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Is there Love Without Control?

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This is a personal reflection on my learning of what love is on earth.

Many say that God is love, and I believe many like me, may misunderstand God to be a divine being imbued with love, who will love his creatures and not allow unfortunate things to happen to them if we give our will to him (usually seen as a male figure). Seeing how our world is habitually embroiled in conflict and turmoil from the family to the world stage, my naïve belief was shattered. If God loves, that love would not come with control but yet I experienced control by those who professed to be followers of love in the church. So, I didn’t stay for long. 

Early experiences of love

Most of us turn to God when we are deprived of love from our families. I believe for many of us in our early experiences of love, we are taught that love is a barter trade. When we do what our parents want, we get something in return. But when we choose to do something apart from what they expect, we suffer the lack of love, or attention.

Not to mention if we have siblings, we compete for our parents’ attention and love. For those who are orphaned, or did not get adequate love from their parents, may find themselves unlovable. Similarly, those whose parents passed early, may suffer the insecurity of not having received love from a loving parent, or experience anguish and deep insecurity at the fleeting nature of life.

Why lasting love is elusive?

After growing up, we behave the same way as we were kids, yearning to love and to be loved, preferably from someone we personally find attractive. But the problem remains – we seek attention and love from this person as we do from our parents to feel secure from the vicissitudes of life of which we have little control.

Similarly, just as our relationship with our parents may become distant, or if we have never understood our parents and vice-versa after growing up, the same may happen to the relationship with our partner, and our children.

Feeling emotionally distant in a world where attention span only gets shorter, where humans take delight in technology, food, or pleasures than the company we have with one another in the present moment, increases the feelings of loneliness. One may seek fellowship and the acceptance of a group to feel valued. And of course, we may seek the divine to feel whole… but again, using the same method we think will get us love from our parents when we were kids.

How love turns into control?

My reflection of love may seem rather depressing with my personal experiences and observations. But that is how I have experienced love — a constant chasing, seeking and to control or to be controlled. Love is a painful experience for me more than a pleasurable one since I prefer to control than to be controlled. And I fail deeply when it comes to the act of manipulating someone in order to have that person love me, and I have also been too curtly straightforward to the point of being offensive and presumptuous… and so I have not had anyone love me as I have loved them.

Don’t get me wrong, we never seek love from another from the intention to control or to manipulate them. All of us do seek an everlasting feeling of love and security. However, our love is always dependent and conditioned that comes with expectations, which manifest as control.

Conditioned love contains fear

All we need to do is to look at our religious circles and relationships. It’s easy to see that in a religious circle, or any circle, we often need to fit in with their ideals. Any deviation from the group’s ideology risks ex-communication, which means loneliness. The same applies to relationship with a partner and friends. We often are afraid to voice our deep thoughts or reflections, worried we might be misunderstood or that it may lead to the end of a relationship. Lastly, we don’t allow our loved ones to die, because we fear not having them around anymore as companions.

It’s easy to see that fear lies deep in our relationships with one another. Fear is control, and control reflects expectations. Is love possible without control?

Where then, does expectations come from?

I must confess I did not know the answer till I encountered Buddhism.

Unconditional love as an abstract concept

The Buddha taught not-self – that the fleeting phenomena in our sensual conscious experience, called the 5 aggregates – the body, feelings, perception, thoughts, and consciousness do not belong to us. They are unstable and we have no total control over them. If they are truly ours, we should be able to command them. For example, if our bodies are indeed ours, we should be able to stop ageing, illness, and death. You see, we seek permanence in our experiences – an everlasting love, immortality, and permanent freedom from pain. None of our sensual experiences involving the 5 aggregates can lead us to that. These fleeting phenomena creates dreams and unrealistic expectations in our minds.

By clinging onto and identifying ourselves with our body, which produces these 5 aggregates only bring short term happiness and long-term pain. Someone who notices this need not be a Buddhist.

Both the Buddha and Jesus spoke about unconditional love. Unconditional love was an abstract concept to me. I didn’t think it to be possible and see it as an unrealistic pursuit. And that is because once again, I thought that unconditional love, like conditional love, ought to be pursued.

Unconditional love as a potential in our hearts

If we spend time looking deeply into ourselves, we may find that love has always been in our hearts all the time, independent of whether there is someone or something to bring it out of us.

If love has not already existed within us as a potential, no matter who we see – a charming, good-looking person, or a cute animal, we wouldn’t feel the vibrations of love in our hearts.

The problem is, when lovable objects come into our experience, the first thing we think about is wanting to own these objects, so that we can demand they shine their attention upon us whenever we want them to so we can feel secure and valued.

