By Elizabeth Dickson, LCSW
“Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an
attitude, an ordination of character which determines the relatedness
of that person to the world as a whole, not toward one object of love.”
Erich Fromm from The Art of Loving
Love that Transcends the Object of Love
When we experience moments of love or belonging, are these feelings just directed toward one object of love, or is the experience something more than that? And if we are loving people and practice genuine love in our lives, does that lead to an ordination of character that affects our relatedness to the world as a whole? In raising these questions we are introducing what I call the spiritual dimension of love—the notion that with a pure type of love we make contact not just with the immediate object of our affections, but also with a whole different dimension of living.
To see love as limited to the object of love diminishes the experience somehow. Maybe that is because when we feel love there is a sense that we are transformed, that our feelings start with the original object but do not end there. The object serves as a catalyst that transports us to an altogether different state, possibly even deserving to be called a state of grace, where we feel a renewed sense of connection or belonging, not just with the object, but also with ourselves and with the broader world or universe.
Even though some people might object to including the more spiritual dimension of love, I find that the spiritual language often captures some of the powerful aspects of the psychotherapy relationship that our professional language misses. Because it is more poignant, it can also feel more precise or accurate. By introducing the spiritual language, I am not suggesting any particular religious doctrine or a belief in a personal God. Rather it is an attempt to describe more completely and more fully the actual nature of the feelings that can be associated with love—a phenomenological emphasis rather than a religious emphasis.
The Relationship Between Love and Universal Belonging
By defining love as an unqualified “yes” to belonging, Brother David does not specifically introduce spiritual language, yet the spiritual implications of his words become clearer when we explore what the word “belonging” means to him and how he uses it in his writings. For Brother David, the feeling of belonging with a person or any other aspect of life has the potential to extend further to a feeling of universal belonging. Love is not just about the one object of our love; is also about coming nearer to the experience of ultimate belonging.
Over their lifetimes, some people come to experience love in this broader way, not just limited to family and friends, but expanding to include more and more, and maybe, at times, all of humanity. And if we are able to feel (in moments at least) a sense of overall belonging to our world or to our universe, that may best represent the ultimate spiritual goal. In “The God Problem,” Brother David tells us, “It will be a life determined by that deep sense of belonging which softens the rigid boundaries of our small ego and liberates us to experience our oneness with all—with all there is, and with the transcendent ‘More’ beyond all.”