What Is Love?

Love is generally considered the most desired experience, the most fulfilling feeling.  Yet it is not love that compels us.  It is the yearning for love that compels us, a yearning that springs from the perception of love denied.  We can see this yearning most clearly in the transparent hunger of children, but the hunger for love may be behind all the veils the “mature” human being has learned to draw across it.  The desire to experience love is a core human motive.

Perhaps in the pursuit of wealth is the hidden hope of possessing love, in the pursuit of fame and prestige is the hope of inspiring love, in the pursuit of power is the hope of compelling love.  Plausibly, we arouse guilt to demand love, we charm and manipulate to steal love.  We seek love in the union of bodies, in making others idols of our desire, in attempts to enhance the attractiveness of our bodies and personalities.  We sacrifice in the hope we may thus be worthy of love.

But what is love?  Is love not one of the greatest enigmas of life?  Love is held to be joy, beauty, inspiration, the song of the heart.  Love is also thought of as heartache, unquenchable yearning, pain of loss, obsession, and temptation.  Love, it seems, is complicated.

The world we perceive is complex, and our feelings seem to reflect this complexity.   Love therefore has many meanings, names, and apparent manifestations.  Compassion, lust, caring, obsession, appreciation, longing, attraction, infatuation and idolization can arguably be considered expressions of love.  Such words, it is thought, but reflect human experience, therefore it is experience that belies the simplicity and unmitigated boon of love.  Unconditional love—love unblemished by judgment—seems a practical absurdity.  In the complexity of love we see corruption and dimmed hope of fulfillment, in the simplicity of pure love we see an impossible ideal, a superhuman morality.

Such an understanding of love places chains on our hearts and our hopes.  Only love that is simple, pure, and free of pain can yield the fruits of joy and peace we seek.  The truth of love cannot contain contradictions, the goodness of love cannot inflict fear and pain, the beauty of love cannot inspire loathing.  If the hope of fulfillment lies in love, we either hope in vain or we are mistaken about the nature of love.

Love is not an understanding, it is a feeling, an experience.  Unfortunately, it is a folk wisdom that feelings are not amenable to conscious choice; the mind and the heart can, and often do, choose differently according to this wisdom.  The mind may find the concept of love attractive and desire to attain the experience, but the mind, we believe, cannot teach the heart to feel.  What then of an ideal of love if the heart cannot or will not experience it?  How do we reap the fruit of the mind’s purpose if the seeds refuse to sprout in the heart?

If love is an involuntary response, we are condemned to dependence and victimhood.  If love is involuntary, so also are fear, anger, hatred, despair, jealousy, and greed.  We would be the slaves rather than the masters of our feelings, and fulfillment would be a vain hope.

The belief in involuntary feelings is based on the belief in involuntary perceptions, for we see feelings as responses to what we perceive.  The belief renders us victims of a world beyond our control.  Worse, it tells us we have no power to choose how we feel about our perceptions.  We cannot choose our perceptions in order to change our feelings, and we cannot choose our feelings to change our perceptions.  Thus we see ourselves imprisoned by both the world and our own natures.  A sense of futility cannot help but arise from the belief that, even if we could successfully negotiate with the world around us, we are powerless to negotiate with ourselves.  Thus the path to fulfillment seems blocked.  Love may beckon, but we have not the strength to follow.

An even greater obstacle than our lack of confidence in our ability to experience love is our fear of it.  Love is associated with pain, weakness, and vulnerability.  Some seek emotional safety in avoiding love.  A predominant counsel of many deemed wise is that fear is surer, distrust more prudent as a defense against the darkness in the hearts of others.  Love is an irresponsible luxury of the naive in a world where power rules, they teach. To those who so believe, the world seems to bear daily witness.

The beliefs that pain is inherent to love, that we are powerless to choose love, that love renders us vulnerable, speak more to our confusion about the nature of love than our experience of it.  Love is the deepest yearning of our hearts, but the yearning stems from a perceived lack that does not exist.  We look for rain from a capricious sky to slake our thirst while we stand beside a well overflowing with the sweet water of our hearts.  Love is our very essence, we must but remove the veils to our awareness of our power to experience it at will.  The mind that chooses love need not teach the heart to express its very nature any more than the earth must teach the sun to rise.

