I’m going to talk to you this evening on the subject of the spectrum of love. We know that from time to time there arise among human beings people who seem to exude love as naturally as the sun gives out heat. We would like to be like that, and (by and large) man’s religions are attempts to cultivate that same power in ordinary people. But unfortunately, they normally go about this task as one would attempt to make the tail wag the dog.
I remember when I was a small boy in school, I was enormously interested in being able to do my schoolwork properly. And everybody told me that I didn’t work hard enough, and that I ought to work. I had an intense desire to do this. But when I asked, “How do you work?” everybody shut up like a clam. So I was extremely puzzled. But there were teachers who apparently knew how to work and had attained considerable heights of scholarship, and I admired them very much for their attainments. And so I thought that maybe I could learn the secret by copying their mannerisms. I would imitate the style of handwriting that they used, I would use the same kind of pen, I would affect the same mannerisms of speech and gestures and, insofar as I could get around the school uniform, even of clothing. I must assure you, this was of course a private school in England, not a public school in America.
But none of this revealed the secret because I was, as it were, copying the outward symptoms and knew nothing of the inner fountain of being able to work. And exactly the same thing is true in the case of people who love. When we study the behavior of people who have the power of love within them, we can catalog how they behave in various situations, and out of this catalog formulate some rules.
One of the peculiar things we notice about people who have this astonishing universal love is that they are apt—but not always so—but they apt very often to play it rather cool on sexual love. The reason for this is, generally speaking, unknown to preachers, but it is because an erotic relationship with the external world operates (so far as they are concerned) between that world and every single nerve ending. Their whole organism, in all its aspects—physical, psychological, and spiritual—is an erogenous zone. And therefore, their flow of love is not specialized or canonized so exclusively in the genital system as is with most other people. Especially in a culture such as ours where, for so many centuries, that particular expression of erotic love has been so marvelously repressed as to make it seem the most desirable kind of love that there is, and so we have, as a result of two thousand years of Christianity, sex on the brain. It isn’t always the right place for it.
Of course, also, people who exude love are apt to give things away. They are in every way like rivers: they stream. And so when they collect possessions and things that they like, they are apt to give them to other people. Because, did you ever notice that when you give things away, you keep getting more? In the same way as you create a vacuum, nature abhors a vacuum, and more flows in? So noticing this, the codifiers of loving behavior write down that you should give so much money to tax deductible institutions, and to the poor, and that you should be nice to people, that you should act towards your relatives and your friends and indeed even enemies as if you loved them, even if you don’t. And, of course, for Christians and Jews and believers in God there is a peculiarly difficult task enjoined upon us, namely: that thou shalt love the Lord thy God. And not only, here, going through the motions of it externally, but with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And that is, of course, very demanding indeed.
But you see what is happening: it is as if, for example, we admired the music of a certain composer and, having studied his style very thoroughly, we draw up rules of musical composition based on the behavior of this composer. We then send our children to music school where they learn these rules in the hope that, if they apply them, they will turn into first-class musicians—which they usually fail to do. Because what might be called the technique of music, as the technique of morals, as well as, say, the technique of speech, of language, is very valuable because it—and I repeat: if—you have anything to express. But if you don’t have anything to say, not even the greatest mastery of English will stand you in good stead unless you can manage to fool your listeners by talking beautiful nonsense and make it sound profound.
So the question and the puzzle remains. You cannot imitate this thing, there is no way of getting it, and yet it is absolutely essential that we have it. Because, obviously, the human race is not going to flourish harmoniously unless we are enabled to love each other. But the question is: how do you get it? Is it something you simply have to contract, like measles? Or, as theologians say, is it a gift of divine grace which somehow is dished out to some but not to others? And if there is no way of getting divine grace by anything you do, as the Calvinists aver, then we better just sit around and wait until something happens. Although Calvinists never did that. They were almost depressingly energetic.
But surely we can’t be left in that kind of a hopeless situation. There must be some way of getting the grace or getting divine charity or love—some sort of wangle, some sort of way in which we can, as it were, open ourselves so as to become conduit pipes for the flow. And so the more subtle preachers try to see if we can open ourselves, and teach methods of meditation and spiritual discipline in the hope that we can contact this power. The less subtle preachers say, “You don’t have enough faith, you don’t have enough guts, you don’t have enough willpower. If you only put your shoulder to the wheel and shoved, you would be, of course, an exemplar and a saint.” Actually, you will only be an extremely clever hypocrite.
The whole history of religion is a history of the failure of preaching. Preaching is moral violence. When you deal with the so-called practical world, and people don’t behave as you would wish they would, you get out the army or the police force or the big stick. And if those strike you as somewhat crude, you resort to giving lectures—and I mean lectures in the sense of a pi-jaw: a solemn adjuration and exhortation to behave better next time.
