I was thrilled to watch Jem Bendell’s latest video, “Grieve, Play, Love” and savor how well it was produced as well as share it with friends. Yet the word “love” continued to unsettle me, not because I dislike the word, but because so much that was not said about the word niggled around the edges of my experience with collapse preparation in these past 15 years, as well as with the beautiful article Jem wrote on love for his Deep Adaptation Forum.
As a result, I feel compelled to drill deeper into the word, particularly in the light (or darkness) of this culture’s failure to grasp and fully appreciate the word “love.” It has been said that in a culture where a particular thing has enormous importance for its inhabitants, they tend to create many words for it. “Snow” in Inuit culture is a perfect example. They have more than 30 words for it. Does that mean that English-speaking people care less about “love” because they have only one word for it? Indeed the Greeks defined several types of love including philo, eros, and agape, but these give us a definition of different kinds of love, rather than the qualities of love itself.
When we speak of love in this culture, we tend to feel warm and fuzzy feelings in the belly as we imagine hugging, cuddling, engaging in intimate conversation, spending quality time with a loved one, or expressing our love sexually. “Love,” therefore, calls to us and begins to soften our hearts. How can we not enjoy or light up when we consider these connotations of love?
But what about qualities of love that don’t make us feel warm and fuzzy all over but are unarguably important and necessary aspects of love? Qualities without which, love is incomplete, immature, ineffectual, or even precarious and unreliable.
We easily associate empathy, compassion, an open heart, support, cooperation, honesty, integrity, and gratitude with love, but how about boundaries, limits, grief, anger, discernment, comfort with not knowing, and a commitment to working on our personal and cultural shadow?
At least 90% of intentional communities fail. Why is that? I’m guessing that it’s because those communities assume that their success is contingent on sustaining the qualities of love that feel warm, delicious, and inspire them to hold hands and dance around the world. Who wants to process the feelings that still erupt from childhood wounding? Who delights in honest confrontation with one’s own disavowed shadow material that is so much easier to project on others? Who wants to set limits and boundaries and honor those of others?
Yet I argue that these not-so-goose-down-comforter realities are an enormous part of mature love. It is becoming easier for collapse and climate-change-aware individuals to understand that grief is love. We only grieve what we love, but is anger also a quality of love in some instances? One valve-turning activist I spoke with who was arrested for assisting in shutting down the Keystone Pipeline spoke of feeling terrified, angry, and deeply sad as he was turning the valves while at the same time being driven by his love of the Earth and its human and non-human beings.
Do we love our family members, friends, and the Earth community enough to confront, with sufficient safety and support, our shadow material that already has or will erupt in projecting it or acting it out in our families or our community?
Awake parents know that one of the most unloving things they can do is fail to set limits with their children. Teenagers, for example, kick and scream against limits, yet a wiser part of them knows that when their parents fail to set them, they feel profoundly uncared for. Bulldozer parents who believe it is their mission in life to remove all obstacles in the path of their child’s success whether they excoriate the teacher for giving Johnny a bad grade or pay millions of dollars for him to be accepted into an Ivy League school, are not demonstrating love, and deep in his hormones, Johnny knows it.
Some choose to label limit-setting as “tough” love, but that is because in this culture the landscape of love is so limited to the warm and fuzzy. Full spectrum love is both/and—a cornucopia of opposites that our indigenous ancestors were familiar with as they accompanied their young in grueling and often dangerous soul-making rites of passage ordeals.
As Earth herself seeks to initiate us through this current daunting and possibly fatal rite of passage called “collapse”, she would have us learn, if nothing else, a quality of love that erupts from discovering our fullest and deepest humanity. This takes time and commitment, and we will have ample opportunities to learn both now and as our predicament intensifies. Indeed, grieve, pray, and become a student of love or in the words of Rumi, “Would you become a pilgrim on the road of love? The first condition is that you make yourself humble as dust and ashes.”