I read out the first chapter of my memoir to my writers group recently. Part of which gives a basic outline of the dynamic of a romantic relationship I was in many years ago. A relationship that didn’t work out too well. I felt at the time I read it that there was an element of risk involved in opening up to a group of people, some of whom might not be able to take on board the story without being able to be nonjudgmental about it. I needn’t have been concerned, as they were quite accepting really. I’m always open to questions though, but when someone asked, “did you love her?” I have to confess I was a little taken aback, and responded, rather glibly, “define love”. I noticed one or two knowing nods from my audience and realised that I had struck a chord here, and a fairly common one at that.
Many people have written on the subject of love for millennia. It’s a subject that occupies a great deal of humanities time and attention, and I don’t think anyone has ever come close to a satisfactory definition of it. Apart from one that kind of appealed to me a very long time ago, and I’ll get to that shortly.
There have been times in my life when I have turned to other thinkers about the subject. One of these people was an artist, poet and philosopher by the name of Kahlil Gibran. He wrote a poem entitled “Love”, and three lines of this poem really hit me when I first read it. They were:
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For Love is sufficient unto Love.
Now, I’d like to look at this thing we call Love from the perspective of this Blog I write. Which is sub-titled, “A mental health Blog”. I’d like to look at it as a mental health issue.
So did I love this woman I was with for ten years of my life; I believe I did. She also professed to love me, but one thing she said to me occasionally was that she wasn’t “in love with me”. At that time I wasn’t sure what she meant, and I’m not entirely clear on the matter now to be honest.
One thing I have learned over time is that we seem to feel the need to put this feeling we call love into categories. So we have something like, mother love, sexual love, puppy love, erotic love, romantic crushes and obsessive love. You name it and we could probably find room for the word love in there somewhere. We even use it to describe what could be seen by some as apparent cruelty, in the form of tough love. Throughout history it has remained an incredibly powerful word, used to excuse all manner of atrocity as much as acts of goodness.
A rock band called R.E.M., (bear with me I’m going somewhere with this honest) were very popular some years ago. One of their best loved tracks was titled, “everybody hurts”. It was aimed at people who were at their lowest ebb emotionally, and was meant to reassure them that all emotional pain had an end to it. The words urged them to hang on in there as, however sad and lonely they felt right now, these feelings would pass and that there were people out there who did care. It’s a lovely song and I would urge anyone to seek it out and give it a listen.
I have a lot of favourite quotes from a variety of sources, and one of them is still quite apt for me as, if not a definition, then certainly a kind of touchstone reminder. It goes, “love is the way anyone would naturally feel about someone, if there wasn’t any hurt in the way.” Now on one level that statement sounds incredibly trite and simplistic, as one only has to look at the current state of the human race, to realise that there’s an awful lot of pain around and precious little love.
For me however that statement goes right to the nub of the problem in regard to understanding love. It’s a feeling that we are born with. One that connects us with other beings like ourselves. Absolutely key to our health and well-being to the degree that we cannot thrive, or sadly in some cases even survive without it. Unfortunately life is not perfect for us. There are joys yes, but also plenty of painful events that lay down a lot of emotional scar tissue. Some of these events are random and there’s not a lot we can do about those. As they say, shit happens. A lot of this pain though, is laid down via a kind of social contagion. Put simply, we get hurt, and if we don’t fully recover from that hurt we risk passing it on to others.
One of the things that I really feel strongly about in counselling is that at its core, it’s not about flashy techniques or methods. More important than anything that might have been learned in some diploma course or PHD, is that sense of common humanity that exists in everyone. As a client I have felt that some of the most profound insights into my own psyche have occurred when I picked up that my counsellor genuinely felt and believed that my negativity about myself had no basis in truth at all. I’ve been lucky enough to also experience this shift from the other side of the fence too. When as a counsellor I have allowed my own common humanity, compassion and empathy to come through and witnessed the person in front of me blossom as a result.
To me this is love. It’s not possessed by special people who are trained to use it to help others. It’s there in all of us. Maybe running in the background for some; but it is there. All we need to do is to practice checking in on it as often as we can and give it the chance to be expressed and heard.