Fear is the denial of our heart’s purpose, the antithesis of fulfillment.  What wisdom renders the denial of fulfillment stronger and more prudent than the essence of fulfillment?  There is no strength in the denial of our purpose, no weakness in seeking it.  Love is the key to as much freedom, security, joy, and peace we may attain in this world.  Fear is a prison of pain, insecurity, and longing we inflict on ourselves.  Fear is infliction, not protection.  True wisdom reveals there is no strength in fear nor weakness in love.

The Nature of Love

Consider what love feels like, the experience of loving someone or something.  I do not speak of the heartache and longing born of the perception of love denied or absent; that is the yearning for love, not the experience.  Think rather of those moments when you simply enjoy someone or something for what they are, rather than for what you wish them to be or what you expect them to give you.  For example, the enjoyment of a sunset, a flower, and the song of a bird need not be conditioned by your demands and expectations; your enjoyment is greater when it is accepted without condition.  You may bask in the glow of a smile, or a grandmother showing affection to her grandchildren, or the simple joy of children at play without further demand.  The laugh of a child, the peace of a meadow, the affectionate teasing of a friend can be enjoyed as gifts of the moment, gifts we give ourselves by “allowing” our appreciation of them. The stronger feelings we associate with “special” others like family and friends include love when we simply appreciate and delight in our experience of them rather than perceiving them through the lenses of our preferences for who they should be and how they should behave.

We do not love whom and what we wish to change, for in the desire they change is the lack of acceptance of who and what they are.  Love enjoys what is without the conditions judgment places on our joy.  And joy is the point.  The unburdened joys of the moment are clues to what love is shorn of the emotions with which we usually condition the experience.

There are many words we can use to express the enjoyment of someone or something—appreciation, gratitude, fond regard, admiration, warmth, celebration—but they are only dim reflections of what the true experience of love is.  Love undimmed by the shadows of fear is pure joy.  It is delight in the truth, beauty, and goodness we perceive beyond what our eyes can see and ears can hear.  We behold what we hold most dear in whom and what we love, and in the loving we experience what we hold most dear.  Joy is the best word we have to express the feeling.  But the reward of experiencing love is even greater than what the word joy seems to promise.  Joy undimmed contains no sorrow, pain, fear, anger, jealousy, or need.  It sees no wrong to be righted or provision to be made.  Love undimmed perceives no need or lack, places no condition on the future, issues no call for completion, is unconstrained by fear.  Joy without fear, lack, or condition yields peace.  Joy and peace are the essence of fulfillment.  Thus the true experience of love is the experience of fulfillment.

Those rare moments when the burdens of the past and worry for the future fade in the quiet enjoyment of the moment hint at what the true experience of love must be.  The roiling clouds of thoughts and emotions part for a moment to yield a ray of sunshine that brings a warm and peaceful memory of a sun long forgotten.  Here the mind rests, laying down the urge to do and basking in the reflection of being.  In the acceptance of what is, love is different from emotion, which is a feeling that motivates one to seek and do, in other words, to change what is.  All motivations therefore reflect a judgment of dissatisfaction with what is.  Sufficient unto itself, love is the quintessential expression of contentment.  Love is therefore more a state of being than an emotion.

When we long for another, miss them, become obsessed with them, suffer the pain of rejection by them, it is not love we experience.  The yearning for love is obviously not the experience, for the yearning springs from the perception of love denied.  The acceptance and appreciation of another is not expressed in pain and sorrow.  When we think of another with an ache in our hearts, or with the darkness of grief, or with the sickness of jealousy, we experience neither an aspect nor an effect of love.  These emotions do not accept and appreciate, they are judgments of lack inspiring fear.  Love and fear are opposites, as are contentment and need; they cannot be combined in the same feeling.  The one must preclude the other.  Though the pain or fear of loss of one we love seems a necessary consequence of loving them, this belief is founded on a perception of lack that must be filled from without.  This fundamental misperception about the nature and source of love is the illusory mountain that stands between us and fulfillment.

