I asked my good friend whose opinions I value to give me feedback on my first blog. She said,
“it’s mostly great Sarah, but it’s a bit too lovey dovey sweet, a bit too rose coloured glasses for me. Not everyone is exposed to love in the way you in your job as a celebrant. Not everyone has good love experiences or necessarily believes love is everything. Love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes…..get a reality check”.
After my initial shock and feelings of defensiveness, I have to concede that she is, of course, absolutely right. It is true that my encounters with my wedding couples, most often, present love in its best light. Also when I meet families planning a baby naming, for example, the family love shines through on high beam. When it comes to working with my families during times of death and grief however, the full spectrum of love, in all its expression and behaviours, really shows itself in the light of day. The complexities of families and relationships are revealed in the most raw and intense way during funeral preparations and the circumstances can provoke the very best and worst of love in action.
We have all felt the dark side of love in our lifetimes. Love causes heartache, pain and jealousy; it may illicit feelings of lack, guilt or inadequacy. In the name of “love” terrible things have been said and done. There is healthy love and there are also the destructive reverberations caused by love.
Thanks to my girlfriend’s honest criticism and sage observations, I need to re-examine what love is. It has been the lifetime pursuit of many famous poets, writers and artists to explore this theme, and I don’t dare claim to have encapsulated Humanities’ body of work on love, nor do I declare I know the answer at all. Rather, all I can perhaps add to the conversation is this observation….perhaps the experience of love, either in the giving or receiving of love, is defined by whether love is expressed CONSCIOUSLY or UNCONSCIOUSLY.
What I mean by this is whether there is a conscious attempt and intent to be aware of the love that inhabits every thought, feeling, response and action of you and those around you. When you are aware and conscious of your thoughts and feelings and actions, and if you consciously orient them towards love, this is when you can experience the positive expressions and outcomes of love. However, when we are unconscious to our thoughts, feelings, responses and actions, if we don’t examine and be aware of our intentions and motivations, then this non-awareness can lead to the more destructive expressions and consequences.
When we live ‘unconsciously’ we are really operating on ingrained patterns, beliefs and behaviours. This is where primal emotions such as anger and fear can reside and direct behaviours, and this is where selfishness, pride, cruelty, guilt and egotism (just to name a few) can germinate. It takes constant vigilance to recognise and be prepared to confront these feelings when they flash up within us. Such constant vigilance is hard, and quite frankly impossible. We are only human. But part of being human is also the eternal striving to be better, to lean towards the light, and the light is really about awakening to conscious loving.
I believe it is this striving for conscious loving that characterises the special and sacred feeling you can experience when conducting and participating in ceremony and ritual. It is the source of that powerful loving energy you can feel. Whether at a wedding, naming, funeral or even a birthday, I can often feel this intense intent and active loving energy. It happens when everyone focuses on the love they are experiencing. They are examining it, reflecting on it, acknowledging it, honouring it and celebrating it. It is a sort of collective mindful awareness of yourself and your relationships with others.
Ceremony demands an approach that is founded in conscious love. It doesn’t work any other way. I cannot write and conduct a ceremony without beginning with an approach of examining how love defines a situation and the people involved. This is what makes ceremony and ritual so important to me. It is a tool to reconnect people to each other, to help them to reorient themselves back to a conscious level of loving. This can occur on a grand scale at a wedding; on a personal and profound way at a funeral; or in a habitual, everyday way with a small ritual of lighting a candle and giving thanks for the day and your loved ones and all that is good with your life.
So to my dear friend, I agree, love has many faces and not all of them are good and wonderful. Love doesn’t run smooth; there are many bumps along the way. But I still hold firm to my belief that love is everything. At the centre of it all is the eternal experience of love – conscious or unconscious.