The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.
For Duane Elgin, author, educator, and activist the purpose is not a purpose dictated by the economy or culture, but a purpose that wells up from one’s own connection to the universal consciousness. He believes we have four transformative powers, none of which require money for their mobilization. They are: perspective (the power to change the lens through which we view the world), communication (the power to change what we communicate), choice (in personal ways of living), and love.
He Is not the only one to believe love has a transformative power. Donella Meadows, the late author, educator, and systems thinker believed that the world can never pass safely through the adventure of bringing itself to sustainability if people do not view themselves and others with compassion. “I have been educated to trust in rationality, not in love. But I have also been trained to see whole systems, and the more I do that, the more I see that rationality and love are in fact the same thing. What is love, but the ability to identify with someone or something beyond your own skin? Love is the expansion of boundaries, the realization that another person, or family, or piece of land, or nation, or the whole earth is so intimately connected to you that your welfare and his, her, or its welfare are one and the same.” she would say.
Erich Fromm, in his Art of Love addresses the question of how to achieve a union, overcome separateness or as Donella Meadows had described it as the ability to identify with someone or something beyond your own skin. For Fromm love is the act of giving practiced with care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. The act of giving, says Fromm, is an act of aliveness and exquisite joy. It is this act of giving, that helps identify with someone or something beyond your own skin.
John O’Donohue, the late Irish poet had voiced the overcoming of separateness “if you realized how vital to your whole spirit, and being, and character, and mind, and health, friendship actually is, you will take time for it”. Unfortunately, there are few who have taken John O’Donohue’s advice to heart.
Gandhi believed that peace could only happen with love. For him the identification with someone or something beyond your own skin was an act of courage – one where you even had to identify with one who hated you, even one you may distrust.
John Lennon too imagined a world filled with love where all the people were living in peace without greed or hunger and sharing all the world. Yet, sadly, he experienced hate.
Why is it so difficult to love? Donella Meadows used to explain, “Nothing is more difficult than to practice goodness within a system whose rules, goals, and information streams are geared to individualism, competitiveness, and cynicism. But it can be done. We can be patient with ourselves and others as we all confront a changing world. We can empathize with resistance to change; there is some clinging to the ways of unsustainability within each of us. We can include everyone in the challenge; everyone will be needed. We can listen to the cynicism around us and pity those who indulge in it but refuse to indulge in it ourselves.”
But then as Fromm notes, sadism and masochism exist in unions that are forced or exploitative. We are surrounded by such coercion and exploitation. Where, then, is the wisdom in the transformative power of love? Both Gandhi and Donella Meadows experienced and paid heavily for the extreme consequences of loving the other in forced and exploitative unions.
When the act of love, or giving with care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge, is to the whole that is formed by the union and not the parts it cares for the union and not for the parts. It liberates the parts from their egos by subsuming their identity to the whole they make up together. In order to accomplish a union that will focus on the whole requires the individuals come together to accomplish common purposes. When individuals come together to accomplish individual purposes, on the other hand, they will focus on the giving to their individual purposes, not to the whole. A world of coercive and exploitative wholes – what systems scientists, or the scientists who study interactions and the formation of wholes that result from interactions, call as systems – results from the union of individuals in the pursuit of their individual purposes, not common purposes.
Contrary to Gandhi’s argument, the acts of giving to individuals in a system that resulted from the union of individuals with individual purposes, then, will not yield anything but coercion or exploitation unless the actors are able to swim in the waters of the other. Unless they can cover themselves with the skin of the other. Unless they can experience what the other experiences. Also, while Fromm concerns himself with overcoming separateness, he does not distinguish unions based on the purposes for which they form. Is there, then, wisdom in overcoming all separateness?
Where, then, does the transformative power of love come from?
Is the transformative power of love in finding common purposes? Is the transformative power of love in finding ways to empathise with others in a system where they have come together for individual purposes? Is the transformative power of love in covering ourselves with the skin of the other? To feel what the other feels? Or is it in the patience and humility in accepting that the other experiences differently from us? Or is it in the courage of interactions to create wholes and find the space to create meaning? Or in the concern we show for the others? Perhaps the transformative power of love lies in recognizing and identifying the whole we form with the other and dissolving our identity in the whole.
Wherever the transformative power of love comes from, if we are to experience a world that is sustainable, peaceful, fair, and joyous, it cannot be a world without love. In a world where money and material drive decisions we need healing through transformative power.
Duane Elgin is right. There is tremendous healing and transformative power in love. And in the words of Fromm we must practice love with humility, objectivity, reason, faith, courage, and concern.
#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and/or individuals or institutions that may be quoted and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them,
He can be reached @AnupamSaraph