By Danton Remoto
February 14, 2011
It’s Valentine’s Day and I know many singles who like to mingle, and they’re now frantically looking for a partner they can display on D-Day. Some of them ask me what gifts would turn on their potential lovers. Junk chocolates and roses, I tell them wryly, and give a book to your object of affection.
I recommend The Spirit of Loving for this most ilusyonada of days. The book is a compilation of reflections on love and relationships by writers, psycho-therapists, and spiritual teachers. Emily Hilburn Sell edited this book, which comes from the imprint of Shambala, which has a long backlist of lovely spiritual titles.
I like this book because it isn’t a silly compendium of words that you could find in a typical greeting card. It has philosophers like Plato and Martin Buber, novelists like Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf, even writers who were once called pornographers, like Anais Nin, D.H. Lawrence, and James Joyce.
And it has the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who sets the tone for the collection with these words: “For one human being to love another human being, that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.”
For love, indeed, is not just a welter of feelings, or a rush of desire. When the fires have cooled down and only the embers remain, what then? There should be a deep attachment to the other, while at the same time an expansion of the self. There should be deeper intimacy, but beyond all these, there should be spiritual growth between the lovers.
Listen to Plato: “Love seems to me . . . A divinity the most beautiful and the best of all, and the author to all others of the excellencies with which his own nature is endowed. Nor can I restrain the poetic enthusiasm which takes possession of my discourse, and bids me declare that Love is the divinity who creates peace among men and calm upon the sea, the windless silence of storms, repose and sleep in sadness, and fills our vacant hearts with overflowing sympathy. He gathers us together in such social meetings as we now delight to celebrate, our guardian and our guide in dances, and sacrifices, and feast.”
From solitude to the soul — this seems to be the direction that love takes. When you love another person, one world ends, and another one begins. “Driven by the forces of love,” writes the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being.” Or as an early Greek myth puts it: “Eros, the god of love, emerged to create the earth. Before, all was silent, bare, and motionless. Now all was life, joy, and motion.”
But face it: love isn’t easy. As M. Scott Peck wrote in the now-iconic book The Road Less Travelled: “Love is not effortless. On the contrary, love is effortful.” When you are in love, you seem to have been trapped in a moist pit of melancholy. All your days begin and end with thoughts of the beloved. You only spin around the galaxy of him or her whom you love. The Dominican scholar Meister Eckhart said: “And so, too, I speak of love: he who is held by it is held by the strongest of bonds, yet the stress is pleasant. Moreover, he can sweetly bear all that happens to him. When one has found this bond, he looks for no other.”
Yes, but how does one survive the valleys and hills of relationships? One way is to look at love the way the Zen practitioners would: as a moment to be savored to its fullest. If you have loved once, you have loved forever. As Rollo May said: “To love means to open ourselves to the negative as well as the positive — to grief, sorrow, and disappointment as well as to joy, fulfillment, and an intensity of consciousness we did not know was possible before.”
I know some people whose eyebrows would rise three inches up their Botoxed foreheads when I begin talking about love and intimacy in non-sexual terms. Well, let me confound them further by saying that I believe in the mystic’s view that “the divine is the only satisfying lover, the only true soul mate.”
But who said that soul mates can’t have fun, too? Havelock Ellis puts it best for me: “Lovers in their play — when they have been liberated from the traditions that bound them to the trivial or the gross conception of play in love — are thus moving amongst the highest human activities, like of the body and the soul. They are passing to each other the sacramental chalice of that wine which imparts the deepest form of joy that men and women know. They are subtly weaving the invisible cord that bind husband and wife (or lovers) to each other together more truly and more firmly than the priest of any church. And in the end — as may or may not be — they attain the climax of free and complete union, then their human play has become one with that divine play of creation in which old poets fabled that, out of the dust of the ground and in his own image, some God of Chaos created man.”
In short, he parallels lovers’ glorious climax to the divine creation of the first man. Hmmmm. Let me end these passages of love with brief words from Rilke like the quick, clear strokes of calligraphy: “Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect, and touch, and greet each other.”