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feminineA few years ago I ventured from Vancouver to Orlando, Florida for an Anthony Robbins seminar.  It was a ten-day marathon with a crazy man (…said with utmost affection).  2,500 people from all over the planet stuffed into an excessively air-conditioned conference room that vibrated day to night on raw emotion and a mercurial mix of tears and laughter.

It’s in this environment a foreign thought infected my mind.  Eventually it became my destiny: to write a book.

Wedged into the 100 hours of personal growth theories, self-awareness exercises, and introspective enlightenment, I recall a quick spiel on the dominant characteristics that define and seperate feminine and masculine.

The colorful adjectives used to describe each conjured animated avatars in my mind: a fair damsel, vulnerable yet resilient and loving, a valiant warrior chivalrous and incorruptibly loyal to her. I remember thinking; wow, nature got it right, merging two polar opposites to create one perfect whole.

My utopian vision was shattered shortly afterwards as women at the conference shared stories of paradox and personal pain. It felt like the slow unveiling of a mirror that revealed to these women for the first time how they were living from a place of masculine energy.

Beneath their haute couture, a majority of women wear ‘the pants’, and some pack brass balls as necessary accessories. Typically they are pulled on to cope through intimate relationships with weak or spineless men; to fill roles as De facto heads of fractured families, or to constantly prove their worth as professional equals.

Unsettling, too, was realizing how many women are unaware of their shifting from pole (feminine), to pole (masculine), and the internal conflict in attempting to accommodate the unique demands of each.  What is tangible and real, however, is the life crippling consequences: unfulfilling relationships, dysfunctional family lives, and dispassionate professional existence.

Orlando was Pandora’s box opening for me to see into the internal conflict of feminine, and this new understanding astounded me because I have also been privileged to know women who are not torn to exist outside feminine: women of power, influence, engagement and love.  For a strong masculine, no force on Earth is more compelling or divine.

Unfortunately, in a patriarchal world, ‘worthy-equal’ is not the legacy often passed to girls, or shared between women. Could I – a masculine – affect positive change in the confidence or self-belief of feminine?  It’s my desire to do so. Writing here, and eventually a book, is my avenue to that outcome.

I welcome your input and would appreciate your comments, starting with this question: what does feminine mean to you?

This is the final comment in a series exploring The Art of Love. Part IX “First Kiss”.

At the Genesis of his book The Art of Loving, Enrich Fromm asked me a life-changing question.  Is love an art, or is love a sensation at the summit of human emotions?  Here’s what I knew.  Love – romantic love – has brought extraordinary souls into my life, but these blessings have decayed into haunting loss.  In fact, suffering love is what compelled me to read Fromm’s book.  I was wounded and desperate for answers, but he challenged me with a question I never thought to ask, and one that no one in my life had ever asked of me. Is love an art?

I can’t remember exactly; I was maybe 6-ish when I first kissed a girl – correction  – a girl first kissed me. I recall the moment more for its sloppy awkwardness than for its fleeting pleasure. However, it’s worth recalling because it marked a seminal moment in my love education. Really, at age six, I was more emotionally invested in playing marbles than playing with girls.  Still, the smooch was empirical evidence that I was learning to mimic the behavior of adults in – what I believed was – love. What I couldn’t know is that the kiss was merely the tip of an iceberg.

It’s really remarkable how as babies we are born free of blinders or filters, and how as children we naturally pick up on the mannerisms, words, thoughts, even beliefs held by adults around us – be it family, friend, or stranger.  The crappy part of adopting someone else’s unfiltered, hand-me-down attitudes, belief, hopes and fears is that these characteristics – good, bad, and ugly – tend to eventually become us.

As if by design, some legacies we inherit shape our most sacred dreams.  Who doesn’t wish with all his or her heart to fall in love, to age like fine wine with someone special, and live happily ever after?  Marriage is the original Hunger Games, a tradition created to celebrate those who have managed to pass love’s most daunting test: finding someone  – not family – to love us unconditionally, for life.

Love is our emotional penicillin  – the universal drug for all things that ail the human heart, but the emotion we call “falling in love”… that’s a narcotic.  It’s the Pulp Fiction scene where John Travolta plunges a foot-long hypodermic needle into Uma Thurman’s heart to revive her from a coma.  I’ll say it, living a love-starved life is pretty much like walking dead.  Love will always stir feelings, but falling in love is a spiked overdose of the world’s most potent aphrodisiac.  The needle of choice is sex. Even if it’s but once, most adults have experienced the euphoria of falling in lust. The intense, addictive rush is so prodigious that we stake our own heart on believing that what we feel is love. The delicious part is that to reach that peak again, and again, all we need is our own “drug” pusher – a willing partner.

As far as partners go, everyone wants to take home tall, dark, handsome, or sexy and hot, but if not blessed with equal bits and pieces to horse-trade, then the default is to be loveable.  Social graces – manners and courtesies – are handy on first dates, but social peer pressures push the majority into designer clothes, designer cars and overextended bankrolls.  It’s a dog-eat-dog game and image usually dictates who gets to date – and marry – whom.  But when image and sex appeal overshadow personal substance and quality, love gets downgraded to a mere commodity.  Then a partner’s value is weighted on the security they bring to the table.  That might be financial, social, or genealogy.  If the investment doesn’t pan out there are always options to trade the principle – thus our 50% divorce rate.

