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by David Truman

Every human being wants to be loved personally -- for who they are -- and every human being wants to love personally. These desires are part of our social nature as children of God. However, in many of the great spiritual traditions of man, personal love has been downplayed, and even strongly criticized. So, even while popular religions generally promote "family values," serious spiritual seekers have been warned throughout the ages against the dangers of "women and gold," "special relationships," even desire in all of its forms. Entry level practices on the spiritual path almost invariably steer aspirants toward impersonal forms of self-culture, and away from involvement in personal human relationships.
Although generally wise and well-intentioned, any apparent bias against human love tends make spiritually-oriented people feel guilty or wrong for wanting/needing personal love. We are here to say, that conclusion is an unfortunate misinterpretation of traditional wisdom. Human, personal love is not necessarily sinful, lowly, or unspiritual. Quite the contrary! Human, personal love is spiritually CRUCIAL -- crucial to our self-esteem, crucial to our unfolding and spiritual ascent, crucial to living as God created us to be.
Realistically, however, many people's experience with personal love is far from Godly, or even confidence inspiring. It is true that people tend to behave badly when they are romantically involved. Often, lovers treat each other worse than they would treat a stranger. That does no credit whatsoever to the virtue of LOVE.
Therefore, even as we revalidate human love, we also affirm some of the cautions and the recommendations of the great spiritual traditions. Here's how we would reconcile this apparent contradiction:
Humanity's practical and intuitive need for human love is ETERNALLY right. But, HERE AND NOW, for many people -- perhaps MOST people -- real competence in human love may require some preparatory self-culture first, exactly as tradition suggests. Certainly, to raise human love to the heights of its spiritual potential is worth working for!
Rightly viewed, the traditional recommendations actually SUPPORT our ultimate evolution into spiritually appropriate forms of personal love. No matter how badly we want an intimate loving relationship, if we aren't ready for it, we're going to mess it up. Then we're going to become afraid of the very thing we want so badly. Therefore, in order protect the tender shoot of our native desire to relate socially, we are well-advised to put to fewer eggs in the basket of relating, and more eggs in the basket of self-improvement. So, we work on ourselves FIRST -- while at the same time taking care to avoid the dangers of becoming socially atrophied and excessively self-oriented.
If we can humbly and realistically acknowledge the need to prepare ourselves for the challenging adventure of personal human love, we can happily construe time-honored spiritual practices NOT as permanent SUBSTITUTES for human love, but rather as STEPS on the path TO IT. We can wholeheartedly embrace the traditional spiritual recommendations without denying our God-given social yearnings.
With this new understanding, let's look briefly at the two traditional avenues of spiritual self-culture, and then consider the role in spiritual life of human, personal love, which, in our view, is not the basement of spirituality, but rather, its pinnacle.
Traditional spiritual self-culture
The first avenue of traditional spiritual self-culture is inwardly directed. This avenue relies heavily on energy raising and consciousness elevating practices, in which transformation is pursued by directly raising vitality and vibration. Energy raising techniques run the gamut from physical exercise -- when intentionally done for that purpose -- to mystical techniques of all kinds. Such techniques include rigorous asceticism and renunciation, which increase vibrancy by creating a heating or quickening effect.
The avenue of inwardly directed self-culture also utilizes self-understanding techniques, through which limiting forms of thought and behavior are directly confronted and changed. This approach recommends mental discipline, visualization and affirmation, everyday observances, and behavioral do's and don'ts.
The second avenue of traditional spiritual self-culture is outwardly directed. This avenue focuses on the ethical discipline of universal love, or AGAPE, in which people purify their loving aspirations while at the same time working to up-level their presumptions and sense of personal responsibility. Specific practices include improving assumptions, holding good intentions, and contemplating the true nature of oneself and others. These techniques are admittedly contemplative, and in that sense inward. But we still describe them as OUTWARD because they bear upon our relationship to the outer world.
The avenue of outwardly directed self-culture also emphasizes actively embracing a right relationship with God and mankind through self-transcending world service. You don't need cosmic energy for that; you can do it even with your ordinary-level energies. In other words, almost ANY person, in almost any level or state of consciousness, can help a great cause in some way. And if you help the world, you make your life much more meaningful and worth living. Contributing to a good cause may easily make a bigger difference than anything else you could do in the way of self-culture, because it can have a much more widespread and lasting impact than a high state achieved by a single person. Supporting good causes, especially ones that significantly up-level thought and aspiration on the planet, is crucial to the well-being of the world.
How various aspects of self-culture work -- and work together
Consciousness and energy raising techniques can be of tremendous value both for daily life and evolutionary progress, because they give quick and easily attained results, even from relatively mechanical practice. There is no question that one can -- by means of vitality-enhancing techniques and by mental means such as visualization -- create higher states of energy and consciousness, accompanied by greater clarity, increased well-being, and better images of oneself and others. And, when we've raised our vibrancy, we feel more like giving because we have more to give.
Nonetheless, the benefits of consciousness and energy raising practices tend to be easy to get, and easy to lose. For the gains of any consciousness and energy raising program to last, they must be supported by ethical advances. It is often the ethical shortcomings of people that drag them back down from the highs achieved through spiritual practices, and cause them to revert to patterns of thought and action that are essentially compressive. For example: a meditator goes to meditate, but soon afterwards, resumes a habitual pattern of arguing, or indulges in any other bad habit. Within minutes, the vibrancy created by an hour of meditation is cut in half. The benefit evaporates like a drop of water on a hot griddle.
To achieve lasting gains, we must upgrade our ethical and philosophic position in the world. The most direct way to do this is through the sincere attempt to embody impersonal, universal love. But IN ORDER to love universally, we must deeply adjust some of our beliefs and interpretations. We need to uncover the beliefs we have that get in the way of loving. For that, we need to make constructive efforts at self-understanding.