We confuse love with what we might call wanting.  To want is to judge the possession of someone or something as necessary to our purpose, to the feeling we wish to experience.  We hold what we want as necessary to evoke this feeling.  Wanting is therefore a judgment of lack requiring access to that which is wanted to achieve the desired experience.  While love is its own fulfillment, perceiving no lack, wanting creates idols we believe we must possess to achieve the experience we wish.  We must ever fear the world will not only fail to yield our wishes, but will also rob us of the idols we believe we already possess.  Wanting thus makes us dependent on the world to yield what we value, inspiring fear of lack, disappointment, and loss.  Wanting is founded on fear, not love, therefore to want necessarily precludes fulfillment.

The experience of love, and thus fulfillment, lies in the love we express, or give, rather than what is usually meant by love we receive, which cannot be directly experienced short of sharing the mind of another.  The significance of this cannot be exaggerated, for it would utterly transform our lives and our world if it were understood and believed.  It implies the love we give is its own reward; the more we love, the more joy and peace we experience.  Since we are the source of this love, we do not, and by the nature of the experience cannot, depend on circumstance or the presence and behavior of others to experience its blessings.

So much of our lives is devoted to gaining love from others, the assertion that the giving is the receiving may seem contrary to experience.  Yet this unity is entailed in the nature and source of the experience of love.  This unity can be expressed in several ways.  The giving of love is the receiving of the experience.  When we see through the eyes of love, love is what we see.  Who shines the light of love on others will see its reflection in the perception of love returned.  The opposite is also true; who sees the world with fear perceives a fearful world.  Yet love goes beyond the reflection of our feelings toward what we see; the acceptance of love implies an acceptance of ourselves that removes the barriers to believing we are worthy of love.  We bestow on ourselves what we bestow on others, and their worthiness to be loved must reveal ours as well.  The acceptance of love opens the door to the awareness we are loved, which sensory perception in itself can never yield.  It is the nature of perception to conform to our state of mind, and who loves will perceive the love in the hearts of others as well.  In perception as well as reality, nothing attracts love like love itself.

Since we experience love by giving it, love cannot be selfless.  Our concept of self derives from our experience.  We can know ourselves only through experience, and since we give it the meaning it holds for us, we are in a fundamental sense the authors of what we experience.  Indeed, we are what we experience in the same sense that beauty resides in the eyes of the beholder.  Experience is both the expression and reflection of self.  When we judge our experience, we accept part of it as an expression of self and reject the rest as separate and wanting.  When we accept and enjoy our experience, we place no limitations on our expression of self.  Love therefore is an extension of self rather than selflessness.  Love does indeed transcend the ego, but the ego is but a limited concept of self; love extends the perception of self beyond the limits the ego would maintain.  Who and what we love is accepted in the experience of self, allowing us to feel a sense of oneness with the loved.  Love encompasses all within its purview in our awareness of who and what we are.

It is common to say “my heart goes out to you” when we feel sorry for someone.  Love is not a sharing of pain, but the heart of one who loves does “go out” in a sense.  In a smile, a gesture, a meadow, a painting, a snowflake, a summer storm, we perceive a call to our heart to come forth and be one with the perception.  But it is not the perception that calls.  Rather the heart sees a shadowed reflection of its own love.  The heart is the author of the beauty, humor, poignancy, wonder, peace, and power it experiences.  The heart is the author of the feelings seemingly called forth and is the cause of the association of feeling and perception.  In the feeling of joy associated with a perception, the heart becomes what it loves.  The heart therefore “goes out” to embrace what it loves as itself.  Of course, the heart is the self, the heart is you and I shorn of our ego concepts of self.  Love is therefore an extension rather than a denial of self.