Truly, I’m not the proverbial “dark cloud” raining all over love or romance.  In fact, it’s in this very jungle that I found someone to choose me, and in an instant I knew I was in love.  I felt it when the walls around my heart began to melt, like sandcastles in the path of an onrushing tide; I felt it when my deepest, most private hopes, desires and fears fell free from my lips into her lap like Sunday confessions, and I felt it in the sublime, child-like desire that made me believe in happy-ever-after.

Think back on fairy tales told at bedtime, or Hollywood films that left your heart longing.  These stories, their predictable happy endings, shaped our expectations for love.  I, too, wanted to be the hero who wins the heroine’s heart as the credits roll.  My home movies, however, didn’t quite manage to end happy.  With each flopped script though, I dared to dream again, to re-write a sequel with a new co-star.  But no matter what my intent, I found myself in reruns of the film Groundhog Day – where a weatherman is forced to re-live the same horrible day ad nauseum.

It’s in this revolving madness that I was drawn to the book title, The Art of Loving. Enrich Fromm’s words spoke directly to me but it’s his double-edged question that gave clarity to my self-destructive pattern.  Is love an art?  Or, is love a pleasant sensation?  Suffering heartbreak from the latter opened my heart to believe the former might be the truth.

Love  – as an art  – suggests a deep knowledge, an intimate understanding of a craft, and wisdom to mould the outcome we choose.  As a child I had no idea why I was pushed by curiosity towards my first kiss. It wasn’t until much later in my life that I realized my heart was seeking intimacy, a feeling that as a child, and subsequently as an adult, I had learned to think was love.

Don’t get me wrong, intimacy has perks, it feels good.  Unfortunately, as a boy, messages that filtered through my environment did a lot to build me up but didn’t prepare me to understand much beyond what I could feel – emotional and physical. When intimacy was taken away  – someone left me  – I never questioned my ability to love, I questioned whether I was lovable.

My chronic need for connection, my codependence on pleasant feelings, made me the proverbial fly dying on the windowsill inches away from freedom.  I failed to see that love required a slight shift in my focus, that the answer was to be more loving, to expand my capacity to love – not be consumed by a shallow need to be loved.

Fromm isn’t about reengineering how we love; he sheds light on blind spots we all have and can’t see to heal, he rephrases social stigmas that guide us away from our hearts, and he smudges the gloss people put on overhyped romantic lore – like love at first sight.  With clarity, he demonstrates with words what it is to love another person, and to love ourselves.  I can’t say I’ve mastered love – or that I ever will – but his book tweaked my attitude, habits and priorities.

No one book can ever peel love’s complexities down to seed, and at 130 pages, The Art of Love is hardly the WIki of all things love.  Fromm is conservative with his thoughts, but these words will stay with me through my lifetime.  “To love somebody is not just a strong feeling  – it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise, it is a commitment to a permanent state  – it is an art mastered only through diligence, daily.”

Amen!

Love, the Answer to the Problem of Human Existence – Enrich Fromm. 

Image by Erika Meriaux “Eros and Psyche“.

This series explores love as the ultimate art. Part VIII “My Summer in Love”.

This tale begins with me still a child.  Back then, on high school summer breaks, my best friend and I made visits to her family farm in North Saskatchewan.  It so happens my best friend’s family name is Love, and summer 2012 we road-tripped back to a familiar landmark, a tiny Canadian town also named Love.

If you took away the name, the town is just another blink-and-miss-it settlement straddling a highway to somewhere else.  Farmers, however, boast this area as God’s country.  Unlike the monotone flatness of Southern Saskatchewan, here the landscape bristles with vibrant trees sub-dividing lush fields blushing with hearty colors – yellow for canola, blue for flax and gold for wheat, barley and oats. It’s in this rich landscape you’ll find the farm of Maureen and Lyle, a couple I’ve known since childhood. The Love family name and bloodline runs through Maureen, but Love blesses them both equally.

In my youth I saw Maureen and Lyle as ‘any’ married couple – love was assumed.  No doubt forty-two years together speaks of commitment, but time can’t claim glory for a partnership that today radiates with grace, wisdom, charity and love. In them it’s easy to recognize love the way we all imagine, or imagined, it for ourselves.  Although, contrary to fancy, or fantasy, this is not a relationship built on “falling in love”.  All gardeners know four elements are vital to reaping a harvest from the land – seed, rain, sun and time.  They apparently are also wise to four elements essential to harvesting love from the human heart: care, responsibility, respect and knowledge.  In The Art of Loving, Enrich Fromm claims these four as necessary to all forms of love.

Critical yes, but we take these qualities for granted, yet without these uniquely human expressions we are merely animal. To evolve our health we exercise; similarly, to enhance our capacity for care, responsibility, respect and knowledge requires our conscious effort.  Simple put, where care, responsibility, respect and knowledge are lacking, so too is love.

At its most basic, what is love if not an active concern for the life and growth of the thing we love – be it a person, pet or plant.  Concern is the labor in love.  It’s not hard to discern care from apathy, nor is it difficult to differentiate people secure in feeling cared for from those who are marginalized or neglected outright (we pass them on city sidewalks daily).

