Monday, February 11, 2013

So...What Does Love FEEL Like...For Real? - Update

In light of recent considerations, I would like to state that I no longer believe "oxytocin" is the "Love Hormone". Instead, I have come to identify it as the "Faith Hormone". We are willing to "commit" to relationships, either naively or rationally, based on our "faith" in those relationships. For instance, a mother and father will make the effort to care for their child, a very challenging and energy demanding endeavor, because they have faith that their efforts will be worthwhile, that their child will grow up to be healthy, happy, "successful", etc. (whatever the parents' ideas of "success" might be). The child will submit to be cared for, will respond positively (with smiles, etc.), in part based on the "faith" it develops in its parents as its basic needs are being met consistently. Erik Erikson suggests that the crisis of "Basic Trust vs. Basic Mistrust" is the very first crisis of human psychosocial development. It also happens to be that when a child is nursing, both the child and the mother experience elevated levels of oxytocin (see link below). (There is quite a bit of research out there on what happens when oxytocin does Not work properly. Here is one such study on its possible role in Autism and Asperger's.)

Am I just "mincing words" here? I don't think so. Towards the goal of becoming more fully "Self-Aware" as human beings, and given everything I have already written about here, especially with regards to the pitfalls of "Romantic Love" (see links below), and even as a burgeoning understanding and "awakening" in my own life, I know very directly how this is positively affecting me and my relationships, and I can only hope (or "have faith") that this "clarification" could have a positive effect on others as well, and that is why I am "making the effort" to write (and re-write) about it here.

For now though, I will leave the blog below intact. This forum is a "process" place for me and I have already realized how my perspectives and/or paradigms have shifted over the course of my posts here. But, I'm okay with others observing the process as well as the "conclusions" and "clarifications" along the way.

Now back to the original post...

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In previous blogs, especially Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love - Part II, and more recently, Reflections on Projections - Part 3, I have tried to present and support the idea that much of what we interpret as "feelings of love" are actually related more to spontaneously generated emotional/biochemical patterns. For instance, oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the "love hormone", as it plays a major part in "bonding" not only between mother and child, but later between adults who are looking to "mate". It so happens that dogs and other mammals also produce oxytocin, and that humans and animals bond with one another in part because of the mutual stimulation of oxytocin during their interactions. The bottom line is this: Oxytocin "feels good", and we tend to continue interacting with people who stimulate oxytocin production in us, making us "feel good" when we are around them. Of course, over time this "stimulating effect" may dissipate...significantly...and thus we "fall out of love" and move on to the next person who "stimulates" us.

Before I continue, I want to share from recent reading of A Guide for the Perplexed by E.F. Schumacher. In this book, Schumacher presents a consideration of "Four Great Levels of Being" as follows:

Level 1 = inanimate matter (i.e. elements) = no response ability, merely acted upon by external forces

Level 2 = plants = elements + life = limited response ability, interaction with sunlight and immediate environment

Level 3 = animals = elements + life + consciousness = greater response ability and some capacity for instinctually patterned manipulation of environment

Level 4 = humans = elements + life + consciousness + self-awareness (in varying degrees) = significantly expanded response ability and capacity for self-direction and manipulation of the environment*

What I would like to offer here is that when we are experiencing the "spontaneously generated emotional/biochemical patterns" that I refer to above, this is a biologically based experience; i.e. a "Level 3" experience. In most cases, it has nothing to do with Self-Aware Conscious Choice, i.e. Level 4 functioning. With regards to the production of oxytocin, we will bond with animals and they with us in much the same way we may bond with other human beings. In both cases, there is really no conscious effort involved.

And yet, to fulfill the possibility of our human nature, especially our capacity for Self-Awareness, and Self-Direction, we have to be capable of more than just a biologically-based, stimulus-response relationship to our environment and to each other. And that, my friends, takes Effort.

