Monday, March 08, 2010

Maximizing Our Potential with Rollo May 12

Rollo May continues chapter 7 on courage by taking what at first sight seems to be a detour - he now begins to talk about love, that most abused of concepts, that most abused of words.  This word, to my mind, has been so used and abused that it is almost impossible to say what it means at all.  I remember once learning the Prologue to Chaucer's wonderful Canterbury Tales, and therein we read of the Prioress who was consumed by her appearance and proper manners or etiquette of the highest order.  She wore a gold medal around her neck on which were emblazoned the words "amor vincit omnia," and Chaucer leads us to suspect that she may indeed have been unfaithful to her vow of chastity, that this "amor" mentioned here could well have been of the earthy kind rather than of the divine kind. 

What is love?  Is it Eros, Philia, Storge or Agape - the four loves written of by C.S. Lewis, a book I read years ago when I was studying theology. (See this link if you wish to know more about each of them, according to Lewis: The Four Loves )  That book states the theory at any rate.  Now, what does May say?  Most human relationships, he avers, spring from a mixture of motives and include a combination of different feelings.  His description of Eros love is clear and precise:

One is Eros - the sexual drive toward the other, which is part of the individual's need to fulfill himself.  Two and a half millennia ago Plato pictured "eros" as the drive of each individual to unite with the complement to himself - the drive to find the other half of the original "androgyne," the mythical being who was both man and woman. (May, op.cit., p. 180)

He goes on to point out that what our society really lacks is an experience of community, which, when it exists, is the haven where real love can exist.

May maintains that real love is involved in the very soul of the individual - he or she must learn that to love the self is essentially the goal of integration, of self-integration, of self-realization, call this reality what youy wish.  It is only then that one can reach out and love others.  Then he makes the following interesting statements about love:

Love, as we have said, is generally confused with dependence: but, in point of fact, you can love only in proportion to your capacity for independence.  Harry Stack Sullivan has made the startling statement that a child cannot learn 'to love anybody before he is pre-adolescent...' That is to say, until this age the capacity for awareness and affirmation of other persons has not matured enough for love. (Ibid., p. 185)
True love is union and in the act of its consummation is experienced as such.  Such a union, May argues, is a true ecstasy where each person leaves the stasis of the self and unites into a consummation that is a true oneness of the 'we.'

Real truth is not a function of the intellect alone, nor is it some abstract reality that exists somewhere "out there" or "up there" or "beyond," akin to Bertrand Russell's idea of God as a teapot orbiting the sun.  Rather real truth is experienced by and in the "thinking-feeling-acting unity" that is the human being.  In the words of Berdyaev we make our respective truths our own "from within" and we discover and tell our beliefs or truths on our very pulses.  (See ibid., p.191)  And somehow our loves are inseparably interwoven with them.

Above another picture I took in the Musei Vaticani. This is a foot from an ancient statue - shadows of Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley here, no?

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