Pam Kircher About Me Contact Me
Tai Chi NDEs Integrative Medicine End of Life Issues Reflections


Love: the Final Frontier

From a talk given at Pagosa Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on February 12, 2012

A couple of months ago when I was asked to speak about love for Valentine’s Day, I knew that I was up for an interesting couple of months when my heart said a quick “yes” and Spirit quickly followed with the title “The Final Frontier.” I had no idea what I would say, but with a title like that, I knew that I was in for an interesting journey!

Some time ago I basically quit giving talks because I thought that enough had been said—we simply need to live from what we have already heard and know in our intellects. When my heart said “yes,” I knew that this talk was as much for me as from me. Hence, my journey began as I contemplated the meaning of Love as the Final Frontier over the next couple of months. I share those musings with you today.

An important catalyst in my thinking was January’s Spiritual Cinema selection, “I Am.” It was a documentary on how we are all connected. “I Am” was created by Tom Shadyack, the director of several Jim Carey comedies including Ace Ventura and Bruce Almighty. He was highly successful financially, but noticed that he was not any happier than he was when he was living in an apartment and just getting started on his film career. That career came to a crashing halt when he had a bicycle accident with a broken arm and a concussion that evolved into post-concussion syndrome.

Post-concussion syndrome is a problem for many boxers, soccer players, and football players. The full impact of the problem is only just now coming to be recognized. With light and sound sensitivity, a constant ringing in his ears, wide mood swings, and a poor memory, he entered into a deep depression and wished for death but wasn’t overtly suicidal. As he contemplated death, Tom asked himself, “What have I come to know?” As he was pondering that question, he suddenly began to improve as people with PC often do.

As he recovered, he decided to ask some of the wise people in the world “What is the fundamental problem underlying what is wrong with the world?” and “What can we do about it?” He took a film crew of four and crisscrossed the globe interviewing some of the deepest thinkers of our time. Most of them had never heard of Ace Ventura, his Oscar winning movie, which was very humbling to him. He was absolutely delighted when Lynn McTaggart, the scientist and author of “The Field,” said that “Ace Ventura” was one of her family’s favorite movies. That was his first surprise—and he was in for a lot more surprises as he continued his interviews. Although I’ve read lots of books on love, spirituality, and compassion, I learned a lot from his interviews and I’m going to share some of it with you today. For those of you who were here last week, I think you will see how it feels like a continuation of that discussion. For those of you who weren’t here last week, don’t worry. This is a stand-alone talk, as well.

Lynn McTaggart said that cultures learn from the stories that they tell each other. She went on to say that science is a story that is 300 years old and that in that relatively short time many of the “facts” that we were certain of are no longer true. For example, the world is not flat and Pluto is not a planet. The biggest mistake of all is that science has thought that separate objects can only influence each other physically. That is, it is commonly thought that objects must physically touch each other in order to have an effect on each other. Einstein disagreed, however. Einstein claimed that the field is the only reality, citing “spooky action at a distance.” He noted that when two electrons were in connection and then moved an infinite distance apart, if the spin on one electron was changed, the other electron’s spin changed simultaneously. That influence of objects at a distance is just now starting to be explored in more depth and more of those studies will be discussed later in this talk.

Interesting, but what does that have to do with love? Let’s go back to Darwin’s “Descent of Man.” When speaking of evolution, he mentions love and cooperation 95 times and survival of the fittest only twice. Aldous Huxley was the man who popularized Darwin’s concept of evolution. He chose to emphasize the “survival of the fittest” aspect and it has had a huge impact on how we see ourselves, people with whom we interact, and society in general. And, yet, like the notion that the world is flat, it simply isn’t true.

Let’s look at some examples in animals of where cooperation takes precedence over the concept of the alpha male who rules supreme because he is the most powerful. In observation of deer, the alpha male is not the determiner of what water hole they go to. Rather, it is a democratic decision. In observation of a deer herd that had three possible water holes, individual deer began looking toward one of the three water holes. That continued until a majority of the deer were looking toward one hole. When the majority of deer were looking toward one hole, the whole group moved in that direction. The alpha male simply followed. The same has been observed in how a starling flock changes directions of flight and how insect colonies change their direction. Nature is basically democratic.

Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at Berkeley, maintains that sympathy is the strongest instinct. He supports his assertion with an explanation of studies done on mirror neurons. Recently mirror neurons have been discovered in great apes, dolphins and elephants. When an ape observes another ape doing a behavior he himself has done in the past, that part of the brain lights up just as if he was doing the behavior himself. That is why that college students observing a film about Mother Theresa have an increase in their immune system. They have mirror neurons for compassionate behavior and compassionate behavior has been shown to increase the immune system. They are tapping into times that they themselves have shown compassion and their mirror neurons are firing just as if they were feeding the hungry in Calcutta.

Let’s go a little deeper into exactly how emotions come to be. While conventional science has thought the brain was the seat of emotions, recent scientific studies show that 90-95% of neuronal connections go from the body to the brain, not the other way around. Only 5-10% of connections go from the brain to the body. So, literally, our heart and our stomachs are telling the brain what to feel.

The Heart Math Institute has spent years looking into this phenomenon, primarily through studying heart beat variability under varying emotional states. They have found that is the pause between heartbeats that influences are physiology and that is affected by our emotions. The pause between heartbeats renews our physiology if we are in positive emotional states. If we are angry or afraid, that pause causes a depletion of our vital energy and causes us to not think as well. In short, anger makes us stupid!

And, now for one more mind-blowing fact about how interconnected we really are. Dean Radin from the Institute of Noetic Sciences has place 65 Random Event Generators in cities throughout the world. It is a binary system, a “yes” “no” system. It is like flipping several thousand coins every second. Theoretically, in a non-interactive world, there would be 50% heads and 50% tails. However, when the world is going through a crisis such as 9/11 or the tsunami, all 65 Random Event Generators respond simultaneously with a spike in one direction. It is as if the world feels the pain and responds, even without knowing what is happening on a conscious level. And, if it is not only felt my people, but it has an effect on machines!! Radin concludes that everything is connected all of the time. There is only the appearance of separation.

When I finished watching that film, I better understood my own innate feeling that we had said enough and now it was time to live it. Indeed, it is music, movement such as tai chi and yoga, dance, and just being together in a heartfelt way that gives the positive feeling to the heart that allows our physiology to be at its best and that allows our minds to work with intelligence. