Love is…

In the previous post, I tried to discuss love, aided by the definition* given by M Scott Peck, in his important book The Road Less Travelled. Today I will expand a little bit on the definition with my own ideas on the subject, by way of introducing my own experience of love as an intense soul connection.

As wide and varied the concept of love is, I think the Greek philosophers gave a good approximation of its various types and degrees. According to them there are eight types of love. The three most well known ones are: Agape – Spiritual, unconditional love; Eros – Romantic love and Philia – affectionate love. And then there are five further types: Philautia – Self love; Storge – familial love; Pragma – enduring love; Ludus – playful love and Mania – obsessive love. On this spectrum of eight types, agape is the most noble and evolved type of love, while mania represents a regressive type of love, that turns it sometimes into a destructive force, both for the lover and the beloved.

If we try to apply these archetypes to human relationships, we can see that they are not discreet. Because romantic love can be playful and affectionate. In rare cases, it becomes the enduring love of couples who have loved each other since their high-school days. It can also show the dark side of mania. Similarly, familial love can be affectionate, unconditional, and even obsessive.

At first glance, self-love might look like an odd one out among all the types of love as an emotional bond between humans. But it forms the unseen foundation for all types of love. Loving and accepting one’s self is a pre-condition for experiencing a wholesome and evolved love. It did not escape my attention that the definition of love in The Road Less Travelled, included an element of self-love*. It is important to understand here that healthy self-love is quite the opposite of narcissism and arrogance. True love, by Dr Peck’s definition is a quest for spiritual growth and evolution. It is a journey that starts with accepting our faults and continues with embracing others with kindness and forgiveness. And it has no end destination, the ultimate goal is to continue growing and loving. There are many spiritual traditions that aspire to growth through unconditional love for all of creation. For the Sufis, for example, the ultimate goal is to be one with the universe and its creator. This is the ultimate evolution of love, to embrace the whole universe in the heart, and to experience what is felt as the creator’s ultimate love, the highest form of Agape.

There is no one definition for love, because the way we love is dependent on the stage of our spiritual evolution. Love, the way it is perceived and given, mirrors the awakening of the soul. I came to this conclusion after I was led on my own journey of love, which is still ongoing. Up until then, I was convinced that love was a proclivity of youth. Hormones, physical attraction, and an urge to procreate drove this emotion. I had a lot of sympathy for my younger (and sometimes older) girlfriends who suffered heartache. But I was smug and happy in the knowledge that the years of my angsty youth, and the ticking of my biological clock were long behind me. I didn’t see myself as an easy victim for Eros, and I didn’t believe that other kinds of love existed, but destiny had other plans.

Heartache was a territory I knew, and was not keen to visit again. My biggest heartbreak thus far had been my first boyfriend. I cried my heart out over him, but the young heart heals fast. It is easier to replace one lost love with another. The angst of youth, the neediness, the wish to be attractive and desired, are all faults of youth that invite fresh heartache, but they also keep young hearts moving from one relationship to the next, healing old wound by acquiring new ones. It is said that the young have elastic hearts, so falling in love and out of love is much easier on them.

Love is easy on many older people too, depending on how they perceive love. The less evolved spirit would mistake animal lust, attraction or infatuation for love. The more mature spirit would settle for affection and friendship. Some couples get lucky and evolve together from one stage of love to another, arriving together onto a mutual level that is satisfying for both of them, or achieving enduring love. This makes me think of love as a mountain. All people are capable of stepping onto its base, some get to the top half, and very few reach the summit. I think of Eros as the base, and the most accessible part of that is simple sexual attraction. The next level is Philia and the farther limit of that is enduring love. But the true triumph of the spirit is to reach the summit of agape.

Almost all works of psychology take a secular view of love. They recognise erotic love as fickle and temporary, and accept Philia and Pragma as the only types of true love. So Peck’s work of love could be understood as working to advance from one level of less enduring love (like Eros or Philia) to Pragma. This is a very “pragmatic” and secular view of love. I feel that the concept of Agape, on the other hand, was overtaken by its devotional and religious content. Sufi love and devotion are a form of Agape, so is altruism and the love for all humankind. But in some cases this “Higher Love” is also possible between mortals, and when it happens then it is an ultimate love that can encompass all other levels. To come back to my mountain analogy, those who scale the summit have previously reached the lower base camps. Similarly, when you love an individual on the highest level, you are also capable of feeling affection and erotic love towards them. The only difference is that these emotions are not central to your connection.

