Meditation on love

Can we imagine a love that is without lack, hence without desire? We sit for a brief meditation on love. Erotic love, parental love, the love for truth, beauty and the good. Imagination that our love is indeed without lack, that the constellation lover – beloved has a value as it is and does not depend on vindication through future events.

We go too fast. Let’s take a good breath. Why do we want to know the nature of love? Are we afraid we cannot recognize it otherwise? Isn’t there always an element of “just so” involved? Why do you love me? Just because. Every lover has experienced this: An ultimate rationale will make love void, or feel void. A rational explanation is a narrative we can replicate, one that holds true in every occassion that is similar to the initial one in ways we that are clearly defined. Such reasoned ‘love’ for Anna must also apply to Berta (Anna’s clone) if she fulfills the same criteria.

The question is if there is an irreducible core to love that we cannot translate into reasons, a sort of mystery or a metaphysics if you wish. Hold on. We are meditating about love and stumbled over the very question ‘what is love?’ Doesn’t that make a fully naturalizing account tantalizing? Love in terms of oxytocin and neuronal pathways? Such analysis might one day be able to accurately analyse whether or not we love someone, but does it contribute to the meaning of love? A very bold naturalist might try a yes. We can find meaning if we describe love in terms of a shared paradisical future full of honeybees and butterflies, even if the reality happens in a small apartment in a boring neighbourhood. What if we just get used to the language of hormones and neurotransmitters? What if we learn to align our imagination of love with what actually happens, like a flushing of oxytocin?

The chemical narrative forgets about our storyness. The love we mean is consistent over time and survives stress (and long periods of absence of love hormones). We don’t reduce love to a story of endogenous drugs because love is a way we relate to the world. This may be overlooked in a laboratory setting because we don’t take the way rats relate to the world seriously. So, we feel that the chemical explanation of what happens inside our bodies when we love doesn’t answer our question. We want to know the value of love, we want to know how to love.

We began with imagining a love without a lack, so in a way without a future in which that love must be ‘realized’. Such timeless love is a depiction of a state of affairs, and the we attach a higher meaning to it. Picture two people hugging: “This is love”. There is nothing more to say. It seems to me that we have to make that gesture, ‘there is nothing more to say’, that is lover and beloved imagine a space beyond language that they inhabit together. This space can never be filled in with rational explanations, because it has the function of harboring the irrational side of love.

Love does imply lack. Loving interaction is all about the unknown future. Expectations, promises, vows. We could successfully deal with the future on our own and make promises to ourselves – we can love ourselves. But interpersonal love allows us to share something of our irrationality in the public space. It is important that our love is not only accepted but favored by the general public (hence the importance of gay rights). Our irrational core, necessary because we don’t have the Ultimate Answer, is contained in the shared imagination of love. The art of loving is a public play, a display of human affection that defies an ultimate rational explanation.

Breathe. I am not sure about what I said of rationality and love’s role as the quintessential irrational force. Perhaps this is just neoromantic cultural imagination? I’d love to discuss it.

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Meditation on love was originally published on Meandering home


Meditation on purpose

We sit still with our eyes closed. In the distance, across the fields, are green hills. Alright, this is my concrete situation perhaps not yours. Never mind. The why-question or more precisely the what are we here for question is personally daunting. So much so, that we assume we can hardly help each other finding an answer.

Of course, there are no answers, only provisionary directions. Ideas we can adhere to. I leave religion out of this meditation for I am no priest. In humanism these guiding ideas might be something like contributing to society as good as you can, or searching for scientific truth.

I like to categorize these ambitions as love. Love for truth, love for other people, art, music, words, food. May our purpose come from love, not from fear. What do you fear? Death, shame, loss, the elements, financial insecurity, disease, dementia? Close your eyes. Next to you there is a poisonous snake. It doesn’t move. Are you afraid? Now on the other side there is a snake as well. You were in the right place to survive all along. Oftentimes, fear can misinform us.

So we should ask: How does this fear relate to our love? Can if make our love grow or is it an obstacle? Maybe we should realize that in the light of our mortality, the life-affirming sentiment of love is our most sensible wager. What we create out of love can be remembered independently of the morals of the day, to paraphrase Nietzsche.

Breathe deeply. Ask yourself what is making you tick, and what is it you want to make you tick? It the first based on fear and the second based on love?

Meditation on purpose was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: The Hug by Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn (1929-2004) was an English poet. I’ve read another verse (tamer and hawk) by his hand before. Today I read a simple poem that says something I find lovely.

The Hug
It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who’d showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
Become familial.
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.

I love such birthdays and adjacent nights, and the idea that you can visit an old friend on your birthday. The full-body snug hug is decribed wonderfully with the instep fitting the heel, the shoulder-blades against her chest (not breasts). Two interlocking bodies, set or braced against each other in a fresh way. The ‘intervening’ experiences in between have been deleted.

The embrace is ‘secure and firm and dry’ – and is here to stay. Deleting the intervening time and place made the moment appear timeless. The drowsiness made knowing anything beyond the embrace nearly impossible. Here we can find consolation, perhaps more than in any other gesture we are capable of.

