Thursday, August 15, 2013

Love

I read an interesting article called, When to Love, When to Let Go. The title caught my attention right away. It discussed some of M. Scott Peck's thoughts in his book, The Road Less Traveled.

I had blogged about this in the winter after one of my first long runs. I have struggled with every variation of this question in all areas of my life at one time or another. When to hold on, when to let go? When to wait, when to move on? Tough love or compassion? Practice empathy if a friend hurts you or walk away? Trust your gut and love with your whole heart or try to protect yourself?

The article differentiates between “falling in love” and “genuine love.” Falling in love is called cathexis, “being attracted to, invested in, and committed to an object outside ourselves.” We can go through a "falling in love" phase with our friends or loved ones, boyfriends or girlfriends, or even our passions such as writing or running in my case. Cathexis is an illusion and is temporary. Cathexis is that initial spark and attraction to a person or passion, but it cannot sustain unless genuine love follows.

Genuine love is defined in this way, "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth."

I love that definition. It applies to love collectively. I often write about loving running. It started as a spark, seeing the really fit chick running carefree. I wanted that. It was exciting in the beginning hitting various goals in weight loss and body image. But that faded eventually. What followed for a genuine love to evolve required effort, time, and commitment. I need to extend myself for the spiritual growth I have found in something I love. True for running passions and true for relationships.

Genuine love requires action, loving actions. Genuine love requires our conscious time and attention as well as a willingness to take the risk to be vulnerable. Genuine love can't be given with the expectation that it will be returned. However the article goes on to say this. 

"We do not offer genuine love with the expectation that it will be returned, but that after enough expenditure of energy fails to elicit loving action, even when it is clear that loving feelings are present, one’s energy simply needs to be conserved."

What does that mean? Assuming the energy he refers to conserving is love, how do you conserve it? Do you with hold it? Do you give up on the person or passion? Or do you stop acting lovingly? Do you love from a distance?

First in the case of relationships, you need the ability to recognize that someone you genuinely love may not love you back. Secondly, you need to ask yourself, is he or she capable of loving me? Objectivity to see clearly in the midst of loving someone is hard. And even with objectivity and a recognition that someone isn't acting loving toward you, how do you stop loving him or her? How do you with hold it?

I found a lot of value in reading about all this. But I also found that I had more questions than answers. For me, love is undefinable. It can't really be captured with words. When I love.. I love. And I just know it in a place I can't always describe. For me love encompasses the butterfly in my stomach from the perfect kiss to the feeling of strength and satisfaction as I cross a finish line. It's the moment I saw my daughters for the first time and it is the painful goodbyes I have experienced in my life. Again. And then again. It's the feeling I get when I leave the community kitchen knowing I may have made a difference in someone's life. 

I admit I have a hard time letting go and my experience may be unique to me. I'm a distance runner. We don't give up easily. But we are also only human. I know there is a risk when I love. Like as much as I love running, I may not make it to the finish line of the marathon. But I continue to love it, push forward, wait for the injury to heal, wait for my running inspiration to return. Loving leaves you vulnerable. I get hurt. But I choose to love anyway. Just like running, love is a perfectly imperfect journey, whether it's to a finish line or a magical moment or to that someday when I'm 90, and that wooden rocking chair I want rocking right beside me. Love can't be contained. It's like water and it flows into both sides of the journey, the beginning and the end. And in that way, love really never ends.