The natural extension to caring for someone is responsibility.  In love, it’s volunteering for better and for worse, for sickness and health.  Alliances at this level are an instant antidote to human separateness – a cure for our natural state of feeling so very alone.  However, feeling dutiful, or indebted, can escalate to possessiveness, or deteriorate to childish dependence.  Keeping a healthy balance is only possible through the grant of respect.

Respect is a potent gesture, a gift paid forward as trust.  However, respect also has streaks of gray.  If you’ve ever been in fear, or in awe of another person, then you know what misguided respect feels like.  The antidote for misplaced respect is in knowledge – as in truly getting to know a person.

Knowledge equals time and time tends to contradict romantic notions of love-at-first-sight.  Romance is the child of Eros and it’s quick to disarm personal barriers and shed inhibitions like restrictive clothing. It’s only through knowledge – taking time to know and having the courage to be known – that humans born separate and lonely, can ever enter into the place we desire most to go – into the heart and very soul of another, the one we love.

So these were some of my carefree thoughts of summer, my impromptu schooling in the art of loving.  Sharing time with this rare couple gave a clear glimpse into this art.  As a boy, I believed love was one size fits all, but clearly love stretches, or shrinks to expectations.  Love shows up differently for couples “in love” believing passion is enough, different for those tied together through need, be it convenience, or habit, and different still for those who love free of expectations – the very few who simply share love as though always a harvest of abundance.

Image: The Somnambulist Garden Web, oil paint Syra Larkin, Ireland

This series explores love; the ultimate act, the ultimate art.

Of what do we know of a father’s love – be he Father of flesh, or “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” We, children of the Almighty Father, at once worthy of paradise – Eden, but broken rules drew father’s ire; disobedience his punishment: banishment from his Garden.  Adam and Eve, tragic tale aside, what lessons did we learn of Fatherly Love in Eden?

If earthbound fathers are, in essence, apples fallen, but not too far from the Tree, then Old Testament lessons of Fatherly Love seem clear.  Father carries keys to paradise; his expectations begat judgment, obedience earns his favour, disobedience his wrath.

None would argue that Patriarchal doctrines have long dominated spiritual behavior on the planet. Believers believe in a father who watches over all as children.  But questions, even paradox persist, such as why Father Almighty would allow suffering to afflict his children, or why an all-loving Father would show favor to one child over others – citing Genesis 6-9 – Noah being spared while all of humanity perishes.

Poetic Irony is that the paradox of Fatherly Love begins at Mother.  Before knowing even God, a child knows only mother. Her warmth and tenderness, her comforting attention, her selfless forgiveness, and her unconditional devotion become our genetic reference to the meaning of love.  But if this is love, then how can it also be conditional, how can it be tied to living up to the expectations of another who casts judgment, and how can it be justified that love needs to be earned, or must be deserved?

The heart within us may never draw attention to this perplexing contradiction – Mother’s Love vs. Father’s Love – it simply accepts that father’s love is by nature, conditional.  A father may lack nothing of warmth, support or nurture for his children, but psychologists such as Erich Fromm – author of The Art of Loving – share that the core principle of fatherly love is, well, biblical in tone: “I love because you fulfill my expectations, you obey my rules, and you tend to your duty.”  Obedience is the main virtue of fatherly love, disobedience its greatest sin, and withdrawal its most damning punishment.

Depending on perspective, the mercurial nature of Fatherly Love may seem like some oversight of nature, or a flaw in the parental code, yet the ability of father to disengage or engaged, dependent on a child meeting expectations, grants said child a measure of control.  Meaning, should son or daughter ever stray or disappoint father there remains hope of returning into his favor through future deeds.  In sharp contrast, a mother’s unconditional love is either fully on or fully absent.  Should love for her child not grace her heart naturally, there is no deed that can be done, no wrong that can be undone, to ignite it within her.

Around age five or six, even the child most secure in the all-enveloping love of mother develops a desire to win father’s praise, and avoid his displeasure. Whereas mother represents nurture in the natural world, father serves as authority on the manmade world of logic, thought and invention; of the impossible made possible through imagination; of risk and its rich rewards; of order out of chaos; of law and consequence, and of discipline and the release found in adventure.

In the pages of Art of Loving, Erich Fromm expresses the role of father this way: “father has the function of teaching, guiding a child to cope in the world, but though his love is guided by principles and expectations, it needs to be patient and tolerant, rather than threatening and authoritarian.  With father a child should feel an increasing sense of competence that eventually permits the child to become its own individual authority.”

I am not a parent, father or mother, but I, like you – I hope – am a child who believes the ultimate achievement of any loving parent is to have raised into adulthood an individual who has developed within their soul and character the core essence and principles of both motherly and fatherly love – primarily a capacity to love, a value for justice toward their fellow man, and a faculty to forgive…and to continue loving.

A metaphor for Fatherly Love is in watching a father play with his newborn. As mother, family and friends coddle the seeming fragile toddler in safe embraces, it’s father who winsomely tosses the tiny soul into the air to witness the glee and wonder in the child’s eyes as it comes to rest in his hands.  It’s father saying, my child you are safe; for you, the sky is no limit.

