Love Out of Balance

When it comes to love it seems that we all fall on one side or the other of a specific spectrum.  Some land in the middle.  How we get to be where we are on the spectrum, I really don’t know.  It could be dependent upon how we deal with our abandonment issues as a child.  It could be how we were raised.  I really don’t know and I will leave it up to the experts to decide.  What’s important here is to acknowledge that we fall on the spectrum some where.  Imagine a line with arrows going in opposite directions.  On the right side of the spectrum you have Self-love.  On the left side you have love of others or what I will call, Other-love.

lovespectrum

Self-love and other-love are the glue of the world.  We all need both in our lives.  However, what I have been observing and the reason I started writing about love is that there is in the lives of many an unbalance between the two.  Problems arise when there is no balance and we have too much of one or the other.  I am sure we have all met people that only care about themselves or we have met people that neglect themselves to care for others.  If we are honest with ourselves we can identify where we personally fit on this spectrum.  Sometimes we can go from one side to the other and back again.  I hardly observe a balance of the two.  Balance between self-love and other-love is a crucial goal of these teachings.

So why is balance so important?  Because without balance fear can easily pervert these two kinds of love into apathy and sympathy.  If we think about this spectrum again, then we can see what happens when we have too much of one or the other in our lives.

Selflove

If we move too far to the right on the side of self-love, it creates a wedge of  being selfish and self-centered.

I call this state apathy.  Apathy is when I care about nothing outside of me.  If we introduce fear into the equation through self preservation we get acts of outward violence ranging from neglect all the way to murder.

otherlove

On the flip side of the spectrum if we move too far to the left on the side of other-love we create a wedge of becoming a martyr or a self-loather.  I call this state sympathy.  Sympathy is when I, in an unhealthy and unhelpful way, care about everything outside of me.  If we introduce fear into the equation we get acts of inward violence ranging from neglect all the way to suicide.  What is worse is that both types of violence, inward and outward, can easily lead to and feed off of each other.

I fall on the side of other-love with some trips to the self-love side.  Ask your self where do you fall and how far do you allow yourself to go?  Most people land on one side or the other with trips to the opposite side, but few land right in the middle.  What is the middle?  Balance.

Balance is what I would like to see us all strive for.  Not because balance will make our lives free of pain and suffering, but because balance is worth striving for despite the pain and suffering.  Once we start to have it we will begin to see the benefits.  What does balance look like in contrast to the love spectrum?  Well, if we use the Taoist symbol of Yin and Yang or the infinity symbol, we have self-love and other-love melting together into an infinite cycle of balance.

balancelove

One does not over take the other. They are balanced.  To achieve and keep this balance it takes work.  Anything worth doing takes work.  I will talk about the work involved later on.

The state of this balance I call empathy.  Empathy is when I care to understand what is going on both inside of me and inside others.  This can be emotional, spiritual, physical, and psychological.  And when we introduce fear into this balance, fear transforms into love.  If a person is empathetic and meets someone that is fearful, the empathetic person transforms that fear into love because that person understands at a deep level that fear is the response to an unmet need.  In the story of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan empathized with the beaten Jewish man.  The Samaritan put himself in the Jewish man’s shoes and transformed his fear of the Jewish culture and religion into love for him.  He put aside his preconceived ideas and prejudices and helped.

This kind of love is not easy.  It involves work and being unselfish, yet there is something wonderful about it.  Love is all we need to make this world bearable.  There will always be suffering and hardships, but if we put a new perspective on our thinking, we can live a more fulfilling life.

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Love Defined

What is love?  Love is different things to different people.  Love has many different definitions.  Finding one that meets your needs and that you can live out every day is important.  A definition that I have found that meets my needs is this:  Love is choosing to humbly find ways to holistically nurture the true self of both ourself and others.  I have found that this definition brings balance to self-love and other-love.

