No U in Love
"Love is where you are not."
It would bomb as a pick-up line, but it's a concept of love worth pondering. They are the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti, a renowned spiritual teacher who travelled the world in the twentieth century extolling the merits of self-inquiry.
At first the statement comes across like one of those if-a-tree-falls-in-the-woods Zen mindbenders, but spend a few moments with it and it may dissolve into a valuable insight. Tug on the word "you" and the statement begins to unravel. You, as in ego. Krishnamurti was saying that love can only exist when the ego is not around to muck things up.
Few of us would object to such a selfless concept of love. Similar observations by acknowledged subject matter experts like St. Paul and Kahlil Gibran lift our lips into hopeful smiles during wedding ceremonies. In those moments of stillness we contemplate the endlessness of human possibility, but only seconds later we are contemplating the endless flow of free beer at the reception. It's as if such grand visions of love are too hot to hold, or perhaps too unattainable to sustain our attention.
And anyway, who are St. Paul or Kahlil Gibran to lecture anyone about love? The dudes weren't even married.
For better or for worse, we view love as easily acquired treasure. This is because we define it as a feeling, rather than as the shared experience Krishnamurti hints at. We can't wait to report the news of our surging feelings to friends after a third date with our latest admirer. And three dates later we want to throw open the window and broadcast our feelings to the world. Something inside us has been switched on, and it's a marvelous feeling that's hard to describe. Eventually we all find the same word for it – love.
But is a feeling that any randy seventh grader can experience really what the world needs more of? If this is love, it is not of the selfless variety. It is all about us, and hooray for that. But feelings come and go, even the rapturous ones, making this kind of love as easy to fall out of as it is to fall into. Is this ephemeral quality evidence of love's sublime mystery? Or is love, the feeling, too flimsy a structure to stand on its own?
Divorced from feeling, love loses its conventional charm. When it's not being rented out for wedding ceremonies, the concept of love as a shared state of being is considered the property of ascetics like Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Far from romantic, it is a state in which the ego loses its grip and one's identity merges with those around them. It is love without a speck of self-gratification; in the absence of ego, there is no self seeking any reward.
Love exists, according to Krishnamurti, because we no longer do.
As inspiring as this selfless model of love might be, who needs it? The old model works just fine. That is, until it breaks down, which it does most of the time when you consider the hefty divorce rate and then guess at the number of burned out marriages. Add to this the legions of lovers meeting similar fates outside the borders of marriage and we have what might be termed an epidemic if it were a contagious disease. And yet somehow none of this dissuades us from hopping aboard the same rickety jalopy for another perilous ride.
A more abiding state of love awaits those disillusioned by one too many hapless joyrides. We need not shave our heads or abandon all earthly pleasures to enter this transcendent state, but we must discard the notion that love is a self-fulfilling venture. Love and ego cannot coexist. Like light and shadow, they cancel each other out. For love to appear, you must disappear. You must give yourself so completely that no trace of you remains. Love arises in the space created by your absence. Love is where you are not.
John Ptacek's essays explore the unquestioned assumptions that limit our capacity for happiness. They appear on his website, On Second Thought, www.johnptacek.com. He lives in Wisconsin with his wife, Kitty.