can be quite difficult but its one of the most important things to do. In short, we need to teach ourselves to receive love. Many of us have problems not in giving but in receiving love.
Love is something you must work at. I am sceptical of people who are said to be naturally ‘loving’. That’s just too easy. Not only that, I know that if a person is like that, they have missed out on the growth working for love causes.
To experience ‘love’ all the time is unhealthy I think. Love must be counter reacted by other emotions, as if to keep your mind in balance. This means that love is not a passion that entails the whole person. It is a passion that only entails part of the person. Other passions are required to ‘complete’ the person. This is why we must be ‘unloving’ or ‘non loving’ at times. This keeps us mentally stable. This means that ‘love as a holistic emotion’, the answer to the world and life, which is often preached by Christianity, is a myth.
Normally we say that things are like a love/hate polarity. My feelings is that love can influence the other emotions that help keep it in balance. In many ways, this is its power. That is to say, the power of love is not in experiencing it but how it ends up affecting our whole selves. When we do go into the emotions that countereact love – lets just say hate or a coldness – love gives it a different context. Our experience with the attitude of love can color the emotion of hate. It doesn’t get rid of it but it puts it in context and helps controls it. For the attitude of love seems to help us put the other ‘bad’ emotions in its place in life and to help to live and accept them in life. It’s because of this that love often leads to a wisdom in life.
I should point out that male and female love is not the same. They are different. I’ve found that a lot of female love is generally not to be compared with male love. When love is spoken of it is usually from the male perspective, and so describes male love. This is because the males tend to philosophize about it and females don’t. In fact, I’ve heard no philosophizing from the females at all about their version of love. What I’ve seen comes from personal experience. Here are some qualities of female love that I’ve noticed:
– Female love seldom has the transforming quality of male love. It does not have the self changing qualities that is seen in male love.
– Seldom does it have a ‘mystical’ quality and seldom hits to the depth of ones being.
– It does not have the ‘life encompassing’ quality of male love. That is to say, it does not seem to be a passion that is based in the totality of life but is more focused on a specific object, usually another person.
– It seems to be of a quality of what I’d call a ‘love of the heart’. By this, I mean it seems to be a type of love that is ‘person-to-person’. That is to say, it requires another person and is directed to another person. It is this quality that gives the female version of love its power and influence.
– To be frank, most of the female love looks like a reflex action or an instinctual response. There are times, I must admit, when it appears artificial or phony. This is because it seems more like an automatic response, something they’re supposed to do.
– As a result of this, it lacks the quality we normally see with the male in that it has an absence of work and effort to attain.
This is not to say that females cannot have qualities of male love, as this is not true. They can have traits of male love but it tends to be mild. I have always thought that the female traits of love make it not that suitable for contemplative love. I feel that most female contemplatives actually practice another form of love than what male contemplatives practice. Because females seldom philosophize about it we seldom hear about it. This gives the illusion that they are doing what the guys are doing. Many females also will take male philosophical views and use it as a starting point. But they end up changing it to their version, usually without being aware of it. Many, I believe, feel that they are practicing male contemplative love. But, I feel that if you look at it closely you’ll see it’s a totally different act of love that they do as its adopted to the female character. I’m not exactly sure of its character though as I have no association with female contemplatives.
Contemplation, really, is about love. That’s its whole purpose and intent. It’s a particular type of love that is not for everyone. Not everyone can practice it. Even many contemplatives have difficulty with this form of love. In some ways, a person must become accustomed to it. Like any skill it must be learned and practiced.