I came to this definition by starting out with M. Scott Peck’s definition of love.  He states that love is, “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”  This definition served me well for some time.  However, as I became increasingly influenced by Progressive Christianity’s call to liberate the oppressed, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, being all we can be, and loving others as well as ourselves, I needed a definition that encompassed the actions of all those things.  I needed a definition that dealt with the soul as well as the spirit and sees all the parts as a whole.  On top of all that I wanted make sure there was balance between self-love and other-love.  That is why I reworked Peck’s definition into my own.  Even though Peck’s definition and mine sound very similar, as you will see they are not the same.

Another thing I think needs to be addressed is where love comes from.  This really depends upon ones life outlook.  If ones life outlook is religious then love comes from God or gods.  If ones life outlook in nonreligious then love comes from the evolution of human kind.  Since neither the religious or nonreligious life outlook can be proven or disproven, it is not important to go into which one is right.  For all we know it could be both.  What is important to acknowledge is that either life outlook can apply my definition of love to their way of life.

As I said, this definition meets my needs.  If you find that it meets your needs as well, then use it to guide you every day.  If not then I urge you to find something that meets your needs and let it guide you every day.  But before you decide whether or not my definition works for you, let me explain it in summary form.

The band, The Choir, wrote a song in which the chorus states, “There is something wonderful about love.”  The writer was expressing his thoughts about his marriage relationship.  However he was not saying that love is wonderful because it makes his relationship with his spouse “problem free”.  No he says love is wonderful despite the fact that the relationship is full of problems.  Yet he is still able to say love is wonderful.

Love is work.  Whether it is the love you give to your spouse, children, enemy, neighbor, or yourself, love is work.  It is a choice to humbly find ways to holistically nurture the true self of everyone you meet.  It is a struggle.

First you have to choose to do it.  You have to choose to make the effort despite the opposition you may face from yourself or others.  Second, you have to be humble in knowing who you are and who you are not, unabashedly using your strengths and asking for help with your weaknesses.  Accept the fact that you may not have all the answers of how to love and stand in the helpless feeling it gives you.  That does not mean you give up.  Remember, love is work.

Thirdly, you have to observe what will enrich and what will not enrich every aspect (mind, body, spirit) of the person you are choosing to love.  Then humbly meet their mind, body, spiritual needs.  Fourth, you have to balance your love of others with self-love.  Never let one overtake the other.  Lastly, you have to accept, be it yourself or some one else, who that person truly is, their strengths and weaknesses, and not what you wish them to be.

Love is work and a struggle.  But in the end the work is well worth it.  Think of the strong bond you will have with the person you love, be it yourself or others.  This is why there is something wonderful about love.

This of course is a quick summarization of my definition.  I will spend the rest of this book dissecting each part  and in doing so I will give you the concrete actions that are the work of love.  So let us go deeper into my definition.

Love Is For Both Other And Ourselves

The fifth and last part of love brings us full circle to what we read in the beginning of this book.  That is all this work of love is at the same time for both others and ourselves.  By loving others we are loving ourselves and by loving ourselves we are loving others.  These two actions are not mutually exclusive.  They depend upon each other for healthy loving relationships to exist.  Whether or not humans will remain humane depends upon keeping self-love and other-love balanced.

It has been said that we are only as strong as our weakest link.  In this day and age of competition the weakest link is usually done away with.  The only people that we give worth to are the strongest, the richest, the trickiest, and/or the most rugged individual.  We seem to be fixated with the individual achievements of individuals.  We often glorify those who can say look what I did by or for myself.  Those that do not need the help of others are usually the last ones to give help.  However, if all we do is alienate the weak, eventually we will alienate everyone in our lives.  As Roger Waters put it when he sang about a backstabbing business man, we will become, “…just another sad old man, all alone and dying of cancer.”

We seem to have become a society full of self serving apathetic people.  We are apathetic to everything, be it people, ideas, or anything in nature that does not serve us.  The alternative to this problem is a revolution.  However the kind of revolution I speak of is not violent.  Violence only begets violence, or in other words those who live by the sword will die by the sword.  It can not be a revolution with beliefs based on fear.  We must do away with the extremes of conspiracy theories, end of the world religions, and the anti-Christ.  The anti-Christ, if anything, is not a person or a group that conspiracy theories talk about.  In contrast, the anti-Christ is this collective spirit of self-serving apathy we find in society today.  On the flip side, the revolution also doesn’t come by people excluding themselves from society through new age transcendent escapism or prosperity spirituality.  Transcendence is helpful if it enlightens us to engage the world with love.  However, viewing this world as stepping stone to something better beyond this world or to viewing this world as our own personal genie violates the teachings I am trying to present here.