Love is attention itself

Being loved makes us feel valued because we only feel alive when we feel that there is someone paying attention to our existence. It is true for both extroverts and introverts. While it is more obvious to see this in extroverts, introverts too, seek attention from one or a few people in their lives. Those who seldom meet anyone, or have anybody show them much attention often feel lonely. With survival being their only concern, one may feel there is nothing to live for.

So, I thought what great spiritual teachers have taught humans are so brilliant that their teachings escape the eyes of ordinary beings because it is so straightforward. If we look into ourselves, our attention, often called ‘Light’ shines within us.

How do we shine our own light within us? Obviously it’s through the practice of mindfulness and meditation.

Shining light onto love

In spiritual circles, people often speak about light and love. Love as we understand it is a form of attachment driven by fear. However, we have no understanding about what light means. As mentioned, light is attention. Whenever someone pays attention to us deeply, they may see something that we ourselves cannot see at all, and we feel appreciated as well as being stripped naked at the same time.

But what if we were to shine our attention into our very own beingness?

When we meditate, our attention span lengthens and shines inwards. We shine light onto the 5 aggregates to see that there is nothing much there to cling onto because they move so quickly! When our attention is stabilised, we can also shine our attention on feelings such as fear and pleasure. We can learn to let go of pleasurable feelings and investigate the feelings of fear and see how they both are the same — impermanent.

Wisdom unveiled by attention

Through meditation, we can see that the 5 aggregates are curtains that hide the reality of what we really are. Don’t you want to see what is behind that curtain of your mind? When we watch a play, we are always excited to see the sets behind them.

When we unveil the curtain of the mind by letting go of the 5 aggregates, we may see mind-made images of the mind. Our minds are extremely creative. It is able to conjure up images, lights, and colours.

Beyond all that lies a deep knowing or awareness. To me, attention itself is awareness. When we fix our attention on unreality, we suffer unrealistic expectations. When our attention is not distracted by the 5 aggregates, there is only attention left. And this attention softens and relaxes, because it realises there is no longer any need to fixate on anything except itself. Fixating on the 5 aggregates bring on stress, constantly paying attention to them as the ‘Self’ lead to insecurity and the unrelenting need to protect ourselves in the name of survival when in the end, these aggregates never survive.

Love is a natural state of relaxed attention

I am using attention instead of awareness because most of us don’t understand what awareness is. Attention in the context of this article is attention on awareness, or attention on attention itself – open and soft.

In this soft, accepting state of attention resting onto knowing itself, love is felt strongly in the heart without needing a lovable person or a cute animal to reveal it. This love fills one’s heart fully, without depending on any object. When one with such experience pays attention to a tree or any object, one feels that love being reciprocated, and one may perhaps realise that everyone and everything on earth, contains love.

Of course, it would be easier to see this in inanimate objects than humans. It is not that humans do not know love. Jealousy, fear, envy are all aspects of love that has been distorted by unwise attention. They represent selfish love, love for the self that brings pain due the wrong perception of self and not getting what one wants.

Unconditional love is not-self

Being humans, we tend to compartmentalise, define, and want to possess anything that seems to extend our lifespan and happiness (in terms of feeling valued). The moment we grasp onto this unconditional love we experience through meditation and letting go as a self, it disappears.

Unconditional love is not always there in our experience because we still need our 5 aggregates as tools to live. We have to continuously learn that even when we experience unconditional love or any other meditative dimensions revealing the nature of our mind, we are still not yet enlightened or fully awake in understanding what we really are.

How is unconditional love useful?

In our daily lives, we may still get lured by the sensual pleasures and expectations of the 5 aggregates and still feel fear and loneliness. From these feelings we may again seek love and value from others. However, having experienced unconditional love, one is wise enough to know the difference between conditioned and independent love. One knows the deep dissatisfaction of love that comes with fear and control and can learn to let it go compared to someone who has not yet awakened to the reality of what love truly is.

I’m still an unawakened being who might still seek to control others because of loneliness. There are still thoughts of hate when I don’t get what I want. But I am at least able to be present with these unrealistic grasping and expectations and also learning that unconditional love is accessible and is more real than conditioned love.

The rest of my journey to full awakening is to be present with what the divine (the true of our minds) manifests within and not to be lured into the illusions of fear and insecurity for as long as I live in this human body.

Mindful Breath

Mindful Breath is committed to sharing the systematic training of mindfulness with anyone who is keen and open to exploring their relationship with their inner experience for better health and caring relationships towards a gentler and friendlier society.

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