From my current point of view, that is actually what "Love" Feels Like; i.e. it feels like Effort. Furthermore, Life and Love "work" in much the same way.

Consider the following Basic Theory: Life = Love = Conscious Effort = Labor = Work = The "Counter Effort" to "Resistance" and/or "tendency" and/or "inertia" (biological and psychic patterns that tend to persist or play out in certain ways without conscious choice).

There are tendencies in the elements to be "flying apart" and yet there are forces that also counter those tendencies to help "hold them together". It takes a lot of "holding together" to make a molecule, even more, to make a cell, even more "holding together" to make a colony, etc., etc. This is the Integrative Quality of Life and I would also offer that it is the integrative quality of Real Love as well.

When Life manifests in a plant, it moves the plant to push up against the dirt that covers it as well as to sink its roots down into the ground. Life gives the animal the will to live, the will to seek out food and shelter, to expend its energy, to work, to survive, for as long as it can.

It is only in humans that the "Will of Life" (and Love) can be frustrated. It is only in humans that we encounter internal resistance to work, effort, and emotional/psychological growth. And even though biological growth will operate in many ways on its own, through poor diet, lifestyle, or environmental conditions we can thwart that as well.

As I have already suggested, part of the problem is that we have the capacity for "memory", self-reflective memory, that (apparently) is significantly different from that of other animals. We "remember" the experiences of "no effort" (in the womb), and "omnipotence"" (just outside of the womb). It is our brain's capacity for such "memory" and self-awareness that is part of our "problem". Other animals do not retain such "memories" as best we know. They do not imagine "going back to" those former states of "having all of their needs met with no effort of their own" or, in lieu of that, "being totally in control". They do not perceive "past" and they do not project into the "future". They live more moment to moment. Their consciousness, or conscious awareness is localized to the present moment.

With human birth comes biological shock and disequilibrium. As we grow and become more identified with (apparently) "separate self" we also come to the realization that we are Not Omnipotent (and neither are our parents); we are not "in control" as we "perceived" ourselves to be initially (and neither are they). As a consequence, we lose our sense of security. We feel completely vulnerable and helpless and we "react" to that.

I am beginning to suspect, that it is this "sense of" a profound loss of control that is one of the hardest "facts of incarnate life" that we have to face as human beings. Although there is probably a certain amount of "contraction" in response to the "vital shock" of birth, it will be compounded by our "reaction" to Not Being In Control of what we perceive to be "outside" of us and what we seem to remember having control over in the past (although it was only an Illusion). In my observation, much of life after this becomes, not necessarily a "struggle for power", as Thucydides describes it, but a "struggle for control", as it may (supposedly) give us a sense of security, which is not exactly the same. Power may be expressed in both positive and negative ways, but, so often, it is expressed in efforts to control others. (Of course, being no different from ourselves, others will also be trying to control us.)

It is also important to understand that part of our patterning almost invariably involves repressing aspects of ourselves and especially the full play of our emotions. For instance, if the only way I can control my mother's or father's attention (because as a child I sense that my life depends on it) is to "put on a happy face", to be "pleasing" to them, then I might repress my feelings of anger, fear, and frustration. Or, on the other hand, maybe my parents only pay attention to me when I am upset, so I repress my joy, and instead control them with my anger and temper tantrums. (Keep in mind though, children up to the age of seven or eight are not really "conscious" in the same sense as adults, as they are in varying degrees of what is referred to as a "hypnogogic state"; i.e. they are functioning as if they were under hypnosis, so they are merely patterning from a more biological place of "stimulus and response", even more so than adults. These "hypnogogic states" of infancy and early childhood are described more clearly in Bruce Lipton's book, The Biology of Belief.)