The revolution and solution to apathy that I would like to see is us loving one another.  Like I said earlier, love is a gift with no strings attached and it is best enjoyed by sharing it freely and wastefully.  We are all different and we are all not going to see eye to eye on everything.  Whether large or small we still can live together with our differences.  All we have to do is do the work of love.  But just remember that we ourselves are a part of this equation as well.  If we see life as a gift, then that means we ourselves are gifts as well.  The self also is worth loving.

It cannot be self-love alone, but it also cannot be other-love alone.  They need to be done with balance at the same time.  I do not advocate concentrating on self-love first and other-love second.  They can both be nurtured at the same time.  Nurturing others nurtures your true self and nurturing your true self nurtures others.  As long as one does not overtake the other then there are ways to nurture both at the same time.

Here are some examples of how to nurture ourselves, and therefore others.

1.  Be the best possible version of you.  Others will surely benefit from this.

2.  Take care of your bodies and do it with those you love.

3.  Have fun and laugh with others, especially over a meal.

4.  Be passionate and creative.

5.  Be cooperative and empathetic.

These things have all been explained earlier, but it is worth restating them to show that we can nurture ourselves while nurturing others.  Most sacred texts mentions some command to love everyone and that command includes loving ourselves.  Think of the universal Golden Rule, “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.”  Karen Armstrong used the Golden Rule to devise a Charter for Compassion which states:

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

If we want to receive love we need to give love.  At the same time we also need to be willing to accept love and not just give love.  We need to be able to empathize with how wonderful it is to receive love, to have our fears turned into nurturing.  We need to take to heart when Parker Palmer defines violence as, “…whenever you violate the integrity of the other.”  We need to see how we are all interconnected in one way or another.  To summarize what theoretical physicist, Fritjof Capra, says in his book, Web of Life, we are a living process, a cognitive, operating for from equilibrium, process of highly complex and chaotic systems of bacteria with constant flow of energy and we are conscience and/or self-aware.  What we do does not just affect ourselves, but it also affects others.  What others do affects us and if what they are doing does not meet our needs, then we need to have enough self-love to let them know in a compassionate way.  This is the balance between others and us.  How do we balance self-love and love for others?  We make sure to never override the needs of others in order to meet our needs and vice versa.  What we need to do is find a solution that meets everyone’s needs.

The best possible example I can give is that of migrating geese.  Visualize the Autumn migration, the sights and sounds associated with this rite of passage.  In Lessons From Geese it states:

Have you ever wondered why migrating geese fly in V formation? As with most animal behavior, it shows us a valuable principle of mutual aid.

As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird following. By flying in their V-group formation, the whole flock adds more flying range than if each bird flew alone.

When a goose falls out of foundation, it suddenly feels the resistance and quickly gets back in to take advantage of that lifting power of the bird immediately in front.

When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into formation and another goose flies at the point. The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two others drop out of formation and follow to help and protect. They stay until the ailing member is either able to fly again or dies. Then they launch out, either on their own, with another group, or to catch up with the flock. 

As far as we know geese do this instinctually, but we need to make a conscious choice to be like the geese.  This life of ours is a group effort.  We cannot do it on our own and we cannot do it only for others.  We can however choose to humbly find ways to holistically nurture the true self of both others and ourselves.  There will always be struggles on this journey of life, but with the work of love we can make life wonderful, fulfilling, and meaningful.  We will not always see eye to eye, but we can use the language of compassion to keep our disagreements from getting violent.  As we make our own migration to the end of our lives, let us choose to love others and ourselves.

This is the cycle of love.  Self-love nurtures us by seeking out the help of others, nurturing on our own only when we have to, and other-love nurtures others by self-discovery and humility.  It just keeps going round and round into each other, one nurturing the other.

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