Now, let us look at some of the practical consequences of adjuring people and commanding people to love. Many a parent says to the child, “Nice children love their mothers. And, of course, I’m sure you’re a nice child. You ought to love your mother—but not because I, your mother, say so, but because you really want to do so.” Because one of the difficulties is: that none of us, in our heart of hearts, respect love which is not freely given. If, for example, you are an ailing parent, and you need to be looked after, and you have a son or daughter who feels dutifully that they should look after you—because after all, you’ve done so much for them. But somehow, your living with your father or mother prevents you from having a home and a life of your own. Naturally, you resent this duty. And your parent is well aware that you resent it, even if they pretend to ignore it. They therefore feel guilty that they have imposed upon your loyalty. And you, in turn, can’t really disclose from yourself the fact that you hate them for getting sick, even though they couldn’t help it. And therefore nobody enjoys the relationship. It is a painful duty carried out.
And the same thing would naturally happen if, after a number of years, having (at the altar) made a solemn and terrible promise that you would love your wife and husband come what may forever and ever till death do you part, then suddenly you find that you really haven’t the heart to do it any more. Then you feel guilty, and that you ought to love your wife, family, or whatever. And naturally this is a sort of fiasco, as would be obvious if you were to ask your wife: “Do you really love me?” and she were to reply, “I’m trying very hard to do so.”
You see, the difficulty of it is this: you cannot teach a selfish person to be unselfish by any means. That is to say, whatever a selfish person does—whether it be giving his body to be burned, or giving all that he possesses to the poor—he will still do it in a selfish way of feeling. And he will be able to do this with extreme cunning, and marvelous self-deception, and deception of others besides. But the consequences of fake love are almost invariably destructive because they build up resentment on the part of the person who does the fake loving as well as on the part of those who are its recipients. This is why the foreign aid program has been such a dismal failure.
Now, of course, you may say that I am talking in a very impractical way because you would say, “Well, do we just have to sit around and wait until we become inwardly converted, and learn through the grace of God or some sort of magic how to love? And in the meantime do nothing about it, and conduct ourselves as selfishly as we feel?” There is, as a matter of fact, something to be said for that. Because the first problem in the whole of this is honesty. And the reason why the Lord God says at the beginning of things, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind” is not because the Lord God is stupid, but because he’s very clever. That which appears to be a commandment is actually a challenge—or what in Zen Buddhism is called a kōan: a spiritual problem. Because if you exercise yourself resolutely, in trying to love God and/or your neighbor, you will find that you get more and more tangled up. You will realize increasingly that the reason why you are attempting to obey this as a commandment is that you want to be the right kind of person. And obviously you want to be the right kind of person for your own reasons.
And so if you do, in the first place, feel selfish and come to the conclusion as a result of trying various experiments with love that you love yourself more than anybody else, the proper thing to do is to investigate your self love to find out why you love yourself and what you mean by “yourself” when you say you love yourself. For the reason is this: love is not something that is a sort of rare commodity. Everybody has it. Existence is love. But it’s like water flowing through a hose: it depends in which direction you point it. So everybody has the force running. And maybe the way in which you find the force of love operating in you is that you have a passionate like of booze, or ice cream, or automobiles, or good-looking members of the opposite sex, or even the same sex. But there is love is operating.
And people, of course, tend to distinguish between the various kinds of love. There are good kinds (such as divine charity), and allegedly bad kinds (such as “animal lust”). But it should be understood, I think, that they’re all forms of the same thing. But they differ in rather the same way that the colors of light—of white light—divide into the spectrum when passed through through a prism. So we might say that the red end of the spectrum of love is Dr. Freud’s libido, and the violet end of the spectrum of love is agapē, the (what is called) divine love or divine charity. And that, in the middle (the various yellows, blues, and greens) are friendship, human endearment, consideration, and all that sort of fellow feeling. But it’s all the same thing.
And so the thing is, first of all, to get it moving. To follow whatever kind of love you have in the first place. Because you cannot control love until you have some to control; until you have it running. You’ve got to get your car running before you could learn how to drive it. You will not become a skillful driver by sitting in a still car in a garage anymore than you will become a skilled dancer if you simply never move your arms and legs. And so the first thing, then, is to discover what indeed you do love, if anything. And you will find there is something. And then go into the nature of that.
Now, it’s said that selfish people love themselves. I would say that that is really a misunderstanding of the whole thing, because “yourself” is something that is really impossible to love. There are various reasons for this, but one obvious reason is that loving one’s self is as difficult as kissing your own lips. One’s self—when you try to focus on it, to love it or to know it—is oddly elusive. It always slips away like the pursued tail of a dog who is trying to get hold of his own tail. So to pursue your own end has some difficulties about it.