Love is creative dominion over experience.  But for the belief our environment has dominion over our feelings, we would recognize the joy inherent to our constant—though mostly subconscious—creation of experience.  The joy of love springs from the freedom and power of creation as well as the appreciation of the experience we create.  Love is the freedom to experience what we would feel, for it places no conditions we ourselves cannot fulfill.  Love places no tethers of demand on our perceptions, creates no dependencies.  The freedom to create experience is necessary to the joy of love.  In dominion over what we would feel, we have the ultimate freedom, the ultimate power, the greatest joy, and the true purpose of creation.  Which is but another way to say love is fulfillment.

The purview of love cannot be limited and love remain what it is.  Just as placing conditions on what is must deny the experience of love, selectivity in whom and what we choose to love must deny it as well.  If the experience of love is joy and contentment with what is, to leave part of what is perceived outside of love’s acceptance must deny the experience altogether.  If part of what is experienced is found wanting, the experience as a whole is necessarily found wanting.  Whom and what we exclude from love we give the power to rob our joy and peace.  We have judged them lacking and capable of setting limits to our experience of love.  Our judgment seemingly gives them the power to disturb our peace, for whatever remains outside the circle of our unconditional acceptance ever threatens to thwart our purpose, to diminish our well-being.  We therefore experience lack, limitation, and threat despite an attitude of acceptance of part of what we experience.  And if anything is judged separate and wanting, nothing is unconditionally exempt from such judgment.  Even who and what we accept and enjoy can later be judged the enemy of our joy and peace, for if we see the power to deny our love in any part of our experience, we must fear this power in every part.  Thus, where judgment is, the true experience of love is not.

The implication is that love must be unconditional to be experienced.  Unconditional acceptance is inherent to the nature of love; love must be pure and unlimited or it is not love.  Unconditional love is the only true love.  This sheds a different light than traditional interpretations of what Jesus taught about love.  Love God, your neighbor, even your enemy, he said.  He taught unconditional love.  But if such love is the very essence of fulfillment, Jesus taught not a condition to be met, a duty to be accomplished, in order to prove our worthiness to enter heaven. If love is fulfillment, it is neither a sacrifice nor a superhuman task—it is heaven.  Unconditional love is the greatest joy, peace, and freedom we can attain in life on earth or beyond it.  Thus the love Jesus taught is hardly selfless sacrifice and duty.  Unconditional love is not the price of salvation—it is salvation.

Unconditional love is love without condition, which means we must cease to judge whom and what we behold to experience it.  Herein lies the “sacrifice,” the “impossible” task, for judgment seems as natural and inherent to life as breathing.  Our lives are saturated with judgment.  Making distinctions, discriminating values, setting conditions, and pronouncing the sins and errors of others seem the very fabric of our lives.  Indeed, without judgment, one might ask, how could we determine and avoid threats and make those decisions that seem necessary to our well-being?  Does not the world dictate judgment as a condition of physical survival and well-being?

The answer is two-fold.  First, as long as we believe in the reality of our perceptions we cannot avoid making distinctions, but we need not judge them good or bad, worthy of love or not.  We may distinguish among the partners of our experience to dance the dance of life, but we gain nothing from judging the relative merits of our partners if our purpose is to enjoy the dance.  Second, we can look beyond the superficial forms we distinguish to understand that the essence, the enduring reality of existence and purpose beyond the reach of our senses, is one.

Either whom or what we love must cease to exist with every change of form, or their true existence lies beyond form.  The changeless beyond the ever-changing forms of our perception is the true “object” of enduring love.  Only in the changeless can the ideals of truth, beauty, and goodness find their ultimate expression.  And those qualities of “humanness” that attract us—humor, kindness, spontaneity, gentleness, warmth, vibrancy—must either pass from existence with the passing of their physical expression, or endure in something beyond.

