Tuesday, August 18, 2009

And furthermore

In the previous two posts, I tried to worm my way through a discussion of love in some of its formulations. I just wanted to add a few more thoughts to the pile here.

It occurred to me that I've been speaking somewhat poetically about love and being all hazy and sentimental about the notion itself. What the neurobiology of love is I couldn't exactly say. When I was all up in consciousness theory and practically lived in the U. of Memphis's journal collection, I never came across much in the way of research on this problem. There has been some research that suggests that Eros, those first pangs of physical attraction, is similar neurologically to some certain type of insanity (I think maybe the mania of bipolar 'disorder', but it's been a few years since I was up in the research).

Love is hard to quantify. Is there some special quality that it and it alone has that differentiates it from attachment or attraction or whatnot? My guess is that we'll find that love and the spiritual experience have similar neurological correlates in that there will be a spike in frequency of electrical activity (gamma waves, esp. in the limbic system) and possibly the kind of synchrony that is associated with meditation and the ritualized acts of prayer and worship that are themselves a type of meditation.

And this is a point that Joseph Campbell goes on to make about Gottfried Von Strassburg's Tristan. His idea is that the intensity of intimate love, because it is both wonderful and painful (in that there is this pain of even momentary separation from the [non-objectified] object of love), can bring the experiencer beyond the world of opposites, of pain and pleasure, of being and non-being, of life and death, etc., and into the spiritual realm where, as it was written in the Bhagavad Gita, Tvat Tam Asi; Thou art that. Subject and object dissolve into one.

This, I believe, is the heart of altruism. It is through this experience of the universal connection of the spirit to all of existence that altruism spontaneously arises without the otherwise necessary rigorous moral training (that is as lacking as spiritual training in ModWes society). Love in its specific form maybe helps to bring this about. Certainly, that's Campbell's interpretation.

So, a somewhat long quote from William James's concluding lecture from The Varieties of Religious Experience because it sums up the spiritual experience in a way that I could never hope to match.

Summing up in the broadest possible way the characteristics of the religious life, as we have found them, it includes the following beliefs:-

1. That the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe from which it draws its chief significance;

2. That union or harmonious relation with that higher universe is our true end;

3. That prayer or inner communion with the spirit thereof -be that spirit "God" or "law"- is a process wherein work is really done, and spiritual energy flows in and produces effects, psychological or material, within the phenomenal world.

Religion includes also the following psychological characteristics:-

4. A new zest which adds itself like a gift to life, and takes the form either of lyrical enchantment or of appeal to earnestness and heroism

5. An assurance of safety and a temper of peace, and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affection.

In illustrating these characteristics by document, we have been literally bathed in sentiment.

Leaving aside whether or not the sentiment bath was literal or not, I think that 1 and 2 can be seen as describing an inner universe, a way of seeing and being in the world we do inhabit and our self in that world, which then flows into this spiritual existence described as characteristics 4 and 5 and as process in 3.

And maybe love is a means through which that inner universe of the transcendent spirit is accessible, and through which that world opens up to the self and allows for the radiance of grace to shine through every fiber of our being. Or something.

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