The story of civilization may sometimes be conveniently summarized as the story of man's unabating search for more and more sources of power. Almost every major movement in the history of human progress was brought about by the unlocking of some mighty source of power in nature.
The power of the wind, the power of water in motion, the power locked up in coal and in oil, steam power, magnetic power, electric power, and now, atomic power--man has tapped them all and harnessed them to the service of his needs and his desires. He has learned, in fact, to use even the mysterious power of thought, as shown by its increasing employment in war and peace.
There is one power, however, which people, in general, have not learned to use at all, or have refused, somehow, to use, in solving their individual as well as collective problems. This is the power of love. Either they have no faith in it, or they do not know how to use it effectively. One reason, probably, is that most people usually identify love with sex. As a consequence of this wrong attitude, they lose contact with its higher dimensions and superior possibilities, and thus find themselves unable to release its hidden and inexhaustible stores of energy. These people do not know that sex is but one of the many possible expressions of love, and that love has powers more abundant, more profound, and more significant than the power of procreation or the propagation of the species.
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When Jesus told his disciples to love their enemies, he was not giving them, as some of us might suppose, a piece of stupid, even impossible, advice. On the contrary, he was telling them to use the greatest, most irresistible, power in the universe - the power of love. He did not advocate the use of any kind of physical or material force. He very clearly advocated the use of the spiritual force of love. He knew very well that most men would counter hate with hate. That is the ordinary way. That is the human way. In advising the employment of love against hate, however, he underscored a new technique. This new technique would seek to tap for man's use an inexhaustible source of power--the heart of God himself. This extraordinary way would release from the depths of human personality, where God is, the power of love for use in the solution of human problems. This is not the ordinary human way. This is the divine way. It is the way God would solve a problem. In effect, Jesus told his disciples to be divine, to cease to be merely human, to become the sons of God that they really are by behaving like sons of God, and to solve their problems in the only way God would solve his problems, and that is, by the exercise of the power of love.
Some of us might think that loving our enemies is just some kind of moral strategy. The truth, however, is that it is not just a bit of moralism. In fact, it is technology of the highest order. It is spiritual technology. It is human engineering at its best.
Many people think that love is just a sentiment good for poetry or for novels. How easy it is to forget that love is a law as inescapable in the world of human relations as gravitation is in the world of physical objects. But it is precisely just that - an inexorable law of thought and emotion the violation of which can bring about broken hearts and broken lives just as the violation of the law of gravitation can bring about broken arms and broken legs. Being a law, its operation involves energy transformation. The energy of love is the most unique kind of energy in the universe. It is creative, it is intelligent, and it is wise. Its transformations are the very expression of the Divine Mind itself. It fills the entire universe, but its mightiest seat of operation is in the heart of man. Every object in nature manifests, but man and man alone can manipulate it by the use of his mind and thus demonstrate the workings of God's mind. This energy of love, this power of love, which is the very energy of creation itself, is the technique which Jesus advised his disciples to use when he told them to "Love your enemies."
It is not quite correct to say that the technique of "Love your enemies" is a new one. It appears new only to those who have been accustomed to the more common technique of "Hate your enemies." In fact, it is a very ancient technique among those who have discovered that God is love, as the fourth gospel very clearly states.
All the great teachers of humanity from the earliest times taught it and demonstrated it in their lives. Buddha, Mahavira, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Zoroaster, Nanak, Mohammed, St. Paul--to mention only a few--all declared in varying ways that love is the law as well as the fulfilling of the law and that without it no peace, no happiness, no perfection is possible.
It is pretty obvious, however, that very few people, despite the weight of Christ's authority behind it, believe in the technique of "Love your enemies." Most of us think it too much to expect of mere man. But that is just the point. Christ did not for one moment assume that we are just mere men. He said very strongly that we have the power to become sons of God, if only we had faith, faith in him and in the power of love he demonstrated. A little thought is sufficient to convince us that it is the power of love which enables man to rise above his human limitations and perform superhuman feats, whether it be the love of truth which impels scientists to never-ceasing research, or the energy of passion which creates literature or music, or erects a Taj Majal.
