Mistaken for Love and …

I’m re-immersing myself in Fromm’s The Art of Loving for many reasons. The following quote has particular meaning for me because it identifies how easily we can settle when truly decent realities exist in our bonds. We can settle for something that feels good enough ‘though perhaps not soulful, not emanating from a personal center alive. And this particular section of Fromm’s chapter on the disintegration of love in western society strips away what we mistake for love and intimacy. A mistake I can live without especially if accepting what is “good enough” means I miss out on the deeper experiences of love…

“The world is one great object for our appetite, a big apple, a big bottle, a big breast; we are the sucklers, the eternally expectant ones, the hopeful ones—and the eternally disappointed ones. Our character is geared to exchange and to receive, to barter and to consume; everything, spiritual as well as material objects, becomes an object of exchange and of consumption.

The situation as far as love is concerned corresponds, as it has to by necessity, to this social character of modern man. Automatons cannot love; they can exchange their ‘personality packages’ and hope for a fair bargain. One of the most significant expressions of love, and especially of marriage with this alienated structure, is the idea of the ‘team.’ In any number of articles on happy marriage, the ideal described is that of the smoothly functioning team. This description is not too different from the idea of a smoothly functioning employee; he should be ‘reasonably independent,’ co-operative, tolerant, and at the same time ambitious and aggressive. Thus, the marriage counselor tells us, the husband should ‘understand’ his wife and be helpful. He should comment favorably on her new dress, and on a tasty dish. She, in turn, should understand when he comes home tired and disgruntled, she should listen attentively when he talks about his business troubles, should not be angry but understanding when he forgets her birthday. All this kind of relationship amounts to is the well-oiled relationship between two persons who remain strangers all their lives, who never arrive at a ‘central relationship,’ but who treat each other with courtesy and who attempt to make each other feel better.

In this concept of love and marriage the main emphasis is on finding a refuge from an otherwise unbearable sense of aloneness. In ‘love’ one has found, at last, a haven from aloneness. One forms an alliance of two against the world, and this egoism à deux is mistaken for love and intimacy.”

And what of love that is not, as Fromm calls it, pathology? Even the socially accepted one detailed above.

“Love is possible only if two persons communicate with each other from the center of their existence, hence if each one of them experiences himself from the center of his existence. Only in this ‘central experience’ is human reality, only here is aliveness, only here is the basis for love. Love, experienced thus, is a constant challenge; it is not a resting place, but a moving, growing, working together; even whether there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness, is secondary to the fundamental fact that two people experience themselves from the essence of their existence, that they are one with each other by being one with themselves, rather than by fleeing from themselves. There is only one proof for the presence of love: the depth of the relationship, and the aliveness and strength in each person concerned; this is the fruit by which love is recognized.” Erich Fromm – The Art of Loving

Such fruit is grown over decades of being with ourselves, not fleeing from all we are, standing in love and insisting on strengthening every area of our existence as best we can.

j. ruth kelly, 2013, all rights reserved
j. ruth kelly, 2013, all rights reserved


Specifically Human

This Sunday my youngest son participated in the bell choir at a local church. It wasn’t just any worship service. It was a Moravian feast candlelight service. I sat there (and stood and sang hymns and held the candle and broke bread) looking up at the chandeliers and all around at the lights and decorations of the season and wondered why I felt glad to be there. Former semi-fundie no longer of religion sitting in a pew. With sister to my right and son and daughter to my right and the father of my children too. It was, once again, an odd arrangement of purposes. I was there to honor my son’s love of the bells and all things group. He loves community and has felt estranged from it all by our very unique way of living. His parents co-parent ‘though divorced and don’t fight, squabble or otherwise do anything but support each other in nurturing three beautiful lives. This is odd. We foster love and generosity in their lives and educate them on different paths of spirituality, as we’re able. And we live in a town that is 99.9% uber Christian. So, we are even more odd. And add to that the fact that we sit in what is actually a beautiful church with thoughtful and caring souls and we are that much more odd. We can go where we don’t “belong” and yet find belonging. And I realized, as I sat there, that I was glad to be there apart from the wonder of hearing my son in chime rhyme with all of his choir friends.

It was perplexing to me. On the one hand I knew immediately that it was that part of me longing to belong to a group bigger than my own clan, my own little world. I watched the bell choir director and her passion, knowing from her own revealing that she was struggling with some deeply challenging grief. And she stood there giving with whole heart.