Let me acknowledge that in our modern would and in our modern wisdom, traditional behaviors/expectations of mother/father have shifted – fathers are stay-at-home while mothers discipline and teach commerce skills.  That being reality, human dna still and will always remain beneath human behaviour, immune to our social engineering.

Image by Erika MeriauxDaedalus and Icarus“.

This series explores love as the ultimate act, the ultimate art.  Part VI, Mother’s Love.

Does your mother love you?

What comes to heart from such a question?  Does it siphon from inside you memories of joy or sadness? Does it swell emotions from a life only she could have made possible, and has her influence made the journey sweet, or bitter?

So, what is motherly love? Half the world can never know what it’s like to create life from the inside – however, we were all partners in the process, and we carry memories, emotions and observations of mother, and of motherhood.  Also, I have been blessed in my life to have female friends whom I’ve known pre birth and I have been privileged to witness their beautiful transformation to mother.

Mother – she is our universe; she is aware the instant we germinate from seed to child.  As we grow we are only aware of our debt to her care, attention, and guidance.  Her love comes naturally, passively; we need not work to deserve it, or appeal to have it flow unconditionally.  As children, we are blissfully unaware that never again will we be loved for being helpless, for being weak; never again will anyone think of us as perfect the way we are, and never again will we be loved for simply filling space in someone’s life.

Call it altruistic, selfless, even sacrificial, but unconditional love is what we expect from mothers.  It is why we exalt motherly love as the highest form of human love, and it is why we consider mother and child the most sacred of all emotional bonds.

However, nothing in this world is pure or perfect and although a mother’s love is a blessing, the vassal itself can bear flaws.  The fortunate child is blessed with a mother’s unconditional love, but there are mothers who are overbearing, and women who are callously indifferent to their own children.  Should unconditional love not exist at the source – in mother – there is nothing in the child, or in the universe that can create it in her, acquire it for her, or hope to control it through her.  Should mother not want to hold us as we cry, should she not smile when we fuss, should she not praise us even as we fail, it’s as though we are born a prisoner in a world where the sun never rises.

In a healthy woman, just feeling her newborn in her arms – is love, but somewhere in her heart she is painfully aware that the day looms when she must loose her arms and set her beloved free.  Regardless of what she gives of her body, of her heart, her soul or of her inspiration, she someday must become the loved one waving fare-thee-well to her dearly departed from shore.  Separation is by far the most painful task demanded of a mother.  It requires stoic unselfishness, her ability to give everything of herself while wanting for nothing but complete happiness for the child leaving her behind.  Embracing the conflicting emotions of separation is where many mothers falter or fail.

The psychology of motherhood is a complex science, but renowned psychologist and author, Erich Fromm, summarizes in the Art of Loving.  “A majority of mothers can easily love when their child is an infant, and is completely dependent on them.  Only a really loving woman, a woman who is genuinely happiest when giving, who is firmly rooted in her own existence can be a loving mother when her child is in the process of separation.  Only if her heart has love for all human beings – family, friend and stranger alike – can she truly become a loving mother.  The woman who is not capable of love in this sense can be an affectionate mother, but she cannot become a loving mother.”

Though my own child-mother relationship didn’t develop into the model of domestic bliss imagined in say, a Norman Rockwell painting, I’m no less convinced that mothers are guardians who show us the divine potential inherent in human love.  You, me, them, us – pink or blue – we are all born equally dependent and needy, we are pampered and spoiled into selfishness and we mature finally into raging narcissists.  It’s our fate.  Mothers – a loving mother – must choose another more difficult path; she must choose being in the service of others.  She must trust that giving love is more joyous than receiving it, and she must hold onto a faith that giving away her love is more important even than being loved.  Her willingness to then bear separation – and after separation to go on loving us is her reward – and her divinity.

In a mother’s love resides grace; she is where perfect love – unconditional love – is birthed.ck

P.S. Borrowed image – with gratitude – from Erika Meriaux Gallery.

My thanks for your time.  This series explores love as the ultimate act, the ultimate art. Part V, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.

The good book says it thus, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”, but as we watch the evening news each day what stirs uppermost in our thoughts is, “why can’t we all just get along”.  So why is brotherly love, a love that alone can heal the ills of all humanity, so elusive for humans to employ, and sustain?

Brotherly Love, or Philadelphia – the Love of Brothers, is a colloquial catch phrase from ancient Greece, but the spirit of the axiom is captured best in words that fell from the lips of Jesus himself, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them”.  Even if your bible-speak is rusty, I would challenge to find a man, woman, or child of any race, or religion, in any culture or from any country, who does not fully understand the translation we covet as the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

In the Old Testament, the objects of Brotherly Love were typically the poor, the widowed or the orphaned, and caring about them distinguished the fraternity of early Christians.  However, ethical reciprocity was a virtue intended as the code of character, and conduct, for all humanity to adopt, and to live by.  The compassion we so easily summon when we cross paths with the helpless, or encounter the victimized, was to prepare us for loving our brother – the stranger – our neighbor, and inevitably to accept even our enemy into our heart.

