When Our Teacher is Love

Love doesn’t talk about itself. It doesn’t brag or boast or chide. It just moves us a little, here and there. We get a sense that something is off and with it a sense of what would be corrective. That’s love, as I am using the word “love.” It’s natural; it’s inherent. We don’t have to do anything but give attention and there it is, operating, flowing, coming forth through us, being itself, extending itself.

Yet a lot of what we do obstructs the operation of love. Our activity, however well-intentioned, is like sand in the gears. Love is a clear trail through the forest and along come some drunken lumberjacks who think they’ll make it better and saw down a bunch of trees that then block the trail. We mean well but we don’t see that we don’t need to do anything. We don’t see that it’s all being done; us, too.

This happens because of an abiding confusion about what we are. We think we’re separate from the world; we think our living is “ours.” It’s not but we can see it that way. This confusion, too, is natural. Confusion isn’t criminal; it isn’t evil. If I’m teaching and my students are confused, I don’t punish them. I refine my teaching; I go on teaching. If I’m a parent and my kids are confused, I don’t trade them in for new kids. I refine my parenting; I go on parenting. I keep learning to teach better and I keep teaching.

We are confused about the fundamentals, but we can be un-confused. Love will unconfuse us, if we get out of its way. Will we take love as our teacher?

Again, when I use the word “love” I am not pointing at things like soul-mates or sex partners or husbands and wives or loyal dogs or inspiring poets. I am not pointing to a feeling that one has for a person, pet, place or practice. It is more like I am pointing to a law or a pattern. Love is what makes flowers grow; love is makes maple syrup sweet to our tongues. Love is what extends itself; love and life are not separate but conjoined. They are one movement, one flow.

Relating love to life – to the ongoing nature of life, the ongoing begetting of life – can drive a lot of folks around the bend. Botany follows natural laws like germination and photosynthesis. A seed does not be come a violet because of God’s will but because it evolved to respond a certain way to certain conditions. Violets are natural results of violet seeds set in soil and subject to requisite sunlight and rainfall. Stop trying to spiritualize everything.

Well, I agree. I do find it more helpful in some instances to refer to God’s will as photosynthesis. Or entropy. Or happiness. Language is malleable and constructive. There are lots of ways for love to make itself clear, and not all of them require use of the word “love.” After all, violets don’t talk about photosynthesis. Or violets.

But this does not relieve us of the obligation to use language carefully and consistently. The domain of botany has a language; it is a kind of violence, a kind of injustice, to demand it conform to the language of another domain. And it is also a kind of violence or injustice to rank domains – to say that the domain of biology is better or more important than the domain of theology or vice-versa. In my experience, science expands the experience of wonder and joy. Love includes it and is included in it. Love has its own order and my preferences have surprisingly little to do with it. Why not see this? Why not learn from it?

I said earlier that love is akin to a law or a pattern that brings forth life. That is, love begets love. It brings itself forth. And that bringing forth can be noticed: it can be attended. It is intelligent and responsive. When I say it is “intelligent,” I don’t mean in the sense of quantitative abilities (like those purportedly measured by IQ tests) but rather in the sense of qualitative potentials that we all possess equally. We don’t have to go to school to learn how to hug and comfort someone who is sad or hurt. We don’t need to a teacher to know that holding hands is a sweetness. When we make space for this free flow of love, we are happier, and love expands accordingly. It becomes vaster than the cosmos. It allows us to function fully and creatively. There is nothing it can’t do if we let it.

So here I am like (though hardly precisely like) John Lennon and Yoko Ono singing “all we are saying is give peace a chance.” Just give attention to love, the domains in which it appears, the language it yearns for as its own expression. What happens when we do this? What kind of teacher is love? What are its lessons? What classroom is given to its students? Find out!

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