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Alain De Botton On Love

Every heartbreak, disappointment, and failure contains a lesson that will nurture our spiritual evolution. Without gaining wisdom from pain we are bound to endlessly repeat cycles that hinder our spiritual maturation. Spiritualists believe being unable to gain wisdom from our experiences results in reincarnation. Which means they believe transcendence is depended on our ability to master our world. Alain De Botton On Mature Love says with being, and growing, in love we are obligated to face ourselves.

But there may be nothing more difficult than gaining the wisdom from experience. Then acting on it, for the distance between knowledge and action deepens depending on our action. We must be committed to mastery. For mastery doesn’t mean always responding with perfect action, but embracing the temporality of our experience. There may be no act that requires our complete willingness to embrace change.

There may be nothing worse than loving without being committed to healing. Nothing hurts the people we love more than us not knowing how to love. I have lived my life with misapprehensions about the meaning of loving someone. With much heartache and work the recognition of your soul in another is the beginning of all love. We must treat our souls with care to respect the soul of another person.

We are far from perfect. Our ability to live is dependent on our ability to gain wisdom then act until we have transcended. Alain De Botton, throughout On Love, creates a character working through heartbreak in order to become a better lover. Being a reflection of our own inner dialogue this young man wants to be prepared for love:

We must assume that there are certain lessons to be drawn from love. Or else we remain happy to repeat our errors indefinitely. Like flies that drive themselves insane butting their heads against windowpanes. Shreds of wisdom that could prevent some of the excessive enthusiasms, the pain and the bitter disappointments? Is it not a legitimate ambition to become wise about love. In the way that one may become wise about diet, death, or money?

Alain De Botton On Mature Love
Alain De Botton On Mature Love

In the year of my first, of many times, falling, or growing, in love, Ashley Green whose mother was our kindergarten teacher was a short athletic beautiful girl, in some way to talkative for her mother to be the teacher, and it was surprising her mother allowed her to behave the way she did, for she was never trouble, but I am sure Mrs. Green found it difficult having her and I in a class together, fuller and larger each day, we treated this classroom like a grand performance and we were trained actors dedicated to our craft.

This memory recalls a moment in which I was given the opportunity to choose a Queen to attend the homecoming dance. And this is young girl, whose hair changed styles every week wore an afro now, big enough to cover her face, was the obvious choice to my first romantic pursuit. They required each King to personify the virtues of elegance. And I can see now that those virtues of being a gentleman meant I would have to approach her with grace, ingenuity, and seriousness. For the significance of this young girl had been enlarged by the symbol she came to acquire, for I never have loved anyone or even asked anyone to be “my” partner for anything other than basketball on the playground.

We had a day to ask the young girls we set our hearts on to be our Queens, and most boys didn’t seem to understand the significance, they had no awareness in their facial expressions of the beauty and spiritual meaning of this moment. They treated this divine responsibility as if it were an ordinary, rather heavy, burden, however, for me, this young girl became my own Beatrice, and when I went back to class I was extraordinarily quiet. An act that was so out of the ordinary even my classmates questioned my behavior. It seemed impossible to remain myself in the company of my potential Queen, for, without her knowledge, she held my heart in her hands. Or shall we say she was placing my crown onto my head, but she operated so large a symbol in my mind.

She brought to light my ignorance with loving anyone consciously; of course I loved my mother and sisters, but she was the first person that represented the realness of being “green behind the ears”. A state I am continually encountering. Unless we live without ever leaving the house, in which it is impossible to do so, we will forever encounter experiences for the first time. We are required to forever shift, change, and search in order to overcome the anxieties, fears, and doubts preventing our growth. Wisdom is the only path to prevent being trapped by our own tragic faults, and compassion begins to develop once we realize this is everyone’s first time being alive. Alain reminds us of the importance of being compassionate and gentle with ourselves and the world saying:

We start trying to be wise when we realize that we are not born knowing how to live. But that life is a skill that has to be acquired, like riding a bicycle or playing the piano. But what does wisdom counsel us to do? It tells us to aim for tranquility and inner peace, a life free from anxiety, fear, idolatry, and harmful passions.

Wisdom teaches us that our first impulses may not always be true. That our appetites will lead us astray if we do not train reason to separate vain from genuine needs. It tells us to control our imagination or it will distort reality. Turn mountains into molehills and frogs into princesses. It tells us to hold our fears in check. So that we can be afraid of what will harm us. Not waste our energies fleeing shadows on the wall. It tells us we should not fear death, and that all we have to fear is fear itself.

