What is Love? This is a question that has been asked by the curious and the creatives, the saints and the sinners, the philosophers and the scientists. Love is something we hear about relentlessly throughout our culture and our lives; we sing about it, we hear it in our songs, and we talk about it passionately and with defiance. Love is also the cause and origin for wars and Dramas, with love being the root for many a tragedy. Is anything worth fighting for if it wasn’t so dearly loved?
A pragmatic approach to love is something we hear all quite often. “Love is just a series of chemical reactions taking place when two people with certain characteristics get to know one another.” Is this true? Is love really just a chemical reaction that occurs when our inner human nature recognises someone or something contains value for either our survival or development?
It would not be particularly unlikely to see the following answer from a pragmatic evolutionary Psychologist:
“Well yes. The release of oxytocin and serotonin, among many other hormones, are all released to create a bonding effect. This ensures that the individual takes care of whatever it is he or she has decided to invest in, so that they prioritise the survival of the selected person, and so spends more energy and resources than they would usually. Love therefore acts as a means to increase odds of both survival and development. We have ultimately evolved these hormones to continue the survival of the human race, and maintain life on planet earth.”
It’s not a particularly flattering nor romantic answer, is it . . .?
I cannot dispute this fact rationally, and would have a tendency to agree from a mere pragmatic view. The above is certainly correct from an evolutionary perspective, but is that all there really is to it? Let us ask ourselves, do we not feel a little repulsed or annoyed when someone reduces love to such cold and pragmatic articulations? Some may not, perhaps, as many hold much pride in their pragmatism and coldness. Yet, for the romantics, and the warm hearted, we certainly do, and we will fight tooth and nail to prove to you that love is something far deeper than a mere chemical reaction.
Love, like anything, must be viewed and analysed from different angles, and with different lenses to truly grasp its depth. We have touched on what I will call the modern cliché that it is a mere chemical reaction, but what is a more meaningful way to see it?
I will start by saying this. When something has been pinned down and analysed, understood and processed, and then inspected and applied time and time again; all elements of mystery, magic, and wonder, are thrown out the window. As soon as we objectify something such as love, it instantly loses its numinosity, that is, its spiritual power to capture the fascination of someone’s attention. For something to truly capture our senses in wonder, it must be transcendent, all encompassing, and divine. If love was truly just restricted to a chemical reaction for human beings to mate and survive successfully, then would it really be such a meme? It is true, from a mere chemical perspective, that it is surely a most powerful drug. Yet the fact this drug is released in the first place must talk about something far deeper that is happening beneath the surface, and then only eventually surfacing through chemistry. For two to have chemistry there must be the right conditions for a reaction. If these conditions were merely restricted to humans, or potentially even animals, the phenomena may be something more equivalent to the necessity to drink water, which is obviously just as vital as mating and reproducing. So let us ask ourselves, is love really restricted to a physical and harmonious coming together of creatures? Or does love itself apply to a more broad application of harmony as such.
The ancient Greeks understood that love is a very broad and loose term that cannot be pinned down under one narrow definition. For this they had different words for it, those being:
- Agápe – An all encompassing spiritual love for all and everything, Humanity and God.
- Éros – Passionate sexual love for a partner
- Philia – Love of friends and equals
- Storge – A love for your parents and your children
- Philautia – Love of oneself (Further divided into positive and negative versions)
- Xenia – Hospitable or institutionalised Love, coming from a duty to care
Whilst I could go into much depth on each of these individually, for the sake of this essay being a philosophical one, I will be focusing my attention particularly on the father of all loves –
Many of you reading this may of experienced a sense of agápe. A sense that everything and anything contains value and beauty. Agápe is something that I find extremely difficult to truly pin down with logic and words alone, and something that can only truly be understood and related with when one has felt and experienced it. Yet still, Agápe can be felt in moments of revelation, of miracle, of beauty, in moments where things all seem to connect together so perfectly that you are left with a sense of all encompassing awe and wholeness, a sense that makes you want to collapse to the ground and preach your love for all and everything. In short, Agápe is the love of God, and the love of God for us. To find agápe, would truly be equivalent to finding god, yet many of todays age are simply far to hesitant to call the experience the latter.