Soul connections are not recognized by psychology. They only come up in esoteric spiritual traditions, mystic fringe beliefs or pseudo sciences. I was myself an agnostic, or even an atheist when it came to my faith in love. I wrote a post about this some years ago. Ironically, it was written while I was experiencing the first stirrings of my soul connection. My rational self, and my ego, were trying to remind me of what was real on earth. I rejected love, all the secular or garden variety types of it. And I would have laughed at anyone who claimed that true love existed. I thought that people who spoke, wrote or sang about the love that stir the soul, then rocks it and purifies it from the inside out were either using extensive poetic license, or mind-altering drugs. That is, if they weren’t nutcases or outright liars trying to sweeten the bitter fruit of love for the unafflicted. From where I stood, the lower slopes of love mountain looked rocky, barren and uninteresting. And although the higher sections looked greener and more inviting, I was convinced that I was too old to care about reaching them. The summit was completely invisible to my eyes, and I did not believe it even existed. I was trained to believe only what I could perceive with my senses.

But I was about to be taught life’s greatest secret, about the essential things that can only be perceived through the heart.

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

Le Petit PrinceAntoine de Saint Exupéry

Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

The Little Prince – English Translation

* In the Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck defines love as “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”.

Loving the One You’re With, is it really the Road Less Travelled?

A few months ago I read, with great enjoyment, an old but still very relevant book, The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. The book is subtitled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, and it is definitely worth reading.

The author, is a psychologist by training and brings out several interesting ideas with examples about common types of neurosis and disorder in the human psyche. Yesterday I started reading the section on love, a main theme in his book as can be deduced from the subtitle. He defines love, as the ” the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth“. The author admits that his chosen definition might not be the only one, or even the correct one, but he is content with emphasising the choice and action elements of love. He refers several time to the “work of loving”.

The author also acknowledges that love is too big and too wide to limit to a single definition, so he tries to establish common grounds through a process of elimination. Because while philosophers and psychologist differed significantly on defining what love is, there is general agreement on what love is NOT. The books itself gives several examples on cases of dependency and self-sacrifice that are clearly not love. But the author also insists that love is NOT an emotion, it is action. He repeats several times that “love is as love does“. He also feels that the term “falling in love” denotes an emotion based on erotic attraction. It is nature’s way of tricking us into reproducing and preserving the human race. Once the honeymoon phase ends, he says, we slowly fall out of love and this is where the work of loving starts. What he calls real love, or true love, is rooted in the will, so choice and intellect play a huge role in it, unlike the falling in love, which is all emotions and seems mostly to be out of our choice or control.

Interestingly, he does not deny the potential and power of the emotion. He explains, that falling in love with another person destroys the boundaries of an individual’s ego. The lover becomes hugely invested in another person, and this destruction of the ego, feels exhilarating. When we fall in love we are reborn into the wonder of feeling unity with our beloveds. He compares this unity to the one we felt as newborns with our mothers and the whole universe. But the novelty of this feeling wears off, and we soon find out that our needs do not match those of our lover, and the ego boundaries rise again. For babies this is the moment of starting awareness and experience, and for a couple it is where falling in love ends and the work on loving starts. The journey of loving, as he sees it, is made of the effort of listening, giving attention and bracketing, the conscious act of putting oneself into the shoes of another, suspending judgement, and seeing the world through their eyes.

This rational view of love mirrored one I have believed in for the longest time. It is also rooted in the teachings of Christianity where the sanctity of marriage, and monogamy, need to be protected and preserved. It is also a simple practical tenet of life: If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Or simply just love the one you are with and ignore all impulses of love that come your way, because they are an illusion anyway. True love is hard work and commitment to a common goal, to raising a family, to mutual spiritual growth. I agreed with this wholeheartedly until a few years ago, and I still agree now but with many reservations.

I have seen many working marriages, even good ones, that are based on types of partnership and reciprocity, on the work of loving, in the words of Dr. Peck. These marriages always have some rewards and fulfilment for one partner, or both, and they can be very solid, with each partner being courteous and attentive to the other. But while I once believed that attaining a good marriage through the work of loving is the only happiness possible, I now recognise that this type of love has its limitations.

There are times when two souls, despite all good intentions, can head towards two different paths of evolution. There are times, when one partner evolves, and another stays on the same path. No amount of loving work can fix this. The answer sometimes is to accept it, and continue to love, if not the husband (or partner), then the children (or the life/business/career/home) we created together. The mutual love for the children carries many marriages through. Countless women have settled for it in my culture. They married, they loved and adapted to their lot, their destiny, and that was their life. But sometimes there are other choices. The author himself admits, perhaps grudgingly given his Christian background, that he believes an “open marriage is the only kind of mature marriage that is healthy and not seriously destructive to the spiritual health and growth of the individual partners”. So deep down it seems that his belief in the work on loving, in exclusive monogamy, is rather flawed.

