“If love is really the active practice—Buddhist, Christian, or Islamic mysticism—it requires the notion of being a lover, of being in love with the universe … To commit to love is fundamentally to commit to a life beyond dualism. That’s why love is so sacred in a culture of domination because it simply begins to erode your dualisms: dualisms of black and white, male and female, right and wrong.” bell hooks
Love is powerful. In a conversation recently, the person with whom I was speaking said the Dalai Lama views love as the connector between the world’s religions. That makes sense to me. In these times were love can be hard to find, difficult to feel across all divides, and snuffed out by toxic dualisms, I want to come back to love. I want to consider love as a way to truth, healing, reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace.
I have been thinking about love and the things I know for sure. I have been thinking about when I feel powerful. I have been thinking about my need to assign blame, be right, find certainty, and wrap myself in a blanket of absolutes. It all comes back to love. I am thinking about love in a broader way than solely the romantic kind, though I think all love looks the same up close. If love in the world starts with love in our hearts, how do I love myself more fully? How can I act in ways that make the world more loving in times of both peace and conflict? How love can heal our world? Right now. What might that mean to the world that suffers in so many ways?
The work of bell hooks helps me understand love. hooks is described as an academic, social critic, feminist, activist, and author. I have devoured the several books and articles she has written about love over the years. Her work exemplifies clarity, compassion, courage, and critical thought in a time when discourse has been starved for truth and kindness.
In this article, hooks explains, “If I were really asked to define myself, I wouldn’t start with race; I wouldn’t start with blackness; I wouldn’t start with gender; I wouldn’t start with feminism. I would start with stripping down to what fundamentally informs my life, which is that I’m a seeker on the path. I think of feminism, and I think of anti-racist struggles as part of it. But where I stand spiritually is, steadfastly, on a path about love.” hooks talks about Butterfield’s “discourse of practice” in which the primary responsibility of a teacher is to break down dualism with the knowledge of the complexity of the human condition. She states, “In real love, real union, or communion, there are no rules.”
Things I understand from hooks’ writings about love
Drawing from M. Scott Peck’s definition of love, hooks explains, “I was in my mid-twenties when I first learned to understand love ‘as the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.’ “
Defining love provides purpose and function to love. When we define love in terms of nurturing one another our arms open a bit wider and our hearts soften. Love gains power. Love becomes bigger, breathes deeply, grows wings, and soars. Loves becomes something we can do. Love becomes powerful. Love becomes an action that can change the world.
“Self-love is the foundation of our loving practice . . . When we give this precious gift to ourselves, we are able to reach out to others from a place of fulfillment and not from a place of lack.”
It is important to remember that there is a reflective side to love. Taking care of ourselves is fundamental to love. Considering our relationship with ourselves is central to being the best people we can be and building the best world we can build. Love is abundant and meant to be shared. Acknowledging and reconciling and healing feelings of anger and disappointment and grief makes love possible. That work is not easy. It is the work that knows the past, lives in the present, and sees a better future. It impacts our world.
“There is no better place to learn the art of loving than community.”
Once we have looked inside, loving requires we look outside ourselves and get busy building a loving world. I like the idea that we can be students of love in community. We can practice love. We can become more loving. We can strengthen ourselves and our world. Love in community is difficult. Where do fundamental differences fit in a loving community? Where does love intersect justice and peace? How do we lovingly proceed through conflict? What is the relationship between truth, accountability, compassion, and love? I am sure the answers to these questions starts with fierce love. By living the seeker’s life we are steadfastly on the path of love.