What began as a contemplation on the shadow qualities of love ended up being an entire composition concerning the shadows of of human existence. So I return to love, though it is only the first in a series as I attempt to show how our emotional lives and the actions arising from them are not nearly as singular an experience as is often thought.
Love is not solely an emotional response, there are any number of behaviors and mental intentions involved that indicate a person is not simply infatuated or lustful but loving. What love grows out of though is a sea of emotional responses to innumerable experiences. Behaviors become more possible as we, to a greater or lesser extent, attempt to live our principles, which themselves grew out of the familial/cultural/societal/relational dynamics of our entire lives. In all of those experiences and the connections being formed there is as much a potential for suffocation as there is for gentle holding, as much potential for obsession as there is for exuberant appreciation. This is because love is not a thing in itself, but a quality purely created out of a contextualized relational individual.
More specifically, love is often associated as a pure thing, an emotional/behavioral response to someone, notably in a romantic sense, that is completely self-sacrificing and deserves recognition as a nearly spiritual enterprise. There doesn’t need more than a few minutes perusing the romance section of a bookstore to get this flavor of fantastical idealism. This is also indicated by societal restrictions on the usage of love and the disgust often felt for those connections which don’t fall within restrictive socially-constructed mandates. Without getting too far into problematic territory, we can simply stick with those relationships which have become destructive or are no longer beneficial to all involved.
Naive simplicity would allow us to call such a connection no longer loving, but I challenge this. While it is no longer life-giving, to say it is not loving forgets the power that love possesses within the human relational personality. If we keep the principle of love as an emotional/cognitive connection with another that includes both a psychic joining such that the needs/desires of those involved become tangled together and two, a powerful projection of looking to the best way the other can manifest their highest good, with the second part arises out of the first, there is no intrinsic behavior associated.
There may be some concern over the first part of my definition, the issue of entanglement, so let me set the framework. If it is first considered that all our behavior is created out of a relational matrix and how we behaviorally manifest our personalities is due to those potential actions that become more possible as all the variables of life, both internal and external, act with us, then the relational connection of love is mental space from which the particular behavioral possibilities associated with it arise from. To see this in our lives takes only a moment of considering how we make decisions when we are doing so in connection to those in our lives, the greater the strength of the connection the more influence it has on our process. This happens in our hobbies and so on as well, as anyone who has suddenly found themselves enjoying something they hitherto had not because their partner does, can recognize that love pulls out of us potentials that were not available previously.
Love carries a great deal of weight because it can hold so much of our attention and that means utilizing a great deal of our mental resources creating abundant connections. A brief emotional response may touch upon a few connections in our mental web and have staying power only if the power of those connections are built upon great tragedy or other strong memory. Such a basic emotional response of frustration and anger at nearly tripping over the dog on the way to the car can create the space for zooming out of the driveway without looking and hitting another car. Imagine for a moment what the relational weight of a thing like love can do with all the memories and familial attachments and experiences created vast webs of interconnections. Imagine further all the behaviors it makes more likely to happen. Love is not in itself a holy virtue, but it possesses the possibility of enticing the best in us precisely because of the sheer strength or weight of its power in our relational minds.
The shadow of love, an often concealed behavioral potential that isn’t life-giving, is a form of madness built upon thoughts of shame and self-doubt, compelling us to seek completion and healing through use of another, rather than dwelling in the open and awareness-increasing relational space of a new set of possibilities. This shadow is the underbelly of tangled desires and the consequent desire to see what is assumed to be the best in another. When such a desire is predicated upon control and built upon a need to possess rather than freedom of authenticity, the strength of love is pulling from all the variables in an experience that are connected to insecurity and lack. There is here the notion of “you complete me” or “I need to find my missing half,” and so the associations are made with brokenness and behavior is created out of that space. Not everyone will go to outright abuse, but looking at love this way can help us see why someone can still use the term and yet act destructively and the subject of such still feel intense connectivity.
Just as our physical shadows are illuminated by light shining at a particular angle, so these shadows within our capacity for love can be seen through the light of introspection, reason and helpful analysis/meditation. When creating those connections of which love may one day be a defining characteristic, we can take moments to reflect on how it is we are holding the other in our internal lives. The difficulty is not in becoming entangled with another, such is the reality of our existence as relational creatures. Where our behavior remains in the capacity of love as a profound source of life-giving action is in the exhibition of dedication to free expression and deep respect for any and all involved.
Rather than being in need of completion where the shadow would have us think we can’t walk at all without the other, we can instead look at our lives as journeys of which the path we are on is widened by those we connect with and therefore capable of touching upon that much more of potential experience. Love in it’s life-giving capacity broadens our awareness of what we are capable of and so it is that we find greater expressions of our freedom.
© David Teachout