The work of loving, and the will to love are powerful antidotes to human promiscuity and experimentation. It will certainly allow many couples to experience gentle loving, and sometimes very happy, relationships. It is a good rule, but it does not explain everything there is to love, even if it accounts for most shades of it. From my observation, I feel it is rather the road we are most likely to travel towards a rational and secular type of love. It accounts for the true love of friends, companions and for most lasting partnerships. The rarest type of love, however, is the one that stirs the soul. And the journey to this type of love is truly the one very rarely travelled. I will try to delve into this in my next posts.

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You can borrow a copy of the The Road Less Travelled from the Openlibrary, which is an excellent resource for reading out of print books.

Love, I Know What You Are

Though it is hard. All gifts are temporary. I unwillingly surrender this one. And thank you for it. God. Or world. Whoever it was gave it to me, I humbly thank you, and pray that I did right by him, and may, as I go ahead, continue to do right by him.
Love, love, I know what you are.
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Excerpt From: “Lincoln in the Bardo: WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017” by George Saunders. Scribd.

This material may be protected by copyright.
Read this book on Scribd: https://www.scribd.com/book/334747443

How to Read a Love Story

In my quest to exorcise the thoughts of my beloved from my mind, I started some months ago to read all the books that he raved about. I thought that once I finished them all, I will finish with him too.

First I read the English Patient. Perhaps I was not in love with the imagery and language as he was. He said he usually read it slowly to savour it, and always went back a few pages to re-read them when he dipped back into it. However, I did relate to the brokenness of love and heartache. I fully understood it on an emotional level.

Next I read  “An Equal Music” by Vikram Seth. My beloved is a musician, or at least a former musician, and he shares some common traits with the protagonist of the book. It is true that they play different instruments, but they are both of working class background, and hail from the northern parts of England. The book character also finished his music studies at the Royal Academy of Music in my love’s hometown. Without even reading the story, I suspected that he also related to the character on an emotional level, in the tragic and besotted way he fell in love.

The book was never a bestseller. Perhaps it did not find a large audience because chamber music is a part of its plot. But strangely enough it was one of the books I owned. One that survived the cull of several moves, from Johannesburg to the Eastern Cape, to Cape Town to New York until it finally settled on a bookshelf in Nairobi. It was still on my To-Be-Read (TBR) list, when he mentioned it me, as one of his favourite books. I was amazed that we managed to agree on this obscure title too, one of many subtle connections we shared.  Please stop here if you intend to read the book because I will speak about it next, and might spoil the plot for you if you read any further.

In a nutshell it is a love story. One that does not have a happy ending. The protagonist, Michael Holme, meets the woman he loved and never managed to forget. The chance meeting happens ten years after they part ways and lose touch with each other. Next comes the resurrection of their love, which is a bittersweet interlude that threatens to unsettle both their lives. Julia is married, and is trying to conceal the fact she is going deaf, a terrible ordeal for a pianist who relies on her sense of hearing for enjoying music and presenting it to the world. Micheal himself is an accomplished violinist in a chamber music quartet, but I got the sense that he was still drifting aimlessly in his artist’s life, when he found Julia again. I accompanied him on his journey and understood its suffering and inevitable resolution.

Some books take you on a journey of knowledge and discovery, others on a roller-coaster ride of nonstop action, and the third type are the ones that invite you to accompany the characters on their emotional journey. This book is one of them. Since I discovered my own emotional intensity, I can appreciate and commiserate with the feelings of similarly broken characters. Michael and Julia are not perfect, each of them is flawed in his way, yet their responses are raw and real. Michael especially struggles with accepting Julia’s decision to stop seeing him, and this drives him into self-destruct mode, with a few tantrums thrown in for good measure. The book does not end in total disaster, there are small measures of joy, acceptance and redemption in Michael and Julia’s life. They survive, in their separate lives.

It was quite interesting that both love stories my Englishman recommended featured a forbidden love affairs that ended tragically or miserably. In both stories, the emotional bond survived separation or even death. At a previous point in my life I might have mocked either or both narratives. But today I know that those who wrote about love from first-hand experience never lied. The genuine descriptions of love whether in poems, songs or novels always speak to human feelings, and go on to become bestsellers. Love is essential to our lives. It is shared and expressed universally across cultural, spatial and temporal divides. At its best it is like an internal sun, that illuminates from within, lends glow to the eyes, and gives lightness to the steps. At its worst, It is a heavy piece of flint carried under the ribs, or a giant’s fist wrapped around the throat. Days, months or years might pass where the offending objects diminish until they are almost forgotten. Then, something shifts and the flinty stone would expand, hot and sharp to stab your insides and stop your breath. The fist would tighten its grip to choke the throat. Anybody who has ever grieved a lost love would relate to this pain, as I related to the heartache in the English Patient and An Equal Music, and to the emotional turmoil in half a dozen other love stories I read since I was similarly afflicted. The scars will always remain.