“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”
Agápe has been used recurringly in the New Testament, and is more generally known as “Christian love”. This, in my eyes, is the purest and highest form. I believe that Agápe can be created through paying attention and reflection, whether that be through prayer or meditation. It is a love that must be realised and appreciated. It is a love that is ever present, yet only accessed when given the right perspective to see it. It is in a sense the true purpose of life that all things stem from, and gives meaning to all our actions. For me, this beauty can be observed and respected when it comes clear to me how all things connect; as the legendary Japanese swords swordsman Miyamoto Musashi famously said – “If you know the way broadly, you will see it in everything.” The more I see of life, the more this quote sticks with me, as of course the more of the way I see. I have had moments of revelation where I truly see truth for what it is, that being, the simplicity in complexity. We these days always speak in such complicated technical language, and use in depth formulas and data to see and analyse things. All this high resolution thinking has blinded us to the zoomed out, low resolution thinking that allows us to see the bigger picture, and to really respect how all things form. If we were to view a painting under a microscope, we could analyse every molecule of paint to the finest degree, but we are in our efforts missing out on the true beauty and meaning of the entire painting, and missing the representation of the story that was attempting to be told by its creator. If we take this same logic to life, and accept that many these days are not given the full picture of life and how all things follow a pattern of similarity, connection, way, and order, then we are of course bound to miss the true beauty of life, and therefore struggle to really conjure true love for what things really are. I believe this cultural nihilism ultimately stems from the dilution of mythos that was previously such a cornerstone in the past generations cultures. Mythos is a cultures collective dream that helps connect all the dots of life together, and present its people with an image of the whole story of life, helping man and woman really appreciate and love everything for what it truly is. Without these representations, finding true agápe is unfortunately restricted to either the sharpest of the open minded truth seekers, or ironically the close minded conservatives who refused to let go of the previous generations mythos.
Pursuing a life not grounded in agápe as a fundamental basis, will ultimately be devoid of deeper meaning, yet may still be paved with financial riches; yet not without a dose of misery and apathy. Even the ones who say they do not believe in any God, they very well may be based without knowing it in Agápe, for it Is the most natural condition to want to strive to better all and everything. There is no greater meaning to anyone than to bare a responsibility to move things towards the better, for oneself and for all and everything. It is this reason that many may actually be more Godly than they realise, for their conscious ego does not believe, but their spirit is actually full of Godly love; they just did not realise themselves that what they were feeling was one and the same. The question may be put forward in this case – “Can we lose Agápe?”. I think to determine how much high love one has, is ultimately dependent on their perspective of reality. To love or not to love, it is a question we all ponder. The nihilistic individual may have love for his friends or family, spouse or colleagues, but the nihilistic person cannot, by definition, love life. If one does not love life, then the longer they live, the more they resent. For how can they feel otherwise? How otherwise can this great burden be seen as anything but so? The question always comes simply down to this:
Everything is true?
Everything is false?
We watch now and the camps set themselves clear. The divide is simple. At their heart, there are the ones who love humanity. And then, there are the ones who think life is a waste of time, and that everything would be better without us. There are those who see life as a gift, or there are those who view everything as a painful waste of time, a monstrosity of a prison, something we must bare without purpose. If this is their root, how could they not also bring everything else down with it? Your deepest values, loves and hates, they are not simply superficial beliefs. These core values and alignments, when practiced and focused on consistently, they become a core of your being, and like the core of a planet, will radiate around like a magnetic field, penetrating, attracting, or repelling, all and everything around them.
It seems then, that ones moral compass can detect whether someone is pointed north or south from just from being around them. How many times have we got a sense that someone is empty, soulless, lifeless, full of hopelessness and apathy, and then only to see them again after some drastic event or catastrophe now full of life and joy, zest and enthusiasm. We then turn our attention to the images of the once joyous young lads, full of life and optimism, who are then sent out to the hellish trenches on the western front. We watch their faces and eyes, and we see the life stripped from them. I can only wonder how anybody could maintain their love for life after witnessing such horrors . . . But still, we see many great stories of beauty, even in these most hellish of realms. The power of faith in goodness shines brightest in the darkest of places, it seems.
