What Love Can Be

My last blog ended with a slightly enigmatic statement: “It is the question that inspires Family Planting.”

Which question is it?

This one: “If we are relational, bodily selves, responsible for creating and becoming our highest ideals, then how do we learn to love?”

The question, for me, is not abstract. It is one that I live daily. It is one that I was living, exploring, and pursuing intensely as I wrote Family Planting.

Across the board, it is safe to say that love is among the highest human ideals. As we grow from infants-in-arms to adults standing on our own two feet, we come to an understanding of what love is. We have an experience of it. We have an idea of it. We aspire to learn how to make more of it. But where do those experiences and ideas come from? How do we make them real?

After the move our family made to the farm in 2005, I was finding that my usual patterns of relating with my partner, our children, and my parents were no longer feeling good to me. I was losing my sense of what love was and how to do it. I wanted more.

My training as a philosopher and scholar of religion helped me see what was wrong. In every realm of relationship, I was operating with a sense of myself as an individual first. I was trying to accept, control, and compromise in response to whatever conflicts arose. I was trying to assert my freedom from being disappointed, depressed, or derailed. It wasn’t working. Unresolved emotions circled and stormed within me.

As life on the farm took shape, however, I began to realize how misguided this idea of myself as an individual first is. I am not just or simply an individual. I never was. I never will be. I am who I am by virtue of the relationships I create with those who enable me to be. I am one moment in a relational, bodily web that extends far beyond me. My relationships with my partner, progeny, and parents are not optional. We are inextricably entwined by my own deep desire to connect with them as the condition of my best becoming.

The challenge was clear: I needed to find new ways to move—ways that honored the fact of my own impulse to connect. I needed to find a way of thinking and living love that would guide me in creating the mutually-enabling relationships I desired.

It is fine to feel love in general for other people or the planet. But what does it mean to love a child who is whining, a partner who feels distant, or a parent who is advising you not to do what you most want to do? What does it mean to love the earth?

Family Planting is about love. It is about what love can be. It is about how our understanding of love—our ability to think it and live it—grows out of the bodily challenges that our primary relations provide.

In the book I show how our ideals of love grow out of the conflicts we experience with those on whom our living depends. These conflicts inevitably express a fundamental human impulse to connect with whatever enables us to be. Yet too often, our impulses to connect are distorted by fear and anger rooted in experiences of past pain.

When we begin to embrace conflict as an expression of our impulse to connect with one another, we begin to see conflicts for what they are: opportunities for us to heal our hurts and stretch our hearts in a communal project of creating a world we love that loves us.

Family Planting tells the story of the earth-friendly vision of love that we are growing here on the farm, along with our tomatoes.

Love is a willingness to open to another as a cause of our being.

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