Lila Forest is a free-lance minister and practices dream and body work, massage and counseling. This article first appeared in the Spring, 1983 issue of the Holyearth Journal..
THE WORD LOVE has myriad meanings, including (but not limited to) the Greek concepts of Agape (unconditional love, divine love, compassion), Philia (brotherly/sisterly love, friendship), and Eros. It is Eros we mean when we speak of falling in love. What is Eros? It is desire – divine discontent – the urge to merge. It is the propelling force, the restlessness that pulls on us to create, to seek, to move, to express, to surrender, to become One with.
Falling in love, or succumbing to Eros, is seeing in another, be it a person, an object, or an idea, unmanifest qualities of ourselves and desiring to make them a part of us. Although there are many forms of this phenomenon, I will focus here on falling in love with someone of the opposite sex. (It is my experience that this same process occurs in same-sex relationships; even though the gender of the beloved is the same as the lover’s, the beloved represents or embodies aspects of the lover that are undeveloped and, perhaps, ready to unfold.)
The reflections and insights I share with you are highly subjective, coming out of my own experience and my perceptions of the experience of friends and those who have come to me to heal themselves through counseling and dream work. Being a woman, I am intimately familiar with how this process feels from the feminine side, and my presentation is grounded in that polarity. At the same time, I believe that these observations also apply to the masculine experience of Eros, although the qualities a man desires in a woman and the way he feels about the experience are usually quite different.
Most human beings fall in love at least once in their lives, and most of us remain unaware that it is anything other than the beloved that we desire to merge with, to possess. Most of us are very ambivalent about the whole experience, loving the excitement, the exploration of the unknown in the other, the passion, and the magic, and hating the sense of helplessness and the disillusionment of discovering that this is just another human being, after all. This may lead to an endless string of romantic affairs, or to settling into a partnership where other elements predominate, positive elements of respect, caring, mutual support, companionship, friendship and common goals, and negative ones of habit, duty, obligation and desire for security. In most long-term partnerships, a mixture of these elements prevails.
But for the person blessed with awareness of the inner reality of the drama of Eros, falling in love provides an opportunity, fraught with danger, for the development and integration of the Self. I, as a woman, in falling in love with a man, am seeing in him aspects of my own inner man (or animus, in Jungian terms) that are not yet developed or actualized in my own personality. It is my own desire to be creative, to carry my ideas through to completion, to think deeply and clearly, to take risks and to be emotionally and mentally independent that attracts me to a man who embodies (or has the potential to embody) these qualities. Similarly, a man who has not yet begun to unfold his intuition, gentleness, nurturing, connectedness and ability to surrender may fall in love with a woman who represents for him these aspects. To discover which aspects of our undiscovered selves are wanting to emerge, we need only look at the beloved.
What’s the danger in this game? There are several. Primary for me is the off-center feeling that comes with being intensely focused outside myself. Even while I recognize what the process is about, on the emotional level I feel vulnerable and helpless, as though my well-being is in the hands of another. It is virtually impossible to be in love, in the way I am using the term here, and not give away one’s power. Years of practice in grounding and centering learned through body work and spiritual practice are as a feather on the scale when balanced against the weight and power of Eros! And yet, that seems to be part of the journey. I become aware that I am caught up in a powerful wind that is taking me somewhere, and I can either struggle and condemn myself, or I can surrender and watch what’s happening.
Perhaps that call to surrender is the most powerful opportunity for inner growth that falling in love gives. Because there is so much desire for the ideal, there is a constant tension between what is and what one wishes, and again and again, if one is to find a state of harmony, one must surrender the past (memories) and the future (desires) and accept the present. To surrender in this way requires trust in the process, in oneself, in God. It requires having faith that what’s best for us will unfold if we accept what is. This does not mean foregoing action toward that which we hold to be true or right; it means learning to listen to inner guidance and wisdom and to accept it.
Another danger in this adventure is to the relationship itself. If I have any contact with the object of my longing (a situation that an adolescent in love with a movie-screen image doesn’t have to deal with!), after a while the real person behind the projection will begin to be seen and known. When this occurs, a crucial point has been reached in the relationship and in the erotic process. If I find the courage to be willing to see and to accept the real human being I’m in love with, including his shadow (the Jungian term for the dark, unredeemed elements of the personality), then the foundation of the relationship broadens and deepens. I can recognize the projection I am involved in, and see both the real person and the ideal that I desire to unfold within myself. If I choose not to see, then I will experience disappointment and anger, perhaps "falling out of love" and wondering what I ever saw in him (what I saw was mySelf), or, if I’m already enmeshed in an ongoing relationship with him, I might just start collecting resentments for all of the ways he doesn’t meet my expectations. I may project onto him my unconscious desire to get on with my own integration and, instead of accepting him as he is, I might wish he would show more strongly whatever qualities I am lacking, or condemn him for all in him that prevents me from seeing him as my ideal man.
If I do choose to see and accept the real person, I can also begin to see more clearly just what elements of my animus are struggling to emerge. Learning to see and love the other is learning to see and love myself. My feelings of tenderness, concern, cherishing, acceptance and forgiveness of the beloved can teach me to nurture myself in these same ways.
This process is nothing less than a powerful drive to merge with the perfect Masculine within me and thus to give birth to the Divine. If I can allow that inner process to be, and at the same time allow myself to be open to the real person with whom I have fallen in love, that is, to allow Philia and Agape to unfold within the relationship, then I have triumphed over the dangers and enriched my inner and outer life (and that of my beloved) immeasurably.
The expressions of the love I feel have meaning on three levels simultaneously: I am speaking to my beloved, to my inner man, and to God. And each level enhances the others. It is illuminating to realize that, for me, falling in love coincided with discovering a new relationship with God. When I was a child, God was my father, loving and protective, but also judging and punishing. In later years, through the process of seeing and beginning to cast out of my psyche the hatred of women (and thus of myself), I discovered the Mother Goddess, and felt for the first time my own divine potential. Then an integration began, and my conception of God shifted to one of FatherMother, sometimes without polarity, sometimes with one pole or the other coming forward. And more recently, God has become the Beloved, still shifting from One to Masculine to Feminine, but less a parent (even while the Source of everything) and more a Lover – that One whom I seek and who seeks me.
I am beginning to recognize, in many levels of my being, that falling in love is one way of showing myself what this whole Dream is really all about: Ishk Allah Mahbud Lillah – God is Love, Lover and Beloved. And, for my part, the very best I can do is commit myself to staying awake, to be a compassionate witness to the wonderful, bewildering, frightening, liberating dance of Eros.
As I do so, I begin to see that this dance goes way beyond the marriage within my soul, and beyond my relationship with a man; it is the yearning of the world to be one with itself. If the Masculine and the Feminine can be reunited on the earth, we can give birth to a planet living in love and harmony, dancing the dance of the Infinite.