September 9, 2002
Love is one of the most misunderstood and misused words in modern culture. It is uttered indiscriminately and used as a tool for manipulation and possession. Yet at the same time it is exalted as the road to the most profound healing and enlightenment.
What is love?
To me, love is a word that speaks of a deep, bonded interconnection that transcends our so-called individual boundaries. When people are in love, they share sensations, feelings, and perceptions. They are more aware of each other's pain and joy.
This is most evident in bonded mothers and babies. These mothers are "in tune" with their babies, often sensing their children's feelings and needs as they happen - sometimes even before! The mother's touch and love envelops the baby, and pleasurable feelings flow back and forth between them with ease. They are connected. They are in love.
This is a natural requirement of humans and other social animals. Unlike little turtles, we do not pop out of a shell and run alone to the ocean. We are like organs in a larger body - the family/tribe. Just as an organ cannot live outside our physical body, we cannot survive and be whole without the love and connection of our people.
Modern science may be starting to understand this phenomenon. A part of the brain called the Limbic System is said to regulate activities related to the expression and mediation of emotions and feelings, including emotions linked to attachment.
In the book A General Theory of Love, authors Lewis, Amini, and Lannon explain the concept of "limbic resonance" as the special ability of most mammals to become attuned to the inner states of others. Using this ability, mammals actually regulate each other's internal states. The authors conclude that humans and other mammals (unlike turtles) have "open-loop" physiologies, and they require others to maintain systemic balance:
"A second person transmits regulatory information that can alter hormone levels, cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms, immune function, and more - inside the body of the first. The reciprocal process occurs simultaneously: the first person regulates the physiology of the second, even as he himself is regulated. Neither is a functioning whole on his own: each has open loops that only somebody else can complete. Together they create a stable, properly balanced pair of organisms. And the two trade their complementary data through the open channel their limbic connection provides." [p. 85]
When two people are in deep limbic resonance, they are in love. They are truly - not figuratively - connected, and they assist each other and need each other to fully live and enjoy life. Limbic resonance is pleasurable and its absence is cold and horrifying. People who hurt others do so only because they cannot feel the other person's feelings. They do not resonate with the other - they do not love.
If a baby does not have this loving resonance with her mother - the body she grew from - she suffers horrendously, and represses that need. Although that repression protects the system from being overwhelmed, it also acts as a barrier to limbic resonance and leaves a person feeling distant, alone, and "out-of-touch."
That which is repressed still remains in the system, and infantile need lingers on in most modern humans. It is this sense of total need that I hear again and again in so many love songs. Although we do need others, the feeling that "I can't live without you" is most often an infant expression.
It is this desperate infant need still existing in the neurotic adult mind that drives us to manipulate and possess. It is this unmet infant need that drives infatuation and stalking behaviours. Only when we feel and express that need (in primal session, for instance) can we grow to feel and express genuine adult love.
Without love we become damaged, and with love we grow healthy and heal. In psychotherapy, however, love has become the "L-word," something unscientific and dangerously similar to that "evil" thing called . . . sex. Since Freud, psychotherapists attempt to heal by being analytical and coldly objective. They offer their thinking brain (neocortex) instead of their limbic brain. They talk, talk, talk when the physiologies of their clients need them to feel, feel, feel.
Primal-style therapy has often been characterized as being all about pain when, in fact, it's all about love. When we care, appreciate, and respect someone as they are, we offer limbic resonance - we offer love. And in that safe, supportive environment they can gradually lower their shields of repression and come back into feeling, into life - and into love.
More than anything, primal communities such as the IPA are characterized with a profound degree of loving acceptance. This is not a love that says, "we love you - IF you dress like us, act like us, and think like us." Genuine love says, "we love each other as we are." It is self-regulating and adjusts according to the needs of the group.
Unfortunately, although love seems to be exalted in this culture, its expressions are usually forbidden. Touch is frowned upon. Holding is restricted. Passion is suppressed. As the champion of children, A.S. Neill, often stated, modern culture is "anti-life," and anti-love.
For humans, love IS life, and life is love. Let's bring it back.