Reading: The Hug by Thom Gunn was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Death of a friend by Rob van Moppes

Rob van Moppes (b. 1948) is a Dutch writer. I am his friend on social media and discovered this tender song-like poem today, so I decided to include it in my series.

Death of a friend

We met only two years before.
Eyes sparkled when she spoke.
We talked about the masks we wore,
Considered life a joke.

She said she lived in solitude:
Books were her only friends.
(She longed for love and fortitude
But never made demands).

She hanged herself in the shade
Of books that made her ill.
I held her in my arms too late
And felt a stabbing chill.

A girl so cold and warm and bright
And no one shared her bed.
She asked me twice to stay the night.
Oh God, I wish I had.

The first stanza conveys the enthusiasm of such playful meetings, the aura of vitality, the embrace of the ironic stance toward life. I imagine the voice that would sing this, Leonard Cohen perhaps.

I get the longing for love and the return to books and solitude. Not so sure about the part in brackets, I assume the lady was a shy and humble character. The sudden suicide shocked by. Simple words, one gets the impression they were put down because of forced rhyme, but it aptly describes the horror of the scene.

The author implies that he could have saved her by staying the night, perhaps by making love to her. Does that allow us to maintain our ironic gaze at the world, at each other? Does holding each other warm at night prevent the outburst of black energy that plagues the bipolar soul?

Reading: Death of a friend by Rob van Moppes was originally published on Meandering home

Convenient Store

Convenient Store
This one here is a microwave world, we are sheltering our love from love.
I sit down in a convenient store.
I drink a cup of coffee.
I look at the plastic bottles with pink lids standing on the shelves like proud flamingos.
They are indestructible promises of freedom, their feet ringed with price tags.
I admire the grandeur of ChapStick,
cotton swabs,
single use razors in their firm silence.

Here, in this strange luminance, nothing happens.
Outside, the sky is white.
All love remains accidental, waiting for us
in polyethylene bags.

Convenient Store was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: On Seeing A Watermelon by Monika Kumar

Monka Kumar (b. 1977) is a Hindi poet. Her interests include the folklore and folk culture of Punjab, contemporary literary theory and world poetry. She also writes a PhD thesis on the work of François Lyotard. I read a fruity love poem in the translation by Sampurna Chattarji:

On Seeing A Watermelon
Seeing a watermelon was my introduction to vastness.

I can only approximate
how much I love you:

by the handful,
as much as the sea
or not at all.

Approximations fail me
when I look at a watermelon.
How red it will be
how fleshy
how its meditative eyes would be arrayed inside.

You were stubborn in your insistence:
the earth is round as an orange.
You refused to accept
it could also be like a watermelon.

I lied to you
when I said I can tell you, approximately,
how much I love you.

All estimations are a failure of my language.
I need a few signs of exclamation
mad transports
that will gently translate my failures.

Approximations have to do with measurable quantity: how love I love you was measured (handful, sea-much, not at all). The sublime vastness however can’t be approximated. The poet talks about qualities like redness and fleshyness and the meditative eyes that are the little seeds of the watermelon.

Her lover doesn’t get it. He is looking for a fruity approximation of pure roundness instead of the more imaginative watermelon.

Of course her approximation of how much she loves him was a lie. She told him so only to please him. She didn’t want to tell him there is failure in everything she says. She needs ‘mad transports’ to translate her failures. Translate them into what and why? Perhaps her lover will learn to understand them as gestures, never mind their lack of accuracy. The fact that she is approximating her love for him is enough, as long as her failures are translated into gestures of ‘pure’ love without qualification.

Reading: On Seeing A Watermelon by Monika Kumar was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: The Wreck by Don Paterson

Don Paterson (b. 1963) is a Scottish poet from Dundee, where he still lives and plays jazz guitar in a band. He has taught poetry and was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire. His poetry unique on two T.S. Eliot Prizes and the list of awards goes on. I read a remarkable ode to a love affair that has died:

The Wreck
But what lovers we were, what lovers,
even when it was all over—
the bull-black, deadweight wines that we swung
towards each other rang and rang
like bells of blood, our own great hearts.
We slung the drunk boat out of port
and watched our sober unreal life
unmoor, a continent of grief;
the candlelight strange on our faces
like the tiny silent blazes
and coruscations of its wars.
We blew them out and took the stairs
into the night for the night’s work,
stripped off in the timbered dark,
gently hooked each other on
like aqualungs, and thundered down
to mine our lovely secret wreck.
We surfaced later, breathless, back
to back, and made our way alone
up the mined beach of the dawn.
This poem is accessible, right? I am captivated by the opening scene of the former couple toasting at their final rendezvous, during which they get drunk and reminisce about their bygone love affair. They are imagining – together – their love as a boat they see dead in the water and sinking. And it all rhymes to brilliantly, Audenesquely. Port – unmoored, swung – slung, blazes – coruscations (not: sparks because rhythm over rhyme).
After the candlelight is out they go do the night’s work in the belly of the wooden shipwreck. They strap each other on like aqualungs as they go down, and back to back they rise to the surface again, breathless. Kitsch? No, the enjambment between back / to back prevents that. The “mined beach of the dawn” is perhaps a little too round for an ending, I would have preferred something a little more tart.

Reading: The Wreck by Don Paterson was originally published on Meandering home