Love has many powers. Let us begin with the more obvious ones.
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Love has the power to create happiness. This fact is so common an experience to most people that it is not even necessary to mention it. And if the happiness it creates is sometimes short-lived, the reason probably is that the love that creates it is still imperfect.
It is trite to say that the scarcity of happiness among many people is due to the corresponding scarcity of love among them. It is also commonplace to say that the unhappy man is almost invariably also an unloving man.
Yes, these ideas are so elementary that we probably tire of hearing them. But the fact is that we seem to have such a facility to ignore them, or to forget them.
We forget that selfishness is almost always at the root of all unhappiness and that love, unselfish love, is the basis of all happiness. The man who says, "I am unhappy," actually proclaims to the world what he would be ashamed to admit openly, namely, that he is selfish. To be happy it is necessary to love, and to love truly it is necessary to be completely unselfish. Only the unselfish heart is capable of love and only the loving heart is capable of happiness.
There is a great law of happiness which, to my mind, should rank in importance with any other great discovery in science. It is the law which says: No man is capable of happiness who is incapable of loving one other person than himself.
I call this the Minimum Happiness Law.
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One power of love which makes it most unique is its power to create goodness, or at least to awaken it. Love is the basic goodness, and if it be true that love alone can awaken love, then it follows that love alone can awaken goodness. It is a fact in psychology that a child raised in an atmosphere of hate generally becomes cruel. A cruel man is very often an unloved man who, almost surely, was once an unloved child.
It is true that goodness cannot be imposed from without, that it must be a growth from within. Nevertheless, this inward growth cannot even start without the stimulating touch of love. Theoretically, a child raised among wolves would probably grow to howl like a wolf. Love is the power which makes a child grow into a human being. It is the humanizing force in the human family.
Goodness may awaken love, but it may also awaken envy or resentment or even positive hate. We may love a man because he is good, but we may also learn to dislike him because he presents a contrast to our badness. Love, however, can never fail to awaken goodness, sooner or later. The reason is that love is more basic than goodness. We do not say that God is loving because he is good; rather we say God is good because he is full of love. Even a hardened criminal may become good, if he should fall in love; and the love that awakens within him can become his resurrection.
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When Romeo saw Juliet on the balcony, he was so taken by her beauty he exclaimed, "That is the dawn and Juliet is the sun." How beautiful Juliet was to Romeo, even if she might have looked unlovely to his family. How handsome Romeo was to Juliet, even if he might have seemed unattractive to her family.
George Santayana once said that beauty is simply pleasure or happiness objectified. If this be true, then beauty is a creation of love, because happiness is created by love. But whether true or false, one thing love can do: it can irradiate the face of a lover with beauty and attractiveness.
Perhaps, it is just some kind of magic. But the fact is that the magic is there, the magic of love. And if this magic can be lasting, then beauty can be everlasting. Never, never will beauty pass away, as long as there is love.
Perhaps, when in love, one sees not the body but the soul. Perhaps love is clairvoyant and can penetrate the veil of flesh and see the radiant spirit within. Perhaps old age and ugliness are the illusion, and youth and beauty are the reality which, however, we cannot see, as long as we are not in love, or have ceased to love. Love, then, is the vision of the eternal, the experience of the never-dying, the never-ending.
Perhaps we were not born to grow old and die. Perhaps we were born to be always young and to live forever. But somehow we have forgotten the wisdom of love, we have lost the power of love. So now, for lack of love, we must grow old and we must die. But not quite, no, not quite, because, somehow, however so small and however so transient, we are able to experience the wonder of love. Somehow, sometimes we are able to lift the veil of time and behold ourselves as we really are in eternity, as gods because we are all children of God, when we fall in love. Blessed, blessed experience. Then we cease to be merely human. We become citizens of God's everlasting kingdom. We stand forth as divine beings. Then we wield the mighty power of love, and we become young again and beautiful again and everlasting again.