If we accept that this notion of Agápe as the most general of all loves, and by that definition what unites all the different types of love together, we must ask ourselves what do all loves have in common. It is quite clear that there is an archetype of tension and harmony between objects, people, and forces. This sense of love, then, isn’t merely restricted to animated life forms like many would be led to believe. We need only look at the nature of duality between any two forces, view the reaction taking place, and see how the outcome of that reaction is different from the two original forces. It is in a sense a fusion of two forces, and then after a reaction takes place, a more complicated and refined substance forms. In a sense, a couple after making love, make a child. Yet, this archetype of love can be observed in all areas of reality: wars, Nuclear fusion within stars, people, myths and stories colliding with other cultures to make new ones, a fight between two that ends in a brotherly love, etc.
Can a true global love ever truly take place? It is a dream of many the hippy and utopianist to view a world in perfect balance of the opposites. Yet, is there any meaning if things are all in perfect order? It is all well and good to vision a future of complete peace and harmony, but if everything is perfect, where is the meaning for men to be heroes, and women to protect and nurture life to survive and be healthy in the future generations? Love, then, is fleeting. We must accept that we as humans will never truly be in perfect harmony, as harmony is always waiting to be broken by a new and unknown force or variable that enters the equation. Love isn’t easy, and maybe that’s what makes it special. Love is an image we hold sacred, and I believe it should be always something worth striving towards. Yet still, we as humans are natural sinners, it is who we are, and who we always will be. For that, we must accept things will never be perfect, and we must nurture and cherish those moments of perfection in our lives whenever we can, because nothing good on earth lasts for ever.
At the very least, all we can do is embody a general spirit of good faith for all that exists. A general sense of love within everybody, is in a sense what the goal is for Christians and other faiths are. This notion will of course always be tested, because whilst anybody can manufacture agápe, and therefore nurture good faith, it is also just as possible to manufacture and harbour bad faith, resentment, and a general distaste for life. It would also be in my own bad faith to suggest that people shouldn’t be able to hold bad faith, as no one should have the power to force people to believe in this or that by means of severe legal, or violent threat. Yet, the effects of a general and collective bad taste for life are easily observable when we look at groups that form on the basis that human life is something akin to a parasitic infection, and one that would be better off exterminated, and everything would be much better in a pure state of natural chaos. Much of the time, a lack of agápe in someone will attract others of similar taste; it is of no surprise that the expression “Misery loves company” exists. The question then must be presented – what will the companies and communities that form from misery and a lack of agápe look like, what will be of there form, and how will they effect the ones who still truly love life and everything this experience of consciousness offers? The forms will certainly change, as they always have over the generations, but the spirit underneath stays the same. Some may be thinking it is overly reductionist of me to suggest that if there is an existence of people who don’t possess agápe, that I am suggesting that this group is some sort of psychopathic inhuman evil who are something akin to monsters. The truth is never that simple or black and white. It is not a matter of whether people do or do not have love, it is more so how that love is integrated and focused into life. Agápe itself then, seems not so much as a type of unique love, but more so the highest way for love to be focused. Everyone has love, but not everyone loves the same. We need only to look around at modern movements to see how love and empathy is held up on such a pedestal, yet the reality in their actions and delivery reeks of something so devoid of what many would consider to be truly understanding and caring of the bigger picture. Love itself then, like any instinct, can be hijacked and trapped within narrow definitions and paradigms, twisted and deformed, deified into a caricature of its true beauty into something non inclusive of everything, and only selecting its love for narrow groups or scenarios. This is always the nature of how the ego relates with the instincts within the unconscious. Once again, without cultural guidance on how the ego can relate with the unconscious, by means of mythos, story, and symbol, we as a species are left as confused madmen bound to a world of instability, nihilism, and hell.
But as Churchill once said –
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”