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QUINTESSENCE

Yes I Will Yes

Palacio del Flamenco
...and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
- James Joyce

Ah, Joyce. That writer with the ability to put us in the midst of passion and all its rush and uncertainty. This passage from Ulysses is justly renowned for its expression of erotic yearning as desire moves through us, as we wait and catch hold and ride the wave to its unknown destination. While various topics regarding love this month have dealt with those serious indents love often marks us with - better or not, love leaves us different - I particularly feel that passion, romantic or erotic love, is truly maddeningly, insensibly, indelible. In the words of E.M. Forster, It isn't possible to love and to part. You will wish it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.

That's a bit intimidating, the thought that love is eternal in the tattoo on your soul kind of way. Yet think of all the art, wars, cathedrals, and palaces built for love. How passion is transmuted into marvels of celebration and suffering. Or consider the philosophers, the knights, the intellects that have ignored the slippery grip of love, fired from within by denial in their chosen quests. And blessings on those of us who muddle love! We are constantly at the door, one hand on the latch. Do we go in, or depart? There is something about the human spirit both vulnerable to this emotion and wrought of steel by its fires. Joyce's heroine is caught in the ribbons of glory and the fall of passion. To yield is to bear witness to one's own transmutation: gone the inner solitary in the heat and the weld of an Other. Intimidating? Yes. But what a ride. And don't we say yes I will Yes every time.
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Entrusted

photo credit: LenBernstein.com
For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.
- Rainer Maria Rilke

The month of the heart, February, leads to the question - what is a heart-centered life? I do not necessarily mean an emotional life, or a romantically-centered life, but a deliberate life, focused on the center of being, symbolically the heart, long felt to be the repository of human compassion. Are we living a life of empathy and morality, integrity and tenderness? Rilke's words do not limit our understanding of relationship - we certainly are aware the bonds of connection are both significant and difficult - but the poet's observations nudge us to think beyond the merely emotional or physical; that loving another human being may be the ultimate index of spiritual development. The important idea that leaps out at me from Rilke's observation is this: love is entrusted to us. To love is Herculean in its magnificence and difficulty, epic in scope, mythic in reach and endurance, even so simple an affection as that of two best friends sharing lunch on a park bench. Our lives lead to challenges both in work and our personal worlds, but we most often sit with our coffee, deepest in thought regarding the welfare of our friends, our children's needs, our lover or spouse's struggles, the complexities of our parents, our broken hearts.

Rilke suggests we reach highest when we reach to love. That all manner of hurdles, achievements and journeys somehow lead to relationship. That says something interesting about the human experience, I think. Our solitary souls are on a mission born of interconnection; and we set our compass on The Other. We trust our hearts to set map points to follow. A heart-centric life is a life devoted to the soul's expressive potential.

The poet doesn't command but observe. We don't demand, we seek.
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Star Gazing

Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
- Oscar Wilde

Of course the inimitable Oscar Wilde would put this thought out there in his signature wit, but in fact, Wilde makes the point perfectly. Life is messy, sometimes mundane, an unlikely blend of both the quotidien and the wildly unexpected. The grim and the glorious are equally present. Sometimes contemporaneous, even synchronous. What makes the difference in our experience of life is fundamentally driven by what we focus our attentions on, and what drives focus is passion (or lack of). I believe the entire planet is driven by passion - both instinctive and creative - and what we do with that formidable energy matters.

As we think about the circumstances of the moment, the perspective we frame our observations with can be one of sadness, frustration or disappointment. Or, in keeping with Oscar Wilde's observation, one of hope, beauty, opportunity, gratitude. The circumstances may be identical, but the experience of those circumstances will be vastly dissimilar. Our lives lived in different hues and memories. Do you choose the harsh or the magical?

I vote for star-gazing.
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The Best, The Loveliest


Yes, Love, who showers benignity upon the world, and before whose presence all hard passions flee and perish; the author of all soft affections; the destroyer of all ungentle thoughts; merciful, mild; the object of the admiration of the wise, and the delight of gods; possessed by the fortunate and desired by the unhappy, therefore unhappy because they possess him not; the father of persuasion, and desire; the cherisher of all that is good, the abolisher of all evil; our most excellent pilot, defence, saviour and guardian in labour and in fear, in desire and in reason; the ornament and governor of all things human and divine; the best, the loveliest; in whose footsteps everyone ought to follow, celebrating him excellently in song, and bearing each his part in that divinest harmony which Love sings to all things which live and are, soothing the troubled minds of gods and men.
- Plato

Well said, yes? Happy Valentine's Day!
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The Touch of the Creative

Man's creative struggle, his search for wisdom and truth, is a love story.
- Iris Murdoch

In all living nature (and perhaps also in that which we consider as dead) love is the motive force which drives the creative activity in the most diverse directions.
- P.D. Ouspensky

As we continue our February exploration of the meanings of love and its distillations in the human spirit - particularly as we approach that seriously over-commercialized holiday marketed as Valentine's Day (Ah, ode to one long-ago renegade Roman priest, Valentinus! History's legacy the postscript from a simple letter to a young lover, signed "From Your Valentine"...)

Let's step away from the cards, candy and beautifully-bowed sparkles to consider the observations of Iris Murdoch and P.D. Ouspensky regarding love and human endeavor. Is love the defining nature of humanity's search for self-meaning in the world? And is love the compelling, propelling force behind what we say, build, and do? And is this quite possibly true for all of the natural world?

