Without much disagreement, the notion(s) of love lie at the core of human encounters, and yet, the definitions, meanings, incarnations, gods and goddesses of love, throughout the centuries, have displayed innumerable faces, vocabularies, embraces and betrayals.
Novelists, playwrights, poets, and artists mine the ‘underground’ caves of this “tunnel” confident that they will merely scratch the surface of its complexity, and also that their work will find an audience, if not a plethora of audiences. Men engaged in the practical “sense” of daily business, professional and occupational routines rarely utter a word about the subject, unless they have recently watched an especially moving movie, television show, or read a heart-wrenching story that champions a loving relationship, or its opposite.
There is, nevertheless, a deep and ineradicable theme of love as the highest of human aspirations, achievements, disappointments, and even tragedies. This theme, like the current pandemic, knows no geographic, political, religious, ethnic, linguistic, or ideological boun#73daries. It is not constrained by any intellectual or cognitive formula; it cannot be captured in the test tube of any scientist; it cannot be either equated with any rank, custom, order, gender, or even age. The force of its energy completely transforms individual lives, and also so erodes the dreams of others as to render them in tatters. Popular culture is replete with songs portraying one of its many emotional penetrations, sexual fantasies, as well as its trailing and tragic memories of loss, disappointment, betrayal, and even death.
It might be useful, even perhaps worthwhile, for men, early in their lives, to open to the complexity of the energies of love some of which flow through their veins, others of which are played out in front of their eyes and minds, while others play out at their kitchen tables and on family road trips. Naturally, we all start out with some vague notion of how our parents “treat” us as babies, young children, adolescents, while we are also given a daily diet of exhibitions of behaviour/words/attitudes between our parents or guardians. If ‘things’ are calm, supportive, caring, compassionate, forgiving, and empathic, we think ‘this must be love’ that suffuses this home. On the other hand, if ‘things’ are turbulent, angry, loud, judgemental, deceitful and conspiratorial, even as young kids, we know something is ‘not right’ about the situation. Often, we might generalize such a situation as the opposite of love, and imagine what it might be like if there were love between the waring parties. Among siblings, though, some rough-housing between brothers, teasing and dissing among brothers, and even pranks are considered expressions of bonding, acceptance, and a kind of brotherly love. Playing house, however, is not among the traditional ‘games’ boys play, and if they are commandeered by a sister, they might engage ironically, sardonically, and even sarcastically, given that they do not want anyone to think they are too “girly” or feminine.
Sunday School classes will offer stories about the love of God, through His Son, as exemplified by his sacrifice on Calvary, as ‘forgiveness for our sins’ followed by His Resurrection on Easter morning. By this standard, love, to a ten-year-old, would naturally have a very high standard, one s/he would be clearly unwilling and also unable to meet, no matter how much the child “loved” anyone. Similarly, if a young child is involved in an activity for which the school or the culture disapproves, stealing, for example, or vandalizing a summer cottage, the question of how he is “treated” by his parents and the “law” will impact his gestalt of the definition and appreciation of love, especially if the parents are firm, understanding and just in their responses, and the “law” takes note of the context and the history of the young child.
Naturally, like parenting, and managing personal finances, there are no “courses” specifically in love, although some jurisdictions attempt to illumine pre-teens to the biology as well as the psychology and the morality of sexual behaviour. Unwanted pregnancies, as well as unwelcome diseases lie at the root of these curricula. In other times, the shame of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy drove many teens from their homes to deliver their babies, and left a residue of both shame and guilt for their return home.
Inextricably linked forever, in all cultures, are the notions of love and sexuality. And how sexuality is viewed and ‘prosecuted’ in any especially religious (not theological) culture will leave a significant impact on the adolescents’ impressionable mind, heart and imagination. Whether considered abominable between members of the same gender, or among and between transgendered individuals, or considered from a more broad perspective, more liberal for some, will also be a contributing factor in the evolving and developing and maturing notion of how to identify and to participate in a loving relationship.
Based on the object of one’s love, the ancient Greeks had four or more words for love:
1) Agape: love, charity, especially the love of God for man and of man for a good God. The unconditional love of God for his children…Aquinas used these words to describe agape: “to will the good of another”.
2) Eros: love mostly of sexual passion only to be refined by Plato to move from an initial feeling for a person, to a deeper appreciation of the beauty within that person…”platonic love” means without physical attraction.
3) Philia: affectionat regard, friendship. Considered by Aristotle to be expressed as loyalty to friends, (brotherly love), family and community.
4) Storge: love and affection especially of parents and children. It is used in expressions of acceptance or tolerance of situations, as in loving the ‘tyrant’ and in love for one’s country or favourite team.
5) Philautia: self-love to love yourself or to regard for one’s own happiness (considered both as a moral flaw and basic human necessity. Greeks divided philautia into positive and negative: self-compassion, and self-obsessed love respectively.
6) Xenia: guest friendship, hospitality, including the generosity and courtesy shown to those far from home. A reciprocal relationship between guest and host including gifts, and or favours. (Based on the Wikipedia notations)
And as a reminder that the foundational notions of the Greeks have taken root throughout the globe, religions generally have adopted and focused on the notion of love as they see it. While only basic information, here are some of the world’s religions’ notions of love:
Baha’is: Four loves: The first flows from God to humans
The second flows from human beings to God
The third is the love we have for ourselves
The fourth is the love humans have for one another
For Baha’is, the love of God is considered the origin of love in all creation, while the love of humans for God is ‘the origin of all philanthropy’.
