December 23rd, 2013

The Action of Love — (Love is as Love Does)

“Begin by loving plants and animals, then perhaps you will
learn to love people.”
— G.I. Gurdjieff

Rumi composed a small eruption of a poem about love’s most beguiling and dangerous qualities. This gem of verse marks out, like a Morse code, the action, the alchemy of love. I’ve revisited this poem many times, and with each close reading new facets are revealed, sharper insights gleaned. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Love comes sailing through and I scream.
Love sits beside me like a private supply of itself.
Love puts away the instruments
and takes off the silk robes. Our nakedness
together changes me completely.

The opening conveys abrupt immediacy. Things are one way one minute and then — a surge: “Love comes sailing through…” Sailing evokes being on an ocean, perhaps the Sargasso Sea where we often drift in the humdrum trance of our day-to-day life. But then the majesty of love glides in. Also, the word ‘sailing’ connotes a particular sound, the movement of Cupid’s arrow perhaps?

Love’s entrance — and then: a scream. Not a yell or a shout. A scream. A kind of fright or terror. The shock of love. Rumi is writing about the ego’s perception and reaction to love. Unnerving, startling — a harbinger for what exactly?

P.D. Ouspensky wrote in Tertium Organum: “Love is the potent force that tears off all masks, and men who run away from love do so in order that they may preserve their masks.” I guess that would explain the screaming.

Should we endure, there’s the promise of an intimate alignment, a regulation that calms the initial shock: “Love sits beside me like a private supply of itself.” This line enchants me, the image it calls forth. “…like a private supply of itself.” This speaks to the notion that we are each a localized, unique expression of love — and when we experience love we’re given the opportunity, through the mirror of the Beloved, to remember, to see this condition. We relax, perhaps unaware of the disarming that will follow.

“Love puts away the instruments and takes off the silk robes.” Now Rumi’s describing another love action — the revealing, the stripping — making naked. The initial reading is a prelude to sex, and this can work in the poem too. But there’s something more; the instruments, the clothing — the ways the ego displays its talents, or how it hides behind a facade — all of that’s got to go in the presence of love. Nakedness implies as much.

And then the coniunctio: “Our nakedness together changes me completely.” This closing stanza has the same jarring impact of Rilke‘s abrupt finale to his sonnet Archaic Bust of Apollo, which reads: “You must be reborn.” Stephen Mitchell translates the line as “You must change your life.” And it’s the later reading that is most emphatic. And cuts the deepest.

This poem is a sequence of actions. And there is effort implied too, on the part of the narrator, to remain awake amidst the disorientation of love. For us, the readers, the color and enchantment of the poem can lull us away from the shock. Coleman Barks says of beautiful poetry that it can be dangerous because “it gives the illusion of having had the experience without really going through it.” The experience? The Sufi Master Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote: “The pain of love is the dynamite that breaks open the heart, even if it be as hard as a rock.”

Rumi’s poem involves the consciousness of love: the being awake amidst the process of love. Love as dynamism. Love as the Prime Mover. The poem challenges the passivity of “falling in love” and informs the difference between romantic love and objective or conscious love.

In one of his most pointed essays, Love Is Not A Feeling, the late, great psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote:

“The essence of the phenomenon of falling in love is a sudden collapse of a section of an individual’s ego boundaries, permitting one to merge his or her identity with that of another person. The sudden release of oneself from oneself…In some respects the act of falling in love is an act of regression. The experience of merging with the loved one has in it echoes from that time when we were merged with our mothers in infancy… One by one, gradually or suddenly, the ego boundaries snap back into place; gradually or suddenly [couples] fall out of love. Once again they are two separate individuals. At this point they begin either to dissolve the ties of their relationship or to initiate the work of real loving.”

And this is where the story ends, for most of us. What does ‘real loving’ connote? Something more complicated than trying to establish footing, weighing the pros and cons of commitment, after the mist of romantic love has burned off. Peck defines real love as: “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Jesus, who considers this type of commitment a part of the loving process? It’s certainly not included in the Western lexicon of loving. And I’ve yet to hear a country western song fold this theme into a lyric.