If you explore what you love when you say you love yourself, you will make the startling discovery that everything you love is something which you thought was other than yourself. Even if it be very ordinary things, such as ice cream or booze—in the conventional sense, booze is not you, nor is ice cream. Certainly, it turns into you in a manner of speaking when you consume it. But then you don’t have it anymore. And so you look around for more in order to love it once again. But so long as you love it, you see, it’s never you. When you love people, however selfishly you love them—because of the pleasant sensations they give to you—still, it is somebody else that you love. And as you inquire into this, as you follow honestly your own selfishness, many interesting transformations begin to come about in you.
One of the most interesting transformations of being directly and honestly selfish in the same way that, for example, cats are, is that you stop deceiving people. A great deal of damage is done in practical human relations by saying that you love people when what you mean is that you ought to and you don’t really. You give the wrong impression, and people begin to expect things of you which you are never going to come through with. We have been taught, for example, that we ought to love our enemies. Now, we don’t really understand what it means to love our enemies. We think it means to be charitable towards them in the hope that we will convert them and so that they will cease to be our enemies. The real reason for loving enemies is that one needs enemies. They’re terribly important to you.
For example, I think that some of you here feel that you belong to a nice set of people. It may be an ordinary kind of bourgeois coterie of pleasant squares, or it may be a church group of some kind, a club, or a special cult, or just a group of friendly drinkers. But at any rate you feel that, by virtue of membership in this society, you belong to a special in-group of nice, or saved, people. Now, when you consider what nice people talk about when they sit around the dinner table and have an opportunity to nurture their collective ego, you will find that the most fascinating topic of conversation is the nasty people: how awful they are, what dreadful things they do, and what is it all coming to? And this very, very satisfactory condemnatory conversation nurtures your ego. But people who do that don’t seem to realize that they thereby depend on the nasty people in order to know that they’re nice. They are, as a matter of fact, highly indebted to them. On the other side of the picture, the nasty people—they, on their side, consider that they really are the best people, and nurture their collective ego by blasting the bourgeoisie, the squares, the WASPs, know-nothings, or whoever they may be. And so for the collective ego of the non-squares, the squares are extremely necessary. If they were to disappear tomorrow, many of us would lose of cause.
Now, the minute you begin to become aware of this, it’s rather embarrassing. It’s, of course, humorous, and I’m glad that you see this. Because at once you begin to realize how much you depend on an enemy, or an outsider, or a group of damned people as distinct from your own group of saved people. And so you begin to realize that if your collective ego, or your self, depends on your being on the in, but you can only be on the in with relation to something that is out. And since the in and the out are inseparable if there is to be any in or any out, you suddenly discover that “yourself” is bigger than you thought it was. It includes the other and you can’t do without it.
This brings about a fundamental change in the understanding of the meaning and nature of “self.” And thereupon there comes a change of attitude to other people, even if you continue with some formal opposition to them and disapproval of them. When, then, you are honestly clear with yourself what you like and what you dislike, and then, at the same time, your self begins more and more to include that were hitherto defined as being not yourself, your love—which is what you are—begins to express itself quite naturally and unaffectedly in a wider way.
Now, to trust one’s self to be capable of love, to bring up love—in other words, to function in a sociable way and in a creative way—is to take a risk. It’s a gamble. Because you may not come through with it. And in the same way when you fall in love with somebody else, or you form an association with somebody else, and you trust them, they may, as a matter of fact, not fulfill your expectations. But that risk has to be taken. The alternative to taking that risk is much worse than trusting and being deceived. In other words, to live together you have to take risks. There will be disappointments and failures and disasters as a result of taking these risks, but in the long run it’ll work out. My point is that if you don’t take them, the results will be so much worse than any kind of wild anarchy that could be conceived.
You see, here we are now as a highly disciplined human race with all kinds of rules and religions, and what are we about to do? Blow ourselves completely to pieces. Was this all a good gamble? Because, you see, in tying up love in knots and becoming incapable of it, you can’t destroy this energy. You turn it—when you won’t love and you won’t let it out, the thing comes out in the form of self-destruction. The alternative to self-love, in other words, is self-destruction. Because you won’t take the risk of loving yourself properly. You will be compelled instead to destroy yourself.
So, which would you rather have? Would you rather have a human race which isn’t always very well controlled and sometimes runs amok a little bit, but on the whole continues to exist with a good deal of honesty and delight, when delight is available? Or would you rather have the whole human race blown to pieces and cleaned off the planet, reducing the whole thing to a nice, scoured rock with no dirty disease on it called life? But I repeat the point that is necessary to understand this whole thing: that love is a spectrum. There is not, as it were, nice love and nasty love, spiritual love and material love, mature affection on the one hand and infatuation on the other. These are all forms of the same energy. And you have to take it and let it grow where you find it. If you find that only one of these forms exists in you, if at least you will water it, the rest of the plant will blossom as well. But the essential prerequisite from the beginning is to let it have its way.