Evolve the Form of Love by Reconceiving Its Target.
Recently I was reminded of a simple truth, a satisfying little truth that made sense out of, and thus offered useful suggestions concerning, something that wasn’t working.
Our emotional process is not usually straightforward and useful insights do not come easy: emotions communicate in felt senses, vague feelings, implicit meanings, they speak in tongues. Getting at what’s bothering us, teasing out the thorn eating into one’s side, finding the pea underneath all those mattress layers takes some rooting around, some digging, some wise discernment.
So often nowadays when I do just that, useful insights do not come easy, not merely because what’s bothering me is to be found in the intangible inner life, but because what’s bothering me is filtered through a complex of expectations, assumptions, scripts, and anticipations that make up a subjective filter and I choose, through a radical act of personal responsibility, to no longer take the bothersome at face value but try to identify the lenses through which I am perceiving so as to factor this critical variable into the analysis.
To factor myself into the analysis. My subjective biases. My perceptual apparatus. To be humble to the fact that I am no neutral observer, and that I must account for both myself and the environment or situation, if I am to act intelligently.
Life is more complicated than it was in our innocent, wide-eyed, uninformed youth, but much more balanced, fair, rational in that midlife perceives from many angles, not just the first observation point we all begin to see from, falsely taken as a clear aperture unto objective truth: personal growth has reached an inborn limit in externalizing the bothersome, and has also reached a dead end concerning externalizing the good.
I call all of this the end of seeking, or maybe it’s also related to the end of victimhood.
I don’t mean to promote getting rid of subjectivity. Many philosophers over the years have keenly demonstrated how this is not possible. How the observer and the observed interpenetrate and are always unextractably interwoven.
In probing, instead of cleaning the lens to get at false objectivity, I get to discover, own, and claim my subjective basis. I get to define who it is I am becoming. In probing, I get to locate where it is that my present, emerging self fits into the environment. We human beings are valuing creatures, staking claims in values, evaluating, revaluing old values.
I keep finding hidden lenses that need to be purged, or at the very least, challenged in light of a possible update. They were forged in deep childhood, in my curious, confusion-causing adolescence, in my excitable but ignorant twenties, and as such, they are no longer congruent with the findings of my adulthood.
When we are bothered, we intuitively sense misalignment: our outlook on life and the way we are operating in it are mismatched.
At first, when we are newly accounting for ourselves and are going beyond externalizing the problem, we ping-pong between futile attempts to address “is it me?” or “is it that?”, straining our vision to accommodate the new relational whole, all the perceptions, all the angles, all the lenses, all the data. It’s easy to relapse into binaries.
It is you and it’s okay to be you. To stake a claim in your values. And to align yourself with environments that support them, that sustain you in your emerging self, not in one fell swoop, but as I like to say, piece by piece, page by page.
To follow that vague but persistent sense of what’s not working is honorable work, sometimes courageous work. It’s a common conditioned response to push it away, rationalize that everything’s fine, and justify carrying on in the same old ways, unacknowledged, unanalyzed, undiscovered.
But this sense is an indication of misalignment. Maybe what’s no longer working, serving, resonating, or functioning is small in the grand scheme of things, requiring slight adjustment if it were to be fixed, healed, mended, or refashioned.
Or maybe it’s connected to a deeper rot that reaches into smelly wounds, or brings up waves of unassimilated pain from legacies of dysfunction, which requires you step into a worthwhile empowerment, yet this kind of freaks you out so you make a deal with yourself on some level, deciding to suffer and bear the imbalances, inconsistencies, and other indices of dis-ease that are in real need of some loving adjustment.
We should pay attention to the way those small-but-noxious peas in our bedding create sore spots. Through the work of their persistent agitation, they work faithfully in nudging and encouraging us out of complacency. They are wellsprings of information, in their manageable but non-negligible pain. Those sore spots do not need glossing over or justification, but some attention. Loving attention.
My sister is on such a courageous quest of realignment with her husband. They quest after a new version of the good life.
Their old life, which was once their new life, worked for 10 years, and just like every other cycle in Nature, it initially attracted attention, turned their gaze, gathered up interest, marshaled investments of energy, gained complexity, embedded them into commitments, peaked into its fullness, then began its gradual waning.
10 years ago, they had made a bold, life-changing decision at very young ages. They were going to move to New York City to pursue their graduate degrees in philosophy and literature, and to start their own lives. And they did. My little sister moved to the heart of New York City.
Their life was arranged by their new circumstance: it was hyper-urban, cosmopolitan, a mishmash of poverty on the border of extreme wealth, a flourish of densely-packed, melting-pot of culture.
They began in Queens, the most ethnically-diverse spot in perhaps all of the world, and made their way to an 8th story 800-square foot apartment on Roosevelt Island, their island in the East River just east of Manhattan.
My sister began fantasizing about life upstate, found herself getting more agitated by the grind of her quietly outdated daily life, losing its luster as it will when we live out of a remainder of a cycle that has already completed and extinguished its life-granting possibilities.