Can there be any doubt that if humanity were to adopt The Golden Rule as our default behavior that it would bring Nirvana to our Earth.  Why then does love thy brother, as a universal code of conduct, continue to elude humanity.  One reason might be in our DNA. Fight or flight, the animal instinct that served our cave-dwelling ancestors by allowing them to instantly judge and separate mortal threat from potential pet, now kicks in to pre-judge everyone we brush by, or brush up against.  In a single glance we pre-judge strangers in the room, and based on our own needs and insecurities, we form opinions that segregate and alienate those too different, or those who may threaten our own limelight, aka – ego.

The challenge is that Brotherly Love can only exist between equals, individuals who regardless of differences – real or perceived – mute their ego and choose to relate to everyone as equal.  Under the influence of brotherly love comes a sense of union with all men and women that is blind to shade of skin, deaf to individual faiths, dumb to pledges to country or flag, and indifferent to political alliances.  Brotherly love is based on an understanding and acceptance that under the flesh we all are all one.  Individual differences in talent, intellect or experience pale into insignificance compared to our primary identity – human.

Ultimately, Brotherly Love connects the universal need in every man, woman and child on the planet – the need to be understood, to be cared about, to love, and be loved unconditionally.  The Golden Rule is our guidepost, but Brotherly Love is our hope.

Your neighbour, is anyone in need; your brother, is everyone.

P.S. Image borrowed – with gratitude – from Erika Meriaux Gallery.

This series explores the art that is love.  Part IV separates oil from water/Need-Love from Gift-Love.

Such a subtle liar: the mirror.  Its sly reversal of truth accepted at face value.  Unless you dislike your own likeness the mirror’s little white lies go unchallenged.  Only the printed word exposes the mirror’s cunning deception to the naked eye.  Love is no less the illusionist.  Like our twin in the mirror reversed, so, too, are there two perspectives on what we see simply as love.  C.S. Lewis in his writings separated these twins into two reference terms: Need-love and Gift-love.

Need…the word reeks of selfishness and insecurity, and in our heart, need couldn’t feel less like love. Alternately, to gift – to give – is clearly a desired human quality, one to aspire to, and one to exalt in love. However, even a saint can’t maintain the resolve to only give.  The fault is by nature’s design.

We all arrive in this world vulnerable, helpless and in need.  Plato referred to this innate human need as the son of poverty.  As children we cry for milk, wail for warmth, sob for comfort, but who would accuse a child in need of being selfish? Through social interactions, psychological growth and spiritual maturation, a child by age 7 or 8 learns to differentiate Need-love from Gift-love.  By then we have witnessed how our giving touches the heart of someone else.  However, the true lesson is often surprising.  Not only can one gesture – to give – touch multiple hearts in an instant, it never subtracts from the person who gives, it only adds by touching their heart also…deeply.

Regardless, though, how warm and fuzzy the feelings are that come bubbling up from giving, the raw truth is that need is the only permanent human condition.  Did that register: need is the only permanent human condition!  Sadly true, but not without choice.  In a child, need is lovingly weaned to hopefully avert chronic selfishness.  In adults, selfish is measured with reason.  No true friend turns away from a friend in need, frivolous or dire. Still, by the time most of us reached adulthood we had already built inner walls to insulate against need gluttons and need vampires who latch onto kindness and feed off the attention, or suck our affection down to the bone.

It takes very little insight, actually none at all, to see the blemishes and scabs on Need-love.  Blatant selfishness, overt dependency and suffocating clinginess are traits that scuff the charm from any personality.  Typically these are people we can’t shed from our lives fast enough, but life begets irony.  Gift-love, too, even with its noble intent, can reach a point of oversaturation where its pure sweetness leaves a bitter aftertaste in the lives of those it touches.

The pure intention of Gift-love is only to serve, but G-love is not immune, nor is it indifferent to the seductions of need (remember, the only permanent human condition is…).  Even people who selflessly give – seemingly for all the right reasons – are prone to spike love with poison: their own innate need to be needed.  The need to be needed is our fetal addiction that won’t be satiated. Each try, each loving deed done is a fresh fix for the giver, and their beloved.  Unwittingly, tainted love turns the giver into a pusher in need of the beloveds yearning, while the beloved remains a junkie strung-out on need, and forever in love’s debt. In time, over-sweetened Gift-Love degrades into anemic dependence, or ferments into bitter resentment.  Think how many loving mothers lament grown up children who once free of their apron strings, ignore or neglect them.

However, not only loving moms unwittingly disfigure Need-love to appear as Gift-love.  The same can be said of any love with strings attached.  To give from pure love is an art, often misguided by expectations born of need.  Even good-hearted people may see giving, even of a pittance, as a sacrifice, or a self-suffering. Or there are those to whom giving is a horse-trade, a means to their chosen end.  And many who see giving as a virtue where the act is a mere prop for the acknowledgement anticipated – either from others, or a silent, saintly pat on the back to themselves.

