Love As Separation


We see love as a coming together.  A uniting.  And that, of course, is true.  As an end result.

But what is the nature of love?  (Don’t worry, I’m not really expecting an answer – yet…)

I’m pretty sure that love isn’t what most of the notions about it flying around in the world describe.  In particular, I’m certain that the idea of love as a process whereby we are completed by somebody else is not only wrong, it’s quite dangerous.

The feeling that we have when we are ‘met’ by someone.  When we are actually seen for who we really are and loved by the person who sees us, is a very potent feeling and one that can delude us into thinking that it is this process that calls us into being in some way. That isn’t true.

We are whole and discrete units unto ourselves.  Nobody outside of us – not our lovers or friends or children or even our parents (and to be honest they might come closest) can fill the gaps or substitute for the parts of ourselves we need to grow in order to be whole. This belief that somewhere there is someone – or indeed something (money, drugs, sex, success) – that can effect our ‘completion’ puts this necessary step out of our own control.

It isn’t only that this approach to love isn’t a nice, modern or independent idea, it’s more that it can’t work.  This approach is more likely to result in an unhealthy hybrid outcome – an entity made from borrowed and mismatched pieces rather than a beautiful and healthy relationship that can function as a powerhouse and engine of change and good and growth for all those involved.

So the first step towards love is separateness.  I have to see my separateness and become who I am and find ways to fill my own lacks and you have to do exactly the same and then we can come together.  Once we are sure we are separate we don’t suffer from jealousy or domination or the need to be in control.

When we are children the situation is complex vis a vis our togetherness and our separateness and just as we are growing physically we are also growing in this way.  We start off being attached, literally, to another person and our journey through childhood is a journey of separation and detachment as well as a myriad other things.

But once we are adults – regardless of the childhood that has created us – we are separate. When we are adults, if a person we love leaves we will be sad, we may even be distraught but we won’t be broken – because we can’t be.  They weren’t completing us – no matter what it felt like.  At best, they were papering over the cracks and that might not be great but when your heart is broken and you’ve been abandoned, one way or another, there is comfort in knowing that whatever else has happened no part of you has been taken away.

Because you have all the parts of yourself.  Even if you can’t always see them.

The job of completion is yours and mine alone.

There’s no denying that it’s a much nicer place when we help each other to do that – and maybe that is love.  Or part of love.  Or a type of love.

Here are a few interesting recent blog posts on various aspects of love that might help us all in our ongoing struggle to find out exactly what this elusive, seductive essence might be.

On Compassion and Control Freaks

Expectations and Vulnerability

I Hate To Tell You this Mom, but… 

Differentiation, Love and Living with Integrity

The Houla Massacre

This last post may seem an unlikely reference given the context, but I think this post graphically describes the lack of love.  It isn’t just that we don’t have chocolates and flowers if we don’t have love – the consequences are much more serious than that.  And sometimes we need to see clearly what something isn’t before we can understand what it is.

There are many, many more posts on this subject that I have read but can’t remember right now –  if you wrote one, or know of one, please don’t hesitate to link (self-referring is positively encouraged!).

Tell Me About It…


We have no control over many of the things that happen to us in our lives but if we can make sense of what has happened, we will usually construct a narrative to explain it to ourselves.  This narrative is more than just a story, it’s our escape hatch after trauma.  It’s what we can use to help us to overcome whatever horrible disaster has befallen us. Climb over it. Make good our escape.

Dan Siegel maintains that people who have horribly traumatic childhoods make excellent parents once they can make sense of their own story – no matter how awful.

 

No matter what happens – once you can look it in the eye and make it your story it loses its power to control you.

We have told stories since forever which means they are commonplace in our societies.  But common as they are, they are still essential to our well-being, safety and resilience.

We explain away myths and legends as primitive ways to explain the natural world – and they did indeed have a function in this regard – but it’s possible that they mean more than just that to us. It’s possible that they explain truths and experiences that are too subtle or difficult to approach in other ways and it’s possible that they allow us to construct narratives that function like ladders on which to climb out of the holes into which we may have been thrown.

If this wasn’t the case, then why do we still love to tell and hear stories? Whether it’s science fiction or vampires, rom-coms or action adventures surely our attraction to stories – myths – is because they are still fulfilling the same purpose for us that they have since time immemorial?

