Of course I'll hurt you.
Of course you'll hurt me.
Of course we will hurt each other.
But this is the very condition of existence. To become spring, means accepting the risk of winter. To become presence, means accepting the risk of absence.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I sat on the sofa, my arms full with the tangle of my two sons’ tiny bodies…trying hard as hell to hide the fact that I was totally losing it. My attempts at hiding my emotion failed, however, and my six year old looked up on me and said “Oh, is your heart bursting again? It’s ok, mama,” patting me on the leg in a sweet, reverse parenting moment.
We were watching the newly reimagined Netflix original version of The Little Prince …and needless to say it lived up to my own treasured esteem of this beautiful French story. While the above quote of the author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, is not from the book, it illustrates his powerful grasp on the nature of love, presence and the cost of true transformation that inspired this unforgettable classic.
We’ve been exploring the relationship between discomfort and evolution. Nowhere is this relationship more present than in love.
We all know that love requires risk, but this risk has been narrowed in our culture, reduced to the sentimentality that we’ve limited love to mean: the risk one takes in romantic love when attracted to someone else, of making their feelings known and becoming vulnerable with that other person. But if love is (as Teilhard describes) the physical structure of the universe, then it stands that the potential of what love can be (its corresponding risk and all) is as big as the cosmos itself.
Risk, it seems, is not a one time deal in love.
We, however, are habitual people who crave comfort...and risk is uncomfortable. Risk is hard. Risk is...well, scary. And fear makes us do strange things: we become self-preservationists rather than evolutionaries. We slip into that part of our brain that keeps us in a survivalist mentality of fight or flight, and are therefore incapable of operating from that larger relational field of love the moves toward creativity. In such a tug-of-war between comfort and discomfort, risk and fear, we often turn love (an energetic force bent toward more creativity, change and growth) into a possessive energy of clinging, resulting in stagnation.
This is part of what hurts about love: it only thrives insofar as we let it flow freely; it shrivels and dies when we try and posses each other with it.
It’s almost as if the connection-phase we experience among ourselves as human beings is like a beautiful flower that unexpectedly blooms with color; it is so beautiful that we want to keep it…so we either yank it from the ground (and therefore assure its demise) or even go so far as to pour plaster on it, thinking somehow we will preserve it from ever dying. Perhaps this explains why becoming parents (whether biologically or otherwise) is often one of the most transformative thresholds in how we understand love. It is only when we love a vulnerable and dependent being that is constantly changing, even while we feel ourselves inextricably connected, that we begin to experience, often for the first time in our lives, a love that expects change and letting go as a part of the package.
But how do we do this? How do we love in a not-clinging way? Especially in our romantic relationships?
To begin, it requires that we pay attention to how we’ve shaped our human relationships and recognize that we have the power to change how we operate in them. It doesn’t require much for us to recognize that our culture equates love to mean a total collapsing of two people into one singular unit. Like the famous Jerry Maguire movie line, “you complete me,” we glorify the idea ideal that in the quest of love is somehow to merge with “other half”, our “soul mate” the person without which we are not whole. The great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, however, has an entirely alternative take on romantic love: rather than thinking of lovers as completing each other, he describes the task of love as becoming a whole world unto one's self for the sake of the other, and love as “two solitudes that protect and greet one another.”[i]
In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke criticizes how culture has limited our understanding of human love to mean a path of clinging and possession:
“Nothing describes loving less aptly than calling it a merging, surrendering and uniting with another person…it is a sublime occasion for the individual to mature…to become a world unto himself for the sake of someone else….”[ii]
Later Rilke complains further about how we have limited the power of love:
“No other area of human experience is so well-supplied with conventions: there are life-preservers of the most varied invention, rafts and inflatable devices; the social approach to this question [of love] has managed to consider love a form of amusement, it must set it up as something frivolous, cheap, harmless and safe…”[iii]
How have we turned love into an amusement or convention? Into something safe...predictable? Into clinging and possessing one another?
Is the fullness of our human potential in love to be found in our sentimental understandings of what is “expected,” and has existed thus far…or is there a potential we have not yet explored in how love between people can aid evolution?
In the Little Prince, the fox calls the first phase of love a “taming”:
"I am looking for friends. What does that mean – tame?"
"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. "It means to establish ties."
"To establish ties?"
"Just that," said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world..."
This is how love begins in Teilhard’s “Law of complexity consciousness:” We move from attraction to connection. We identify the other as unique in all the world, with a mutual longing and need for each other. We turn toward the other, sustain the gaze of love, and form a deep bond.
And this is where our sentimental understandings of love usually stop: the bonds of love understood as ties of belonging to another.
Of course there is a lifetime of challenges and growth as two people continue the steady work of vulnerability and the difficulty of navigating life’s turns and struggles. But is this the entirety of love’s potential – to bond two people to each other as they journey through life? Or is there another aspect to the risk of love that we’re missing?
...to be continued.
This post on Love is an excerpt from my eBook "Longing, Loving, and Letting Go: The Trinity in the Evolution of our Lives," which is among the bonus material offered when you pre-order a copy of Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell's new book, "The Divine Dance." For more info click HERE
[ii] Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, (Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press, 2011), 65-67.