It’s no surprise that the quality of our relationships depend on our own orientation, our predilection to either need or to gift.  If blessed, we were born with two hands equal, but one quickly dominates, as do our character as one who needs, or one who predominantly gives.  Need-love remains stone blind to all but its own needs.  Needy partners suffocate love with their me-first desires; their “but I’ve done this or that for you” reminders, or with gilded cages built to keep their beloved always in need of them.  Predictably though, once the need fixation is satiated, pho-love feelings also dissipate.  Alternately, Gift-love – love unstained by our innate need to be needed – is wholly disinterested in self; it desires only to bring the beloved happiness, comfort and protection…and at once set them free.

Experience will always prove that it is impossible to love without giving, unseen and unspoken is that human need is a necessary darkness into which love finds a purpose to shine.  ck

PS – the painting Apollo and Cassandra by Erika Meriaux.  She paints on the theme of Greek Myth.  Her work is, to me, strongly provocative.  Her Gallery.

We notice it, as human beings we notice that we feel dissimilar love for people we love.  We are aware, but I wonder, do we ever grow fully conscious of what it is within us, or what it is about them that trigger the subtle delineations to choose this person as a fond acquaintance, this one as true friend, and another, more than friend, but lover.  What is the tool within us that splits hairs, or assigns into which of the four ventricles of our heart each person we love must fit?

The four loves are the legacy of Ancient Greeks, four words crafted to represent the four unique human loves:  Storge (Store-gee); Philia (Phil-lia); Agape (e-ga-pei) and Eros.  C.S. Lewis brilliantly translated these to English but you need not read Lewis (though I recommend) or learn Greek (less recommended) to know that you feel somehow dissimilar about the people you love.

Storge is love within family, love of long-time friends, love of the loyal pet that lick-mobs you at the front door.  Affection is a binding ingredient in natural love.  Storge is warm, comfortable, rustic, familiar, humble, and even homely.  It’s not ecstatic or drama riddled, it’s blind and forgiving.  I’m sure when Shakespeare coined the phrase ‘Love is Blind’, it was in dramatic chagrin over forlorn lovers, but Affection truly is blind love.  Affection holds out warm arms for the ugly, the stupid, even the exasperating; it embraces the prodigal daughter or renegade son; it disregards class and petty prejudice to bind the old to the young, the master to the servant, the ignorant to the learned, and all the strange opposites that somehow attract, and feel loved.

It’s rare we can isolate the exact moment affection places a blind spot on our heart for someone, but familiarity accumulates, and one day it’s just there, like it belongs.  From parent to child, affection likely sparks at birth.  For me the sensation came much later, and not from my home. It came when a virtual stranger, a grandmamma with adult children of her own, bundled a 13 year old me into her arms with such deep affection that I felt her heart echo in my ears, welcome home. Alice was the ebullient aunt of my childhood friend and in her Storge embrace I was family.  My Storge was mutual.

Philia is the love of friendship.  It might be madness to think so, but we could survive a lifetime completely friendless.  We may need to suckle on family affections from time to time, or milk generosity from acquaintances, but we would survive.  However, most warm-blooded humans crave friendships.  Oddly, we believe we choose our friends, or they us, but the alchemy that transforms acquaintance to beloved friend can only come when something valued is recognized, and shared.  It can be a profound truth, a trivial pastime, or an unspoken quirk, but when two connect over it, they are friends.

I’ve always found it curious that people divide and labels friends.  To be fair, it’s unconscious and usually reflects mutual interests and time invested.  Friendships radiate out like rings in a tree stump.  At the circumference you might label acquaintances, closer are school pals, closer still girlfriends and buds, and at the centre, back to your back, a very best friend.  Strange, I’ve never had a circle, more a maze, and typically I’m the one lost and hard to find.  I’ve discovered while writing this that what makes it possible to defy even great gaps of time spent apart from friends is Philia.

Eros is our state of ‘being in love’, but Eros – the God of Love, or Cupid to Romans – rarely enters a heart alone.  Cupid may pierce us but the fever of sexual desire is the mischief of Venus – goddess of beauty, sex and fertility.  If Eros were captain of the Love Boat, Venus would be his co-captain smuggling on board aphrodisiacs and Viagra for the passengers.  Anyone pricked by Cupid’s arrow can relate with the desperate pre-occupation with a beloved, of taking flight with a stranger never knowing if today we will soar, or crash onto rocky shores with hearts ablaze.

In pure Eros, the only true desire is to make our beloved happy.  The recompense we value is a loving companion, and where Venus is present, sexual bliss, but never can this natural sequence be reversed.  Venus has her place in Eros but sex can never be love.  Before the arrows of Eros ever pierced my young psyche I remember experiencing the fantasy of romantic love thought the medium of radio.  My earliest lessons in love came while singing the lyrics of poets and songwriters who I now realize idolized the passions of Venus infinitely more than they appreciated the grace of Eros.

Agape is love divine, our soul searching for a God like love in ourselves.  It’s that temptation to love thy neighbor as thyself that evaporates the moment he or she cuts you off in traffic.  Where other loves burden us with petty need, Agape is the charity of giving without wanting.  It’s a love we aspire to, and we revere those who achieve it.  In my lifetime, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa and Gandhi are the rare among us.  I remember learning the principles of Agape on Sundays, but failed to see much evidence of it in the world Monday through Saturday.

One of the reasons I admire C.S. Lewis’ writing in The Four Loves, is that he looks beyond the rose-colored glasses of romance and sentiment straight into the bloodshot eyes that love often leaves behind.  He, like Yoda in Star Wars, takes on the ‘dark side’ of a force greater than we, he does.

