On The Nature of Love, an essay by Michael Graeme at Spillwords.com

On The Nature of Love

On The Nature of Love

written by: Michael Graeme


If there was an Internet in those days, you couldn’t do much with it. Digital cameras were beyond the pocket, and mobile phones were not nearly so mobile or as smart as they are now. It was an entirely analogue expedition then, the first time I walked the Dale Head Round. Map, compass, and an eye to the weather was what I went by. It’s strange how the date is fuzzy, now. I feel I should have a better fix on it, but 2000, maybe 2001 is the best I can do. And it was summertime.

We set out from just below Little Town, in the Newlands Valley. I should clarify Little Town is not a town, more a collection of rural cottages and farm buildings. The valley is a sublimely beautiful place, remote, just the one narrow road, tall hedgerows, pastures and woodland on either side, and the fells rising steep all around. Scope End was the first objective, a shapely cone of a hill, and a lovely thing to climb. Then it was the ridge to the summit of Hindscarth, and finally Dale Head, with its massive cairn.

There was a girl, too. She was resting by the cairn, as if waiting for someone to catch up with her. She smiled at my approach, seemed open, inviting of company. It stirred something in me, but not what you’re most likely thinking. All the same, it sent me tumbling down a void of years, all the way back to the tortured teens, and memories of an unrequited love. I returned the smile, but sensed a danger, either in her, or me, so did not settle long. Decades later, I wrote her into a novel, and called her Jen. I carried on, but with a weight in the gut that was not there before.

The unrequited love of our teenage years is an important step along the way. It is the recognition of a thing that is missing, and without which we feel we shall never be complete. It is the memory of a limitless bliss we each once possessed, but from which we have been parted, a memory from which all details but the scalding essence of the feeling itself have been removed. It was peculiar this should be catching up with me again, a guy who had begun the downhill into his forties. But this was a desire for connection, more in the metaphysical sense. I had simply mapped it onto the form of a kindly young stranger.

From Dale Head, it’s a long descent to the reedy tarn, then another climb onto High Spy and Maiden Moor. After that, when you reach the foot of Cat Bells, the route branches off to the west, and descends once more, brings you safely to Little town. Finally, there is a short section of that narrow road. It had been a long day, and I was pleasantly tired, satisfied at having completed the route, but also still haunted by that encounter by the cairn – or at least by what it had triggered. Then I glanced up at the unfolding scene. Scope End came into view, and nothing was ever the same again.

My vagueness over the precise date I put down to the fact I attempted to suppress the memory of what happened next. But the inner self kept offering it back until I accepted it, until I owned it, and dealt with it. Dealing with it was a journey of many years, and by that time the precise time, the precise year, was blurred.

So, imagine you’re very young, a pubescent teen maybe, and you’re in love. You’re unaware what you’re doing is projecting something unimaginably profound from the depths of, not just your own soul, but the soul of the world. And the person you love? They don’t even know your name. You hope they’ll notice you, and love you back, for how can they not? Except they don’t.

I dreamed of her once, the one I loved. In the dream, she realised my love, and told me sweetly how she wanted to be with me. For a time, in the dream time, and before I woke back to the unrequited reality, what I felt was the most god-like euphoria, and I floated in it. It was the first time of such a profoundly stirring experience. The second, and the last, was that day in the Newlands valley. One dream. One reality.

You can find your own way there, to that state of euphoria, I mean. You can do it by meditating for years in caves, and in monasteries under the tutelage of others who have gone before you, then you can turn it on at will, or so I’m told. Or you can fall into it by accident. For the latter you need no special grounding, no training, but it tends to be a once in a lifetime thing if it happens at all. But if it does, … well, it just happens.

If you’re a religious kind of guy, you might see angels. I’m not, and did not. I was secular, rational, shy of the word “spiritual” because it comes ready loaded with the potential for misinterpretation. Mystical is a better fit for me, but I resist even that. The metaphysical reality is mysterious, but that’s only because we do not understand it. It can also be frightening, until we accept we will never grasp it completely, not in this life at least. All we get is a glimpse. But a glimpse is plenty, for thereafter it becomes your life’s work. More than a glimpse and I reckon you could easily go off your head.

What happened to me was Scope End and I were no longer “self” and “object.” I was Scope End, indeed everywhere I looked, I was. There are a couple of ways you can interpret this. For a time, I pathologized it, rationalised it away, told myself I had been on the verge of a faint, that consciousness had retreated to an hallucinogenic reverie. So, yes, I rejected it, though the feeling had been authentic, that “mind” and what I had always taken to be material reality “out there,” were in some sense the same, and therefore not material at all.

And I rejected it because if we dare to entertain the latter premise, the conclusion we draw is that we create our own reality. But if that is so, then who is everyone else? Am I creating them too? That would make it what the philosophers call a solipsistic paradox, but whatever they call it, it just felt wrong. Still, the memory wouldn’t go away. It remained fresh down the decades, demanding a solution which turned out to be obvious, though I was only able to come at it in more recent times, when I was ready for it, I suppose. No, I do not create my own reality. Reality creates me, right enough, and my fellow beings, and it creates the universe. It’s just that reality is not what we think it is. But what has any of this to do with love?

The materialist reading me will agree with that early diagnosis of a near loss of consciousness, and a lapse into an hallucinatory state. However, I remind him a loss of consciousness does not tally with the fact I was walking along the road at the time, was perfectly aware of my self, and did not stumble, that the whole thing, timeless and expansive though it was, could only have lasted the length of time it takes to raise one’s foot, mid-stride, and put it down again. Nor does it tally with the overwhelming feeling of love, the perfect love of completion, of consummation, of going home. It was the love of the dream I had dreamed as a boy, the love that pours in when what is unrequited is, by some miracle, returned.

That said, I don’t know what love is, I mean as a thing in itself, only that in life we interpret it as the source of all meaning, and we will move mountains to attain it. It is the engine that drives us, as it drives everything else into being. I believe we each of us once knew this undifferentiated and non-dual metaphysical state, but in life the limited apparatus of our biology does not permit its recollection. Thus, we crave reunion with a mode of being we cannot be sure exists, yet nevertheless believe we shall find in the love we pursue and feel for others. To experience the underlying nature of reality, however, to be reminded of it, no matter how briefly or imperfectly, is to know the source. It is to know love too as the engine of creation, as the energy that creates the universe, and all that’s in it.

If we are lucky in life, we will fall in love, our love will be returned, and consummated in partnership, marriage, whatever. And then? Then, we discover our partner is not divine. They are human, and they have their foibles, as do we. If we’re really lucky, they’re easy to be with, we settle into their loving presence, and we can’t imagine ever wanting to be with anyone else. And if we are luckier still along the way, we are granted this peculiar insight that we also exist within a greater non-material reality, in whose loving embrace we rest, no matter the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations of our waking reality. This is the nature of love and being. It’s the way it has always been. We have simply forgotten it.

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