Buddhism: The Dalai Lama said Buddhism is about kindness. According to the Buddha, “love is one of the paths to full spiritual liberation.” This love is characterized by freedom. “Love that involves clinging, lust, confusion, neediness, fear or grasping to self would, in Buddhist terms be seen as expressions of bondage and limitation. The four kinds of love encouraged In Buddhist doctrine are loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity.
Catholicism: Love of charity is defined as the “theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God.” Catholics consider storge is love for things, and animals; philia is brotherly love of friends of common values; Eros is passion, sexual and also aesthetic and spiritual; agape is generous giving of oneself without desiring anything in return.
Hinduism: Love is considered one of the main purposes of life in the theology of Hinduism. It is termed as Kama (love or pleasure), also the name given to a god of love with a flower bow and five flower arrows. The Kama ‘sends desire quivering in to the heart.” In a mystic sense, “Kama is the essence of magic love known and preserved in esoteric doctrines, profoundly inspired by the holy mystery of life.” Love in Hinduism is towards a divine purpose, and devotional love is essential in the practice of religion. Family love, married love and other secular forms of love are subordinate to the divine love or emotional love of God.
Islam: Love is in either in divine or human form and “belongs only to the precious and valuable things as far as they are so. It also teaches that love has to be enlightened. “A sacred love is the love which is realistic and insightful”. Love has to be directed by reason in that ;one should not let one’s love for something or some person make him negligent of the whole truth. Islam also expects its followers to love God above all things, similar to the Christian notion of the love of God. ‘No other love may override one’s love for God; God should be the highest and foremost object of love.”
Janism: The highest forms of love as non-violence, sociability, compassion and peaceful coexistence. In the worldly context, love ‘is the feeling of attachment to and affection for the body or material objects.’ Physical love makes possible the institution of the family. Love creates a sense of unity, but there is also a kind of love that causes conflict—bodily love or possessiveness. Possessiveness is classified into three kinds: love for body, love for material objects and imprints of past actions on consciousness. In this sense love is a combination of happiness and suffering.
Judaism: The Jewish Torah says “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Jewish law is largely about being kind to other people and command its followers to love both Jews and non-Jews, to bestow (tzedakah) charity to those who need it, and to avoid doing wrong to anyone in what one says or in business. Kindness is a huge part of Jewish law; apparent in the word “mitzvah” which informally means any good deed. The Ten Commandments, central to Jewish law, is also a manifestation of the centrality of kindness in Judaism. The Ten Commandments says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” and also about loving God above all and “Thou shalt not murder.” Jewish law goes as far as commanding Jews to protect their fellowmen and recognizes the sacredness of life by giving much significance to its preservation.
Sikhism: Marriage is the central idea of love and romance. Marriages are arranged in Sikhism; hence dating is treated with disapproval. Premarital sex is not allowed by the Sikh code of conduct; romance is something you’re occurs post-wedding and behind closed doors. Sikhs are very much committed to family and marriage, which is apparent in the number of divorces, under 2%.
Taoism: A major teaching in Taoism is the idea of loving oneself or self-worth, which is called “Ch’ang, ‘self-nurturing. From the Tao Te Ching: “Can you nurture your own spirit whilst holding the unity of Oneness? Can you understand your human-centred mind without corrupting your Tao-centered mind? And can you do all this whilst loving and nourishing yourself rather than indulging your self-interest and selfishness? Taoism also teaches three major forms of love an individual needs: parental love, love of a partner and universal love, that is the love that flows through the Tao* and connects all things”). (from worldreligionnews.com)
(*Tao is the natural order of the universe whose character one’s human intuition must discern in order to realize the potential for individual wisdom. This intuitive knowing of ‘life’ cannot be grasped as a concept; it is known through actual living experience of one’s everyday being.) (From Wikipedia)
How individual men, and especially the collective western masculinity embraces actual loving, is one of the significant questions facing the people on the planet. Clearly, love is not an intellectual notion, while at the same time, it is a dynamic filling the pages of both history and literature, both secular and spiritual from the beginning of human history. And borrowing again from James Hillman’s Revisioning Psychology, one finds these words:
When archetypal psychology speaks of love, it proceeds in a mythical manner because it is obliged to recall that love too is not human. Its cosmogonic power in which human s take part is personified by Gods and Goddesses of love. When cosmogonies about the creation of the world place love at the beginning, they refer to Eros, a daimon of a God not just to a human feeling. Love’s cosmogonic power to structure a world draws humans into it according to styles of the Gods of Love….Love develops its own history and counterhistory, in groups, in families, in transference, in the histoire of an affair, with dates and keepsakes in its museums of memorabilia. This history stands outside the arena of events and sets us its private, oppositional calendar with anniversaries and festivals, commencing at the hour when love was born…..Blake must have senses the insufficiency of love as the redeemer, for he called Jesus the Imagination, implying love of imagination, or love working in and through imagination, Love then is no longer an end but a means for the return of soul through human and b means of the human to the imaginal, the return of the human psyche to its nonhuman imaginal essence….Love’s arrow, then, is to strike the soul, hit its vulnerability, in order to begin that state of deep pathologizing we call being-in-love. Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, pps. 184-5-6)
Would that all men, regardless of religious or ethnic or cultural background, could begin to open our inner eyes to see into the depth of the complexities and the ironies and the paradoxes and the impulses toward becoming that comprise the gifts of the many Gods and Goddesses, sacred and secular texts and the experiences that only through loving do we really come to our individual TAO…and the universe is crying out in humble prayer for our humble and bent pursuit of such a unifying.