In the human heart even benign Affection can be perverted.  To some, affection is an entitlement, a license to marginalize and degrade those who love them.  It’s a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card used with impunity.  Affection is also a jealous love that resists change.  Partners, sibling and offspring with long-shared memories and passions can turn hateful should one break routine, or dare pursue individual dreams – think of the new Christian amongst a family of atheists, or the Einstein child born to a family of slackers.  For Cinderella, all she did to draw the ire of her clan was have feet sized for glass slippers.

Jealousy has little impact on true friendships.  Friends welcome more friends.  The dark specter in friendship is in the thing that binds friends together.  C.S. Lewes noted, “a clique of friends who gather with cause, and turn their backs on the world, can truly transform it”.  Friends champion each other and dismiss opinions outside their circle.  A subculture of radical online gamers obsessed with war games may never threaten the world, but a group of men fixed on a philosophy to eliminate an entire race of people have – e.g., Germany, Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, South Africa or Pulaski, Tennessee – birthplace of the KKK – so named after the Greek word kuklos, which means literally, “Circle of Brothers”.

The dark side of romantic love is as plain as pain, it’s in the wretched anguish of the cuckold husband, the deceived wife, the deserted children and friends betrayed by someone loved, who loves them, but is bent to destroy a world for a feeling – that of falling in love anew.  Like Eros in it’s purity, the dark side of Eros, too, is about obsession with a beloved.  For Eros’ sake lovers will draft and honor suicide pacts, and for Eros lovers will execute each other in bloody crimes of passion that inspire poets and playwrights.  The sacred mantra of romantic love is, “if our hearts are to break then let them break together”.  Think, how many friends you have counseled with endearing wisdom, and common sense, only to see them choose unhappiness with a beloved over the chance of happy, but alone.

The dark in Agape is always the human factor, us.  It’s our self-crucifixion over failing to act out of divinity – to be charitable rater than selfish, to love beyond natural Affection, beyond the need of Friendships, beyond the wings of Eros, and beyond our oh so mercurial and human feelings.  To love with one heart, with one love – not with fragments of four.

The four loves are not exclusive from one another but layer like blankets against a cold existence.  Affection, a familiar flannel clutched close to the skin under the weight of a quilt stitched of friendships that at times insulate against the fickle surges of an electric blanket, but when called to strip to our faith and walk uncovered into the perfect fire we hesitate and curse the world for being so callously cold. ck


Love fascinates; love frustrates.  It’s a soft whisper or raging cyclone; an allegorical language innately understood yet defying all logical explanation.

As a child, love has only one meaning: your full and complete attention. Hungry, wet, or upset, babies cry until someone appears with food, dry clothing or hugs and kisses.  And so a behavior is learned: stress expressed brings the pleasant reward of sudden attention, i.e. love.

In children, our “cry first” behavior is refined then battle tested. Who hasn’t witnessed with empathy, or sympathy, the embattled parent vs. a child in a full-blown tantrum or meltdown?  The behavior demands attention, but is also testing the boundaries of unconditional love.

By adulthood, hopefully, most people come to the realization that attention falls far short of love.  Yet attention alone is sometimes enough to escape our separateness – the feeling of being desperately alone. Unfortunately our self-serving and desperate need to feel connection also influences the key question we ask of love. Rather than seek out the answer to how can I love, in ignorance we plead to discover the secret to the question, how can I be loved.  Few ever question their own capacity to love, but know intimately the importance of being loveable.

Getting to loveable in our society is conveniently assigned to gender.  Social convention encourage men to be successful, to build wealth and grab for power.  To be love worthy as a woman is to be attractive, fertile, and nice with sugar and spice.  When not blessed with natural assets beauty, sex appeal or a fat inheritance we develop other social qualities.  We work at being popular, or cultivate a pleasant personality as our flytrap for a beloved.

Given the right stimuli, love, or falling in love, is, in the eyes of most people, relatively easy.  Under the influence of enough lust, alcohol, loneliness or accumulated boredom, even strangers can find themselves in love, or at least a close enough facsimile – sudden intimacy.  What’s damn hard about love is finding, or attracting, the right object to love, or finding, or attracting, the right object to love us equally.

Seeing others as objects makes it relatively easy to consider ourselves as market commodities and justify our expectations for mutually favorable exchange on the love market. We choose the attractive man or ideal woman with an eye on qualities that return equal, or better, market value. Picking a partner becomes analogous to selecting stocks or bonds – today 1 in 5 new relationships get their start only after potential partners have evaluated a manifesto of personal assets on an online dating site.  A sweet deal can enhance ones economic cache, advance their social rank, or provide a beautiful gene pool.  Love, by default, becomes a dividend earned.

Cold and commoditized as modern mating may seem, at least it grants the privilege to choose the object desired.  In many traditional societies and cultures love is never spontaneous, never a personal choice.  Marriage is a ceremony that seals a contract between factions.  A worthy match is counted in heads of livestock, parcels of land or measured in precious metals, not on whether two people are in love, or will ever find love amidst their appointed duty to custom.