Yes. Whether a work of art, a cathedral, quest or personal sacrifice, passion lies behind the most likely and unlikely of constructions. But is passion love? Passion may not be all that love is, or part of what love evolves to be; but the passion, romantic or not, behind the idea of love is the root of love's tenacity. We are defined by our sense of ourselves as beings who care greatly. We are willing to defend the right to love whom we please, to give of ourselves - even die for our love, and over and again bend to the creative fires rising from the turmoil of love's emotional impact on the human soul. In tandem with the natural world we shelter, nourish, and birth new generations from this instinctive drive. The deep attachment we call "love" might be only instinct dressed in peacock feathers, but there is no denying it has power.

Art history is quite simply the colorful history of humanity's physical and intellectual love affairs. The story of our yearning fascination with Heaven and Earth, the sensuous muse, lofty ideas of beauty, truth and justice, the blood-hot nobility of sacrifice, a celebration of oath and purity, the elusive Other. What passion brings forth is our story as living beings, and nothing beyond love is expressed in so many ways.

I personally feel the very best valentine is a tribute made by or for the ones you love. I treasure the home-made. A poem inked on a beach stone, the glued and feathered scissored heart, the half-burnt dinner by candlelight. It is love that compels us to reach toward one another. Embrace the touch of creativity, the expression of love. Why not make something for someone...from "your Valentine."
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Insight

Perhaps a great love is never returned. Had it been given warmth and shelter by its counterpart in the Other, perhaps it would have been hindered from ever growing to maturity. It "gives" us nothing. But in its world of loneliness it leads us up to summits with wide vistas - of insight.
- Dag Hammarskjold

Last night the ABC television show "The Bachelor" featured a young woman who abruptly came face to face with the pain of unrequited love. She was competing on the show ostensibly to date and fall in love with the show's featured bachelor, Ben, only to discover she was miserably hung-up and deeply entangled in her unrequited feelings for her previous boyfriend. The misery reflected on her face as she confessed her feelings to Ben and then immediately left the show seemed equal parts frustration and shocked pained insight. I felt for her. It is no paradise the moment one realizes they have entered the painful skid of unrequited attachment and have no choice but to fall out on the other side, alone.

The quote above by the Swedish diplomat and philosopher Dag Hammarskjold touches on a two-edged truth about love. The emotion is not necessarily a happy verb between two: Love is sometimes a miss hit, an unrequited experience for one. And in the disappointment of the unrequited, the lessons in the post-passionate ash may be surprising and revealing. Are we sure the maturity, the ideal expression of our love is the completion of union, or is a thwarted relationship an expression of what we have learned about our own hearts in the midst of unmet needs? There is an old saying in the engineering world, that error is instructional. "Failure is a given. Next time, fail better." I'd like to imagine that in love we "fail better "when we take the time to understand our early disappointments. That if we give every experience its due, and gently reflect upon what we see revealed and feel about ourselves, our next love affairs might be markedly more self-aware, more rewarding and successful.

The key is insight. And for me, time is a guiding factor in gaining perspective. It will require time for our unlucky contestant to process her painful emotions and move on from her unrequited love. But I am sure that when she does, she will have gain a new summit of personal strength and awareness. She will risk again, and fail better, and eventually, find her way.

[Author's Note: Many of the opening quotations for this month's essays on love can be found in a lovely little book edited by Emily Hilburn Sell, The Spirit of Loving, Shambala, 1995.]
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Origami of Love

Put away the book, the description, the tradition, the authority, and take the journey of self-discovery. Love, and don't be caught in opinions and ideas about what love is or should be. When you love, everything will come right. Love has its own action. Love, and you will know the blessings of it. keep away from the authority who tells you what love is and what it is not. No authority knows and he who knows cannot tell. Love, and there is understanding.
-J. Krishnamurti

This is heart month. The month we wear red raising awareness of the mortal dangers of heart disease. February brings red velvet boxes filled with chocolate for our sweethearts. We decorate poems with red hearts and lace in honor of love. Cartoon characters and limericks from secret admirers fill pink shoeboxes on the desks of hopeful school children. We are enamored of hearts, of love, of the whiff of sudden attraction and the warmth of long-lasting affection. I thought it fitting to spend February exploring the many aspects of love. Inquiring further into love both romantic and brotherly, digging deeper into love's enduring spiritual nature as well as its exacerbating, fleeting transience, the unexpected speed bumps, and of course, my own quirky relationship with fickle Cupid. I hope you will weigh in with personal comments and experiences as we talk about adventures in love.

I begin by quoting Krishnamurti's counsel regarding all efforts, wise and foolish, to define love. His caution against attempts to quantify, test for trueness, or measure the substance of affection. I am particularly struck by the veracity of these paired phrases, "When you love, everything will come right. Love has its own action." Looking back at my own bumpy rather ordinary history with love, true and fool's, I see the sage is right: Authentic love reveals without force, false turn, or pressure, unfolding like an origami heart designed to open in perfect blossom. I think staying cognizant of the organic nature of affection and the roots of love that spring from both the physical and spiritual selves is important to the process of opening the self. Love may be different for any one of us, but seems to always involve elements of selflessness, nurturing, and joy. We are joyful with those we love. We are selfless, valuing our loved ones above ourselves. We instinctively protect, enrich, and shelter love. Love has its own action. Love is self defining and self sustaining - in all the multiple meanings that phrase might suggest.

I invite everyone today to think about what love is for you. What it has been. What design your love would make if you were to fold it into one shape made of the experiences of your heart. What is your origami of love? Lately mine resembles a rather battered, cracked scalloped shell that when unfolded opens to an entire seashore. All elements within one. The wide open within the closed and the journey through and to what lies within. Discover your heart's creations.
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