Contributing Writer for Wake Up World
Any article on love is in some way bound to fail, because love is the most complex, seemingly mysterious, difficult (yet claimed easy) subject of human existence, save except for the conundrum of consciousness. We think we understand love only to have love seemingly disappoint and dismantle us time and time again—or do we do that to love? Or is this not really love? See what I mean? This writing attempts to sort out some of the confusion around the love of relationship: between lovers, intimate partners.
When we fall in love, the feeling seems to be other-worldly, in us yet beyond the limits of our bodies. Yet, one of the problems with imagining love to be a cosmic force rather than a human behavior is that it prevents us from caring for the practical aspects of an intimate relationship: being honest about our intentions and behavior, respecting boundaries that build trust and intimacy, recognizing that sacrifice and boundaries create more joy and freedom, demonstrating care through responsibility, practicing empathy for right action, respecting our partner’s requests for fairness and protection, acknowledging limitations, and embracing our ordinary human-animal needs.
Love is not supernatural, even though it feels extraordinary. It is not literally magical even though it feels “amazing.” It is not “man-made,” per se, yet it derives from our humanness, our physiologically-advanced animal selves.
When we are in love, the intensity and largeness of love seem to be a force beyond ourselves. But this kind of love is more realistically a combination of many ordinary conditions and processes, which only feel like they are supernatural. When we allocate love to an amorphous, magical feeling and the primary reason to pursue and sustain a relationship, we run into big problems. We then often blame “conditional existence,” “being in the body,” “ego,” and “attachment” to be the problems. But they are not the problems. The problem is not to acknowledge these foundational and functional human faculties prior to giving ourselves away to the cosmic feeling of love.
It is more likely that we are our bodies, and the “spirit” that we experience as separate from our biology is an illusion. We are human beings capable of having a spiritual experience, not the other way around. And we are more gloriously human, more apt to practical compassion, when we love what is ordinary, embodied, bounded, and inspired by beauty. What’s more, being in our bodies, accepting and embracing our limitations (healthy ego) and being attached to others (care, bonding) are the foundations for love in the first place—grounded in human behavior, the cooperation of our communities and livelihoods, and the inherent structures of our body-minds.
We might imagine love to be cosmic, some mysterious disembodied force, so we don’t have to deal with our humanity—the hard work, abundant fears and pitfalls of life, the difficult feelings, tough honesty, and sorting out our everyday needs. Because we find life troubling and complex and for myriad reasons we don’t have the tools to transform those difficulties and injuries, we invest in this hold-out for love the magical, perfect, cosmic, immutable force as different from every mundane aspect of our lives—which, all together, shape our ability and capacity to foster love in, as, and from the body—our own, each others’, and that of the world.
When we do not appreciate love the ordinary human behavior, we also miss out on all the juicy work that connects our present love relationships to our past love relationships, including the opportunity to heal wounds from our past. These wounds remain active and usually unconscious in the present, sabotaging our adult joy, peace, happiness, compassion, and productivity. In fact, the ecstatic feeling of “falling in love” is more often a sign that we are about encounter a head-on collision with past emotional triggers, but this is a subject for another time.
Following Our Hearts
Another obstacle to appreciating the love of intimate relationship is the notion that we should “follow our hearts.” This often means following the feeling or idea of cosmic love, rather than appreciating the logistical aspects of what a healthy, happy relationship look like, which necessitates accepting, embracing, and working with our human needs, desires, preferences, and limitations. When we accept and work skillfully and wisely with love’s parameters and limitations, we can enrich and enjoy more love. In addition to surrendering to the magical feeling of love, we could spend as much or more energy nurturing and tending love via responsible and compassionate action. Falling, or feeling, in love is incomplete and unsustainable without appreciating and enacting a grounded protection and fostering for love—in short respecting one another and ourselves.
We can also understand “following our hearts,” to be a catch-all metaphor for the feeling of cosmic love. Again, this feeling is what draws us to one another and keeps us interested and connected, at least initially. But this feeling state is not cosmic; it is rooted in attraction, admiration, respect, evolutionary biology, addictions, and other human endeavors such as social learning, the pursuit of happiness, and the need for compassion and cooperation. These in turn are rooted in the very ordinary physiology of mental and “heart states” produced by neurochemicals and their corresponding action on muscle contraction (feeling fear, for example) and relaxation (feeling “safe”). So, when we say we “come from the heart” we are also coming from our “heads,” because emotions and thoughts influence one another. Therefore, good sense, discernment, and critical thinking are at least as important to love as any “love emotions.” The former are, in fact, part and parcel of our emotional health and feelings of “love.”
So, when we follow our hearts we should frame this not simply as following the cosmic, mysterious, irresistible “energy” of love, but consider as part and parcel to this feeling state all the aspects of love it usually takes us a long, tedious, difficult time to discover. To be in a functional, mutually uplifting relationship we need to be with someone who respects us and we them, whom we trust, are attracted to, with whom we share common interests and have fun, who will contribute a grounded part to the relationship, and most of all, someone who has done a commensurate amount of inner work on themselves. If we are sensitive and integrated, then we especially want someone who has done a similar amount of emotional work in the healing of their old wounds so that the old triggers and dysfunctional patterns from once ago do not sabotage our adult capacities and needs in love such as trust, care, respect, honor, honesty and humility.