Significant inner changes are more difficult to achieve, and can take longer to attain. But the rewards are greater. When we succeed in making deeper changes, we find that we are spiritually stronger, no matter what our energy level. Furthermore, our energy level is always considerably higher than it would otherwise be. By revising our assumptions and disciplining our negative thoughts, we escape the energy-depressing influence that negative thoughts and assumptions have on our being.
Using self-culture to improve love ability
For many individuals, the aspiration to personal, human love is dimmed by the many complications and compulsions associated with deep interpersonal involvement. If there is a strong propensity towards such problems, high investment in relationship may lead to unconstructive forms of reaction and attraction. Very often, nutritive social interactions are possible only if the person can maintain space from the more personally implicating contexts of loving.
AGAPE practice provides -- or allows for -- space. It supports progress in loving, by providing a context in which to participate WITHOUT crippling fear -- a context in which personal interaction is MINIMIZED or UNIVERSALIZED. Under those conditions, people are able to focus on and cultivate their sincere impulse to love. And they can PRACTICE loving in real life, unhampered by the limiting effects of the reactivity associated with personality recognition, personal investment, and personal attachment.
Energy raising practices are also helpful. When we approach relationship with both high thoughts and relatively high energy, we have much more going for us. We are more resilient, and less prone to negative reaction. We are less compulsive and reactive. Our interchanges are better; our giving becomes fuller and more effective, and our relating is more harmonious.
Eventually, through heightened consciousness, upgraded ethics, and dedicated practice at impersonal loving, people become capable of a much higher order of personal human loving. Now they are ready to enter the third avenue of spiritual life, which we will call "True Love" in order to distinguish it from both the common, egoic ways of personal relating and the more impersonal forms of universal love.
The importance of True Love practice in spiritual becoming
Practically all religious traditions point, in one way or another, to the transcendence of the body-mind as an implicit or explicit spiritual goal. Many techniques are prescribed for this purpose. But while a person can, by those means, escape the limits of the body-mind relatively easily, to STAY big involves an ethical transformation. Enlightenment requires the willingness to love unconditionally and unrequitedly, because we cannot MAINTAIN freedom from body-mind limits without that willingness.
Higher still than the prerequisites of individual enlightenment are the cosmic requirements of Love's fulfillment. Those requirements will ultimately oblige every being to love not merely impersonally and universally (in the spirit of "You, like everyone else, are a child of God and therefore I love you"), but personally, tenderly, and humanly (in the spirit of "I love YOU"). Personal love is the kind of love that most effectively nurtures the heart of any human being. It is the approach most like the Divine love that the Father extends toward us.
True Love is the kind of personal human love that Jesus himself recommended and lived. It was no coincidence that so much of Christ's teaching was about love. It was no accident that so many of his parables evoked deep emotional sentiments of affinity, caring, loyalty, and the like through the use of heart-stirring images, such as a shepherd tirelessly searching for his missing sheep, a long-lost son returning home, etc.
Brotherly or personal love, as Jesus advanced it, is one of the most difficult challenges that a human being can attempt. The degree of challenge of this path is perhaps the reason why traditional spiritual teachings have recommended that people steer clear of human personal love. While some of them may have recognized that True Love was necessary as an ultimate achievement of spiritual becoming, the world's spiritual teachers undoubtedly realized that it wasn't possible for most people to do that yet, due to the serious pitfalls involved. So they didn't want people, except those of the highest consciousness, to attempt to tread this path: "Kids don't try this at home." We too respect the difficulty of this path, but rather than discouraging people from aspiring to it, we advocate the need to PROGRESSIVELY achieve mastery on it.
Why is True Love so challenging?
First, True Love is indeed a straight and narrow path. To walk that path successfully you must avoid aberrances and dangers that lie on both sides of it. One must avoid the inherent dangers of personal attachment and reactivity that can make human-to-human love less than loving. And one must, at the same time, overcome the inadequacy of agape, which is that impersonal or depersonalized love can be less convincing, acceptable, and effective in the human context. True Love heals the shortcomings of the agape approach, which fails to deeply satisfy human beloveds because it lacks true recognition and appreciation of individual personality, true human affinity, true bonding and loyalty, and true personal investment or vulnerability. True Love so well recognizes and embraces the uniqueness of each human being that it meets and exceeds the requirements of the human heart on those levels. It recognizes the lovability of God's creatures as INDIVIDUALS, not just for their Divine essence.
Second, any attempt at true, personal human love requires us to confront and handle flaws in ourselves and others that we otherwise would overlook. We've all experienced that it is easier to love God than our fellow man. That's because, to PERSONALLY love other human beings you must be willing to love them IN SPITE OF their flaws. The agape orientation of seeing people only as "sparks of God" avoids that requirement, and therefore fails to challenge our egoic excuse to not love, or to love too conditionally. However, it is that exact excuse for NOT loving -- that people are imperfect -- that we really need to face and overcome if we are to love truly, deeply AND personally. Whereas, if we are just practicing agape, we get to postpone that challenge.
The call to True Love
So-called human love needs to be Divine, or else it is not really love; it is egotistical attachment, which tends to fall far short of being truly loving. And, so-called universal love needs to be human, tender, loyal, and personal -- or else it too falls far short of being truly loving. True Love is both human and universal and is therefore literally TRUE.
We have taken it upon ourselves to make sense of Christ's teaching on love, and to place that teaching in its proper context on the spiritual horizon of man, so that all men and women can understand it. Please join with us in living and promoting this knowingness here on earth. Love is our Father's business, and we must all, someday, be about it.

by David Truman

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