If we could only be in love every minute of our lives. If we could only be completely without hate, without anger, without rancor, without malice, without vengeance, without fear, without worry, without envy, without lie, without delusion, without cruelty, without greed, without selfishness, without any negative thought or emotion whatever; then, I am sure, we would have no sickness, no old age, no death.
This should not be looked at as a startling formula of youth and immortality. In fact, it is commonplace among the declarations of the spiritual teachers of mankind. Buddha promised Nirvana to anyone who could abolish the fires of hate, lust, and greed. Christ promised the kingdom of heaven to anyone who could be completely full of love for mankind. Modern science itself, particularly in the field of psycho-somatic studies, is not without indications that sickness, old age, and a shortened life are consequences of unwise thoughts and unwise emotions. Especially are the orientations of selfishness and hate emphasized as the principal causes of many psycho-somatic ailments.
No doubt, someday, science will be able to show that love is indeed the elixir of youth and immortality.
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There is no way of explaining just now in terms of the concepts of official psychology the various powers of love which Eastern psychology recognizes.
Love, according to the sages of the East, has the power to confer wisdom. The Bible declares this when it says that love is the wisdom of God. This is called Prajna, or the power of direct cognition of anything.
Love confers the power to ascertain or discern the purposes of things, even the purpose of the whole universe itself. This is called Dhi.
Love has the power to transform anything into the nature of the divine, the power to make things holy. This is called Medha, or sacrifice.
Love has the power of unification, of merging the individual into the universal. This is called Shemushi.
Love has the power of inspired speech, the power to build words. This is called Dishana.
Love confers spiritual birth, the birth into the kingdom of heaven. This is called Manisha.
Love gives the power of faith. This is called Mati.
Love confers the power of eternal memory which is the basis of empiric consciousness. This is called Smriti.
These are the eight powers of love which the Eastern sages prefer to call Buddhi, or Love-Wisdom.
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One more word of advice, and it is very important. Many and wondrous are the powers of love. It creates happiness. It awakens goodness. It generates wisdom. It conserves health. It prolongs youth. It creates beauty. It induces long life. It confers heaven. It does many things which are pleasant and desirable.
But be careful, be very, very careful. Love without selfishness, love without thought of self. Love not for the things love can give, even heaven itself. Love only for love's own sake.
Otherwise, even the things love can give may disappear like smoke in the air.
June 5, 1955
Image courtesy of Mayur Gala, via Unsplash.
It was the summer of 2012 and I had just moved to a sleepy little Florida beachtown -- a forced repatriation back to the U.S. through a prolonged series of unfortunate events after almost a decade of life in Europe. A most worst of times, indeed, with no best of times in sight.
I was also unknowingly suffering from an undiagnosed genetic thyroid ailment, so to add insult to injury, I watched myself gain first 10 pounds, then 20, then 30, over a course of that first year repatriated, on top of the 40 pounds I'd already gained, perfectly helpless to stop it.
Let's not forget the PTSD that's been my shadow since October 28, 2000 after I witnessed the murder of my dear friend in Los Angeles -- PTSD that woke up big time when I was forced to move back to the country of its root, a place that still boasts lackadaisical gun laws and weekly mass shootings.
The sense of helplessness at my lot was as pervasive as the hopelessness, with me sinking into one of the worst depressions of my life. In spite of the perpetual sunshine and warmth I'd craved for most of my stay in Europe, my days were dark and bleak and there was nothing around to pull me from that oubliette of sadness.
Then, a friend helped me get a job as a private investigator that allowed me to work from home. Suddenly, my days had structure and I had a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Next, a perfect stranger suggested I should take kelp for my thyroid as well as start a regime of green juice. The kelp worked and I began to lose weight, and the nutrition provided by the green juices and smoothies actually began helping put my depression at bay. I started blogging on the Huffington Post, and my years-long dream for a larger writing platform was at long last granted. The final clincher was learning first through the incredible art show Hannibal and through the writings of Dr. Elaine Aron that roughly 20 percent of the population also have my highly sensitive personality, and even though for most of my life I'd been gaslighted and pathologized for my sensitivity it turned out that I'm not crazy like so many ex-people in my life had claimed.