Past Hurt, Present Challenges
Old love wounds from our family of origin or past relationships sabotage present relationships so that we cannot be honest and fully caring of one another.
To honor and enjoy and grow our present relationship, we must commit full-heartedly to becoming fully conscious of our past hurts and their attendant fears, reactions, and dynamics, which, though from the past, express themselves through our current actions. These old hurts and their pent-up, unresolved emotions are what sabotage our current happiness, peace, and togetherness. They hinder our capacity to enjoy life fully, to be present, to see our partner for who they are (which is distinct from our projections and emotionally back-logged charges we transfer onto them), and therefore to be honest and truly caring in relating to our partner and other loved ones.
To commit, we must first admit and recognize the inappropriateness and harm in our unconscious behavior. This takes being connected to and sensitive to our bodies so that we can sense when we are “off” and not acting from integrity.
While connected to our bodies this way, we can enter a stark, bare-bones humility and honest noticing to see and feel into our shortcomings, our wounded or selfish motivations and intentions. This allows us an intimacy with our own pain and well-being, which allows us to be sensitive to another’s pain and well-being. When we are connected to our pain and our stymied wholeness due to past hurts, we gain the golden key to our hearts and to loving one another— the opportunity to process our hurts so as to become more conscious and less likely to act them out, thereby inappropriately hurting one another. When we can successfully engage this healing (in the face of hurting) with our partner, we can develop a new depth of intimacy and trust. As we make conscious what is unconscious and re-parent and love ourselves through this discovery and letting go of hurt, we integrate and defuse the lethal emotional energy that our past exerts on our present relationship.
Trauma and disagreement in intimate relationship trigger our old wounds more than any other endeavor. Our child selves vie with our adult selves for attention and expression. These two aspects of us often conflict because feel-good harmony is wanted in the present yet we seem unable to control ourselves from acting in ways that do not honor peace, fulfillment, pleasure, and joy. This is why relationship love can be so confusing, gut-wrenching, and undoing.
When we get involved with someone who is “not right for us,” it likely means that we have connected with someone to work out our unhealed wounds. Our unconscious heartaches have an uncanny and annoyingly perceptive way of seeking out their cure. We often subconsciously seek out relationships to trigger our healing work. For this very reason, we are responsible to every relationship we get into. It’s never just the other person’s fault. Thus the proverbial “growth” and “hard lessons” we learn in love. But our wounds that get triggered in relationship can’t really get cured in present relationships, except in those rare situations when the assets of one partner fulfill the needs of the other, either by chance or when two people can be honest and privy to one another’s pain and consent to help one another in their healing. This takes a great deal of stamina, courage, and safety to work on together. In my experience, it is essential that each partner create his/her own sacred space to do their inner work of seeing and feeling into and integrating their own wounds. So, each partner has his/her sacred space and the relationship itself, where we join as partners, has its sacred space for process and healing.
More often, each partner sets off emotional triggers in the other. If both partners can become deeply conscious of the roots of their respective dysfunctional patterning (through honest self-reflection and humble listening) and work towards meeting one another’s needs, this can help heal the past in the present. Again, both partners must be committed to their own inner work for this to be fruitful.
What is truly a waste of time is to ignore, repress, or otherwise deny the problems and conflict of relationship and live in torment and suffering. We also deny our wounds that arise in relationship through addiction, needless stress, constant diversion, unconsciously generated crises, new lovers, fantasy, idyllic projections, and new anything without first healing what is “old.” The past is more present in us than we’d like to believe, and we have to heal it in order to be “in the moment”—honest and responsible to love and every other aspect of life.
None of this is to say that we should stay in dysfunctional, painful, unhappy relationships. Most of us have struggled with the nerve-wracking question of when to leave or when to stay in relationship. There is a fine balance between staying to make sure that we are in integrity ourselves and not projecting our own wounds and fears onto the other, that we have the mettle to persist and work through difficulties we are party to (which we always are, to some degree), and leaving a relationship when we are sure enough that our own wounds and their projections are no longer the primary causes of strife. If they are, we might try to be compassionate and mature enough to leave so as not to hurt our partner further, if we cannot reasonably transform ourselves in the relationship. We can also leave for our health reasons, for our simple happiness (if its no longer worth it to sacrifice our short-term happiness for the long-term fulfillment of a relationship), or myriad other genuine reasons. But it behooves us to be really, really honest with ourselves about our reason for leaving, if only because it is too easy to run from our projections, our concealed hurts for which we excessively and unilaterally blame the other.
It is most rewarding when we can stay (as long as its not abusive to anyone) to do the difficult shadow work to change our perception and therefore our experience in relationship. This inner work can alone save an otherwise seemingly doomed situation. We should focus on this shadow process regardless of whether our partner does because it benefits us generally. When we do, it might inspire our partner to do the same.