There are, to my mind anyway, so many deep flaws in Christianity and so I walked out. But there I sat. Glad to be. And today I find this from Fromm:

“The most important sphere of giving…lies in the specifically human realm. What does one person give to another? He gives himself, of the most precious he has, he gives of his life. This does not necessarily mean that he sacrifices his life for the other–but that he gives him of that which is alive in him; he gives him of his joy, of his interest, of his understanding, of his knowledge, of his humor, of his sadness–of all expressions and manifestations of that which is alive in him. In thus giving of his life, he enriches the other person, he enhances the other’s sense of aliveness by enhancing his own sense of aliveness. He does not give in order to receive; giving is in itself exquisite joy. But in giving he cannot help bringing something to life in the other person, and this which is brought to life reflects back to him; in truly giving, he cannot help receiving that which is given back to him. Giving implies to make the other person a giver also and they both share in the joy of what they have brought to life.” Erich Fromm – The Art of Loving

And I realize that the source of perplexity in my mind was the recognition that there was something deeply and authentically good about my being glad to be there. And that it didn’t mean I had changed my mind about my place in Christianity (not IN but with those who can be in it without being destructive). It meant that I could appreciate the flow of giving that occurs in these odd arrangements of purpose. I wondered, as I sat there, why are these folks here? Each family. Each person. Why? Do they do it by rote? Is it just another habit? And as I wondered that, it occurred to me that even that didn’t matter. I knew, without being able to say so to myself, that they were there to partake of each other. Even if stiffly assembled in long pews of wooden restriction. It is a place of sharing, of opening up to receive and reaching out to give.

And in the one most cherished verse of a long-favored hymn…

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel…

We inherit our delusions sometimes, or our blind acceptance of long-held beliefs passed down from generation to generation. Or we openly, knowingly choose our walk of faith. We are an odd arrangement of reasons and purpose. And we resonate to what is inherently human within both our delusions and our beliefs. We do the best we can until we learn what more we can give, what more we can know, what more we can discover.

And sometimes we make ourselves odd. We disrupt the rhythm and cast off the tradition. But ultimately, we all want the same thing. To know and be known in love, to give and receive of our stories. The only way to do that is to meet each other where we are, as we are, without insistence on agreement in all things. We have this common ground…

j. ruth kelly, 2012 all rights reserved
j. ruth kelly, 2012 all rights reserved



Objectively Speaking…

“The faculty to think objectively is reason; the emotional attitude behind reason is that of humility. To be objective, to use one’s reason, is possible only if one has achieved an attitude of humility, if one has emerged from the dreams of omniscience and omnipotence which one has as a child…Humility and objectivity are indivisible, just as love is.” Erich Fromm – The Art of Loving

Coincidentally this week and for a good portion of last week, Fromm’s words on faith, on love, on objectivity have been re-visiting my heart and mind. It’s a lovely coincidental reality because I also make sure to see what Rob Brezsny has to say for my sign every week. Guess what’s on the menu? OBJECTIVITY.



Humility stands out right now as I reflect on Fromm’s words. It’s difficult to nurture a wellspring of humility within when self-doubt rules because the overweening compensation for self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy is … pride, defensiveness, fear, neurotic scrambling for rightness and then, of course, objectivity is impossible.

We can be objective when bathed in a love that loves regardless of the worst of flaws. The flaws within. Once we settle that skirmish, subjective, narcissistic tendencies wane. And our objectivity shines. I’ve found, over the years of parenting, solidifying friendships and bridging the gaps created by divorce, that I can withdraw from conclusions and just be with the struggles that inevitably emerge in life. Just be with them. Stand with those involved and not assert a solution or an idea for best practice. What happens? Things work out. Life is perpetually conspiring to bring us to a place of wholeness, of wisdom, of personal growth and it goes smoothly when the need to control, form a subjective opinion of what REALLY matters in a given situation is…released. Is this always true, is there never a need to stand up and speak a viewpoint, draw a conclusion, form an opinion, flow out in emotional response or reaction (there’s a difference!)…no. But the need to defend self first, to reference me first, to react from a place of fear, of being seen as wrong, as flawed, as less than best as as as…when that dies, something beautiful (unhindered soul) unfolds.

