“One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken. It is that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question—for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness.” William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience
Some reflections on love, the meaning of love, and the constraints of love.
Love is wonderful. Our Romantic culture is obsessed with it. We see it portrayed in movies- (after overcoming all obstacles, the lovers finally unite and live happily ever after) and we spend much of our lives seeking it, wondering if we’ve found it, and wondering if it’s “true”.
But indulge me for a minute to reflect on a hypothesis that our Romantic culture and Romantic model of love has it entirely backwards, and I can explain why.
The Inverted Model of Love
For the sake of argument, let’s say there are two definitions of the word “love”-
- Love as a noun– a boundless feeling directed towards anything and everything- Being
- Love as a verb– love in action, a practical implementation of love- Doing
Romantic culture holds that our default state, when we’re single, is that we’re not “in love” with anyone. Then we meet that special someone and we “fall in love”. Now we love someone. We’ve gone from zero to one.
But curiously, the wording to “fall in love” contains a particular clue.
From the perspective of the noun/verb distinction above, I’d argue that the opposite of the classical Romantic understanding is happening. What if our default state is actually to love everyone and everything, but this boundless love is normally obscured by completely understandable egoic and practical constraints (for example, our finite resources; how much time we have, how much money we have, how much free attention we have. Our preferences: what kind of people we’re attracted to) and the experience of “falling in love” is actually the experience of having those constraints loosen (or those boxes ticked) and thus we experience a falling back into the love that always was already there for everyone, (and, in the case of romantic love, paired with physical/sexual attraction).
What if falling in love is actually the process of having your default background love ‘activated’ or ‘accessed’ and channeled towards a particular person? It is a special event, to be sure, and it feels wonderful, but it’s inverted from a sense that love is being created from nothing.
Referring to children for a minute- what if any of us could/would love any/all children, but we’re so heavily constrained by our practical resources that we can’t? This would explain why it hurts so much to read the news and learn that children have been hurt (or why we’re distressed when we learn of the suffering of others in any context).
And what if so many of our moralistic judgements towards other people are simply unrecognised constraint valves being placed on our default state of loving, because it’s absolutely impossible for any of us to really implement the love we feel for 7.8 billion people and billions more animals on the earth, yet which, if we settle down for a moment and merely observe, we can feel throbbing up from the surface of each moment?