More Beauty


Dirk Willem Venter –
Even though this photograph was taken almost fifteen years ago, the day I met Mr. Mandela still stands out in my memory. I heard many stories of how lucky we were to have a great man such as him as our president and although I was very small, I felt a deep awe at being lucky enough to meet him face to face. As time passed and his distinctive voice filled my ears my understanding about what a blessing he was for our country grew.
He visited Worcester for the official launch of the Blue Train. I was selected from a group of students from my school to hand him a gift. I remember being nervous and a little apprehensive as I didn’t know what to expect when meeting such a great man. He did not talk down to me as grown up to kid, but instead smiled and told me how happy he was to meet me and my fellow students from the Pioneer school.
I did not know it then, but meeting him truly changed my life. I am one of only three completely blind students in the country to study BSc Computer Science. His example taught me to never give up and never regard myself too highly above others.

Relax – it’s all part of one big pattern


Patterned by Nature was commissioned by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (naturalsciences.org) for the newly built Nature Research Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. The exhibit celebrates our abstraction of nature’s infinite complexity into patterns through the scientific process, and through our perceptions. It brings to light the similarity of patterns in our universe, across all scales of space and time.
10 feet wide and 90 feet in length, this sculptural ribbon winds through the five story atrium of the museum and is made of 3600 tiles of LCD glass. It runs on roughly 75 watts, less power than a laptop computer. Animations are created by independently varying the transparency of each piece of glass.
The content cycles through twenty programs, ranging from clouds to rain drops to colonies of bacteria to flocking birds to geese to cuttlefish skin to pulsating black holes. The animations were created through a combination of algorithmic software modeling of natural phenomena and compositing of actual footage.
An eight channel soundtrack accompanies the animations on the ribbon, giving visitors clues to the identity of the pixelated movements. In addition, two screens show high resolution imagery and text revealing the content on the ribbon at any moment.
Patterned by Nature was created by
Plebian Design – plebiandesign.com
Hypersonic Design & Engineering – hypersoniced.com
Patten Studio – pattenstudio.com
and
Sosolimited – sosolimited.com

A Speck of Dust in the Eye of An Ant


Even though looking our definite and impending death in the face gives us perspective it’s not the only thing.

At least for me.

Sometimes for me the enormity of the fact that I am composed of atoms that have existed (literally) for eons and will continue to exist long after I have finished with them puts me firmly in my significant/insignificant place.

As does the absolute beauty, majesty and enormity of the world around us – particularly the parts we can’t easily see and yet they’re there all the time…

Just Because This is Lovely


I’m no expert on Dylan Thomas but they say he wrote Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night about his father’s descent into old age and death.  It is a beautiful poem and to me, as well as being about the inevitability of death, it is also about the need to try, to ‘rage’ until the bitter end.  In everything.  In the full knowledge that death is inevitably coming this is a plea not to surrender.  Ever.  To keep on going.  Keep on raging.  Until the absolute end.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Continue reading

Dido and Aeneas


Roman Mosaic (part), found at Low Ham (Somerset)

Roman Mosaic (part), found at Low Ham (Somerset) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The beauty of some stories is that they are telling one story when they seem to be really telling another.

Take the Aeneid for example. Virgil wrote the Aeneid c. 29-19 BCE – in other words over two thousand years ago. He wrote it to glorify Rome and to give the Roman people a pedigree of greatness – to claim them as the descendants of the defeated Trojans. But the Aeneid is not just the story of a defeated – or even glorious – people.  It is the story of people.

Like Dido.

Dido is tricked by the gods into falling in love with Aeneas – but fall in love she does. Against her better judgement – and contrary to her loyalty to the memory of her dead husband – she and Aeneas become lovers.

And then Aeneas leaves.

He can’t stay in Carthage because he is destined to lead his people to Italy to found the Roman nation and so he is commanded by the gods to leave Carthage. Leave Dido.

Dido can’t bear it. Insane with loss of love and loss of self-respect and loss of hope for the future she kills herself with a sword Aeneas has left behind.

Virgil portrays Aeneas not as a cad but as a dutiful man who has to get on with his mission and, therefore, must leave Carthage. As we read the Aeneid we are certain Virgil thinks it would be much worse if Aeneas stayed in Carthage and neglected his duty.  Even so, Virgil describes Dido and her love for Aeneas with tenderness and sadness.  He describes her as a good, and up to this point, dutiful woman and not – as is so common in literature – as a seductive she-devil. It is the sweetness and not the evil of Dido’s love that distracts Aeneas from his mission.