It is this “something beyond,” this many-faceted diamond of life’s expression, that draws us in our appreciation of art, music, and drama.  It is this heart of life’s expression that fascinates and moves us in the stories of the human drama.  The facets of the sparkling heart of life show many faces, but they all express one heart.  It can be found in nature, in animals, in the mundane objects and situations with which we populate our lives.  It can be found in the smiles and tears of our loved ones.  And it can be found behind the faces of those whom we condemn, despise, and fear.  The unchanging, eternal heart of life cannot fail to be expressed in all life, nor can it cease to exist with acts of murder and cruelty.  Our judgments of sin and evil add layers of veil to our eyes, but our blindness does not extinguish the light of the heart’s essence.  If judgment had this power, the heart of life would have long since ceased to shine.  Despite judgment of everyone and everything we perceive, the awareness of the heart of life endures to inspire all hopes and promise all that makes life worth living.

The heart of life cannot lie behind some perceptions and not others.  Either the unchanging reality of existence lies behind all form, or there is no unchanging reality of existence.  Judgment of reality can but act as a veil to reality; judgment of form has no basis in reality.  Judgment therefore benefits neither the pursuit of truth nor the dance with form.  On the contrary, from the perspective of our pursuit of fulfillment, judgment is a most impractical habit.

Judgment is a pattern of thinking that reflects the main purpose of ego: the maintenance of the perception of separation, difference, and specialness.  Judgment thus inherently reflects the perception of vulnerability and lack, and must incur fear as surely as love offers joy and peace.  And what can the separation from the unity of all life mean but death?  Further, one cannot judge some facets of the diamond of life’s expression inferior to others without devaluing the diamond as a whole.  The ego must keep our focus on the ephemeral, for the rationality of its position evaporates like mist in the sun from the perspectives of both our highest purpose and the unchanging reality of the heart of life.

Our escape from hell to heaven requires we relinquish judgment.  The means to relinquish judgment is to look beyond ephemeral and superficial form to the changeless, shining heart of life beyond.  We must “forgive” the changeless heart of life of the reality of the ephemeral expressions we perceive, thus removing our need to judge the sins of such expressions.  Forgiveness is thus not an undeserved boon to the guilty to prove our goodness, but rather a removal of the veils of judgment to allow the free expression of our hearts.  The eternal heart of wonder beyond all we perceive makes the relinquishment of judgment and unconditional love possible.  In the wonder of life’s ever-changing expression we find the joy of creation, in its changelessness we find the peace of perfect safety in a love that never falters.  No perception need dictate our judgment when we know the unchanging heart of life shines within all we perceive.

Yet it is not an easy task to relinquish judgment. It requires a change in our pattern of thinking which, though it lies within our power to change, is reinforced with the habit and inertia of all our years on earth as well as the behavior and beliefs of almost everyone we meet.  Only one thing can hold us to the unity, clarity, and purity of purpose required: the conviction that the prize is worth far more than what we lose in relinquishing judgment.  There can be no doubt of the value of the prize when we realize it is the purest expression of our being.

The first mountain range to cross on the journey to love is the belief that most of what we experience is imposed by an external, objective reality separate and independent from our preferences.  This is the foundational belief on which fear and judgment are built.  Without this belief, fear and judgment make no sense.  This belief is also the source of our seeming dependence on the world for the experience of love.  To find the pass over this range, we must gain a better perspective of the nature and source of experience.

The Heart of Experience

We tend to think of experience as images, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures.  We believe experience is formed from the messages our senses relay to our minds.  Even if we concede these messages must be screened and assigned meaning and value according to our preexisting purposes, most believe they report the objective existence of the world we perceive and form the core of the experience our purpose interprets and shapes.  Most believe what we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch necessarily provides the raw material of experience to which a sane mind is constrained to select an appropriate emotional response.

Yet the insight that feeling is the expression of the meaning and value of experience, indeed is the essence of experience, gives pause to this belief.  Feeling is the core of experience, the treasure we seek in trying to arrange what we prefer to experience.  Sights, sounds, and smells have no meaning shorn of the feelings we attach to them.  Even considered solely as sources of information about our environment, the value of such information derives from our purpose.  The experience of feeling is both the goal and expression of purpose, the goal and expression of consciousness.  Underlying all we pursue is the experience of a feeling conceptualized by such words as fulfillment, happiness, love, joy, peace, satisfaction, fun, pleasure, feelings of power and importance, even fear and pain for those who choose punishment from a sense of guilt.  Feeling is the core of experience without which experience would be no more than meaningless, empty form.

