(About a 7 minute read)
One of the curious facts of human nature is that, if we are not rather frequently reborn through-out our lives, we suffer, and suffer greatly, for not having been reborn. Equally curious is the fact the truth of that is not more widely recognized and understood.
Nearly everyone it seems has at least heard it is important to be true to oneself, or that a purposeful and meaningful life is a life worth living. But the fact that life must involve a series of rebirths — that is largely missing from our general awareness of spiritual truths.
Hence, many people would no doubt dispute it. But in a post 11 years ago on this blog, I gave a number of reasons why it is true. You can find the post here, if you’re interested.
Of course, all of the above raises the question of what constitutes a significant rebirth, or transformative experience? As it turns out, the answer to that question is not simple, but somewhat complicated.
In effect, there are so many different ways and degrees of being reborn that would be nearly impossible to list them all here. For instance, it might be said you are at least to some extent reborn if you develop an under-developed talent into a new skill.
At the other end of the scale, a much less trivial instance of being reborn would be to have a mystical experience that radically altered your understanding of yourself, of who you are, and your purpose in life.
But in this post, I would like to focus on love. That is, on how love can bring about a spiritual rebirth. Of course, we need to begin by defining what we mean by “spiritual”.
To me, a person’s spirituality has nothing necessarily to do with any supernatural beings or entities. Instead, it is a matter of the manner and degree to which a person copes with their psychological self. By “psychological self”, I mean their sense of who they are as person. I also call it their “ego” or their “I” or “me”.
For instance, some people take extreme, personal offense when you criticize — or even hint of criticizing — their religion, politics, or worldview. Other people are much more easy going about such matters. I believe that in the former case, the person has identified him or her self with their religion, etc. In the latter case, however, they have not.
Both cases illustrate people coping or dealing with their egos, their psychological selves. Put differently, both cases illustrate someone’s spirituality — as I am using the word.
Now, it seems to me that almost nothing short of a mystical experience can change someone like love. There are, of course, several kinds of love, but most of them possess a nearly astounding power to transform us.
Romantic love, for instance, might change someone for a year or two, and especially change how they treat their beloved. Unconditional love, on the other hand, can have a permanent, or nearly permanent effect on people, and change not only how they relate to everyone they meet, but also how they relate to the world in general.
One of the prominent characteristics of nearly every kind of love is that it is subversive. Or as I put it in a recent poem:
Love is the universal solvent, the cosmic subversive
Who can and will dissolve all the barriers
Of class and clan, of race and sex,
Of wealth and poverty, of religion and philosophy,
Of politics and personality, of character and ideology,
Of morality and ethics, of principle and indifference,
Of age and youth, of caste and nationality —
All the barriers
That we humans can and have erected against her.
People almost routinely love across barriers. Rich love poor. Germans love French. Upright social workers love crooks. The “problem” is so noticeable that when the troubadours introduced romantic love into Europe in the 1200s, the Church opposed it on the grounds that it dangerously encouraged kings to love commoners, spouses to cheat on each other, and so forth — thus threatening the social order.
Today, the same charges have been brought against romantic love in the Middle East, India, and other places.
But what has all that got to do with spiritual transformation? Well, a Catholic who loves a Protestant, for instance, might change his or her view of Protestants and what they mean to them on the level of their ego, or self-identity.
It might be a pipe dream to envision a world in which everyone loves everyone else, but that is indeed what could happen in theory, if not in fact. Such a development would, of course, radically transform people’s sense of self. Nationalities, for instance, would most likely no longer matter to you.
However, of even greater relevance here is how love leads us to affirm life. Most likely, everyone is familiar with the comic image of the young man or young woman who has just discovered they are in love with someone. They walk on clouds, kiss babies, kick their heels together in joy, and smile at growling dogs, among other things. Such moods are usually fleeting, but they do illustrate that even romantic love — which usually has a narrow object — can at times be expressed as nearly universal affirmation of life.
In comparison, unconditional love is a thousand times more affirming. It’s scope is life itself — or at least, that aspect of life that lies within the perceptual field of the lover. While experiences of unconditional love are typically brief, the aftereffects can be enduring.
In my opinion, nothing comes close to unconditional love in its power to cause us to affirm life other than gratitude and compassion. And nothing surpasses it in that power except a mystical experience.
The last transformative characteristic of love that I would like to discuss here is its power to place the self in perspective. I think most of us seldom realize how self-centered we are until we love someone. At that point we don’t so much as lose ourselves as we tend to put our selves into perspective. The other person often becomes as important to us as we are to ourselves.
This is especially true of unconditional love. Moreover the effects of unconditional love tend to be lasting. It is fairly easy to slip back into a purely self-centered attitude towards life once, say, romantic love comes to an end, but the ghost of unconditional love can hang around for a long time.
To sum, there seem to be three main spiritually transformative effects of love. First, it’s power to subvert barriers. Second, it’s power to cause us to affirm life, and last, it’s power to place our selves in perspective. These three powers seem to me capable of bringing about a spiritual rebirth in us, without which our lives tend to become dull, routine, and emotionally painful.