SUMMARY: I attempt to answer three questions about unconditional love including how we know it exists.
(About a 5 minute read)
We humans are a strange animal. For one thing, we seem to be, in about equal measures, a social species and an individualistic species.
Put differently, we have contradictory needs. On the one hand, we feel an emotional need for companionship and to get along with each other. On the other hand, we feel just as much of an emotional need for independence and not to be bothered by each other.
Perhaps because we are a social species, we often feel a need for people to share our beliefs, and perhaps because we are an individualistic species, we often resent it when others try to make us believe as they do.
That seems to be nowhere truer than when it comes to things that either cannot be proven to exist (or to not exist), or to things that are so rare not everyone has experienced them. Take unconditional love, for instance.
It doesn’t always happen, but I have in the past met both people who seem to feel it is necessary for everyone on earth to believe in unconditional love — even if they themselves have never experienced it, and people who seem to feel the very opposite of that — that no one should believe in such a thing!
That “debate” puzzles me. Why does it matter to anyone what other people think about it? I can only see it in light of the fact we seem to be both a social and an individualistic species.
I myself believe unconditional love is rare, but that it exists. I do not, however, believe that it much matters whether anyone believes in it or not. So far as I can see, believing in it does not bring it about, and neither does not believing in it stop it from coming about. Strange as this might sound, the first time I experienced it, I not only didn’t (up until then) believe in unconditional love, I didn’t even believe in love!
I was nineteen or twenty years old, and I was very certain that I — alone of all the people I knew — “saw through” love for the farce it really was. Today, I cannot look back on that time without laughing at myself. But I also take a lesson from it. That lesson being, there are many things you can never be totally certain of knowing.
Any way, the fact I was cynical about love — let alone unconditional love — did not prevent me from soon experiencing it for myself. I doubt disbelief would prevent anyone from experiencing it, too.
But it is rare. And there seems to be no method or procedure for forcing it to happen. The best advice I’ve ever heard about it was Rumi’s. “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” In other words, tear down the barriers within you, then sit back and wait. It might come — but it might not.
As for what unconditional love is, I’ve posted about that here. Among the readers of that post was Marysa, who blogs here, and who asked several questions about unconditional love. This post is an attempt to address her questions, the first of which is, “How do we know unconditional love exists?”
The fact is, we don’t. Others might tell us it exists, that they themselves have experienced it, but unless we have experienced it for ourselves, we don’t really know whether they are mistaken or not.
But neither do we know that it doesn’t exist.
Over the years, people have often enough told me that it is logically impossible for unconditional love to exist. That’s one way folks who have not experienced it rest their minds about the question of whether or not it exists. That is, they seek to prove that it’s logically impossible.
Usually, their arguments boil down to:
- People always act in their own self-interest.
- Unconditional love implies that people might not always act in their own self-interest.
- Therefore, unconditional love cannot exist
A problem with that argument is that the first premise cannot be demonstrated to be true because we cannot know for certain that everyone on earth is always acting in their own self-interest. If we really wanted to be precisely accurate, we would restate the first premise this way:
- So far as I have observed, I always act in my own self-interest.
- I assume everyone else is like me — that is, everyone acts in his or her own self-interest.
- Therefore, people always act in their own self-interest.
When the first premise is more accurately restated, it can be better seen for what it is — a rather weak argument.
In fact, the only thing we really know about whether or not unconditional love exists is whether we ourselves have experienced it.
A second question Marysa had was does the fact unconditional love is unconditional imply that it is everlasting? That’s a good question which I’ve seen asked before. The key is to understand what is meant by “unconditional”.
In this context, unconditional means “without strings or other attachments”. In other words, one loves without any expectation of getting something out of it. But the term does not mean that one’s love is in every way unlimited or “everlasting”. So how long does it last?
Unconditional love can be like other kinds of love in that you can experience it without actually knowing that you’re experiencing it. Consider how often you’ve heard someone say, “I just realized I’m in love with Madison!” Or Jon, or Emma, or whoever.
While some people instantly know they’re in love with someone, what so often happens with most of us is that one day we have a moment of insight — a moment in which we realize that we are not only in love with someone, but that we’ve been in love with them for awhile — sometimes for quite awhile.
Unconditional love can be somewhat like that. You can suddenly realize that you’re unconditionally loving everything around you. But here’s a difference. With other kinds of love, you can — and often do — realize that you’ve been in love with someone for “ages”, but with unconditional love, it is almost always a matter of moments.
I think it’s possible that spiritually enlightened people are almost constantly in a state of unconditional love, but I don’t know that for sure. It’s really only speculation on my part. So to answer Marysa’s question, it seems to me that for most people unconditional love is brief and fleeting.
Now, that doesn’t mean its effects are brief and fleeting. Just like some foods have a strong aftertaste, unconditional love can have an “aftertaste” too. That is, its effects can last a long time — years perhaps. They can change how you approach things.
For instance, you might find yourself discontent with other kinds of love. Or a brief experience of it can result in your affirming life. That is, in your deeply believing that life is worthwhile.
A final question here is, “Can you still believe in unconditional love even if you’re not religious?” Some people have told me they found their experience of unconditional love religiously inspiring in the sense that they thought something so wonderful couldn’t exist unless there was a god. But others were not moved to religion by it. So yes, you can both believe in it and experience it even if you’re not religious.