Here’s to the humming warmth of a sun shining fearless awareness without bias…

jruthkelly, 2012


This is a repeat quote but so worth it…

“Love is possible only if two persons communicate with each other from the center of their existence, hence if each one of them experiences himself from the center of his existence. Only in this ‘central experience’ is human reality, only here is aliveness, only  here is the basis of love. Love, experienced thus, is a constant challenge; it is not a resting place, but a moving, growing, working together; even whether there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness, is secondary to the fundamental fact that two people experience themselves from the essence of their existence, that they are one with each other by being one with themselves, rather than by fleeing from themselves. There is only one proof for the presence of love: the depth of the relationship, and the aliveness and strength in each person concerned; this is the fruit by which love is recognized.” Erich Fromm – The Art of Loving


Loving Concentration . . .

“To be concentrated means to live fully in the present, in the here and now, and not to think of the next thing to be done, while I am doing something right now. Needless to say that concentration must be practiced most of all by people who love each other. They must learn to be close to each other without running away in the many ways in which this is customarily done. The beginning of the practice of concentration will be difficult; it will appear as if one could never achieve the aim. That this implies the necessity to have patience need hardly be said. If one does not know that everything has its time, and wants to force things, then indeed one will never succeed in becoming concentrated–nor in the art of loving…One cannot learn to concentrate without becoming sensitive to oneself.” Erich Fromm – The Art of Loving

Cultivating concentration can be so difficult because we’re taught to be something other than sensitive. The barrage of messages are many: “Toughen up, kiddo. Brush it off, move on. Let it roll… Go. Go. Go. Show the proof you’re worth something! Whatcha got? What’d you DO, MAKE, PRODUCE? What?! Do it NOW.” Life created by the industrial revolution is something a bit automaton, no? Even if we don’t succomb to the vibes, they’re there trying to assert destructive criticism as we reach to type out the next chapter of a book that surely no one will want to publish (says the vibe screaming, anyway). Now our technology makes us more “efficient.” The need to concentrate and cultivate sensitivity is critical only to the point the political or philosophical advantage is secured. What it could mean as a way of life, as the artfulness in our loving is an obscure song long gone for most.

Then some of us are just sensitive to the nth degree and we grow up feeling like a big baby with an alternate “tough guy” persona pulled out for the more awkward moments. A safe mask to keep people from criticizing who we really are. Until. Until we discover that sensitivity is something other than a bane on the landscape of soul. It’s the greatest fecundity of our fields, yielding fruit supreme beyond the briars of our toughest moments. Go back to those most sensitive moments when you were criticized hugely for “over-reacting” and love yourself to pieces.  Discover what was awesome about that sensitivity.

Such discovery is essential to developing ourselves beyond the token “listening” and “communicating” in our closest relationship. Some of the more important layers of personal growth require we dig deep into self-awareness and damn the tough-guy programming. Why am I feeling this way right now? Why are my thoughts going in this direction? What do I believe of my own existence along these lines? How does it influence my dialogue with those I love?

And that sensitivity must include loving acceptance of what we discover of our souls and commitment to work through and manage the muck…

Frommful Meanderings, Snarlings And Freedom

“Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.” Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving

“…a man is considered active if he does business, studies medicine, works on an endless belt, builds a table, or is engaged in sports. Common to all these activities is that they are directed toward an outside goal to be achieved. What is not taken into account is the motivation of an activity. Take for instance a man driven to incessant work by a sense of deep insecurity and loneliness; or another one driven by ambition, or greed for money. In all these cases the person is the slave of a passion, and his activity is in reality a “passivity” because he is driven; he is the sufferer, not the ‘actor.’ On the other hand, a man sitting quiet and contemplating, with no purpose or aim except that of experiencing himself and his oneness with the world, is considered to be ‘passive,’ because he is not ‘doing’ anything. In reality, this attitude of concentrated meditation is the highest activity there is, an activity of the soul, which is possible only under the condition of inner freedom and independence…

In the exercise of an active affect, man is free, he is the master of his affect; in the exercise of a passive affect, man is driven, the object of motivations of which he himself is not aware…

love is an action, the practice of a human power, which can be practiced only in freedom and never as the result of a compulsion…

Love is an activity, not a passive affect; it is a ‘standing in,’ not a ‘falling for.’ In the most general way, the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving.”

