When I turn on the computer and read the news, I see a world in incredible pain. It has become acceptable and even encouraged in our society to get the most for the self, even at the cost of others. Greed and consumerism have begun to replace integrity and compassion. People seek to fill the void but remain unsatisfied, so what is the answer? In a word, love. Our society needs more love. It may sound simplistic or foolish but Sufism does not seem to have a problem with foolishness. “Without love, the Soul does not engage itself with life” (Pearson, 148). It is love that makes us human, it is love that makes us complicated, and it is love that brings us our deepest sorrows and highest levels of bliss. “It is Eros – passion, attachment, desire, even lust – that makes us really alive” (Pearson, 149). The problem is how we define love, how we show love, and how we receive love. Sufis have been teaching us about the heart for centuries so it makes sense we can turn to them to learn about love.
What is love?
Love is impossible to define because it is something beyond words. “Love is not primarily an emotion. Sometimes the greatest enemy of love is sentimentality, the cheapening or trivializing of the greatest power in the universe” (Helminski, 46). Love is powerful, it can make people do things that are contrary to logic, foolish even. It is universal but it is also cultural and personal. Love can only be talked about or understood metaphorically because it is an experience, it is a feeling, it is an action – it is beyond words.
We often try to define love by the way it makes us feel or by the way we express our love. Another way we try to define love is by the relationship that it serves but this is also not a way to define love; this defines relationship or degrees of loving feeling but not love itself. Love is complicated just like humans are complicated. Since love can’t be defined with words, I will do what I do when I need understanding – I will look to the archetypes. For the archetype of love, I turn to the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite.
Dr. Ginette Paris said that Aphrodite is “the smile personified.” When I think of how it feels when a person smiles at me, I think of love. There is a small tickle inside, a happy spark, and a connection – to me, this is what love feels like. There are degrees of love, but I think that a smile is a small dose of love. Aphrodite is as complicated as love but in knowing her, we can know love. I will admit, I did not always see the importance of Aphrodite. Just like the word love has become trivialized by overuse and misuse, so had Aphrodite in my mind. For me, it took the absence of Aphrodite to understand her importance.
There is a scene in a popular movie, Casino, where the main character is describing his future wife. He says how she makes every person feel like the most important person in the room. She has charm and grace, to me, this is Aphrodite. Love is showing care and Aphrodite makes each person so cared for that they feel loved.
Paris asserts that the lack of Aphrodite is depression. “When depression takes root, only those gestures indispensable to survival persist. The depressed person no longer devotes any of his or her energy to Aphrodite” (32). Since everything is for function, Aphrodite is considered unnecessary. The person lacks care, they are apathetic. Love is caring, it is how to show love. When we care about something, it shows just as when something lacks care, it also shows, “everything that is nice, gracious, or fragile is sooner or later broken, tarnished, or ridiculed” (32). To find Aphrodite, I had to first lose her. Sufism asserts that to know love, one must first have your heart broken. Just like everything else we have learned about love, it seems contrary to logic that to find something it must be lost or that in order to be whole, one must first be broken. All these truths we gain from Sufism and love, because they seem to be illogical appear foolish.
In the royal court the fool was entertainment. His job was to express joy and enjoy laughter but he really did so much more. “Fools have a license to say what other people would be hanged for, to puncture the Ruler’s Ego when the Ruler is in danger of hubris, and to generally provide balance to the kingdom by breaking the rules and thereby allowing an outlet for forbidden insights, behaviors, and feelings” (Pearson, 220). Many say that lovers are fools. Love, like the fool, breaks the rules. We don’t always fall in love with the person we should or we do things that don’t make sense because of love. To love someone is to put that person’s needs before your own. Some would call that foolish but to the Sufi, it is foolish not to care for others because the truth is that we are all one. “Only Love can tame the ego and bring it into the service of Love. … The lover, the beloved, and love itself are all one in reality” (Helminski, 49). Since we are all one, showing love to another is the same as to show love to the self.
Another reason love is foolish is because it vulnerable. “Love is the absence of defenses; it is emotional nakedness” (Helminski, 50). That is scary and powerful. Our clothing protects us and our emotional clothing separates us from others but love is a stripping away of otherness, there can be no clothing between that which is one. This makes us incredibly vulnerable and in this society, self-imposed vulnerability is incredibly foolish.
How do we show love?
To be love, to attempt to embody the Aphrodite archetype, is to care for others. The true way to show love is to give care. When we do this, we give of ourselves and our time and these are truly the only things that are ours to give – our greatest treasures. Caring for others is not so simple. To care, one must first know what the other person needs and wants, and knowing takes time. Therefore, it can often be said that a people grow to love each other.
Showing love is difficult because often a person doesn’t even know what they need or want. Also, many times a person may think they know what the other person needs and they attempt to give it to them only to find that it isn’t really what was needed. To care about a person is to get to know about that person, to care for a person is to use that knowledge to give them what they need, and to love a person is to want to do those things.
How do we receive love?
Just like showing love is different for each person, so is receiving love. It is hard to know how to love especially when a person doesn’t know how to receive love. To be loved, a person needs to be vulnerable. To be truly loved is to be known. Allowing someone to know you is scary. What if they do not like what they learn? This is especially true for people that do not know or love themselves. How can another know you or love you if you don’t love yourself? It is possible to show love to those that do not know the love they need but it is more difficult. By giving a person love, even when it is difficult for whatever reason is not an easy thing to do but I argue that this is the time when a person needs love the most. “May my imitation become real. By practicing the fruits of love, by showing kindness, patience, and generosity to others, especially when it doesn’t come easily, we may summon the cause of these fruits, namely, real love” (Helminski, 50). That is why I argue that including some love, by sharing a smile – we can foster good feelings with each other and in the long run, learn to love each other again but unless we learn how to receive love, we are only doing half of the work.
Why do we need love?
Life is about balance. I am not proposing that we all become fools and surrender completely to love but I think we have gone out of balance. Aphrodite cannot exist for long without Ares to protect her beauty or Apollo to figure out how to do things. The problem is I feel our world is not in balance. We have become too hard and too concerned with function. We have lost sight of beauty for the sake of beauty, love for the sake of love, and compassion for each other. “Love has many fruits: kindness, patience, generosity, courage, self-sacrifice. Love will produce these fruits; and these fruits will engender love. This is a two-way street. The effect can produce the cause” (Helminski, 50).
When I think about people in our society that are sad or angry or generally unhappy and I wonder how can we help them? When a person is suffering; above all else, they need love, they need care, and they need Aphrodite. It is not easy to love, it takes your soul. Some people would think it foolish to give love to those that don’t “deserve” it for whatever reason but those are the people that most need the love. As Helminski pointed out, giving love creates love and by spreading it to those that are most unable to show it, we can help create the change toward love. It makes no sense to only share love with those that are easy to love because they already know love, it is those that are difficult to love that need it the most. Even if it seems foolish.
Helminski, Kabir. The Knowing Heart: A Sufi Path of Transformation. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1999. Print.
Paris, Ginette. Pagan Meditations. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1993.
Pearson, Carol. Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991. Print.