As Book Four of the Aeneid progresses, Virgil describes Dido’s anguish, her growing madness as the Trojans prepare to leave. With Virgil we feel her desperation, her unbearable distress and longing for release and then we feel the pain of Anna, Dido’s sister, who discovers her beloved sister on a pyre with a sword plunged into her body.  Virgil shows us Anna, crying and holding the bleeding body of Dido as she dies.  Even the goddess Juno is moved by Dido’s suffering and sends a messenger to take a lock of Dido’s hair so that her pain can end, though her death is not meant to be.

Virgil elicits our sympathy for Dido and her pain and though he has a two thousand year old view of Dido and Aeneas as pawns of the gods not fully in charge even of their own decisions, he never once characterises them as other than human. Virgil shows us the big picture and all the small pictures that exist inside it.  He describes each part of the picture as a section of reality that doesn’t negate or nullify any other part but rather contributes to the overall truth. Rome was founded on glory but also on sadness and sacrifice and pain. Like a huge mosaic picture made up of individual pictures.  It’s a richer picture.  We could learn from it.

Love the One You’re With


Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...

The field of interpersonal neurobiology is an exciting new area of research. The more that is discovered about how the brain works, the clearer it is that it is endlessly open to development and change as it rewires itself every single day. It turns out that how you choose to think really does have an effect on your brain – especially when it comes to love.  Loving relationships have the greatest effect on the wiring and rewiring of the brain.

In 2006, researchers in Virginia gave electric shocks to the ankles of women in happy relationships and measured their anxiety beforehand and pain levels during the shocks.  What they discovered was that the same level of electricity administered when holding their partner’s hand reduced their blood pressure and their brains showed a lower neural response to the pain.  Women in troubled relationships didn’t experience the same relief from holding their partners’ hands.

To quote from Diane Ackerman‘s very interesting article, The Brain on Love

All relationships change the brain — but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions and that ultimate souvenir, the self.

Every great love affair begins with a scream. At birth, the brain starts blazing new neural pathways based on its odyssey in an alien world. An infant is steeped in bright, buzzing, bristling sensations, raw emotions and the curious feelings they unleash, weird objects, a flux of faces, shadowy images and dreams — but most of all a powerfully magnetic primary caregiver whose wizardry astounds.

Brain scans show synchrony between the brains of mother and child; but what they can’t show is the internal bond that belongs to neither alone, a fusion in which the self feels so permeable it doesn’t matter whose body is whose. Wordlessly, relying on the heart’s semaphores, the mother says all an infant needs to hear, communicating through eyes, face and voice. Thanks to advances in neuroimaging, we now have evidence that a baby’s first attachments imprint its brain. The patterns of a lifetime’s behaviors, thoughts, self-regard and choice of sweethearts all begin in this crucible.

We used to think this was the end of the story: first heredity, then the brain’s engraving mental maps in childhood, after which you’re pretty much stuck with the final blueprint.

But as a wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent. (1)

So, what can we learn from this?

That we need love to be healthy and balanced and happy?  We all probably knew this.

But it also says that every smile, every loving touch, every kindness is worthwhile because it resonates and shapes the brain of the recipient.  It says that we should be careful with each other – even when it’s difficult.   And generous with our love – whenever possible.

This song reminds me of Diane Ackerman’s article – I have no idea why, the link is pretty tenuous – but I really like both the song and the video anyway.  So, here it is –

(1) Diane Ackerman, The Brain on Lovehttp://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/the-brain-on-love/

Armour


Life is a difficult place.

For everyone.

It requires deft navigation and some sort of protection .

Mostly we get hurt and as a consequence build defences so high and so strong and so completely that not only do we keep others out, we also keep ourselves in.  Hidden and afraid.  Cut off from real contact outside ourselves, we offer our masked face composed from person-coloured armour to the world.

Is this the price we pay for safety?

Is it too high? 

Open.

Chatter in.

Chatter on.

Chafing on my skin and brain and heart.

Not your fault.  Not even my fault.

But true.

Need spiders.

(Mary Jane Kennedy)