Peck continues: “Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional. The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love. This person has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the loving feeling is present. True love is not a feeling by which we are overwhelmed. It is a committed, thoughtful decision.”

Gurdjieff, never one to philosophize aimlessly, when asked about love was severe. Not out of cruelty, I believe, but because love is completely misunderstood, immured within sentimentality, imagination and downright lunacy. Gurdjieff wanted the starkness of his retort to act as a shock:

“As we are we cannot love.”

I wonder if anyone screamed when they heard his declaration?

Gurdjieff outlines the mechanics of love. He addressed this when he talked about the experience of love as it relates to the operation of our three centers: The intellectual, the emotional and the instinctual. He was foregoing a strictly psychological understanding of love, which, let’s face it does little for us once we’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole of love. Who wants to think of love as a reconfiguration of the symbiotic phase of childhood? Who wants to think of their mother whilst in bed with their lover? That doesn’t help much. Intellectually, yes, perhaps, but not emotionally, which is where love usually registers the most impact — and does the most damage.

“With ordinary love goes hate. I love this, I hate that. Today I love you, next week, or next hour, or next minute, I hate you. He who can really love can be; he who can be, can do; he who can do, is.”

So, really, to love one must first exist. Be conscious. But we get ahead of ourselves:

“To know about real love,” Gurdjieff said, “one must forget all about love and must look for direction.”

These notes are from a January 1924 meeting between Gurdjieff and some of his students, as recorded in C.S. Nott‘s fascinating Teachings of Gurdjieff: A Pupil’s Journal

“As we are we cannot love. We love because something in ourselves combines with another’s emanations; this starts pleasant associations, perhaps because of chemico-physical emanations from instinctive centre, emotional centre, or intellectual centre; or it may be from influences of external form; or from feelings — I love you because you love me, or because you don’t love me; suggestions of others, sense of superiority; from pity; and for many other reasons, subjective and egoistic…We project our feelings on others. Anger begets anger. We receive what we give. Everything attracts or repels.”

And so Gurdjieff advises: “Begin by loving plants and animals first, then perhaps you will learn to love people.”

The first time I encountered that sentence in Nott’s book, maybe 25 years ago, I remember my shock. But I also felt the veracity as well — plants and animals were my safest bet. I could sense how far away I was from partaking in what Gurdjieff called “conscious love.” A quality of love that places the well being of the other first.

In his fascinating essay On Love, A.R. Orage wrote: “The conscious love motive, in its developed state, is the wish that the object should arrive at its own native perfection, regardless of the consequences to the lover.” This quality of love never occurs by chance, Orage explains: “…but must be the subject of resolve, effort, self-conscious choice.”

Nott notes that On Love was written after one of Orage’s late-night conversations with Gurdjieff. I’ve read the essay countless times and it’s a genuine work of art — poetic and mysterious, as if a kind of incantation is at work to prepare the heart for Gurdjieff’s more pointed truths. It’s filled with history and legend — but speaks directly to our greatest dilemma as modern humans: our desire to love and be loved. And what our possibilities are for achieving this condition of genuine love.

In many ways Gurdjieff’s concept of conscious love mirrors Peck’s definition of real love: Love is not a feeling, but an alignment, a participation with the force of evolution. Real love, as Peck notes, transforms us, makes us “larger” and requires a “stretching of our limits.” He notes: “When limits are extended or stretched…they tend to stay stretched. Real love is a permanently self-enlarging experience…Love is an action, an activity. Love is not a feeling…Love is as love does.”

To grasp this is to actively engage our mentation with a concept of love that is completely foreign to everything we’ve imagined about love. Because we come from love, have our being in love, because we are our own private supply of love — or so the great spiritual teachers attest — isn’t it worth the effort to awaken to real love — love as an action.

“You must change your life.”

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Filed Under: Gurdjieff and Poetry and Rumi