There are many alarming things going on in the United States and around the world. The recent presidential election and the United Kingdom’s future withdrawal from the European Union (aka Brexit) are clear evidence of widespread anger, fear, frustration, antagonism, and intolerance of differences. The current wars in Syria, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan are our ways of choosing between power and human life. (Of course, power is the more valuable.) All this, in addition to news reports of police shootings, senseless death, persistent injustice, massive protests, a polluted ecosystem, and uncaring leadership, is quite disturbing, and many people have various opinions on the causes of the global unrest. One obvious cause that I’ve heard everywhere is lack of love. If we all just loved each other, the world would be a better place, they say. If we’re ever going to live in peace, it’s love that we need. More love is what’s required to bring us together, stop the wars, and repair the environment. We believe that love is the answer, but in reality, love is a wolf in sheep’s clothing—a violent impostor disguised as benevolence, innocence, and the “remedy” for all that ails the world. With deception and judgment as its method and goal, when love is the “solution,” love is also the “problem.”
Our worship and dependence on love as a remedy is not hard to see. Famous quotes are too plentiful to count: “Love conquers all.” “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” “Love is the answer.” “All you need is love.” And the list goes on and on, forever and ever, to infinity and beyond. Books, songs, Hallmark cards, movies, plays, movements, projects, and a host of other things all about and related to love are big business in this world. To make it more interesting, there are various types of love, to include philios (brotherly love), eros (sexual desire), and agape (universal love). There is no real difference in these and others. The same way that there are types of precipitation, there are types of love. Whether it rains, snows, or sleets depends on the conditions, but in reality, precipitation is always the combination of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen (H2O). Similarly, love is always the combination of judgment, self-preservation, and trust. The target we create through judgment—be it a companion, parent, child, pet, or deity—dictates the type of love.
Before I go further, let me clarify this idea of love. Judgment is the senses—my sense of sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell, thoughts, and all the other sensations that my experience is made of. Judgment has nothing to do with a decision. I will take my sensory information and box it really neatly into a label like “husband,” “mother,” or “Cheryl,” but judgment gives me no opportunity to choose. Self-preservation is my need to hold on to and ensure the survival of all my senses—my neatly labeled judgments. Trust is unquestioned confidence in the veracity of my judgment. My judgments are always right. Love only comes into play when I believe that anything can occur outside of my senses.
Hold the gun firmly in your hand. Align the sights of the target. Place the center of the first pad of your trigger finger on the trigger. Gently squeeze the trigger, smoothly, without moving anything else. Every shot should be a surprise.
These are the muffled instructions I hear as my daughter Naomi and I prepare to shoot our targets at the indoor shooting range. The instructor is there with us to ensure our safety and to help us properly execute his instructions. I shoot well, but Naomi does much better than I do. On this range, as I look down the line at various targets, there’s clearly a difference in our skill level.
In life, there is no distinction. We all aim perfectly. In life, none of us ever misses the object on which we set our sights. This is love. Love is the perpetual process of creating a target, aiming, and then squeezing the trigger. Cupid’s bow is a deadly weapon that we all wield. We create the target with judgment, we aim using emotion, and we squeeze the trigger when our targets don’t deliver on their promises.
The promise of a judgment is to remain final. Any deviation from that promise plunges us into unknown territory. Unknowing causes fear, confusion, and violence. When I have loved, defined, understood, and known a man, but I now encounter a man that does not conform to what “man” has promised to be, I respond in a fearful way. The widespread discrimination and violence against the LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Intersex) community is “love” in action.
So when we say “Love is the answer,” what are we really saying?
For the Love of Bill
My father had a nickname for me and my two sisters. My oldest sisters were Dot (Darlene) and Mot (Marlene). My nickname was Bill. Bill was my dad’s best friend, who’d died before I was born. My father was the only one who ever called me Bill. I loved my nickname. I loved being Bill. When my father died, “Bill” died, too. The pain involved in the demise of all that I’d made was indescribable. Not only did I lose my fun, talented, and strong father, but I also lost his love of Bill. In Latin, the word parent means “bringing forth.” As a small child, I was the parent of the idea of “father,” and my “child” loved our entire world. Bill was a part of that world—a world made of love.
When judgments fail, we feel the pain. When the promise to continue is not fulfilled, it hurts. When the love we parent, and see as outside of ourselves, dies—when our targets force us to question our unquestionable certainty—we bleed and die emotionally, psychologically, mentally, and sometimes physically.
Our senses feel very stable, strong, and immovable. Who questions the sense of touch or smell? What displaces the sense of sight? Shouldn’t that same strength follow the ideas born of these senses—ideas like kind, mother, beautiful, friend, black, and white? When we seek more love, we seek to make more judgments and create more targets, mistakenly believing that we are adding to our strength, building what’s been torn down, and finding what is not yet here but is desperately needed. What we fail to realize is, when we create our targets, we simultaneously become the bullseye. When we love, we sign our own death certificate. When I love you, and believe those words to be true, I separate myself from myself, then expect that division to make me whole.
