Yeah well so much for wedded bliss. An unknown elixir I’ll always miss. So tell me when will it all start? After the fault finding of my heart? Or post hissing names in my head? Or after the blow meant me dead? Was that when the happy marriage began? Or will I live forever as an also-ran? Or should I wait after the days of silence? Forgiven after months of muted penance? Perhaps that’s when love would finally begin Once I’m finally forgiven of my unknown sin. Or perhaps now you no longer overspeak, And see me listen quite mild and meek. Was that the solid foundation missing? Or am I Prince Charming over wishing? Or once you’ve finished the loving glare, But chide me still for daring to stare. Or those moments of push and shove. Such body contact must be true love! Rhapsodies and harmonies? Syncopated symphonies? Tell me when does true love start? Why re-open a broken heart?
Of a morning, I’m woken up by the song Higher Love by Steve Winwood. And not every morning, I ask myself, “What is this song really about?””Where is this higher love he keeps thinking of anyway?” Perhaps this higher love might be one of C. S. Lewis‘s The Four Loves:
- Storge: Love experienced by and for family members, companions or colleagues. As anyone would know this is a love of boundaries and a subsuming of personality.
- Philia: Love experienced through friendship which may of course have flexible boundaries and an extension of personality but there are still boundaries.
- Agape: Altruistic, unselfish love experienced through being kind to strangers or generous to those we do love.
- Eros: Erotic, romantic, infatuated love which is joyous until the deinfatuation occurs.
As a father, son, brother, friend, colleague, husband, lover and occasional altruist, I’ve experienced all of these loves. I’ve especially written about agape love in On Unselfish Love and explored it further in Rumi’s Puzzle of Love.
But for me, sadly, these loves have an element of impersonality as they are restricted by boundaries in one way or another. All in all these loves have a sense of disconnectedness about them.
But as Steve Winwood hinted, when he woke me up, there is another love, a fifth love, if you will, a love that simply does not fit the above categories. I’ve been touched by and wrote about that love in Love, Science Fiction and Understanding. I’ve heard it hinted at in the writings of Rumi and Donne and many others. I’ve seen it in action during the beautiful relationship of a favourite uncle and dear aunt.
But as an aspiring poet and storyteller, I still feel I’m grasping at air. Try though I might, I cannot define it, let alone describe it. It seemed as if the answer was out of sight and out of hearing. An answer, it seems, that the heart knows but won’t tell.
And at an unexpected place and an unexpected time, I find the beginnings of that answer.
I’m in Colombo International Airport, Sri Lanka after attending my friends’ wedding. I have four or five hours to wait for my flight as it leaves well after midnight. I sigh and reach into my bag. I retrieve Joseph Campbell‘s the Power of Myth and try (and again fail) to read it. For every single time I read this book, I become lost with new thoughts and feelings. And this night, in an airport slowly being emptied of travellers, it’s again the same.
I randomly choose a chapter, Tales of Love and Marriage. In the first page, Campbell starts talking about the medieval troubadours. My first tired thought is, “This isn’t for me.” My next thought is,”I have three or four hours, so read.” I read on. And I read something that catches my breath for an eternity. Campbell sets aside the concepts of Eros and Agape as respectively a biological urge (infatuation) and a charitable (spiritual) love. He introduces the term Amor, a person-to-person love, a love based on connection that exceeds any of the four loves. Much much later, I’m reminded of that phrase so many people use to describe a failed love, “We didn’t have a connection.” They’re right.
That night everything falls into place. For this love is one that looks into the eyes of another and sees not only their heart and soul but the rest of the universe as well. This love is one that will explore the known and unknown, knowing that all will never be revealed. This love is one that is based on vulnerability, compassion and courage. This love, this fifth love, demands a price but pays bountifully.
Like the old expression, “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage“, there isn’t much of that anymore.
Yes, unfortunately, I’ve heard this all before.
In the throes of a disintegrating marriage, I turned to reading books many of which made the same recommendations.
The prescribed panacea was that if a man did more housework or spent less time with his mates, marital bliss awaits.
In truth I did step up and I fervently believe that men should (see Having It All). But there’s no guarantee of reciprocation. Not that reciprocation was my motivation.
Unfortunately, the opposite argument is of course is that the woman should do more. As set out by Laura Doyle in her book the Surrendered Wife where women need to step up so the man can step down. Again there’s the implicit guarantee of reciprocation.
These viewpoints seem to treat marriage as some sort of reality show (Wife Swap perhaps?). Marriage is seen as a game where you amass points for doing the right thing, are penalised for doing the wrong thing and receive or forgo prizes. Marriage in this light seen as territorial and transactional with winners and losers.
My real problem with all of this is that both viewpoints are both motivated by the guarantee or expectation of reciprocation. If I do this, I get that and if you do this, you get that.
What that creates is a relationship based on mutual selfishness. Both partners keep score and amass points and expect to be rewarded. The problems occur over keeping track of the points, rewards, penalties and prizes. From my personal experience after arguing over that there’s little energy left for vacuuming or sex.
Nor does it foster much love. Nor create an environment that fosters compassion and generosity.
So what’s left from this? My dull insight is this. Perhaps we could try an unselfish love for oneself and for others for a change? Perhaps we could create an environment of compassion and generosity?
Last week’s quote was “To find the Beloved, you must become the Beloved.”
I was puzzled. And I tried to analyse it. And became more puzzled.
So this time took my advice to others: when puzzled, describe don’t explain!
So while I’m still puzzled, I’ll describe its meaning to me.
Does the Lover end up loving himself (herself) thus becoming the Beloved? Which sounds like that selfishness which requires slavery from others.
But suppose the Lover loved himself (herself) with the same (unselfish) love as he or she loves the Beloved? Puzzle solved.
Rumi’s real puzzle:
- Love others unselfishly
- Love yourself unselfishly.
There is almost an obsession with being loved unselfishly.
Out there is the perfect person who will supply your needs forever.
Your mission impossible is to find that person, convince them to love you and you will be happy forever.
And you will love them back, but secondly.
Unfortunately, this love is the one that makes the world go round.
And yet there is no freedom in this love, only obligation.
For me, I thought that if I loved someone unselfishly they would love me back unselfishly.
I was wrong. I found that out the hard way.
Such unselfish love is still obligation: it is still a deal: it is love transactional.
Now I have created a contradiction. But there is an alternative. It is not for everyone though….
Perhaps this story might throw some light on the dilemma. I came across this Sufi story about a week after my second marriage failed:
“A lover came to the dwelling of the Beloved and asked to be admitted.
‘Who is there?’ the Beloved asked.
‘I am here’, the lover answered.
The Beloved refused to admit the lover. After wandering in grief and longing for years, the lover returned to the Beloved and begged to be admitted.
‘Who is there?’, the Beloved asked.
‘You alone are there’, the lover responded.
The door opened.”
I was deeply moved by this story. Instantly I knew its meaning. As I wrote this I drew even more insight from it.
The lover cannot be selfish: all grief is gone.
The lover cannot be obligated: he or she is free from everything that would thwart unselfish love.
The lover is free to love.
For me I have some way to go.