A light at the end of my tunnel was finally visible, and I suddenly cared about living in that light instead of shadows. I began painting, collaging, and making strange little pieces of multimedia art as well as picking up my long-abandoned second novel and rewriting and rewriting some more until it was ready for publication in November 2015. I also started to get into a groove writing essays, and this blog marks my 26th post on HuffPost since September 2014, with many more to come.
I had an epiphany: I realized that for so many years I'd been looking outward for my own happiness. Like I expected my environment to provide me with the necessary tools for happiness, and when I'd never find them I'd go right back to being miserable. It's as if we're taught to look to others, to new places, to relationships, to things, in order to satisfy ourselves and feel happy. And maybe these things will temporarily provide a sense of elation and accomplishment at their acquisition. But it never lasts.
I suddenly understood that happiness is not something that happens to us, it happens from us. Happiness is a daily and active choice we make.
And if happiness is a choice, then so is unhappiness.
So, I decided to get up each day and choose to be happy. Choose to focus on the positive things, the things for which I'm grateful, the things that I might not have if my circumstances changed. Even if there are only a few of these bright lights, just one is enough to get through the day and not be miserable.
It's been almost three years since I chose to be happy. Even though to date I still don't like where I live, I miss having an in-person community, I wish our condo allowed pets, I'd love a job outside the home, why is there no public transportation?, and so many other annoyances not just of life in America, but life specific to my strange corner of Southeast Florida. And even though in the meantime my thyroid began malfunctioning again and I had to start daily medicine, the fact that I'll be on these meds for the rest of my life -- or that I have to be on a pharmaceutical at all -- doesn't anguish me in a way it would have before.
I find that it's actually not as hard as I thought it would be to be happy. To choose daily gratitude. I can accept that my environment might be a crappy reality, but I don't need to dwell on the crappiness.
And then I started to understand that love is just like happiness: eventually love also becomes a choice. When the romance fades, or when a friendship begins to sour, we make a choice as to whether we will continue loving that person in spite of the fact that the love isn't the same as it was in the beginning. We have the potential to wake up each day and decide who we want to love, and how much work we're willing to do to maintain that love (unless violence or abuse is part of the picture, in which case pack your bags and don't look back).
Right around the time I was hypothesizing about love and happiness a story called The 36 Questions That Lead to Love by Arthur Aron was making the rounds and seemed to support my conclusions. And how funny that the spearheader of this revolution in love theory was in fact the husband of Dr. Elaine Aron, whose work on the highly sensitive personality I've already mentioned and which had made a huge impact on my life and mental health.
It was incredibly empowering to take control over these concepts of happiness and love I'd always assumed relied solely on external forces. In a lifetime of being unhappy, being constantly buffeted by negative experiences and pain, it's a relief to find myself bubbling with joy even when my situations aren't ideal.
This isn't to say that I've gone from being maudlin to Pollyanna in one huge bound. Not at all. I still live with PTSD, and depression. It was also remarkable to learn that you can still suffer from depression even while actively making a choice to be happy and grateful. That said, there are still some days -- especially after I've been triggered or during certain difficult times of the year -- no matter how hard I try or how much I want it the option to choose happiness is too far out of reach. The difference now is that when those dark times envelop me, I no longer get lost in the despair. I know the way out: the way out will be me and my force of will, and my continual daily dose of gratitude, until the necessary tide turns.
Ultimately, we're not passive recipients of love or happiness. In so many ways we're taught to sit back and wait for love, wait for happiness, wait for satisfaction to find us when that's not how it works at all. We ourselves are the active participants in the promotion or prevention of our own lives.
While I was percolating and integrating this marvelous series of realizations into my own life and relationships, synchronicitously the film Trainspotting was on repeat on cable. I hadn't seen it since it first came out a decade before and saw that the answer had been with me all along, but I'd been ignoring it because it can be so much easier, take so much less effort, to actively wallow in pain.
The answer is and always was: Choose life.
And while we're at it, let's choose to make it a happy one. Let's choose to fill it with love.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.
Follow Sezin Koehler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SezinKoehler