Growing up in the Sixties, like a lot of people who are now in or just entering their mid-life, I heard a lot of radical messages about love. “Make love, not war” was a popular slogan of the peace movement during the Viet Nam era. “All You Need Is Love”, the Beatles’ anthem, reverberated via satellite around the world offering a singular solution to all of life’s problems. “Free love” was declared to be the new celebratory attitude towards sexuality. I soaked up these messages over three decades ago, and felt their rightness inside of my body back then, and I felt so optimistic about the future of the human race. I was glad to be alive in this period of humanity’s evolution. I imagined that these ideas and attitudes would soon be accepted by the majority of people everywhere because the simple wisdom expressed in them was so compelling and irrefutable. As another song from that era proclaimed on Broadway in the musical, “Hair”: “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius – harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding…”
Today, thirty years later, those messages seem either quaintly idealistic or, on the other hand, even more radical than they originally did. Many now seem to seriously doubt the power of love to overcome hatred or to resolve problems in our time, and people certainly have become very cautious, even fearful about celebrating their sexuality. Others assume that experiences of brilliant love and exquisite pleasure are fleeting moments that cannot last, so why bother?
What happened? Has love failed in its promise? Is sex not all that it’s cracked up to be? What actually is the nature of love and the purpose of sex, and why do we doubt or fear the power of these energies so much?
In my experience as a mind-body-spirit psychotherapist, I have found that people usually fear what they desire the most, and that the fear of genuine love and pleasure is ultimately at the core of every character structure. [Note: a character structure is a cluster of psychological defenses, emotional blocks and physical contractions that distort a person’s personality, body and energy flow.] Why would we fear love and pleasure? It seems counter-intuitive to fear what feels so good. Indeed, when I first suggest to a patient that they have a fear of pleasure, the response is usually one of protest: “I definitely do want to be in love.” “I totally crave good sex.” “I wish I could have it all in one relationship!” Their explanation for the lack of these experiences in their lives is that it must be something external causing the problem: “There are no available men/women out there.” “You can’t have good sex when you’re working or raising kids.” “Having it all is only possible in the beginning of a relationship.”
However, at some point in the course of therapy, when the defenses and blocks of a person’s character structure have been loosened and the emotional channels have opened, the truth becomes apparent. People discover that in their newly opened state, real love and sexual pleasure are available to them…and they are terrified of it! The openness becomes symbolic of some great unknown against which we all reflexively contract. As Eva Broch puts it in her “Guide Lecture” on the spiritual significance of sexuality: “In the human realm, the power of sexuality can, in its most ideal form, be the greatest ‘representative’ of spiritual existence. There is no other human experience that conveys so fully what spiritual bliss, oneness, and timelessness are.”
So, how do we develop a reflexive reaction against something that feels so wonderful? Perhaps we have to go back to the beginning…of our lives, to understand this particular dilemma of human existence as it is right now.
A newborn infant is an extraordinarily open system, a receptive, sensate being without any body armor, without defenses other than a kind of instinctual withdrawal reaction from pain perhaps. In such a state, everything is felt so acutely, so intensely, both pleasure and pain. If you watch a baby react to stimuli, it is always with their whole body, with the totality of who they are. When experiencing pleasure, like from the loving touch or smile of its mother or the nourishment from the breast, the little baby seems to quiver and melt from ecstasy; when it is hungry or wet in its diaper or otherwise uncomfortable, it seems to shake in agony and outrage.
While in this state of original openness, the child will inevitably experience a certain amount of frustration of its basic needs, and it will be hurt by other painful stimuli as well, such as the anger, fear or anxiety of its parents. The anguish in the child will eventually cause it to begin contracting its body, as its muscle control develops, to try and control the sensation of pain, and it will become a less open system. In a sense, the child has learned at a very visceral level that openness to receiving pleasure means openness to experiencing pain. A secondary response develops that becomes what we call second nature – in this case, a reflex to avoid “too much” pleasure. This becomes one of the final conditioned responses that must be overcome in therapy in order to become able to truly experience and sustain deep love and sexual pleasure.
Here’s Eva Broch again from the same Guide Lecture: “The ability to take frustration and pain are essential ingredients in the ability to love, to give and receive, and to experience bliss. Blocks and prohibitions of true fulfillment exist because within the adult personality, the infant still claims fulfillment according to its mode.”
“Its mode”, we can presume, means to avoid pain at all costs. Somehow, the child seeks to experience love and pleasure while avoiding feeling its hurt and pain…and this is not possible. One cannot stay open and closed at the same time. As that child grows eventually into an adult, it will develop a frustrating compromise solution, keeping only partially open, or opening only occasionally to have a taste of pleasure, followed by closing up quickly again lest pain follow. This is why people have come to believe that love and passion don’t last in a relationship.