All from The Art of Loving

These expressions resonate deeply here. My world is too busy to suit me. I want to give more than the constraints of demand allow and I ask myself why that is, besides the obvious. And I wonder what I can do to bring the kind of balance that puts me back in a position of giving from a place of overflowing aliveness. Non-stop demand can make compulsive automatons of us all. Part of the problem here is the merely temporary shoving end-of-semester study scramble. But it all adds up. How can my life, with all the roles I fulfill, sufficiently give where it matters most to myself, to my children and beyond, recognizing there are limits on what one person can give, recognizing that those three fields include row upon row of truly valid requirement? Myself – all that I require to maintain balance and be a resource. My children – all that they require. Beyond…

I may have to cut down to two classes a semester. I may have to cut it out completely in search of a job while wondering if I’m shooting my future earning capacity in the foot in order to secure myself as a more viable resource NOW. School. Work. Parenting. Long-term relationship with ______. It is quite a conundrum. But the truth is, it is impossible to fathom every possible outcome. It’s sometimes better to choose rather than stall in analysis. That’s why school has been a full-time (for my world!) affair and a great restorative experience for me thus far in some respects. But the crashing halt of so much else is daunting. For someone who wants to see everything running smoothly so I can give as much as possible to all that matters to me (including to myself!), it’s also highly restrictive. And sometimes you run into one professor who makes you wonder how it is “education” has such a grandly elevated status on the totem pole of life. I have to submit to this narrow intelligence and lack of perspective?! And take a bad grade from someone whose attention is hijacked by insecurity-driven agendas? Every indignant thread of me has managed to stay put and not march out of my developmental psychology class this semester, muttering “my time, my energy is precious…you have GOT to be kidding me, such rich material and wow…”

This is when I start to snarl…  freedom, where is it? I resent the constraint. So, the cultivation of a vision of what “freedom” works itself out to be in this particular phase of life is essential. If I did not have long sit-still sessions of total silence I would be a complete wreck. And moonlight helps.

This is when I appreciate Maslow where he says “self-actualization is a matter of degree and of frequency rather than an all-or-none affair.” Self-actualization includes the realization (not merely the mental realization but the whole-person realization as an experiential fulfillment) of the capacity to love as that active giving from a place of freedom. The snarling commences…how to preserve that freedom? It seems like the answer lies in choosing a path that is not reacting in fear of the possible future lack or in fear of current lack but holds a realistic vision, adopting a wise course of action that respects both present and future concerns while maintaining a faith in life’s vast opportunities for love to grow. No small feat. Sometimes I can only manage to snarl.

In the meantime, Fromm keeps me reminded of the wonder of aliveness, of the life lived outside the gate, past the dutiful piecemeal fragmented meals stewed in soulless compliance to rote “right” and beyond to resilience thriving in awareness of the power of love as an active affect of vibrance overflowing both spontaneously and in calculting efficiency. Sometimes a life of such love requires concentrated downtime, rest. Other times it requires meticulous planning and implementation while maintaining a sensitivity to the moment, to the value of changing course in a blink of “accidental” intuitive brilliance. Other times it shoves you into leaping first, asking questions later (and snarling at the obstacles). But always…

stillness required. And for now, study essential. On with it…

Fromm Feast . . .

Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love.”

“One loves that for which one labors and one labors for that which one loves.”

“…responsibility, in its true sense, is an entirely voluntary act; it is my response to the needs, expressed or unexpressed, of another human being. To be ‘responsible’ means to be able and ready to ‘respond.'”

Photo Courtesy of Dave Grant

“I want the loved person to grow and unfold for his own sake, and in his own ways, and not for the purpose of serving me. If I love the other person, I feel one with him or her, but with him as he is, not as I need him to be as an object for my use..”

“…the knowledge which is an aspect of love is one which does not stay at the periphery, but penetrates to the core. It is possible only when I can transcend the concern for myself and see the other person in his own terms.”

“Love is active penetration of the other person, in which my desire to know is stilled by union. In the act of fusion I know you, I know myself, I know everybody–and I “know” nothing. I know in the only way knowledge of that which is alive is possible in man–by experience of union–not by any knowledge our thought can give.”

“Love is the only way of knowledge, which in the act of union answers my quest. In the act of loving, of giving myself, in the act of penetrating the other person, I find myself, I discover myself, I discover us both, I discover man.”

‘nough said for now.