Connection, Dialogue, Reflecting, Staying Curious

I Want To Know What Love Is…

Love begets love
Love begets love

There were times last week where life, circumstance, folk just seemed unfathomable to me. It started with a sense of helplessness, anger and redundancy as I processed the Orlando shootings – trying to fathom what happens? How? How does it get to the point where your anger and fear overtake you and you walk into a place where people are dancing and laughing and you kill them?

Then there was the odd spectacle of a flotilla of boats on the Thames, having some sort of braying, binary argument, declaring In or Out of Brexit – which might of bypassed me, but I was in the office & Twitter was awash (pardon the pun) with folk going: WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING? And I was struck with the divisiveness of the “debate” – the nastiness and disrespect that seemed to be in the air.

And the very next day there was the murder of MP Jo Cox, which somehow stopped me in my tracks in a way I can’t fully explain – maybe it’s because she’s my age, that I recognise some of her traits in my friends – I felt the wrench of kids left without a Mum, that it happened an hour from my door, that it was brutal and senseless – in daylight, in full view which somehow felt like an assault in itself – whatever it was, I was empty and bereft that evening… my words drying up.

In the face of his wife being shot and stabbed to death in the street, Brendon Cox put out a statement about Love. That his children would be bathed in love. That they would not succumb to hate. I have a soft and sentimental heart at times… his compassion made me cry.

Love. The antidote to poison.

But how? How do you love? How do you find that in you and sustain it in the face of so much toxicity? I’m assuming if you are a person with a faith or religion, you can turn there to find guidance and seek the means for love and compassion. But religion, it seems, is no guarantee of forgiveness, love, care for others….and anyway, I’m irreligious…how do I find the means to nurture my own compassion, my love, my kindness, the best of my humanity?
And where the hell is the place for something like Love in the work I do? Surely that’s not business? You can’t go around spouting love at folk – you’ll be rejected and ostracised, surely?

I’ve been pondering on some of this week.

Like many things, for me, it starts in the everyday. In the last week, I’ve tried to pay attention to Love. I’ve put the hours in. Where before I was noticing hate – brutality, difference, division, I’ve been working to notice love, care, that which unites. Sometimes, it’s not easy.

Turns out I don’t have a “definition” of love – it’s multi faceted for me, and shows up, often as a feeling, a sense – a softening of myself, physically and emotionally – a willingness to join someone in their experience and be joined.
Turns out I can’t love Donald Trump.
Turns out I can’t find my compassion for everyone.. or I possibly could – but that would be like love on an ultra-marathon distance, and in someways I’m still trying to love to 5k without stopping.
Turns out I want to work on that a little – stretch the distance my compassion and love can go.
Turns out I can be judgey and cross – dismissive at times of the things I can’t understand or decide I have no time for.
Turns out the news on TV doesn’t help me find my own sense of love and kindness.

It struck me at one point that folk who appear hate-filled might not know love. Like I’m not sure I know how to BE properly hate-filled. I’m not sure I know what that feels like – to hold some proper deeply-held sense that someone is disgusting or ugly or utterly without merit and they are to be despised, or damaged… I don’t think I know that, understand that, really
Like the urge to worsen the situation for someone weaker.
Like the urge to troll and bait and abuse.
Like the sense of such offence at someone’s skin tone or gender or religion or sexual preference that you actually hate them… I just don’t get it. What IS that? IS that a thing? Really? Or is that surface stuff – may I present my hatred to you – and underneath it all something else is true?

And if this gap is true for me…. then I figure there must be folk out there who don’t know how to BE properly love-filled. To not get that big auld dappy-daft feeling, the warm n fuzzies that make your week go better. To see someone you adore so much that you feel lighter, brighter, better just being in their vicinity.
The urge to give someone more and cheer them on and wish them nothing but good things
The urge to protect them and respect them and hold them in highest esteem.
The recognition of beauty.
The deep sense of wonder and delight.
Laughter that is infectious and connecting
The want to sit with someone who is experiencing hurt or fear or that overwhelming inadequacy thing that sometimes hobbles you… and not try to fix them, not assume they are broken, but show them the care, the kindness, the love that they currently cannot show themselves.
The fact that love can be tough – it shows tenacity and massive resilience in the face of death and destruction. The fact that love can be tender, daft, intimate, powerful.