Such is the sentiment of a poem quoted in An Equal Music. You part from the one you love but they always leave their mark:

But never either found another
To free the hollow heart from paining –
They stood aloof, the scars remaining.
Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;
A dreary sea now flows between,
But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder,
Shall wholly do away, I ween,
The marks of that which once hath been.*


 

* Fare Thee Well by Lord Byron.

 

 

Book: In the House of the Interpreter

In the House of the Interpreter: A MemoirIn the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir by Ngugi wa’Thiong’o

The author writes about his years at Alliance High School in Kenya. The writing is very good, with fairly interesting anecdotes and vignettes of Kenyan society, youth, and evangelism.

The last few chapters, cover the author’s return trip to his village after earning his first pay as a temporary teacher, and this is the part where I most related with the protagonist. He was arrested under the state of emergency and spent some time in jail. For me, the book is worth reading for these pages alone.

Overall it is a story of African people, their survival under difficult circumstances and the choices they make; when it is acceptable to compromise and when it is not.

From a character point of view, there are a few memorable ones. Carey Francis the British principal of a school for Kenyan boys. An officer of the colonial power, who is deeply dedicated to educating native boys and presenting them as equal to their white peers. He reconciled both conflicting interest with Christian belief.

Good Wallace, Ngugi’s brother, who fought with the Mau Mau resistance in the mountain.

Also interesting is the ambiguous and often false relationship between evangelism and true morality. Worth reading, even if the story could not maintain tension and interest equally throughout.

Book: The Other Hand (Little Bee)

The Other HandThe Other Hand by Chris Cleave

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There is a noble premise to this book, to raise awareness about refugees to Britain, and to combat the sentiment of apathy that most people feel towards their plight. The character of the Little Bee is sweet and fascinating. The way she superimposes her experience in Britain on remembrances of her Nigerian home is quite endearing.

However, and I cannot quite put my finger on it, the book left me unsatisfied. Like many stories that are written by white people about Africa or about African people there is a certain flatness to them. The Africans are always the helpless people who surrender to their fate, no matter how many radical plans they make to escape it.  Africans are either brutes or victims. Either sub-human monsters or near-saints, but perhaps this is just me. Little Bee comes quite close to a real-life humane and wise African girl, but the others in this book are not quite so engaging. Of course you will have to read the novel to judge by yourself, it is quite short and easy to finish in one or two sittings.

The book is about Little Bee the Nigerian girl who finds herself a central character in the life of Sarah, a British editor of a funky women magazine, and mother to 4-year-old Charlie. The events of the novel takes place over a few weeks but move backwards to the memory of both women’s lives and the fateful events that brought them together. It is narrated in the alternating voices of Sara and Little Bee.

One thing that bothered me as a mother of a small child is the portrayal of the little boy, Charlie, a.k.a Batman. His speech manner is quite irritating and I think it is quite exaggerated because 4-year-olds in my experience are quite capable of uttering grammatical sentences. Sarah has her heart in the right place, but she is also neurotic to say the least, this is perhaps done on purpose to illustrate that sometimes the immigrant is far wiser than the full-blooded British citizen with his or her “values” whatever they are.

Perhaps I would have given the book one extra half star but since the option is not available I am erring on the minus side, simply because the book did not deliver on it hyped up promise.

View all my reviews

Book: The Saladin Murders

The Saladin Murders (Omar Yussef Mystery Series)The Saladin Murders by Matt Rees

Frankly I found this a very depressing read, and knowing that reality probably mirrors this fictitious tale in many of its grisly dimensions was very bitter to contemplate.

This is the second Omar Yussef mystery and it plays out in Gaza, a dump in every sense of the word according to the protagonists. The dirt, the sandstorms, the corruption, the religious zealotry, the garbage, the ruins, and so many deaths and corpses are the order of the day in that terrible place.

Omar Yussef comes to Gaza as part of a UN group. He is investigating with his UN boss the arrest of a colleague who is also a part time lecturer at Al-Azhar University. This innocuous beginning quickly spirals into something sinister as one UN man gets kidnapped and another is assasinated. Soon the corpses pile up among Palestinians rival factions from one killing to another revenge. I lost track of the motives, the agendas and the rivalries. What is left is the deep sense of futility as corrupt politicians fight it out and squabble over this pile of garbage that is Gaza. In this story Israeli violence and hostility do not exist; it is all about Palestinian internal strife. The violence between rival factions is extreme and almost mindless, and the distasteful part is that you cannot even dismiss LAW wielding fighters as far-fetched. Just because the events take place in Gaza, the craziest and the most mindless violence is possible.