Feelings do not reside in, are not created by, and are not dictated by the messages of the senses.  The messages of the senses cannot of themselves form experience; we can and do experience feelings independent of such messages.  Though the images of thoughts and dreams may seem more vague and insubstantial, the feelings we associate with them can be every bit as intense and vivid as those associated with sensory perception.  And if feelings were dictated by sensory perception, how could we explain the fact that the same messages are routinely met with widely varying emotions?  The same image can be associated with love, hate, compassion, anger, indifference, and fear, not only by different people, but by the same person at different times.

The focus of experience is devoted primarily to thoughts and the emotions that accompany them.  A much smaller focus of our experience is devoted to immediate awareness of the messages of our senses.  We tend to form these messages into the elastic thoughts we use to relive and edit the past, wish and plan for the future, and conjure and justify our feelings toward others.  And all but the most automatic of responses to these messages spring from ideas we have formed and meanings we have projected.  We are far more involved in forming experiences than the belief in sensory dependence admits.

Though the experience of feelings does not depend on sensory perception, it remains reasonable to believe perception evokes an involuntary emotional response.   After all, perception usually seems to elicit feeling; our daily pursuits witness to this belief.  In terms closer to our topic, love seems to depend on someone or something calling it forth.  Common sense counsels that love requires a perceived “object.” If true, love is at least partially dependent on the world without.

The belief that love is a response to sensory perceptions implies there is some attribute or pattern of attributes we see in another person, an animal, a place, or an object that calls forth our love.  The fact we can love an idea hints that the key to love need not necessarily reside outside us, but let us simplify the discussion by limiting love to what we feel for another person.  The fact we love some people to varying degrees and not others implies there are some attributes and behaviors, perhaps even circumstances such as family relationship that unlock our hearts while others do not.  The design of the lock may lie within us, but only keys of corresponding shape in the world outside will release it.  Being external, these keys presumably exist independent of our wishes.

The physical manifestations to which love supposedly responds vary widely among beholders.  Not only physical attributes, but also the attributes of character, personality, talents, and skills we perceive vary widely and are valued differently by any two people.  The appreciation of such attributes by the same beholder can vary as well according to mood, circumstance, past experience, emotional maturity, or factors beyond rational explanation.

Perhaps the evidence most inconsistent with the belief that love is a response to external attributes is the ephemeral nature of such attributes.  Physical appearances change, but love can persist.  Manifestations of personality and character are often like a kaleidoscope, though love can remain steadfast.  Bodies die, but the love for those we associate with the body can endure.  Conversely, we speak of “falling out of love” due not to a manifest change in those we love, but to our own “change of heart.” If love is a response to the attributes of what we perceive, the objects of our love are not only moving targets, they are changing targets.  And the same attributes that supposedly evoked love can later fail to do so.  What does this say about the relationship between love and the objects of our perception?

We can perceive others but not experience them in more than a very superficial sense.  What we experience is sensory data filtered, interpreted and assigned value by preexisting criteria—a code of preference, so to speak—that we ourselves have formed around our purpose.  We cannot directly experience the essence of another person, which is what they experience, what they feel and perceive, through our physical senses.  We can only form an idea of the person from the self-interpreted messages of our senses.  And this idea, this collection of thoughts and images imbued with feeling, is ever-changing.  Our feelings are creatively engaged in both forming the idea and expressing it to achieve the total experience.  The fact that perceptions are influenced by our moods hints at this process.