The Problem with Love
To be clear, there is nothing right or wrong with the process of love. This process is not better or worse than any other process. Problems tend to arise when we look to love as the solution to problems. Judgment cannot solve the problem of judgment. Social problems like terrorism, racism, and violence; environmental problems like climate change and deforestation; and personal problems like broken relationships and substance abuse all seem to be keeping us from living up to our full potential. Not many would argue with that. However, love is not the answer, and love won’t conquer or drive out a damned thing. Love is never the solution. Why? Because love is never about problems outside of ourselves. Love never even touches problems outside of us. There’s no way to inject love into racism, terrorism, or animal cruelty. How would you do that? Where would you inject it? What tool would you use? How often does it need to happen? Who controls how much or how little love is injected into these problems? Love is only ever about the subject; it’s about me. We think we can use love to bring what’s separate together. We think love will unite that which has been put asunder. Love does nothing but deceive the subject (me) into believing that it can be dismembered—and that it is, therefore, in need of repair.
The instant we declare to our wives, husbands, children, parents, gods, and pets that we love them, we have hidden ourselves in benevolent, innocent, sheep’s clothing and have become a voracious wolf looking to gain something from the object of our affection. Love is never truly unconditional. What we consider unconditional depends on there being an object or something to love unconditionally. The question “Do you love me?” really means, “To what extent can I trust you to keep me safe? To what extent can I depend on you, my love, to safeguard my judgments? How long will you keep me whole?”
Trust in our targets to always remain the same, preserve our existence, and forever keep us safe and whole is an exercise in futility. My ideas of family, body, and money cannot fulfill those promises. We won’t see this until we examine what we’re doing when we say “I love you.” There actually is no lack of love in this world. We are saturated with love already. The world is love. Brexit is love. The war in Sudan is love, just as times of peace and unity are also love. It is absence of love—of judgment and expectation—that we want but are terrified of. It’s whatever love isn’t that we also seek, but we fear loss of the love we’ve made. Where self-preservation is not present, we call those individuals “zombies.” Where trust in an object is not present, we call those people “psychotic.” Where the ability to judge is not present, we call that “instinct.” Where love is not present, we call those acts “evil.” But all of those are still judgments. We have no idea what love is, so we’ve manufactured something to be afraid of.
What is Love?
I remember standing in my kitchen one morning, preparing to fry an egg for my breakfast. I placed a small pan onto the hot burner on the stove, added a pat of butter to the pan, and waited for the butter to melt. I then poured in the one egg I’d already cracked and quickly whisked with a fork. The burner was on low, so I stood there and watched the egg slowly begin to cook. As I watched, the egg began to glow a little. Damn, I put a lot of butter in this pan. Then it began to sparkle and come “alive” somehow. By “alive” I mean, the egg was its own autonomous, individual self with no dependence on anything. That egg was everything that ever was. I placed the fork in the pan and moved the egg around, and I could see that as I moved it, the egg was being born right then and there. The egg was being created right there in the pan! This was not the same egg I’d whisked a few minutes ago, then poured into a pan of hot butter. This was a new egg, and in every moment it was new, again and again and again. I began to giggle, because what I was seeing was the funniest, most fascinating and unbelievable thing I’d ever seen. This sparkling, brand-new, pristine egg was actually being created right in front of my eyes…from absolutely nothing at all, and for no reason at all. My giggling became almost uncontrollable. The joy, amazement, and laughter I felt at such unexpected entertainment was indescribable. I was too amazed by what was present to have time to label what I saw. It could have been an egg, but I really didn’t care and it really didn’t matter. There was no desire to get anything from what I was experiencing. I did not want or expect anything from this living, organic process in my pan. There was just wonder and attention while it was there; and when it was gone, I didn’t lose anything because I’d never gained anything. Its presence and absence had no impact on me.
I don’t know what love is, but giving myself permission to allow more context into my limited perspective and judgment of myself as a black woman with four children has helped clear the fog of language, tradition, culture, and fear that has defined love for me. While I hug my children, cry when a loved one dies, and express my deep love and affection for my spouse, god, pets, and parents, I also see that I have no idea what love is. This means that nothing is outside of my senses. A label does not distance me from what I see, hear, feel, think, smell, or taste. There is nothing to repair, because nothing is broken. I don’t need to deceive myself any longer.
Literary theorist Kenneth Burke said, “A way of seeing is also a way of not seeing.” My sight, while it reveals the colors of this world, also blinds me to what I cannot see. Sight is blinding, and so is love. If I love and know you, you are a means to an end, and it doesn’t matter if that love is seen as altruistic and good or selfish and evil. In both cases, it is my own judgment, safety, and life that are most important.
I cannot address my racist and misogynistic behavior against those I see as separate and different from me until I look at why I have the need to see them as distant and different. Why do I need to know and love them? I cannot be authentic with you until I see the innocent, sheeplike mask I’ve donned, then take responsibility for my wolflike, predatory behavior. Only then can I get out of my own way and live.
The phrase “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” simply suggests that this “love” we claim to know may not be what we believe it is. It’s a call to investigate, question, and doubt our idea of what love is—not to create a “better” answer, but to remain at the question and just allow our differences to naturally interact, respond, and evolve. “Love is the answer” becomes questionable when we don’t know what love is. Maybe we can create a new line of greeting cards that ask questions like “Is love the answer?” “Is love what I feel?” and “Forget love, let’s fall into the unknown?” Willingness and courage to doubt the absolute truth of our world is a narrative whose time has come.
When the “solution” for the world is gone, the “problem” of the world is not too far behind.
Cheryl Abram is a writer, public speaker, and mother of four. The author of Firing God and Tales From Eternity: Armageddon, Orgasms, Kittens and Gravity…Fun and Entertaining Pointers to Truth, she spoke at the 2016 Science and Nonduality Conference (SAND 2016) in San Jose, CA. Cheryl lives in Northern Virginia. Learn more at her website: www.cherylabram.com.