Sam on Love

What is Love


September 8, 2012

Revised April 6, 2015

As part of my work preparing to be dedicated to Venus's path back in 2012,Dove, the priestess guiding me through that work asked me "What is love?" I admitted that I didn't have a good answer. We both thought it would be valuable for someone walking Venus's path to articulate their ideas about the nature of love. I wrote the first version of this essay as a homework exercise preparing for my dedication. Now,two and a quarter years later, I'm revisiting the topic. I find myself in agreement with my original ideas, but I find in many cases I have much greater clarity. Any discussion of love is inherently personal. My truth will not be the same as yours. Here, I ponder and explore my experience. I would be very interested in how my thoughts touch you; I'd be interested in any comments you'd care to share about the truth of love to you.

Imperfection, Contrast and Sacrifice

To me, love is about imperfection and contrast. It's not just that we can love even imperfect people, or that we can love even as we come to know the imperfections. I think imperfections are an essential part of what it takes for love to form. We connect with the imperfections; they are what makes every love unique and special. By describing love as about contrast, I mean that I think connection is in some ways more strongly experienced in how it relates to difference than similarity; whether it's male/female, difference in outlook, difference in goals, understanding the differences is an important part of love.

When I think about love and contrast, I think back to one of the Wiccan creation myths I first encountered in Spiral Dance. The god split from the goddess so he could love her. He sacrificed the eternal unchanging beauty of that moment before polarity to bring love, sacrifice and change into the universe. Now, there was a distinction between goddess and god, and in that polarity, love could blossom. Every time I think about this myth I'm filled with wonder and joy. Of course, I'm also filled with sadness, because the flip-side of the coin of love is the coin of sacrifice. To me, love requires change.

The Cauldron and the Flame

In our Venus work, we talk about the cauldron as the symbol of the goddess's universal love. This love is offered freely, infinite and respecting the infinite possibility. It is full of potential. However, it is impersonal and of itself unchanging. We then speak of the flame, the energy with which we stir the cauldron. I think of the flame as the spark of change, the offer of sacrifice that actualizes a potential love out of the infinite possibilities. The cauldron without the flame is beautiful, wonderful. It's the kind of love we can approach when we think of our love for life, for all humanity, for the beauty we see, or for the cycle. However, that energy, that change makes the love personal, the love between Venus and her consort. Each love is unique, the lover and beloved ever-changing, ever-beautiful, ever transforming, sacrificing the past for the future. At one level, the cauldron and flame are different lenses on the same universe. As the flame combines again and again, the instances of personal love build to approximate the pattern and infinity of universal love. I've found similar patterns in math and physics. There are many systems that are simple to describe in their entirety but that hide huge complexity inside. One way to think about this is that you need the information to describe where you are inside the system and to describe what information you don't have. For a simplistic analogy, consider how much easier it is to describe a glass before it is dropped and scattered across a specific floor with a specific fragmentation pattern. This may even apply to the entire universe: When thinking about meta-physics I like to ponder 0-information universes. At least last I checked there was no strong evidence our universe inherently had information (initial conditions). Even in such a universe, the internal information and complexity appears to be on the same scale we observe. To me, it's so amazingly cool that from the duality of nothing/everything (which may well be incredibly boring) can spring forth arbitrary complexity simply by narrowing your view. In my mind I keep coming back to the parallels between the god's sacrifice repetition of that sacrifice in the flame and systems with inner complexity when I consider love.

Reflection, Knowledge and the Three Truths

I think there's an element of reflection in love. That is loving is distinct from being loved. I've heard the claim that even in self love the part of self loving separates itself from the self being loved to make love possible. I think there's something there: I find that I can gain a deeper connection with myself when I can gain some distance. Sometimes I do that by trying to see myself as others might see me or by trying to understand my actions and emotions as I would the actions and emotions of another. I think love is reflected in a related sense: there's a cycle of feedback between loving and being loved. There is vulnerability in love. As we join and feel the reflected cycle of loving and being loved, it is easier to embrace that vulnerability.

Love springs forth from knowledge. Dove has a writing that was the result of a meditation; I'll call it the Charge of Venus because it is a description of how Venus asks us to worship. In this she uses the word see where I'd probably say know. Either way we're not talking about ordinary sight or knowledge, but deep spiritual seeing/knowing. Knowing the true essence of something with your deep self. Love of self springs forth from this knowledge/sight of self. Love of self acts as a seed for love of others and for the knowledge of others necessary for that love. Through this knowledge, of ourselves and those we love and who love us, we can approach the same knowledge of our role as love itself, as a manifestation of the basic love and sacrifice that drives life. We can approach the third truth.