If our parents are overly permissive, we may become more domineering ourselves, and repress our own capacity for submission, even though, deep down inside, as children, we actually feel more secure when we have boundaries, when we are not left to "fend for ourselves" and/or to figure everything out for ourselves. Nevertheless, in our outward bravado, we are at the same time repressing our feelings of insecurity. On the other hand, our parents may be overly domineering and authoritative, and so we become submissive and, again, with no opportunities to practice being assertive, we are left to feel insecure about our abilities. In the most functional of circumstances, we grow up with appropriate boundaries, that still give us room to develop our own will and self-direction.

These examples are very general, but across the board, to the degree we have to respond to parental and social expectations, high or low, and most often, exaggerated and inappropriate, some parts of our true selves are going to get repressed. That "activity" starts early on, during the "hypnogogic" stages of early infancy and childhood. Consequently, it takes a great deal of self-awakening and self-awareness and conscious effort to first recognize and then overcome those patterns.

Finally, as Jung suggests, when we identify with ourselves as either "male" or "female" we start to repress the qualities of the opposite sex. This identification also starts to take place in early childhood (3-1/2 to 4-1/2 years of age), which is still during the "hypnogogic" period. So, again, lots of reactive/repressive activity going on there that gets quickly shunted into the subconscious, which means it is later available for (anima/animus) "projection", which is, again, an unconscious tendency.

However, if we are able to reach a certain point in our maturing process, we may come to realize that having control over others is not nearly as important (or ultimately satisfying) as having control over ourselves. In The Art of Loving Erich Fromm refers to this shift from "seeking love" to "giving love" or becoming a "producer of love". When we are able to recognize the deep psychic and biological state or activity of "self-contraction" in response to (apparent) separateness and (apparent) loss of control, then we can also learn to Feel Beyond that "pattern-patterning" and instead of directing our effort towards controlling others, and repressing ourselves, we can direct our effort more deliberately towards loving and accepting ourselves (i.e. becoming more Self-Aware) and loving and accepting others (i.e. becoming more Other-Aware).

Love of self includes the effort of self-understanding. This includes becoming aware of and more accepting of all those elements of oneself that are "tending" to be repressed or exaggerated; i.e. letting all of the balls come to the surface of the water. It means the effort of recognizing "projections" (shadow, anima, and animus) and re-integrating them into one's self-aware consciousness. Again, the work of "integration" is the work of Love (and Life). It also means recognizing one's needs and what one finds most meaningful in life, so that proper attention can be given to all of these aspects of "self".

The love of self includes the necessary effort of seeing to the normal and very real needs of one's physical body. In this regard, and for the most part, in this culture, love of self means working in order to earn money that is then used to buy food, clothing, and shelter. So that work is an effort of self-love. Resistance to such work is reciprocally, a resistance to loving oneself. If one is responsible for children, then working to earn money to pay for food, clothing, and shelter for them is also an expression of that love. Instead of buying food from the store, one could also work to grow a garden to provide food for oneself and/or others, but again, this "effort" would be an expression of one's love for oneself (and/or others). Included in the love of self and taking care of one's body is the effort of getting regular exercise, and since we have successfully managed to reduce physical effort in so many other areas of our lives, it takes even more Deliberate Effort in this culture to meet the body's natural need for physical activity and effort.

Possibly most important of all is the effort of understanding others. It is within the closest of our interpersonal spheres that so much of what is repressed "comes up" and out and is "projected" and/or exaggerated. It can provoke our "reactivity" on the deepest levels, and yet -- Every effort made to move beyond such "reactivity" and "projection" and "tendency" is an Effort of Love.

To "fall in love" does not take effort, whether it is "falling in love" with a potential mate, or "falling in love" with one's children. In both cases, the real effort is in coming to a full understanding of the other person as they are, and supporting them in more fully realizing whatever human potential lies within them for their own sake, and not just as a means of controlling that potential as it might serve our needs.

This plays out in the interpersonal sphere, and it plays out in the greater culture as well. I think the main thing I want to make a connection to is the idea that work and effort are rooted in love, they are love expressing itself. And as Fromm also suggests, being able to "concentrate" one's effort produces the highest quality product.

