I can clearly remember her sitting there, perched like a ballerina on the edge of a saffron cushion. So poised, so elegant. Listening with great attention to what the meditation teacher (Rob Nairn) had to say. She was oblivious to me sitting there, tracing her every move and contour. She looked so elegant, exotic even. Perhaps Mauritian? Maybe Spanish? An incarnation of Frida Kahlo? Little did I know that she was Lebanese Catholic but what I did know is that I instantly felt something. What is this something? We talk about Love in the same vain that we talk about God – as if we know what it is and that believing in it brings us some sort of salvation. That Love will somehow save us from ourselves. It was in that moment that I believed that that feeling would bring what I was most searching for – to become something more than what I was.
Does love really heal all? Can we love each other better? Is love the ailment or the cure? If everything happens for a reason, then surely God is awfully violent in his methodology? We fantasise about a much gentler version of Him and it’s from the same fantasy world that I think we pluck out our popular version of Love: As if it were some imperishable bloom. Love is less rosy and far more influential in our lives. I often say to couples that love is like an Orchard, it needs constant attention and just the right conditions to survive. Find the right conditions and it will thrive into something beautiful, deny it what it needs and it will reduce itself to a baron twig at best, a scene out of little shop of horrors at worst.
What are the right conditions for love? One of the greatest quotes I have ever read comes from my favourite author, Jeanette Winterson: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. What then kills love? Only this: Neglect. Not to see you when you stand before me. Not to think of you in the little things. Not to make the road wide for you, the table spread for you. To choose you out of habit not desire, to pass the flower seller without a thought. To leave the dishes unwashed, the bed unmade, to ignore you in the mornings, make use of you at night. To crave another while pecking your cheek. To say your name without hearing it, to assume it is mine to call.”
Love is no saviour. It’s a meditation on what it means to be human. Love is about coming to terms with yourself and how your existence impacts the people in your life. It’s the means through which you can reveal to yourself who you are and how you are when you’re at your most vulnerable,
But, what exactly is this feeling we call Love? It is certainly not one thing. It is not something neat and exclusive. Nor is it something we have much control of. When we say “I love you”, we speak in many tongues. When we say “I love you” we often mean “I need you”. When we say “I love you”, we indirectly say “I deny me”. Love can be as self-indulgent as it can be self-denying. Love is far too often the need to control another disguised in the scent of rose petals scattered across the marital bed. It’s even, simply, a way of escaping ourselves. We use love, especially unrequited love, as something to punish ourselves with. “I Love you so much, I wish I hated you.” When we say “I love you”, we are sometimes even thinking “If only I never met you.”
I stole the title of this post from David Brazier, Zen Psychotherapist. He suggests that we can cast diagnosis aside and summarise the work of psychotherapy down to one question: “What went wrong with love in your life?” There are certainly better and worse kinds of love. But, I think it’s a trap to think that love cures all. There is a thin line between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance. The later can be life threatening. Simply accepting things as they are does not make room for a healthy love. Sometimes, the best thing that can happen to a relationship is an argument.
The quarrels of lovers are the renewal of love. – Jean Racine
Cutting a very long story short, I only married my Frida after a long and significant interlude in our lives. When we find one love, we try and downplay the significance of any others we might have had. But, the loves of our lives are written into our bodies. They are the stories written in pen. The ones we might be able to write over but never erase. If we don’t read our own love stories closely enough, we will never learn from them. We will simply move from one relationship to another, making the same mistakes and blaming it on Love or God or each other. When you fall in love it is the beginning of a personal alchemy that is followed by difficulties that have the power to transform you if you will only let them.
In the end, Love may take you places that leave you feeling quite defeated. David Brazier believes that we need to continue living and loving beyond this defeat. “If we can love beyond defeat, that is a sacred realm, a pure land. And, I think that is what therapists are trying to do – to get people beyond defeat.”