Bothered by errant smells of sewers and rotting food and vague city grime, elated at the thought of boating, of raising a dog, and of thriving in a smaller community, she began staking a claim in new values through one of the surest means of doing so, through a literal, material embodiment of such in an act of relocation.
Her new ambiance would feature more of the earthy and organic, its platform would offer her more through the simplicity of less, it would offer open space, freedom to roam, fresh opportunities to explore new environments which would help her explore neglected dimensions of herself, and tap, channel, and free more of her remaining potential.
She risks uprooting herself in that quest for new alignment, a risk that bets on the security or sustainability or sustenance of emerging values, bets on upstate New York to represent a life-affirming container for her continued evolution.
Likewise, I am adjusting as we all are in ways big and small.
My significant other is moving away. He and I, growing accustomed to our shared, daily life and to each other, were starting to settle into a warm feeling of Home. And then he got the news that he had been reassigned to a military installation 1800 miles away. A mandatory assignment. For 18 months.
At first, I grappled with that awful pit in my stomach, the signal that anticipated missing him. I dealt with the hollow sadness that accompanies loss, and then, per the usual, I got carried away with anxious ruminations, fearful about the thing we’re all fearful of: the implications of change.
And, quite unawares, the stress grew as I started acting all stressful and urgent concerning working out every weak point of connection in our relational fabric, every gap that needed to be filled and fulfilled, every incompatibility needing to be solved for, every tiny, hair-line strain demanding some elusive corrective.
I hadn’t put it together, but I was unconsciously reverting back to an old belief system in the face of an enormous stressor (never underestimate the immense power of regression). I was unconsciously acting as if total emotional fulfillment were required of him, though I thought I had already purged such as a childish point-of-view.
If that seamless and complete union wasn’t blooming forth in this, what would be the last days in our current, peaceful arrangement, then we were doomed, then I was doomed if I stayed cut off from a whole, wide-ranging, well-rounded, all-satisfying connection.
But whole, wide-ranging, well-rounded, all-satisfying connection comes not from our partners, but from the village we are a part of. From a wide-ranging, well-rounded community. And it also comes from concrete interests, avocations, and creative pursuits beyond our intimate attachments. Let us not forget that Freud famously asserted that work is as much a “cornerstone of our humanness” as is love.
Love is not enough to see the journey through. Not the kind of love this apparently outrageously important song as of late for me tries to surrender or slay. This love is still overvalued and overburdened: may I radically adjust in this adjustment by deconstructing the singular purpose around which my heart used to swivel!
The alternative is not to let love, implicitly conceived and carried with me as a youthful formulation, die on a withered vine, but to repurpose the outlet that channels my prodigious, heart-soaked energies: to evolve the form of love by distributing its range and reconceiving its target.
We need to remember this now more than ever as we fragment, isolate, and insulate ourselves in our hyper-individualistic techno-culture. We need to remember this when we are scared, stressed, and stretched thin.
Today this truth stitched together as I practiced yoga under the care of a spiritually-nourishing instructor who activated our implicit body senses and encouraged us to play, explore, and flow to her cues and the flute on her airwaves, and also as I shared travel tips over the phone with my mother as we spontaneously stumbled upon other tidbits and treasures.
I often rationalize that I don’t need these points of communication, these exchanges of energy with living human beings. But we need them in hearty portions on a daily basis, we need them like we need bread and breath.
The gaps in our total fulfillment, the dead zones that won’t come to life, the pockets of loneliness, melt away and cease to be an issue, as we drink from the trough of abundant and varied forms of care, consideration, and contact.
It takes a village to me means fully embracing the fact that my heart, as I now recognize it in its true present-day longing, freed from misplaced youthful ideals and the transmissions of cultural misinformation and conventional scripts I was exposed to void of creative imagination and enriching diversity, is what I call polyamorous in the sense that it needs a wide variety of people to connect with and a wide variety of hobbies and pursuits and projects in order to sustain balance and emotional fulfillment.
Perhaps relying too heavily on eros, erotic or romantic love, still a dominant cultural myth that persists in deep subterranean channels in our minds and hearts as a primordial stream, as our only means of connectivity, deprives us of what we really need.
The ancient Greeks, in fact, had four or five ways to describe love, eros being one version of it amongst many. Is it not telling that our very word polyamory in a contemporary context is defined as “characterized by or involved in the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all people involved”?
Should we not put forth a polyamory of the heart of which that type is but a subtype of a much larger phenomenon?
And if, as an individual deeply interested in human dynamics, and as a conscientious person striving for higher consciousness, I could fall prey to believing once more the delusion that romantic love is a be-all and an end-all, I figured it best be talked about openly with other Rebelles.
Sarah McKelvey is a free spirit who enjoys introspecting, speculating, and writing about life, love, synchronistic experiences, identity, psyche, self-cultivation, and her various misadventures. She typically writes in the context of traveling, and is informed by Eastern wisdom traditions, depth psychology, and the iconoclastic teachings of Alan Watts. Words are her favorite medium. In her pursuits, she pursues truth, beauty, and goodness, and hopes to, through her endeavors and writing, promote a life-affirming attitude that belongs on the spectrum of love. She lives along the Front Range outside of Denver, and practices psychotherapy professionally.