If you look at what has happened with "mass production" culture it has effectively diminished one's opportunity for intensive work. Trust me, I know, it does not take that much effort to sit at a sewing machine and produce the same action over and over again. It does, however, take much more effort to sew a single garment that fits properly. The difference in Quality is very, very clear.

We have tried in so many ways to "make life easier" - but, that means we don't have to work as hard and therefore (if my theory holds), we don't have to Love as Deeply, and - surprise, surprise - we are stalled in our development, and many feel the "meaninglessness" of it all. We are frustrated in life and in love. Many people keep expecting either some "Apocalyptic End" or (spontaneous) "Metaphysical Shift". In either case, there's not supposed to be a lot of Real Effort involved in Solving the Problems of Human Existence.

At the beginning of Chapter 2 of The Art of Loving Fromm suggests, "Love [is] the Answer to the Problem of Human Existence". Substitute "Effort" for "Love" and I'd say the sentence makes just as much, if not more sense. It really is going to take A Lot of Human Effort to solve the problems currently facing all of us. For instance, how many (more) people are willing to forego the convenience of their automobiles and Make the Effort to, say, Ride a Bicycle instead? How many potential parents are willing to forego endless nights of passively watching television and Actually Read A Book on Child Development (or Several Books), before making the Conscious Decision to conceive and raise a child? How many individuals are willing to spend time and effort coming to a better understanding of themselves, of becoming more Fully Self-Aware as an ordinary human being? How many people are willing to make the effort to feel beyond their "reactivity", to recognize and re-integrate their "projections", to recognize when they have become anima or animus possessed, and to learn to have more functional relationships with their "significant others"?

When are we going to appreciate that the Efforts of Love and Life are Actually Present All Around Us? From the seedling reaching for the sun, to the rodent gathering seeds to eat. From the mother who cares for and nurtures her child, while also overcoming her tendencies to hold-on or control. From the worker who gives their full attention to the task at hand, who takes pride in doing the very best job he or she can, to the lover who gives their full attention to knowing and understanding their partner, not as a means to manipulate and control, but because they understand their partner's need to be seen and understood for who they are as an ordinary human being.

I will offer, that the potential of this "Fourth Level of Being" has not yet been fully realized, in fact, we've barely begun to scratch the surface. And yet, there is great contentment in the Feeling of Being - Fully Self-Aware, even if it does take A Lot of Effort to get there!

To You, my readers, I say: Thank you for all of your Efforts...and Thank You for taking the time, and Making the Effort, to read this blog. I hope my Efforts in writing it will help keep us all moving in the direction of fully reaching our potential as Human Beings having a Human Experience!

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*Schumacher also suggests there may be a Fifth Level of Being, that of being "perfectly self-aware", and "perfectly self-directed", etc. I will acknowledge, that such a One may actually already exist, that it is the Divine Self in which and from which all and All arises. However, I am no longer inclined to think that we should be striving to Be That One, to attain Perfect Self-Awareness ourselves, necessarily. I think to become a fully Self-Aware Ordinary Human Being is Good Enough. Furthermore, this is the "Level of Being" that has yet to be fully stabilized in the course of evolution on this planet. There are many conscious human beings here, but the degree of Self-Awareness and Self-Direction varies considerably from one person to another. In other words, there is plenty of room for improvement, without making "perfection" or "union with the Divine" our goal. In fact, to make "union" our goal denies the reality of Always Already Present Prior Unity. Consequently, I have begun to hold such "efforts" suspect in part because they could also be a "grasping" for the experience of our earlier pre-natal and post-natal emotional/biochemical states, rather than a functional acceptance and "working within" the actual limitations and actual possibilities of human "Level 4" existence. If there is "Oneness" to be "obtained", then let it be the "Oneness" of fully integrated consciousness within Each of Us as Individual Human Beings, because that is what we are really experiencing ourselves to be. So, why not intensify our efforts to figure out what That is all about?

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