Some folk may not know this love stuff? In that case, can we work on it? Develop our capacity to love? Is that how this works? Can love beget love? Can it really overcome hatred, or should we be working with the hateful to get them to access their love? Or both?

I don’t know the answers. I have so many questions. But as I write about hate, my body grows tense and taut and I feel fearful and sad and scared. And as I write about love, I can feel myself soften and smile and I gather the faces of folk I love, respect, care for, cherish, adore around me and I sense I’m a much bigger, better person as a result.

Maybe that’s our homework – to write and broadcast more about love….
I don’t know… what do you think?


images are from Hugh McLeod from @gapingvoidArt

20 thoughts on “I Want To Know What Love Is…”

  1. Your words inspired me to re-read this post:
    Here’s a few snippets that jumped out: (recommend reading it all though…) xx

    “For a start, it is possible to divide every kind of happiness and suffering into two main categories: mental and physical. Of the two, it is the mind that exerts the greatest influence on most of us. Unless we are either gravely ill or deprived of basic necessities, our physical condition plays a secondary role in life. If the body is content, we virtually ignore it. The mind, however, registers every event, no matter how small. Hence we should devote our most serious efforts to bringing about mental peace.”

    “The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. This helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the ultimate source of success in life.”

    “Whether people are beautiful and friendly or unattractive and disruptive, ultimately they are human beings, just like oneself. Like oneself, they want happiness and do not want suffering. Furthermore, their right to overcome suffering and be happy is equal to one’s own. Now, when you recognize that all beings are equal in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it, you automatically feel empathy and closeness for them. Through accustoming your mind to this sense of universal altruism, you develop a feeling of responsibility for others: the wish to help them actively overcome their problems. Nor is this wish selective; it applies equally to all. As long as they are human beings experiencing pleasure and pain just as you do, there is no logical basis to discriminate between them or to alter your concern for them if they behave negatively.”

    “I believe that at every level of society – familial, tribal, national and international – the key to a happier and more successful world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities.

    I try to treat whoever I meet as an old friend. This gives me a genuine feeling of happiness. It is the practice of compassion.” – Dalai Lama

    1. Thank you for sharing this Paul. It covers so much.
      Yes to seeing the humanity and similarity & to remembering what unites us.

  2. “If one man can create that much hate, you can only imagine how much love we as a togetherness can create”. – a statement by a girl who survived the Utøya attack which left 77 young people dead and many more scarred for life.
    Utøya is an idyllic island just 10 minutes from where I grew up. An island where I too have been to a youth camp. It was an event put on by the humanist association of Norway to increase understanding of cultural differences and the political questions around immigration and integration. That was an event that “created” love.
    Love is a funny thing.. still figuring it out 😉

    1. Ouch, Ollie. There is a bitter irony right there. I remember the Utoya attack – the sadness and horror I felt & my own anger at the seeming unflinching unrepentant nature of the guy who carried it out.
      Can those left behind live on without bitterness and vengeance being foremost on their minds?
      I don’t know. I’m sort of with you – trying to figure this stuff out.

  3. I got married last year and ended-up being completely unprepared for how emotionally overwhelming the whole day was. One of my friends caught me towards the end of the evening and shared a lovely thought with me (regarding me and my wife) “You two spend your lives sending love out to people, and on a day like today, all of that love comes back to you.” I’ve got many, many memories of our day, but this one has always stood out.

    Love (in all its guises) is a universal currency. Developing our capacity to receive love is just as important as developing our capacity to distribute it.

