This is a challenging question, IMO, mainly because there is such a diversity of conceptions and attitudes about “love” in modern culture. In ancient Greece, they used several different words for love in different contexts, but in modern English our distinctions get a bit muddied. I have spent the past thirty years or so meditating on this issue and writing about it — and still find it difficult to reduce down to simplified definitions. Which means that answering this question will require laying some groundwork first….
What spiritual traditions are talking about when they use the phrase “loving everyone” is really three distinctly different components:
1) The first is having a certain perspective about all human beings (including ourselves) that recognizes human frailty, bad choices, imperfections and weaknesses in everyone, and nevertheless accepts, forgives and is kind to all. This is really more of a behavioral and intellectual discipline that is grounded in humility and functional compassion regarding the well-being of ourselves and others.
2) The second is a felt experience of affection that occurs through spiritual practice; this is difficult to describe without personally encountering it, but imagine feeling the same depth of love you might feel for your own child, a favorite sibling or your closest friend, but for everyone and everything at once. This is a profound apprehension that can happen spontaneously in peak experiences of consciousness, or as the result of disciplined mystical activation practices (see my book Essential Mysticism for elaboration of this process, online for free here: Essential Mysticism); in fact that is what many spiritual practices in various traditions seek to induce.
3) The third aspect of “loving everyone” is inherent to the ideas of discernment, skillfulness, and understanding the relationship dynamics in play. In other words, whether we are exercising disciplined humility (#1), or experiencing an aha moment of universal love (#2), we will want to know whether our behavior and decisions have efficacy with respect to loving others — that is, that they have the desired trajectory, interplay and consequences. This also means developing some metrics around this objective, and understanding what “unskillful” love (such as codependence) looks like.
In the highest order of what I call the unitive principle — that is, a mature and skillful universal loving kindness — all three of these facets of “loving everyone” are developed and refined. In fact, that process never ends…it is a dynamic and fluid interaction within and without. But there is an important conditionality to this journey: it is dependent on our level of moral development (or ego development, if you will). We will not be able to operate beyond our level of moral maturity — at least not for sustained periods of time without the possibility of burn-out. This is because love-consciousness has everything to do with our personal identity and attachment to that identity, as well as how expansive or inclusive our identity becomes. This is a much more complicated topic, but here is a chart that shows the progression of moral development and its correlation to both identity and our ability to “love everyone” in skillful and sustainable ways:
Integral Lifework Developmental Correlations
I hope this was helpful.
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