Fostering Love in an Age of Crisis
Categories: Psychology & Personal Growth
Valentine’s Day is all well and good, but counting on boxes of chocolate and chalky LUV U hearts may leave you wanting in an age of uncertain times. Carolyn Baker, author of Love in the Age of Ecological Apocalypse, refocuses that loving feeling on true skills that will last you through the anthropocene, should it come to that. If not, she still has some great lessons to teach. Below is an adapted excerpt, condensed from the aforementioned title.
Tags: Sacred Activism Sexuality & Relationships Carolyn Baker
Jungian analyst Robert Johnson wrote:
Sanskrit has 96 words for love; ancient Persian has 80, Greek 3, and English only 1. This is indicative of the poverty of awareness or emphasis that we give to that tremendously important realm of feeling. Eskimos have 30 words for snow, because it is a life-and-death matter to them to have exact information about the element they live with so intimately. If we had a vocabulary of 30 words for love . . . we would immediately be richer and more intelligent in this human element so close to our heart. An Eskimo probably would die of clumsiness if he had only one word for snow; we are close to dying of loneliness because we have only one word for love. Of all the Western languages, English may be the most lacking when it comes to feeling.
When googling the word survival, one is likely to encounter numerous websites and blogs that focus only on logistical preparation and offer suggestions for securing doomsday locations, underground bunkers, and information about “bugging out” in the wake of a natural disaster or a societal collapse. Throughout 2013 the National Geographic TV channel aired an ongoing Doomsday Prepper series that featured a vast array of individuals and families who are organizing their preps for the inevitable. Almost without exception these individuals have given little or no thought to how they will relate to other human beings in the Long Emergency beyond having massive caches of food and weapons and making very clear to everyone else that they prefer to be left alone and will do whatever it takes to protect their stuff while remaining in isolation.
Some people say that the most important asset we have as we move through the Long Emergency is one another. So said environmental attorney and activist Gus Speth. What truly makes us happy, he asserted, is other people. “We flourish in a setting of warm, nurturing, and rewarding interpersonal relationships, and within that context we flourish best when we are giving, not getting.” As we hear this, our hearts may soar with inspiration and hope; on the other hand, when we consider how challenging forming and maintaining meaningful relationships are and as we hear stories of discord and dissolution of intentional and other communities, our hearts may sink.
I return to that lone English word love and ask what it means. Since we have only one word, what are its nuances? What are some tones or shades that might provide a more copious, expansive sense of love?
The disintegration of the old paradigm compels us to co-create a new one, and what will love look like in that one? Myriad qualities of love must be expressed in the new paradigm, but I believe a few are absolutely crucial if humans are to survive, thrive, and develop life-supporting, mutually enhancing relationships with one another.
When I speak of a new paradigm, I am grateful for the work of Leslie Temple-Thurston and her magnificent teachings on leaving the old paradigm and moving into the new. More information on her work is available in the Appendix of this book.
In the new paradigm, compassion and empathy are two expressions of love that humans must cultivate, not in the distant future but now. One of the most formidable challenges of shaping a new paradigm will be transcending our lifelong training in separation. Still worse is that in times of crisis we tend to revert to that programming. Under stress we tend to think in terms of me and mine rather than thinking about the defenseless who might need our help.
Although I have often stated that community is defined as much by whom it excludes as by whom it includes, and although healthy boundaries are necessary in navigating turbulent times, no situation is black and white. Each one is unique, and discernment is necessary. In fact, discernment may well be one of many aspects of love that does not leap to mind but often helps keep our communities intact.
Discernment comes not so much from the intellect as from the intuition and the body. It allows us to see beyond surface appearances and read the nuances of a particular situation. Therefore, the development of discernment is directly proportional to the development of our relationship with the deeper Self because ultimately, discernment originates there.
Other qualities of love include detachment, which is anything but a lack of caring. Rather, it is the ability to allow feelings to pass through us without believing that we are those feelings and reacting accordingly. We feel fearful about something, but rather than acting on the fear we sit with it, feel it, understand that we are not our feelings and allow the fear to move through the body. When we do it, we are less likely to react in a manner that harms others or ourselves because as we practice this procedure over time, we develop a greater capacity for balanced neutrality.
Another quality of love and one that is greatly misunderstood is forgiveness. Closely related to compassion, forgiveness does not mean simply allowing someone to walk all over us or choosing to overlook harm that is being done. Rather, we can view both victim and tyrant with compassion, understanding that we have parts of each within ourselves.
Humility, which does not mean becoming a doormat, is an essential quality of love and is synonymous with a state of acceptance of oneself and others because one is not judging oneself or others. What prevents us from judging? The humbling awareness that there but for grace go we. We have viewed the enemy, our own shadow, and realized that the enemy lives in us as much as anywhere else.
Cultivating a stillness or meditation practice that brings us into regular, intimate contact with the deeper Self facilitates the development of a part of us that some traditions call the “neutral witness.” This part of the psyche has the capacity to stand outside the ego and simply be present with what is occurring without reacting or judging. The neutral witness must be developed with practice, but it can be developed only if we are committed to practicing, as many ancients and people in modern time have discovered. As the neutral witness matures, another quality of love is also likely to ripen: surrender. It is important to understand that surrender is not the same as resignation or giving up. It is instead the intentional surrender of the ego to the deeper Self with the clear understanding that the limited human mind does not always know what is best for itself or anyone else.
Still other qualities of love based in the deeper Self include truth, patience, creativity, harmlessness, devotion, trust and trustworthiness, generosity, sharing, gratitude, clarity, acceptance, joy, radiance, loyalty, patience, protectiveness, courage, and wisdom. These qualities already reside within the deeper Self, and our spiritual and emotional preparation for the Last Emergency is all about developing them. Therefore, I have intentionally used the word practice repeatedly because practice is exactly what is required for the development of sacred love, both in current time and in times far more turbulent than these. Practice does not make perfect; practice makes practice. Nevertheless, practice produces results: development of the deeper Self and our ability to function with it more fully more of the time, cultivating the relationships we need to thrive, and living with meaning and purpose in a daunting world. What I am articulating in this book is, in part, a way of living based in the heart that cherishes and feels the emotions, not simply for the sake of feeling them but also for recognizing them as indicators of the deeper Self and a deeper and more mutually life-supporting way of relating to all other beings.
For years I have encountered men and women who believe they honor their emotions but live primarily from the cerebral, logical, linear perspective of industrial civilization. Their hearts hunger deeply for community, but when they encounter it, to their dismay and despair their shadow either subtly emerges or explosively erupts, and they once more become cynical about the possibility of experiencing community. Almost without exception they have emphasized logistical preparation over emotional and spiritual preparation—surviving in separation over thriving in conviviality. Minimizing the vital role of the emotional landscape guarantees that our relationships both now and in a post-industrial world will be problematic, for as Richard Rohr asserts, “People who do not feel deeply, finally do not know or love deeply either.”