  4. These questions have been more than usually on the minds of many this past week. How do we manage to bear loving witness to hate and fear and violence? That is to court and accept heartbreak and grief, but there is no substitute. What do we see when compassion demands that we look past the surface of those things to the pain that drives them? It is hard, the hardest work of love to see behind those masks. They are masks, and perhaps what they most hide is the fear of the risk of loving, and to dare to trust in being loved, of being so vulnerable. Love really is the only engine of survival, so, we go on, we can only nail its colors to our mast and sail on.

  5. Julie – Great post, big issue. How do you respond when the world and people appear hate-filled? Do you too grow a thick armour of self-protection? Can you remain open & positive amongst awful events? How can people get that way? Dana Zohar (the SQ book) said anyone can do evil actions, when they completely lose contact with their real selves.

    My offerings: 1 There’s lots on love & kindness at Bodhipaksha’s site – Develops the capacity to respond with love & kindness, ultimately regardless of circumstances (i.e. read about Palden Gyatso!).

    2 On ill-will/hate I’ve just been with some long-term prison inmates this morning (I work as a p-time Buddhist Prison Chaplain, gives a sense of perspective); they have a lot to tackle on this item. We looked at Shantideva’s ‘Bodhicaryavatara’ text (c.700AD) on ‘kṣānti’ (= patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance) one of the Six Perfections, or paramitas:

    “When the thorn of ill-will is stuck in our heart, our mind can’t find peace, we can’t enjoy anything, and we sleep badly. If we are twisted by ill-will, even those who depend on us will want to bring us down. Even our friends won’t want to know us. We can be as generous as we like, but no-one will like us. To be blunt, there is just no way that an angry and resentful person can be happy. But the person who defeats anger will be happy, both in this life and the next.” [3-6]

    “People cause themselves all sorts of sufferings, refusing to eat because of anger, or because of their obsessions, for example with a partner they can’t have. They are driven to commit suicide, or to harm themselves by taking poisonous intoxicants, by eating unhealthy food, and by doing all sorts of unskilful things. Driven by the kleśas in this way, they harm even their own dear selves, so how can you expect them not to harm others as well? They are like madmen, driven insane by the kleśas. The only sensible response is compassion, not anger.” [35-38]

    “If someone hits me with a stick, I don‟t blame the stick. But the person is wielded by ill-will, just as the stick is wielded by the person.” [41]

  6. That’s totally weird, I was pondering about love this very afternoon. I decided it was a reification, but I “love” what you said here. I can totally hear you saying “like I’m not sure I know how to BE properly hate-filled.” 😊

  7. I’ve read this three times today and your words are so powerful. The third time, I just cried. Thank you for allowing me to release all of what has been happening inside of me this last week and provide some clarity around that. Keep those words coming, the world needs them x

    1. So I’ve inadvertently made folk cry today.. or rather the words as interpreted have.. thank you for posting, Dawn. You have a brilliant and beautiful heart.
      Lots of people seem to have read it… it seems to have touched some folk. For that I’m truly glad.
      there is a different blog, half written which is much more scared and angry and confused and sweary.
      This one took a while to come to being, but this morning, it was ready to be written as is.
      I don’y have answers. I have hope. I worry sometimes that I just kind of comment on stuff and in that there is an inaction…. but I actively work to promote better understanding, conversations, respectfulness in my work… and I hope that it is enough for now. x

      1. Inaction is not something you ever need to worry about, the truth of your words has created the tears and reactions. You are creating action by prompting emotions and thoughts. I sat on the train travelling to the NAP conference on Friday feeling that same conflict of love v hate and wanting to discredit and put aside the anger but it’s hard and at some point the tears have to come for a life lost and a hope sacrificed for something I struggle to understand. I surround myself with the word ‘appreciation’ every day but in this world there is a distinct lack of appreciation for others. Love is the answer. At work, at home, in all walks of life, we have to keep fighting to make that true. Xx

  8. Thank you as always for your lovely posts Julie. I don’t know how to hold onto compassion for the perpetrators of all this violence, that just seems to scaling like crazy. And hard to admit but I’m growing cold to it. I’m grateful my son stays engaged and openly caring and hurt by what is happening, which reminds me that staying engaged is probably the healthiest way to be, as you are.

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