Alain De Botton On Mature Love

Alain De Botton uses his main character as a reflection of our own self-discovery; while the unnamed lover philosophically peers into the meaning of mature and immature love we watch a detailed and intimate portrait of the ideal heartbreak. Books are strange, for the writers are forced to move the story along, and this is what makes the heartbreak seem so unrealistic for reaching a point of becoming philosophical about ending and beginnings can take months and years.

However, the conclusion sings a similar tune to our beautiful ancestor Bell Hooks who told us, “To return to love, to get the love we always wanted but never had, to have the love we want but are not prepared to give, we seek romantic relationships. We believe these relationships, more than any other, will rescue and redeem us. True love does have the power to redeem but only if we are ready for redemption. Love saves us only if we want to be saved. To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients – care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication. We hurt people when we forget our feelings and failings, for everything contained is us sits within our brother. We, and our lovers, must embrace our humanity in order for the ideals to be destroyed–Alain says:

The difference could be grouped into categories of mature and immature love. The philosophy of mature love is marked by an active awareness of the good and bad within each person. It is full of temperance, it resists idealization. It is free of jealousy, masochism, or obsession, it is a form of friendship with a sexual dimension. Is pleasant, peaceful, and reciprocated

Immature love on the other hand is a story of chaotic lurching between idealization and disappointment. An unstable state where feelings of ecstasy and beatitude combine with impressions of drowning and fatal nausea. The logical climax of immature (because absolute) love comes in death, symbolic or real. The climax of mature love comes in marriage, and the attempt to avoid death via routine. For immature love accepts no compromise we are on the road to some kind of cataclysm.

Alain De Botton On Mature Love
Alain De Botton On Mature Love

Must being in love always mean being in pain? Cultivating compassion means seeing the people we love as human beings. Which doesn’t excuse abuse, but recognizes our human failings and faults. Saying that we are human is a banality. We have used our faults and failings to do terrible things. We tend to forget, through idealization, that the people we love will disappoint us. Our ability to bare our aloneness shapes our ability to love someone with depending on them for an identity. Since our lovers are reflections of ourselves we treat our lovers as we treat ourselves.

This is the mature path of love. Once the fears of being alone are conquered. Our lovers are allowed to enter our space fully themselves we can create relationship with an abundant foundation. We are only able to face our lovers if we can face ourselves. As we indulged in immature relationships our lovers take on a savior complex, and our system of reality is distorted. I do not even mean to idealize mature love, for there are many things love cannot do. However, it will come and go from our lives like the cicadas burying themselves in the ground until the time has come to sing for love. Love demands our responsibility, and its one thing to suffer but another to gain wisdom from the suffering. Alain teaches us that lessons are found in every experience saying:

I realized that a more complex lesson needed to be drawn, one that could play with the incompatibilities of love, juggling the need for wisdom with its likely impotence, juggling the idiocy of infatuation with its inevitability. Love had to be appreciated without flight into dogmatic optimism or pessimism, without constructing a philosophy of one’s fears, or a morality of one’s disappointments. Love taught the analytic mind a certain humility, the lesson that however hard it struggled to reach immobile certainties (numbering its conclusions and embedding them in neat series), analysis could never be anything but flawed and therefore never stray far from the ironic.

Alain De Botton On Mature Love
Alain De Botton On Love

We long for a love in which we are never reduced or misunderstood. We have a morbid resistance to classification by others, to others placing labels on us (the man, the woman, the rich one, the poor one, the Jew, the Catholic, etc.). To ourselves, we are after all always un-labelable. When alone, we are always simply ‘me’, and shift between sides of ourselves effortlessly and without the constraints imposed by the preconceptions of others. Some people have the power to liven our sacral chakra, and encourage a level of authenticity only matched by lovers of 66 years; others spark a desire to create a imagined self–a self manipulated to gain the desire of the lover.

When that love is discovered, it must be cherished, nurtured, and allowed to blossom within our authentic selves. Love comes under the philosophical microscope. An entire chapter is devoted to the nuances and subtexts of an initial date. Another chapter mulls over the question of how and when to say ‘I love you’. There’s an essay on how uncomfortable it can be to disagree with a lover’s taste in shoes and a lengthy discussion about the role of guilt in love. The entire book challenges us to place all our eggs in one basket, which is the present, and place all our faith on the life happening around us. Continue reading Alain De Botton On Happiness.

Alain De Botton On Love

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