My February 2017 column for The Echo.
On love and fear
By Frank DeMarco
February – the month of Valentine’s Day. Eros and agape and chocolate hearts and flowers and “be my valentine” and all that. All about love.
Pontius Pilate was wasting his time, asking “what is truth?” He would have gotten much better ratings, even retrospectively, if he had asked “what is love?” (And Jesus wasn’t answering about truth, chances are he wouldn’t have answered this one either.) Pretty nearly everybody in the audience would have been interested in the question, and we are now, and our distant descendants will be just as interested whenever life poses the question to them.
But what is love? A Course in Miracles, among others, says that love and fear form the ultimate polarity. (They could equally well be expressed as hope and despair, or openness and barriers.) You might say, love is the overcoming of separateness; fear is the reinforcing of separateness.
Love, in this context, is not warm fuzzy feelings, or sentiment, or romance. It is the binding energy, rather like gravity, that not only “makes the world go ‘round,” but makes the world. It is the interpenetration of being, the fundamental oneness of everything. It is to life what flesh is to bodies. No love, no life.
Love and fear are not so much transient emotions as opposing but interconnected tendencies. As one expands, the other contracts. As you move more toward love, you automatically move away from fear, and vice-versa. When the other expands, the first contracts. They’re always both in play. We live between these extremes, and we choose, day by day, moment by moment, which pole we move toward. Think of our life as a spiral: we spiral out toward expansion (love) and we spiral in toward contraction (fear).
Where we habitually position ourselves on the spiral defines the life we lead. What we experience through our senses persuades us that we are all separate, and from that perception of separation comes the perception of lack of control, which creates fear. Eliminate the perception of separation and fear goes out the window. This is what love does.
You might envision it this way.
Draw a coil and imagine the coil suspended in space between a positive and negative charge. Each opposing charge pulls on the spiral. It should be clear that any point on the spiral is either exactly equidistant between the two forces, or closer to one or to the other. So there can be only three states relative to the forces: plus, zero, or minus.
(In this case, plus and minus have nothing to do with good and evil. This is just a mechanical analogy.)
If you are traveling on a spiral (and, in effect, we are) the oscillation between polarities is regular, predictable, and useful. It subjects us to ever-varying influences within which to exercise our free will to determine who we wish to become. Some times favor some purposes and are unfavorable for others. Of course it isn’t nearly this simple. Our lives don’t revolve around one spiral. Instead we have spirals within spirals, some contradicting others, some in harmonic resonance with others, some not interacting with others in any system that is obvious to you. Thus we might say that every moment of our life is uniquely favorable for something; and more or less favorable for other things, and indifferent for still other things. The only thing constant is change itself.
Children in their natural state freely express love. (“Unless you become as little children,” Jesus said, “you can’t enter the kingdom.”) As we age, we can become relatively dead to love, as we can be relatively dead to life itself, and for the same reason. Fortunately, once we know what’s wrong, we can work to set it right. No matter where you are right now on the ability-to-love scale, you can teach yourself to love more deeply, more easily.
Here’s a simple daily exercise to help you to practice love, extend your consciousness and your openness, and grow. It’s not complicated or difficult. It just requires doing.
Find some object to love. It can be a pet or a flower or an abstraction or a car, though it would be better if it were a person. Do it! If you have difficulty doing it, go back in your mind to some time when you loved or felt loved. Experience that feeling again; call it up, and express it toward whatever recipient you have chosen.
As you practice this, day by day, raise the bar by successively practicing loving something that’s less lovable. Anyone can love a dog, because the dog thinks you’re wonderful. It takes a little more to love a cat, because the cat thinks it’s wonderful. It takes more to love a woodchuck, because a woodchuck doesn’t care one way or the other. It takes more to love a rattlesnake, because it’s harder to relate to – especially if you’re afraid of it. So you could easily raise the bar a little bit every day, just by aiming to love something that is continually a little bit less loveable.
If we are to live in health, if we are to help others heal, we must live in love as best we can from day to day. It isn’t just hearts and flowers. It’s life.