I have always been curious and driven to learn more about the power of love and how it operates in Life. And some years ago, in thinking about my purpose and intentions for my life, I said to myself: ‘I want to love myself, others, and life well.’ In this way I was asking life to show and teach me about love. I wanted to learn about love in areas that I felt I didn’t really understand; like in ‘romantic’ relationship, in relation to sexuality, the difference between love in a romantic relationship and a friendship, love of and for myself etc. All these areas where I felt I might have been shaped by the past to misunderstand what love was.
Some years ago (2016), I wrote the story ‘The Retreat of the Word Love’. A story about the word ‘Love’ and how it felt itself overused and misunderstood. So, it left the world, retreated from finite time, to find itself in a space of unboundedness again. Here is the story:
‘The Retreat of the Word Love
Once upon a time there was a very important word.
This word had grown afraid of showing itself, because more and more, it felt itself misunderstood. It hid, because it felt that the misinterpretations people had of it, allowed them to use it too often and in the wrong way. This made the word feel like it was getting smaller and smaller; trapped in people’s minds and mistaken meanings.
It longed to experience itself again; all of itself. And so, it pulled itself out of language, as if it had never existed. It thought, that in this way it could experience itself in its totality, unbounded by language and without the restrictions and pain of being used in error or gratuitously or lightly.
Initially this retreat from language felt wonderful to the word. It basked in the infinity of experiencing itself; just feeling the expanse of its full feeling and meaning, which through this retreat seemed to deepen and widen. It was wonderful! I was such a relief to be free.
However, after the blissful experience of expanse, it came to feel empty and even bored; nothing really happened, and the word came to feel lonely.
Meanwhile people had been coping with the loss of this word in their language. They didn’t quite realise what it was that was missing because it was no longer there… And when there was an impulse or longing to be with others, to share, to profess, to create something with others, they found themselves suddenly unable to express these longings in language.
One could observe people in the street; at a loss for words; trying to say what they felt and convey some kind of meaning to others, but somehow something was missing. The result of this was that people found other ways to express, profess, create and share; they expressed through their eyes, professed through their hands, shared through poetry and created through touch, song and music. Whatever had been missing through the retreat of the word, re-emerged in other new ways. Without being pre-defined by a word, the experience of it came to the forefront again in renewed feeling.
The word in retreat noticed all this, just at the point its loneliness made it want to return. Now it felt that maybe it was no longer needed. Especially now when it had deepened its own meaning, it despaired of actually being able to share this with the world. If they hadn’t known how to really understand it before, how would they ever be able to understand now?
Tentatively and with great trepidation though, it re-entered the language. The word started to be used again and was heralded as a word all new, defining exactly the newly emerging experience of feeling people in the world had been having. To anyone who felt the word on their lips, or who heard the word spoken, it seemed to bring such grace of the new, while at the same time bringing with it a deep familiarity of something known before.’
The deep familiarity is the feeling of reconnection to the fundamental self, which is my (and your) foundation in love. However, to get to that place, I experienced many things that weren’t love, that I had thought were.
Love is so easy to talk about. Love is so easy to think about and imagine. However, is what we talk and think about and imagine, in fact love?
To learn about love, I follow my desire. My desire leads me to experiences where I think and hope I might encounter love but learn instead what love is not. And that’s ok because in that, I come to realise I can jump in and take risks, to have experiences that I can learn from. These risks are mostly emotional ones, and I have learned to trust my own ability to process them through reaching out to trusted others, or to deeply listen to my feelings.
We are all full of ideas of what love is and might give us and we pursue that relentlessly. Often, they are ideas informed by what we learned or were told about love when we were children.
Exercise: take a moment to write down 20 times Love is…. And finish each sentence without thinking. What are your unconscious beliefs about love?
It takes a while to realise that when ‘love’ goes wrong, it often isn’t about the ‘other’ being wrong for us, but more about what we pursued as being love, being not-love. And the reason we might keep pursuing the same not-love is because we think it’s about the people we try and have love with. But more often than not, it’s our conscious or unconscious ideas about love that are mistaken. Like for instance, we might be focussed on getting love from a relationship: IE Love is something you can get.
And when it comes to having ‘ideas about love’, we discover though experience that actually, love is a thing that is felt and known, rather than an idea thought or theorised about. And so, to learn about love, we learn to feel whether there is love present – in our feelings – in our body. This was another big thing I had to learn; to make up my mind whether love was present, by feeling in my body whether there was a love feeling.
Which brings us to the realisation that to know whether there is love present, we only have our own body as a guide. Our body as guide uses feelings to convey our truth in any situation. We let go of the word and the concept to open up for a direct experience.
This also means that we need to learn to be open to feeling our feelings. In doing this we move into a wider and more subtle experience of ourselves. We notice that our response to the world is in our body. In most of us however, this authentic response has been overridden by our mind’s interpretations, judgments, denial and obfuscation. This is a bit like having a good friend sitting next to you sharing their feelings, and you always just refusing to listen or validate their reality.
Like mentioned before, learning to love is more about letting go and uncovering, than learning something new. Learning about love comes through noticing and allowing and letting go of control and judgment (positive or negative).
The need to control and judge can be seen as a survival mechanism; the manner in which the mind came to aid of the child when it felt unsafe and disempowered in their surroundings. And because survival is such a strong motivator, it can create long term patterns of behaviour, to the point where our unconscious expectations of unsafety shape our experiences in our body and in the world.
It’s not hard to imagine how our stories and behaviours around this patterning can become part of our personality and identity. So, in letting go and uncovering, we are letting go of these stories and identities. And this has the capacity to cause an existential identity crisis. Initially, uncovering is a lot about verbalising and telling one’s story and being witnessed compassionately and supportively in doing so. A further step is letting go of your life-story as identity; letting go of the past.
It is preferable that these processes happen slowly over time, so the psyche has time to integrate and recover from the shock of identity loss to experience grounding of the self after.
The role of love in the uncovering of stories and identity created out of the need for safety, lies in the growing trust through compassion and acceptance which comes to underpin the process. It is the allowing of others to help us to feel safe, supported and loved in this difficult process and ultimately to have this loving attitude towards ourselves as well. Like when we were children, as adults too, we operate best by a loving, compassionate, and encouraging presence. Especially when we are able to bestow this attitude upon our own selves.
Margot Broug 2023