When a person falls in love, there is a rush of energy, call it “Eros”, or “Cupid’s arrow.” I’ve come to think of that surge as a “free sample” from the universe to let us know what life could be like without defenses. For a while, regardless of one’s character structure, when we fall in love, our defenses are temporarily blown aside by the force of Eros. We see everything in beautiful colors, feel healthy and invigorated and can only see the best in ourselves and the beloved other person. This is bliss. After a while, however, the free sample is done, and our defenses begin re-asserting themselves, closing us up again. The reason for this is that we intuitively know that staying open to this amount of bliss will allow the stored up old hurt and pain we’ve been holding and hiding from to come up and out, and we reflexively try to stop that. This happens below the surface of consciousness, so we are confused and disappointed, and conclude that passionate love just doesn’t last.
What needs to be discovered, however, is that at the point when the free sample begins to run out, we have the choice to buy the whole package. If we actively seek out a process that will systematically dismantle our defenses so we can keep the emotional channels open, the passionate love can indeed not only last a lot longer, but even grow profoundly deeper. The “price” is, of course, letting all of that old pain out. What makes us recoil from doing that is the erroneous belief that we could not withstand the pain. That belief is from the childish mind, from a time when the hurt of not being loved enough was indeed too overwhelming, maybe even a matter of life and death.
Now, as adults, being disappointed in love is not a life and death matter (believe it or not!). We just react as if it was. To a baby or little child, its parents are the entire universe before whom they are completely vulnerable and upon whom they are totally dependent, without choice. For better or worse, there is nowhere else for a child to turn for love and nurturance than its parents. As an adult, however, one always has options regarding the choice of a love object, and adults also have resources available to improve the quality of a relationship that a child does not.
Furthermore, the pain of emotional deprivation to a being in a tiny, little infant body, with an unformed mind, is devastating and cannot be processed. An adult in an unfulfilling relationship has a big body and a fully formed mind with which to deal with this lack, so the feelings need not be experienced as devastating. When it seems so to an adult, it is an illusion. Though the feelings are real, created by the residual, unprocessed mind of the child inside, the danger is not. Discovering this reality and releasing the old pain is where a full spectrum therapy can help keep.
Does this mean that two people can be guaranteed to be in love “forever” if they free themselves of their defenses? Not necessarily. Being in love can have a natural course of time, short or long, just like any journey two souls may take together. All journeys have endings, even great ones. An essential ingredient of real love is its freedom. Love can be felt, given and received and ultimately followed where it leads, but if one attempts to control or possess it, which would only be done out of fear, the channel closes. This has been talked about in many places, from the Bible to the beautiful writings of Kahlil Gibran to the popular songs of our generation. “If you love somebody, set them free”, Sting sang in his hit single from the 1990s.
Monogamy in a relationship that is not based on fear is “spontaneous”, as Ellsworth Baker said in his book, “Man In The Trap.” What does that mean? To me it means that one is so in love in a singular way with one particular person that on a day to day basis there is a powerful desire to experience all of one’s sexual love energy only through that one other. There is no need for emotional or legal contracts, nor are there feelings of jealousy, ownership, obligation or betrayal under the surface. Just free love, love given freely. In my experience, this kind of spontaneous love with another is one of the most powerful and spiritual experiences we can have in physical form.
From such an open place, when the time of being in love naturally concludes between two people, the sadness felt is “clean,” without remorse or bitterness or defensiveness. One feels a poignant sweetness and a true feeling of being blessed for all that was experienced during the time of connection to the beloved other soul. The “end” of the relationship can be more like a graduation, rather than a tragedy.
To get to such a place requires that a person face their most deeply feared feelings of loss and abandonment stored up from childhood, and see those feelings all the way through to the other side. To be fearless to love, in other words, we must become fearless to lose. Anyone who I have seen become fearless in this way and find their way to genuine, free loving, confirms that the journey was worth the so-called “price.”
So, what has any of this got to do with the world’s problems and the dawning of a harmonious age? Well, I have never seen anybody who has become able to love freely wanting to make war or rob banks or even litter the street. In fact, people who become free in that way are warriors, but warriors who never have to fight in the usual sense. They are simply courageous enough to really love and fearless about the illusions around losing. They understand the channeled message in Barbara Brennan’s book, “Hands of Light”, that puts it succinctly: “Hating war is not the same as loving peace.” Nothing is more powerful than an open heart. Nothing is more powerful than love. Finally, even fears of death are transcended when one loves openly.
Perhaps, to come full circle back to the “Summer of Love” days of the late 1960s, that was the meaning of “All You Need Is Love”, and of the final message the Beatles gave to us when it was time to naturally end their relationship with us: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”