“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind.”
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
It is a rare week, if not day, that goes by without most of us using the word “love.” English has only one word for “love,” and we all use it in a multitude of ways: I love my dog. I love chocolate. I love football. I love music. I love her/him. I love it. And, oh yes, I love my car. It gets a little confusing when we use the same word to describe our feelings toward a banana cream pie, a sunset, or another person. On Valentine’s Day it doesn’t seem right that we use the same word to say “I love bacon” and “I love you.”
The English language makes it difficult to explore the complexity of love. The Greeks provide several different words to describe human loves: brotherly, erotic, spiritual, motherly, and self-love. Interestingly, self-love cannot be attained without the capacity to love one’s neighbor.
The German social psychologist, Eric Fromm (1900-1980), explored these various types of love in his classic book, The Art of Loving. He concludes that mature love is a union that preserves one’s individuality. The paradox of mature love is that love breaks through isolation and two become one, yet remain two.
The foundation for love’s expression is found in the first paragraph of Fromm’s book: “Is love an art? Then it requires knowledge and effort. Or is love a pleasant sensation, which to experience is a matter of chance, something one ‘falls into’ if one is lucky?” Fromm believes it is the former while acknowledging “the majority of people believe it is the latter.”
The great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), expressed the same point that mature love requires knowledge and effort.
I already love in you your beauty, I am only beginning to love in you that which is eternal and ever precious—your heart, your soul.
Beauty one could get to know and fall in love with in one hour and cease to love it as speedily, but the soul one must learn to know.
Believe me, nothing on earth is given without labor, even love, the most beautiful and natural of feelings.
Leo Tolstoy to Valeria Arsenev
Tolstoy is remembered for his monumental works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. He also founded a school for peasant children. He was a commander in the Crimean War prompting him to become a pacifist. He was an inspiration to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
Tolstoy’s older life stands in stark contrast to his early years. This is how he described his younger life: “I put men to death in war, I fought duels to slay others. I lost at cards…rioted with loose women, and deceived men…”. Wanting to be honest, he shared his early diary with the beautiful Valeria Arsenev to whom he was engaged. She responded to his honest sharing by dumping him. Six years later Tolstoy married his friend’s sister, Sofia Andreyevna, with whom he had twelve children and a full and loving life. His beautiful poetic words written for Valeria had no lasting quality until they applied to Sofia.
An old woman, married some fifty years, gifted her husband a most unusual gift on Valentine’s Day. Looking at the gift he said to himself, “This is really a beautiful antique bowl, but what a strange thing to give me on Valentine’s Day. She knows I love licorice. What do I want with a bowl? All these years and I still can’t figure out what she does sometimes.” Then he noticed there was a note in the middle of the bowl. He opened it and read:
INSTRUCTIONS FOR USING THE BOWL
- Flat side down, open side up.
- Fill it full of shrimp and asparagus when you can afford to, and fill it with chili and rice when you can’t.
- During the holidays, fill it with shining balls, one for every family member and friend who isn’t with you.
- Fill it with fresh smelling potpourri and breathe deeply.
- On a rainy night, fill it full of soup, turn down the lights, light a candle, turn on soft music, and get two spoons.
- Leave love notes for each other in it.
- Keep your bills in it, if a bill falls out, pay it next month.
- Keep kitty treats for “Midnight” and “Chloe.”
- Fill with roses to celebrate those you love.
- Remember who gave you the bowl, knowing you are loved.
The old man sat quietly with tears in his eyes thinking of the good days and the bad, excitement and routine, acceptance, understanding, children, grandchildren, shared life. And the priceless gift he had just received.
In defining love as art, Fromm asserts that, as any art, love requires the following:
- Supreme Importance
The old man smiled at his wife, their eyes met, and said it all. He softly confessed, “I can be a really slow learner, but you know what the years have taught me?”
“I know the gift of your love comes from the soul. My mind’s eye sees your beauty and the love that fills my heart.”
What a perfect gift the bowl had been.
Tolstoy’s words “the soul one must learn to know,” ring true as do Shakespeare’s “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind…”.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Written by: Hartzell Cobbs
Hartzell Cobbs is the retired CEO of Mountain States Group (now Jannus, Inc.), a diverse nonprofit human service organization. He is the author of the recent book, RavenWind, that is available through outlets such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Archway Publishing. His first book, Thanatos and the Sage: A Spiritual Approach to Aging, is available through Amazon.
More about Dr. Cobbs’ latest book, Ravenwind…
From ancient lore, down millenniums, traveling through worldwide mythologies, legends, and folktales, the mythical raven is entwined in the history of mankind. Most researchers agree that about twenty thousand years ago the first Americans came from Siberia across the Bering Land Bridge to what is now North America. The Siberians and their shamans were accompanied by the mythical raven who mediated between the physical and spiritual worlds.
With the Siberian influence, Northwest Native American mythology speaks of the raven as creator, destroyer, and trickster. As in Siberia, raven soars on the wind between the great spirit/mystery and the physical world. Raven teaches respect for earth and the oneness of all that is.
In RavenWind, author Hartzell Cobbs offers at look at the raven’s role in world history and in Native American myths, legends, and folktales. He tells how the raven of folklore calls one to follow, to listen, and experience life with all its complexity, insight, ambiguity, contraction, and humor. With an emphasis on Native American tradition, Cobbs explores the presence of mythical raven in the mundane.