Something About Love

[It’s lovely to have friends on the Internet who I’ve never met and perhaps never will. Kindred souls. I remember stories of young men and women, back in the days when people Wrote Letters and Mailed Them To Each Other, who had penpals in far-off countries that became deep and enduring friendships, all through correspondence. There are people like that in my life, but the medium is not through pen and ink and snail mail, but through email, blogs, and so forth. One who I’ve only recently encountered, but who might perhaps have staying power as a friend, is Ember. We have a lot in common, in some important ways, and I appreciate her quiet humor and quiet strength. Who knows, she might be a holy terror in person, but that’s not the Ember I know. She recently wrote a post on Love which I found thought-provoking. Now, there has been so much written, sung, and otherwise portrayed about love that one thing emerges clearly: it is a huge topic, and no one has the complete story. There’s a lot I don’t know about love, for sure. But there is some that I do know, and of a particular sort, I have a great deal of experience. Here is an excerpt from a book I wrote entitled Concordia: Psychotherapy, Healing, and the Vital Force. Ember’s blog just put me in mind of this, and while I hadn’t intended to post it, suddenly it seemed like a good idea.]

In the old science of alchemy, there were considered to be four elements of which all the universe was formed: earth, water, fire and air. Then, in the alchemical operation which was to produce “gold” from “lead”, a fifth essence – the quintessence – was introduced. Since Jung, the world has known what only initiates knew before: alchemy does not describe a chemical reaction in which one metal transforms into another, but a spiritual process in which our flaws are transformed into strengths. The philosopher’s stone, that which the alchemist strove to create, is not a physical object, but the psyche of the alchemist himself, transformed into what has been called cosmic consciousness or enlightenment.

And what is this quintessence? What is it which is essential to the process of spiritual transformation? Simply put, it is love.

Love, in all its forms. Love, unreservedly. Love, without fear of destruction or hope of gain.

Love, without which I am but a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal.

Love, which is the most inward nature of the prana or vital force of which we are formed. Love, which seeks to be healed and which is the healer.

Love, which is the dance of Krishna.

Love, which is Christ on the Cross, and Him risen on Easter Sunday.

Love, which is the Buddha returning from the bliss of nirvana to teach all sentient beings the Noble Four-fold Truths.

Love, which is in the symphony, the folk tune, the mockingbird’s song. Love, in the sunset, the painting, the new mother’s first glance at her baby.

Love, which is the Void and the One and the Manifest.

Love, as the crucible in which you and I meet for healing, and which brooks no deception or fear, but which unites and makes us whole.

Let me be more specific. The motive force in the healing relationship, that which energizes the activity of the vital principle in the interaction between healer and patient, and which most influences a positive outcome, is love.

To love our patients takes courage of the highest order. Some of my patients have required me to dig way down deep into myself, to face whatever may be there, in order to verify for them that they  could take the risk to open themselves to me. They would not have risked that kind of vulnerability if I were not willing to do the same. They understood the general rules of the game, that I would not share my life story with them to the degree that they would share theirs with me. But had I not been willing to undergo the same personal exploration I asked of them, they would have walked out. Rightly so. Only cowardice or hypocrisy could have explained any unwillingness to do so.

Bruno Bettelheim once remarked that we can approach the care of our patients in two ways. We can look at them, down in the pit of whatever their trouble may be, lower a ladder down to them, and instruct and encourage them as they learn to climb it. Or, we can go down the ladder, join them in the pit, and ascend the ladder together. The first is treatment; the second is healing.

I recall a patient I worked with many years ago, a young lady who had been through immense mistreatment as a child and in marriage. I knew that if I was ever the least bit inauthentic with her, I would lose all the ground we had gained; even the least betrayal, even the “little white lies” that are so common in everyday communication would have shown her that I could not be trusted. Her experiences had made her a superb judge of character and had given her exquisite sensitivity to what was going on around her. I was not going to fool her. Had I been unwilling or unable to dig as deeply into my own self as I was asking her to do, our sessions would have come to an end. While it was not always necessary for me to reveal what my own inner explorations discovered – I could say that I would rather not share and she would accept that, when it was clear that I was not just dodging – many times it was of the greatest value to her when I did share, so she could measure her own experience against that of someone she had learned to trust. Certainly this took dedication and the highest degree of professional discipline of which I am capable; more than that, though, it took a huge measure of that love which places someone else’s welfare as highly as my own.