Arranged, or self imposed, we all want to believe love can have a happy ending, but Erich Fromm serves up the callous truth.  In The Art of Loving he writes, “There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love.  If it were the case with any other activity, people would endeavor to find the reasons for the failure, and learn to do better – or give up the activity altogether.”

And my heart said, Amen!

So why are we such pathetic love underachievers seemingly committed more to making money, or gaining success, prestige, and power?  Love, in essence, is a profitless venture.  We can’t make it happen, only fall into it with blissful ignorance.

It’s out of ignorance that once in love we can’t help but be human: we exploit attention wishing it to bring us love; we mistake or substitute passion and affection for love; we aim to fall in love as our goal while relationships become burdensome; we yearn for what we once took for granted but long to find again – unconditional love; we remain ignorant, even unconcerned, about our own capacity for loving, and we obsess, or lament, over what we believe is love’s true and only purpose, to make us happy.

In the pursuit of happiness love becomes a life consuming concern, but few ever reflect on the core question: how did I learn love?  Children have no power over being loved and an infant can only interpret being fed, sheltered and cuddled as being loved.  By nature, and blood, parents, offspring, siblings and relations have a loving bond built in.  As we become individuals we gather strangers into our tribe to treasure as friends we love. To love thy neighbor as thyself is an ideal most believe elevates love in mankind beyond flesh, yet it’s ecstasy of the flesh – the transcendent experience of romantic love – that’s coveted as the key to personal joy, but romantic love chooses us, it happens to us, either by fate, or by cupid, we fall, like a helpless victim – in love.

How easy then to love?  What skill is required beyond feeling, what practice necessary beyond experiencing the ride, what mastery required other than suffering the disappointments and heartbreaks, and what legacy is there to pass on when there is nothing to be learned?  Yet in my own life, I wonder, how much suffering could have been averted, how much richer my experiences and my relationships had I been taught that love, like trigonometry, must be learned and studied, that loving is a labor chosen, a practice committed to over a lifetime, and an art mastered not only for the sake of our own happiness, but also for those tiny voices that cry for attention but want to understand the profound difference it would make to rephrase one question.  To ask not what can love do for me, but ask instead, what capacity, what potential, do I possess to love?

I once believed love was but the rose, only to learn true love is the labor to seed, the patience to root and the devotion to accept even the thorns. ck

The Loving Art: #1 Birthright

How do we come to love?  We are certainly not born as loving creatures.  As babies the universe revolves only around our needs.  As children love becomes a quickly mastered art of manipulating our audience to entertain our simplest urge.  I’ll say it – the greatest gift of childhood is diplomatic immunity for the narcissist we are.

Coddled as babes – or not, Mother Nature has never played favorites to us, the human animal.  Her lessons are not of love, rather survival of the fittest; kill or be killed.  As humans, we are defenseless against the elements, and vulnerable prey to just about every beast or vermin that walks, slithers or flies.  To survive, we learned strength in numbers.  Thus the egocentric, solitary man became a social animal.

In communion as tribe members, mankind – the animal gifted with insight and reason – came to discover another vulnerability – this one a demon found within.  This torment is our separation from nature, and a haunting separateness from one another.  Reality is, we are all born alone, and we die alone.  Not to be cynical, but life is but a short space in time sandwiched between birth and death.  In that short period of time we are granted very rare opportunities to escape the prison that is our loneliness.  The only instrument capable of affecting our collective state of aloneness – short or long term – is love; it is our saving grace, like a personal flame to draw others close to our solitary soul.  Only love can pacify the fear and anxiety of separateness – the condition of becoming aware of being alone.

In community, we, the individual, had to learn trust in our fellow man.  In fellowship with others, our animal needs, like the call to mate, and our basic craving for companionship, evolved into a desire to serve, and a capacity to care for others.  The zenith of this maturity is love.

It’s not always obvious or exposed, but seeds of love are abundant in us all.  We all carry a boundless personal store with choices to lock it away with fear within our hearts, or plant it anywhere we please: onto objects, onto ideas, onto philosophies and doctrines, or onto each other. Who would argue that of all the things that humans are capable of loving, that love we share with one another is our most satisfying life achievement, though equally, can become our gravest folly.

Even with the reverence we show love, our addiction to love, we routinely take love for granted. It’s as though we’re entitled to love, like a birthright requiring no lessons, an ingrown talent requiring no practice, or a vehicle we drive purely on instinct.  As kids we mimic the love practices of people within proximity to us, but can anyone pinpoint what about love determines whether it manifests as our deepest joy, or provokes a lifetime of frustration and pain?   Such questions are rhetorical curiosities we cycle silently inside our heads.  Sobering questions about love, when they come, if they come at all, typically rise when love fails us.  Even then the question most lamented is why is love so cruel.

I’ve asked this very question more than once in my life, or at least until I broke through to smarter questions like what is love – really, or why does love feel different depending on the object of love.  Why is a mother’s love felt differently than love of a father; why is love of self felt apart from love of God, and why does brotherly love, or love for our fellow man – an act that holds peace on earth in the balance – create less pain than the challenges inherent in romantic love?  These and other unasked questions are the subject of upcoming blogs: The Loving Art.  Love for you to share the journey with me.