Physical manifestations reveal little of the larger and deeper reality of another “self” we perceive separate from our own.  It is like having only the evidence of a mirror to determine what we ourselves feel and think.  There is, of course, a vast difference between seeing manifestations of feelings and experiencing them.  It is the difference between form and essence.  Love of another person is therefore either love of the superficial manifestations of that person rather than their essential being, or love of the idea we have formed of the person based on the projection of our own experience of self.  Projection is necessary in the latter case for we have only our own experience of selfhood to surmise what lies beyond the physical manifestations of others.  What they feel, what they desire, the reality they perceive—in other words their experience of self that constitutes selfhood—can only be interpreted from what we feel, desire, and perceive.  Absence our own experience, we would have no basis for understanding what it means to feel, desire, and perceive.  Likewise, we can but give our own meaning to the words and behaviors of others.  Our experience of selfhood is thus the source of our understanding of the selfhood of others.  What we love in others must be drawn from the well of our own experiences.

Unless love of others is solely attraction to the superficial manifestations of physical form, the “objects” of our love are our interpretations of the reality of their selfhood.  In other words, we love the interpretation of another we ourselves have formed from our own experience.  Such is the case, at least unless our knowing of another transcends the limits of physical perception.

The apparent independence of love from its purported cause calls the love-as-response assumption into question.  It indicates emotional experience is determined by the perceiver rather than the perceived.  The ability to experience love independent of sensory perception shows that external attributes are not necessary to the experience of love, which implies love can be chosen.

Yet it is not enough to realize we are not slaves to our perceptions; we must reclaim the power we have given them to evoke our feelings.  We have made idols of our perceptions, but the power we have given these idols cannot truly leave its source.  Herein lies our hope for fulfillment.

We learn as children to invest sensory perceptions with meaning, which seems to give them the power to evoke the experience of feelings.  We thus turn our perceptions into symbols or idols we believe are necessary to experience what we wish.  Bodies, things, and circumstances become something akin to voodoo dolls we use to conjure the feelings we desire.  To possess them becomes the purpose we place between the experience we wish and the wish itself, thus obscuring our real goal and confusing form for essence.  We thus abdicate the power we invest in the idols we ourselves created and make ourselves dependent on them for the feelings we would experience.

We yearn for love because we believe it lies outside us, always eluding our grasp.  Uncertain what love is and how to attain it, we seek to inspire, threaten, entice, trick, and charm others to give us the love for which we yearn.  But the evidence of our senses is constantly subject to change and doubt, is ever insufficient to the experience of love.  A smile, a hug, a caress: these are but sensory perceptions we assume—or hope—indicate the love of another.  The love they may indicate cannot be experienced through our senses, however, for we can only experience them through the feelings inherent to the meaning we give these gestures.  There is no hope such evidence could ever fulfill our yearning, for they do not in themselves entail the experience of love.  We project the power we see in our idols, for our senses can but inform us of ephemeral physical forms; the meanings that entail feelings are supplied by us.

Though the possession of idols can never yield the essence they represent, we seldom cease to pursue them.  Despite endless failures to fulfill, we continue our pursuit of pleasures, people identified as bodies, possessions, power, prestige, victories, and revenge through disappointment after disappointment, hoping perhaps there is some magic quantity or quality that will finally yield fulfillment.  For some, persistence is motivated by their belief that the only real experiences are those derived from their physical senses.  They therefore see no alternative to seeking fulfillment in the world they perceive around them.  Others know some solace can be found in concepts and ideals, but they render their ideals idols by holding their satisfaction hostage to the insistence their ideals must be manifest to be made real and be truly enjoyed.

All idols must fail to bring joy and peace, for the need of idols implies the denial of the experience of love, which knows no need.  Idols are the symbols of wanting.  In making them the objects of wanting, we fundamentally delude ourselves as to the source and nature of experience as well as love.  Experience is formed in our minds, and what we see without is but a mirror of our minds.  Like a mirror, our senses reveal only a reflection of form, not the reality behind it.  When we seek our happiness without, we confuse reflections for what they reflect, form for the essence we seek.

The essence we seek—the experience of love—is necessarily the love we feel.  The deepest wisdom of the ages assures us that love is the very core of our being.  The experience of love requires we but remove the barriers to the awareness of what already exists within us.  Were this understood and believed, it would change our lives and change our world.

About Tony Armstrong

Professor of political science at Wesley College, Dover, Delaware. Author of Educating Angels: Teaching for the Pursuit of Happiness
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