Love is its Own Reason

I've always been confused when I've been asked why love, or why I love someone or something. Eventually I settled on the following answer. Love is its own reason. There is no greater magic than love. It seems reasonable to consider a creation story in which love is the force that is so strong it introduces time, death, change and sacrifice into the world. For me, love itself is a sufficient answer to "why love?" It's also the only answer I have that makes any sense to me to why I love something or someone. For me, love is what makes it all worthwhile. I love a lot: people, ideas, creations, life, etc. Love begats love; the more love we find, the more love grows.

The Strength of Acceptance and Needs

I've written about the strength of meeting people in a love where your needs and their needs are both respected. As part of loving people for their imperfections and faults, we can accept them, accept their agency. We can join and honor them as they grow and change, facing the challenges of their life. Sometimes, especially as parents, we apply "tough love," asking our kids to be true to their longer-term needs when they would let the needs of the moment get in the way. We can provide a push to help them face challenges where they need additional strength. Ultimately, though, we will face the great challenge of respecting their agency and honoring their choice of needs. Over the long term, to love, we must stand aside and let them choose their life, sacrificing some of our hopes and desires to their agency.

Change and Risk

Love is ever changing; love can die. We talk of ever-lasting love but we are ever-changing in an ever changing universe. The concepts of cycles, sacrifice and the necessity of change are at the core of a lot of pagan traditions. I think the message for love is as important as anywhere else. If your loving or being loved are static, they will bend and eventually break under the changes that happen. So, to be ever-lasting, the love itself must be ever-changing along with everything else.

So, if love is ever-changing, it's a risk taken on faith. When we believe in ever-lasting love, we believe that we can change and our love can change in synchronization with the changes around us. This is not inherent; the risk is real. We have faith even though (or perhaps exactly because) our faith exceeds the chances we'll make it work. We cannot stop our own growth; to do so would be to be untrue to ourself, to undermine our love of self which is an underpinning for our connections with others. We cannot force others to grow and certainly cannot force them to grow in particular ways. So, because of the constant change in ourselves and others, we take risks and ask others to take risks; we put ourselves and the things most important to us on the line again and again. When we take these risks, we can develop the tools, faith and strength of love to be more likely to succeed in the future. Likely but never certain. The potential sacrifice we offer as part of the growing process is an essential part of both growing and love. If you don't have faith in ever-lasting love the risk and sacrifice are more pronounced. Consider what it takes to love truly knowing that this love is ephemeral, accepting up front the sacrifice to come, while still knowing and accepting the beloved.

Inherency of risk does not mean all risks are healthy to take; this is about love and there's a lot to say about what risks to take and what growing to do. That discussion does not belong here but is critical to a healthy approach to life.

Perfect Love and Perfect Trust

We speak of coming together in perfect love and perfect trust. Whenever I've heard this phrase discussed there's always a discussion of the context of that love and trust, of some limitations. No matter how you slice it, I think that if it's still a meaningful concept, perfect love is a case where faith exceeds any justification. We open ourselves up to love and trust knowing we're taking a risk. After a while we even know that we will be hurt sometimes by opening up in these ways. Yet taking this risk and the joy, wonder, love and connection that comes with it are important parts of love. Of course I mean this more broadly than perfect love in a ritual circle. we have all sorts of opportunities where we open ourselves up more than we can justify. Often we find our risk taking rewarded.

Only You can Destroy Past Love

I think Only you can destroy past love. A number of people I've been close to have talked to me about situations where they learned something or where someone said something that undid the love they felt in the past. Doing this is a choice. When we feel loved, when we love, that connection is real to us. When we choose to change our past perceptions and become having been unloved, we are choosing. For myself I've not really found circumstances where that was the right choice. Certainly I've learned things that caused the present and future to change. To me though, it seems that when you give someone the power to destroy a past connection, to remove love from your experience, you are granting them a very great power to harm you. I have very little experience with actual abuse, and that may turn out to be a case where rewriting the past is necessary. I do have some experience with betrayal and certainly with cases where there was a misunderstanding of a connection. I'm sure different people will find a different balance here. I just think it's really important to remember that you are choosing when you choose to change how you remember the past. In terms of what I'm saying more broadly about love, I think it's close to love that feels real is real. I cannot know that I'm feeling the same way as someone else and at least looking backward, that rarely seems an important question. My love, my connection is real even if my beloved feels differently.

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