Leaving a relationship should be given even more contemplation commitment as we gave to starting it once ago per the irresistible pull of “love,” or lust. We do not give ourselves enough to the difficult phases of love. Though tough to stomach, these are the golden moments of greatest growth and deepest healing—indeed the moments of deepest love that we recover from our griefs. As a general rule, we should leave (and anything in life, I think) after we have done our part to resurrect the trust, respect, care, empathy, and compassion to re-establish the “feel-good” of the relationship—after we have taken a good look at and worked to heal our own emotional triggers from historical wounds that might be contributing to the disharmony.
Two excellent books for help in working with past wounds affecting our current relationships are Journey of the Heart: The Path of Conscious Love by John Welwood and When the Past is Present: Healing the Emotional Wounds that Sabotage Our Relationships, by Dave Richo.
Love is hard work, the hardest work of all, perhaps. It is the work for which all life is but preparation, as the great poet Rilke recognized. For love is all of life. Every aspect of our lives affects this thing we call love, which we try to celebrate and express in our relationships: our work, our finances, our health, our histories, our extended family, our choices, our experiences, random chance events, our culture, the weather, our health, the luck or misfortune we have on any given day—every mundane aspect of life we like to think is secondary to the transcendent force of “love.” Yet, when skillfully and deeply worked with, all the challenges to love help us cultivate a quality of “unconditional love,” a name we have given to a uniquely compassionate human faculty, made possible by our complex nervous systems, to be present and aware to all of what life presents, good and bad. Unconditional love and regard seem to utilize the same mental processes employed for self-reflection, because in unconditional love we experience being a “witness” to the contents of our attention, or that of another. The experience of unconditional love is the ”witness” of ordinary, conditional love. It can serve as a “safe container” to allow our fractured selves to be appreciated and worked with in the spirit of acceptance and willingness to change.
Yet unconditional love is not magical in the disembodied sense either; it is still a function of our physiologies, our circumstance, and environment—ironically, to some degree dependent on the conditions of everyday life. Sometimes we feel it, sometimes we don’t. Regardless if we feel it or not, some would say it is always accessible to us. I find this to be both true and not true. We may be able to witness our joy, sadness, ecstasy, shame, helplessness, or fear. But we may not always be able to unconditionally love and transform the difficulty in these emotional states. Indeed, practicing doing so in ourselves and others as an integrated spiritual path.
Everyday “conditional” love, then, is certainly not a cosmic magical force. Adhering to a disembodied cosmic love, in my experience, almost always has a component of denial for grounded, behavioral love. This dynamic shows itself in so many ways when we get into the trenches of life’s challenges, our pasts showing up in the present, and the triumphs and limitations of our humanness. When we understand love as the endeavor of emotional development, ordinary care, emotional transformation, and integrity, it is not so mysterious as it is our greatest challenge and accomplishment when we can integrate the many facets of life into this embodied flow of benevolence and beauty. At the same time, though we may make great strides towards demonstrating love, the evolution of love seems to always be one step ahead of us: baffling, amazing, and challenging us beyond what we think we can endure. Relationship love can both drive us crazy and grace us when we least expect it.
In the spirit of love’s mystery and multiplicity, I will close this rendering on love with a whimsical, satirical, yet serious poem on the subject. Enjoy….
I want to be honest
But not foolish,
And foolish but not weak.
Oh, and I want to be weak
But not pathetic
And pathetic but not lost.
I want to be lost but still home
And home but not imprisoned.
Oh, I want to be strong
But not separate
And separate but still together.
Insane, but still truly
Jack’s book of poems, In Love: Celebrating the Seasons of Intimate Relationship, features the poem above and many others.
The Nourish Practice
Jack Adam Weber’s “The Nourish Practice” is an easy, guided meditation-Qi Gong practice in radical gratitude and self-love. It is an Earth-based, body-centered practice — at once physiological and ecological — that is deeply relaxing and replenishing, especially for modern-day burn-out syndrome, and requires little physical effort. It “resets your nervous system” and fosters a rich inner life.
You can purchase The Nourish Practice as a CD or Digital Download here.
Previous articles by Jack Adam Weber:
- 15 Reasons to Give Your Love Away, Today
- The Modern Shaman: Fierce Love at the Frontier of Madness
- Arrogance in Relationships: How to Deal With and Heal It
- 11 Reasons Why Hippies (Not Psychos) Should Rule the World
- The Monsanto Years: Singer Neil Young Rips Into GMOs, Big Biz and Conformity
- ReVOLUTION: When Enough is Enough
- Sex – Truth and Dare, Pleasure and Purpose
- Relationships: The Costs of Staying When We Should Leave
- Emotional Work
- Yin Yang — Ancient Wisdom for Personal and Planetary Transformation
- Heartbreak – Loving Ourselves Through Difficult Times
About the author:
Jack Adam Weber, L.Ac. is a Chinese medicine physician, author, celebrated poet, organic farmer, and activist for body-centered spirituality. He is also the creator of The Nourish Practice, an Earth-based rejuvenation meditation. Weber is available by phone for medical consultations and life-coaching.
You can connect with Jack Adam Weber at: