VIII. LOVING THE WORLD
“It is true that we have to love our neighbour, but, in the example that Christ gave as an illustration of this commandment, the neighbour is a being of whom nothing is known, lying naked, and unconscious on the road. It is a question of completely anonymous, and for that reason, completely universal love.”
Loving the world is not the same thing as being in love with it – obviously. It also doesn’t imply that loving the world makes you a person of the world. In fact, I feel quite strongly that in order to truly love the world you need a tremendous amount of courage. You also need to cultivate an awareness or stillness to open up a space within you to find ways to love, rather than dissociatively resent, the world. It is in attention where we fall in love. In presence.
By “The World” I mean the people, places, scenes, affect, energy, vulnerability, and chaos of actual Life. I noticed, for example, the subtle difference it makes to the overall sensation of being-in-the-world when you slow down enough to take it in, and not with the eye of scrutiny, but rather of inquisitive adoration. Finding pieces of the puzzle to love requires nothing more of you than the willingness to discard the mind’s exhausted narrative of how things are supposed to feel based on past experiences, whether it be the past in the sense of a lifetime or the past 75 minutes of your life.
This subtle difference of being open to the possibility that love can exist to dissolve the ego and release you from the prison of subjectivity is most obvious to me when, around 9:30pm, on a warm summer evening, I exit a yoga class to walk down the street back which I walked up only 2 hours prior. The difference is this: on the way to a class I am often in a state of hurriedness, taking large steps with momentum and avoiding eye contact with nearly everyone whom I pass by. The experience of walking takes on a disassociated dimension to it. I am not fully present, but rather, attempting to submerge myself in the race against time, using the valor of hurry to scale up the sidewalk, bypassing strangers in front of me and often stunning the people walking toward me with the pace and gait I have seemingly slipped into – as if in a trance – unaffected by their gaze. Around 9:30pm I have spent 75 minutes unzipping my heart to whatever extent I can muster. I have contemplated the events of the day and appreciated the way that they unfolded. I have attempted, at the very least, to get out of my own way, or rather, quit identifying with my thoughts (mental-loops) and find stillness in the silence. It is never perfect but it is always grounding.
I exit the class seemingly wandering, but with a linear track. I walk so slowly it’s as though the act of walking has escaped me. I drink in the details of the experience. I’m clued into the synchrony between matter and mind or maybe I am more willing to give credence to the co-constructive nature of the two. I see things I could have never seen and I think things I could have never thought outside of this stillness. When passing strangers I do not sporadically waver my gaze, attempting to make the smallest impact possible on their awareness…instead, I wait for the moment we can share space and do not try to escape it. I’m smiling, mostly to myself, and usually in a way that is not worn physically, and others may notice. I feel infinitely calm, like the strings of my heart have been chopped and what’s left is simply floating – floating and basking in complete awe.
What is unavoidably true is that my love for the people and images before me is a feat of attention. My attention does not reside in what is to come, where I am to be, what song is next of shuffle, what my face looked like to so-and-so. My attention is fixed solely in absorbing, intuitively, the swelling mystery and simplicity of beautiful Life. I know that I can’t feel this way all the time – at least not while I live inside the Human Condition. World-resentment comes more naturally to me than I want to admit. I have built my personality, the ego on which I fall, on the ability to inflict criticism. My critical nature has made it so much more difficult but so much more rewarding to accept that love is possible and that love is infinite. If I knew how to expect which side of the polarity (resentment or love) I will fall on, on any given day, the affect of either’s manifestation would wither to nothingness.
Our freedom lies in the direction of our gaze. If a particularly cynical mood sweeps me up into a nihilistic, dissociated, impulsive oblivion, then I will observe and not try to change anything. The feeling should be felt, examined and abandoned with no significant weight afforded to its resonance with pure Being. I can only assume that the ego must act out in fits of rage when it is threatened with death. The resistance often looks like identification – identification with thoughts and emotions that are not any reflection of one’s pure Being, but rather, distracting derivations of an ego that desperately clings to the finite. I think it is only when the ego surrenders to the infinitude of self-replicating, expanding, courageous love that we can finally piece together some unity in the duality and fragmentation of world-consciousness.
Simone Weil saw anonymous love as the purest form of universal love. Universal love, she notes, is the central virtue which tied Stoicism to the principles of Christianity. She choose heavenly allegiance over the terrestrial allegiance she saw those attached to the Church embody. The restrictive nature of “Church patriotism”, as she called it, held the ‘bird down on the ground in a great metal chain.’ Enclosing universal and abundant love in something limited, like an object, stifles its effectivity and hastens its dwindling. The chief duty of the Church, as I interpret from her and agree wholeheartedly, was to embrace an obligation to love. Unbounded love, carried through with every action and word uttered, is to be living in communion with the spirit of God, and the surest avenue to establishing contact with a capacity for anonymous and universal love within oneself. She writes, “When a soul has attained a love filling the whole universe indiscriminately, this love becomes a bird with golden wings that pierces an opening in the egg of the world.” This act would allow the merging of one’s gaze with the gaze of God, liberating one from the arbitrary sensations of defeat, resentment and envy and propelling you forward, toward realization of one’s immense freedom.
Devoid of ego, love can extend far beyond the reaches of our self-imposed scarcity. In this view, it is undeniably astonishing that loving the world as an obligation to ourselves, our neighbours, and to God, is really just an obligation to indiscriminate love of the Whole.
The phenomenologists regard objects in the world as falling into two distinct categories. Objects appear in consciousness and register as a.) a tool or b.) an obstacle. And, in their unavoidable objectified form, people often register in our consciousness in vaguely similar terms. The relationships we develop with the people around us are considerably precarious when the strength of the relation depends solely on a utility principle. Loving something, without wanting to somehow alter or change this ‘thing’ is an expression of universal love. I think, somewhere in Kant’s Categorical Imperative, he describes the utmost importance of treating all those beings in relation to you as an end in themselves, and never as a means to an end. If we could even skim the outline of such an ideal for human relationships (and later in human/animal and human/nature relationships), what a vast and staggering distance, moving upward, toward the Good, we would travel. The unconditional love, professed to be exemplified in ideal parent-child relationships or the relationship between man and God, requires a reconfiguration of Being toward non-entity, non-identity – toward Nothingness. To become nothingness in the world, to do away with identity and sink deep into the abyss of what lies underneath labels and distinction, is to be one step closer to contact with the essence of universal love. Only when we adopt a gaze kind enough and open enough to simulate the gaze of God can we fully die to the world, and to ourselves, and in doing so, grow in our capacity to love these things as they are.
I. I want to suggest also that universal love encompasses the entire swelling mass of life under the cosmos. The ethic of ‘do no harm’ can be seen nowhere more clearly than in our consumptive choices. To extend universal love outward is to choose not to consume the flesh of animals with which we share our sphere of existence. Carried forward, this virtue would abolish the consumption of all derivative products of animal bodies so that the welfare of both human beings and animals together can advance toward the ideal. We are healthier and better in spirit with the absence of animal products in our physiological systems but the act of discrimination in consumptive patterns – to exclude animal products from diet and lifestyle – should be based primarily in the concern for and extension of love toward all living beings sharing the terrestrial realm.
II. On alienation: I might also add that this quality is exacerbated, or at least it seems to be, under neoliberal ideology held at the level of collective consciousness with the virtues of individualism and competition alienating us from each other and justifying this dynamic with the accumulation of capital. In this scenario, capital signifies nothing other than Freedom itself, often figuring in the collective neoliberal consciousness as the means to acquire the freedom to Be who one is – a dream distant enough to retain its mysterious attraction and firmness in consciousness.