A woman in the story says: “Sometimes I think that the only Palestinians who do not weep are the dead ones”.

I was saddened by a little boy, who showed Omar Yussef the doves he is raising on the roof, an innocent child who would soon be struck by tragedy and grief. Nobody remains innocent for long in this environment. Yet people laugh and joke, they exchange wisecracks in the face of death and enjoy a distinct gallows humor, which rang very true. Those Palestinians are tough, and they can put up with a lot of suffering. Omar Yussef says: “I am Palestinian” by way of explanation of his tough nature and tolerance of hardship, but even he was pleased to leave the dust of Gaza, its graves and graveyards behind.

Book: Knitting

KnittingKnitting by Anne Bartlett

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An easy and quick read for a sensitive and insightful novel with a strong connection to knitting, yarn and fabric. I wouldn’t have picked up this book if I was not a hobby knitter myself.

The story is set in Adelaide, southern Australia, and follows the lives of two very different women. Sandra is a tightly-wound academic, who is trying to cope with the recent loss of her husband to cancer, while Martha is a free spirit who gives most of her time to her creative knitting. A chance meeting of the two women starts an unlikely friendship. As they work together on a vintage knitting exhibition, both women need to deal with their deepest secrets and conflicts. There are no dead bodies or sinister powers at work here, just the usual scars of life. Sandra and Martha slowly find their way to healing them, and to accepting their own flaws.

I found the book’s rambling about the connection between knitting and writing a bit tiresome. Sandra’s perfectionist tendency to crafting words irritated me, especially as I did not see or read any parts of her lean, and brilliant writing. In contrast Martha’s perfectionism was endearing because the garments she created in the process were aptly described. I had the distinct feeling that perhaps the writer is better at knitting than word-crafting.

Book: Triptych

Triptych (Will Trent, #1)Triptych by Karin Slaughter

I will first start with the title of the book. This is the first time I remember when I look up a title in the dictionary. My digital Collins says:
triptych [ˈtrɪptɪk:]
n 1. a set of three pictures or panels, usually hinged so that the two wing panels fold over the larger central one: often used as an altarpiece
2. a set of three hinged writing tablets
From Greek triptukhos, from tri- + ptux plate.

One of the story’s characters has a triptych on her mantelpiece. When the two side panels fold over the central one a new image or canvas is formed. There is a blurb on the book cover: Three people with something to hide. One killer with nothing to lose. I believe the Triptych reference is to these three people and the way their deception makes things take different forms at different times.

I bought this book after I read Fractured by the same author because I liked the character of Special Agent Will Trent and wanted to read more about his personal story. This book did not disappoint, as the plot moved at a cracking pace. There were plenty of unexpected twists that kept me turning the pages, and re-reading some parts to discover how the author expertly wove the pattern of deception.

I love the way Karin Slaughter handles her characters. Unlike clean predictable sleuths such as Temperance Brennan (Kathy Reich’s forensic anthropologist), Karin Slaughter comes up with more vulnerable and gritty characters for her police force. They show many human frailties that anyone can relate to and sympathize with. Her characters fight their private battles as they are fighting crime, and this makes them all the more appealing.

The story starts with the murder and mutilation of Aleesha Munroe, a prostitute and a drug addict living in one of Atlanta’s rough neighborhood. Detective Michael Ormwood is in charge, but he soon finds out that he needs to work with Special Agent Will Trent from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). Will Trent is helping out because the murder has some similarities with other attacks around the state. Within 24 hours Michael’s next door neighbor is found dead in his backyard and in order to solve the mystery the two men need to look back into a past that refuses to stay buried.

I will not elaborate more on this excellent thriller in order not to spoil it for future readers. More than just a good thriller the story challenges the perceptions of right and wrong, justice and injustice. It showed the grim reality of prison and why a convicted felon almost always ends up back in prison.

I will remember many characters in this book. For example there was the mother character who fought bravely and unrelentingly for her son, it was a character I related to. She stands in contrast to the mother who fought blindly for her son doing a lot of damage to people’s lives in the process.
Another character later in the book speaks poignantly about her children: “It’s the most wonderful blessing God has given us, our ability to bring a child into the world. You hold them in our arms that first time, and they are more precious than gold. Every breath you take after that is only for your child”. This is so true.