Love: The Only True Thing
My brother said, “With Death breathing down my neck, the only experience that retained true meaning was giving and receiving love.” It shouldn’t require illness for us to realize this simple truth.
Most people on Earth — the overwhelming majority — are born into the full and enveloping presence of love. This is long before the forces that chip away at its purity, bit by bit — throughout our lives — have begun to act on our core truth, to corrupt it. Nearly every parent knows, intuitively, that they will never feel a purer and more powerful feeling than the love they have for their child(ren). Mothers know this even more than fathers do, because mother and child are connected chemically, electrically and organically, until birth conspires to separate them. The choices that a parent will make, when pitting the needs of the self against those of their child, will uncover a level of altruism that is rarely experienced outside of this kind of relationship.
People who are tragically unable to feel or impart unadulterated love toward others, find themselves in a place that is far removed from their core truth. In losing their connection to love, they have essentially lost themselves. When this happens, the only path back to wholeness is, essentially, to undo the damage inflicted upon them by their life experiences; or rather, by how they interpreted those experiences, negatively.
Life, in a sense, is a continual effort to hold onto one’s love—one’s purity—in the face of an unyielding onslaught of polluting influences. These cancers — because that’s what they are — are all, without exception, created by people who have lost touch with their own core truths. The rest of Nature doesn’t do this. It unfailingly acts in accordance with its essence; and in doing so, always finds its equilibrium. Nature is in a constant act of rebalancing. You could say that Nature is equilibrium, expressed in dazzlingly beautiful complexity. It is human activity alone — specifically, the narrative fantasies we spin, share and feel compelled to believe, either in order to explain our existence, or to soothe ourselves from externally inflicted pain — that conspires to separate us from the understanding that we, too, are pieces of that ecosystem, as part of its perfect harmony.
We have spent most of our history in an attempt to understand our existence. We have generated complicated stories to explain the unexplainable. It is unexplainable because it is too simple to understand. Our human minds crave complexity, when in fact there is none to be had. My brother, Jordan, fought back four cancers before a fifth took his life, at 38. The first of these — a horrible ordeal from which he was medical history’s first long-term survivor — was an awakening for him. As he shared in his valedictory speech at Harvard Medical School, on June 8, 1995, “With Death breathing down my neck… the only experience that retained true meaning was giving and receiving love. The rest was but a dance around that central nourishing theme.” In Death, so to speak, he finally understood that all that mattered was giving and receiving love. This conclusion was, no doubt, influenced by the year he spent in Nepal, where he sought to broaden his Western epidemiological training with a hands-on understanding of the Eastern approach to holistic whole-person healing. After six years of post-Nepal integrative thinking, and three years of post-cancer health, his speech reflected both. “We must give ourselves permission to enjoy life without needing to get cancer to do so. It helps to be able to distinguish between the ego’s desires and the heart’s desires.”
With that distinction, he was, in my own words, separating human thought from human knowledge. To think something is very different from knowing it. Thoughts are stories constructed, as Jordan knew, from our ego — ideas we fashion to direct our actions, and to explain external things in reference to ourselves, so that we may control outcomes in our favor. Knowledge, on the other hand, is intrinsic. To know something is to feel its truth without needing to understand it. Jordan called it “the heart’s desires”. We could just as easily call it love, because there really isn’t anything else the heart truly desires, once it has full possession of this — once it has rediscovered its birthright. When we reconnect with this, we can simply act outwardly in accordance with what we feel inwardly. We don’t need to understand love. We know it. We also don’t need to understand love’s outward expressions: laughter, joy, compassion, trust, peace, safety, kindness, empathy and openness. By contrast, we feel compelled to understand what gets in their way: things like fear, anger, pain, hatred, judgement, aggression, violence, hopelessness, impatience and resentment. We feel the need to understand these things so that we may remove ourselves from their influence, because they obstruct our path to love, and all of its manifestations.
Our thoughts are no more than self-authored obstructions, and only we can remove them, in order to return to knowing.
When we are in the presence of love, there is no room for anything else. Every thought we have disappears, instantly, along with any weight we carry on our shoulders, or our psyches. Negative thoughts can find no quarter. We are invincible. It’s only in the absence of love that we create room for thoughts to creep in, and cripple us. These externalities — because that’s what thoughts are; they are not us — are cancers. Like any cancer, thoughts that obstruct our path to love must be fed, to grow. Therein lies an easy path ‘back home’. We are in control of whether we feed the cancer, or starve it.
Eckhart Tolle wisely said, “All pain is an illusion.” Pain, he wrote, “can only get you if you consciously identify with it.” He added, “It will feed on anything that resonates with its own kind of energy: anything that creates more of the same. Pain can only feed on pain. Pain cannot feed on joy.” Then he provides a Ph.D.-level insight: “Once pain has taken over, you want more. You become a victim, or a perpetrator. You want to inflict pain, or you want to suffer pain — or both. There isn’t really much difference between the two.”
The insight here is twofold. First, if we can become meta-consciously aware that we are in pain — or fear, anger, jealousy, grief, or hatred — then we have a choice to make. We can feed it ‘resonant energy’, and in doing so, make it grow; or we can starve it of the same, and in doing so, make it disappear. Second, the thoughts that create pain and its tributaries are illusions — ones that are powerless to corrupt us if we are not willing accomplices.
Tolle and my brother agreed on one central point: that the ego is the author of our thoughts. So it would seem that the chief goal of our lives is to overcome our egos, so that we may overcome our thoughts and return to love. When we do, we can act from strength to strength, seeding more of the same within our human community.
Every act of love robs corrupting influences of their fuel. The opposite is true, as well. We either feed love (and starve pain), or we feed pain (and starve love). Emotional pain, in my view, is no more than the absence of love. Not to feel love is to feel pain. It’s the pain of being removed from who we are — what we know. To return to our foundational state — before life conspired to remove us from it — we must help ourselves see that it is our actions (and reactions) alone that determine the outcome; and that we don’t need others to heal us, or to change how they act. All that matters is how we interpret that which befalls us. And there are always choices to be made, there.
Meditation works, when it’s practiced authentically, and regularly, precisely because it places us in a state of presence in which the obstacles of our thoughts are removed, one by one, until we are left with our pure essence, once again. In this way, we transcend the toxins, the cancers, the pollution of self-inflicted and externally imposed thoughts. When we transcend our egos, for that is what transcendence is, there is no longer room for thoughts — only oneness, and being.
And being, for anyone who has been fortunate enough to know this state in adulthood — free of thought, and ego — transmits itself as wholeness, unperturbability, connectedness, peace, and purity.
Or, as I call it, love.