At one time, after having made a great deal of progress and during a time of relative calm in her life, she thought about skipping a session. I knew, however, that although she was handling some recent disappointments quite well, it was not necessary for her to have to handle them alone. What I said on the telephone was, “You may not need to process these feelings. But you need at least to come be in the love.”

May I note at this moment that I do not see this kind of love as a personal choice or ability. I suppose, in one sense, I could just have accurately said “you need to come be in the prana.” For at times the flow of prana between us was palpable. In my experience, such love is not possible without that pranic flow. It is a love of which the healer is a conduit, not the origin. The healer must not confuse this with the kind of love which wishes to incorporate the other into his own life. Rather, the two of them, patient and healer both, are incorporated into a life greater than either of them, that One Life which is the source of all the cosmos, which is not so distant as to be unable to enfold two small people on one small planet within its embrace.

For this reason, the healer must also adopt the lifestyle which cultivates concord. She must also be well-balanced, reasonably healthy, have a daily practice of some sort which puts her into regular contact with the vital force, and all that was indicated above. (By “reasonably healthy”, I do not mean to overlook the fact that Milton Erickson did some of his best work from a wheelchair, later in life, orthat Sigmund Freud continued to perform admirably with cancer of the mouth. They were still in concord, even in the midst of these challenges.)

Such a lifestyle would promote all of these virtues in the life of the healer: integrity, flexibility, harmony, curiosity, kindness, determination, congruency, balance, duration. It would acknowledge that he has flaws, as we all have flaws. It would allow him to make the most of his assets, while minimizing his flaws.

I gave a draft copy of Concordia to a friend to review. She is not a medical or mental health professional, but is an intelligent and well-educated woman. I didn’t want her to offer copy editing or technical commentary; I wanted to know if I had communicated well to  the audience which she represents so well. She made a number of helpful comments. One of them was, “The word which keeps coming up for me is ‘grace.’ ”

I couldn’t agree more. The same word keeps coming up for me. I could not see a way to work it into the text as it stands, but it seems to fit here, in the conclusion, quite well. Because I want to say that there is no way to think our way out of fear. There is no way to act our way out of fear. There is no way to feel our way out of fear. The answer to living in a state of fear is to live in a state of grace.

The word grace has many theological connotations, especially among Christians, for whom it is a central issue. I do not use the word here in any way that contradicts those connotations. I do wish to say that it is not only Christians, not only those who believe in the God of the Christians and Jews, but anyone at all who can live in a state of grace. For a Christian, the state of grace is owing to faith in Jesus Christ. That’s OK. But anyone who has an understanding of a Higher Power, whether of God or of a deep comprehension that we are all, no matter how small we may be, an integral part of the cosmos, and we are all doing what our part of the cosmos does, can live in this state of grace.

One does not live in a state of grace by thought alone. Anyone who follows some of the suggestions of this present work, whether they be a healer or not, will be able to live that way. I refer especially to the suggestions regarding the regular experience of prana or vital force. Whether by movement such as yoga, by meditation, by music, art, or poetry, anything that puts you “in the groove” with the vital force will, if allowed to do what it does, enable you to live in grace.

At this point, some might ask “but what is this state of grace?” I will not try to define it or even describe it. Neither of these would be helpful. For one thing, to do so renders the unconscious suggestion that this is an intellectual exercise. This would be less than helpful. My suggestion is, rather, to experience it for yourself. You can easily do this; you probably already have, without knowing it.

If you have ever been enraptured, then you already know what grace is like. If you have been enchanted by a piece of music, taken “outside of yourself” by a beautiful piece of scenery, lost yourself in your lover’s eyes, or been completely smitten by holding a newborn child in your arms, you know all you need to know about grace. Now, the only thing is to get on with it. Make it a regular part of your life. Do it so often that it becomes your natural state. It has been done, and so you can do it too.

[Copyright © 2012 by Bruce R. Arnold, just so we keep that straight. And yes, I’m looking for a publisher. No luck so far. Still trying.]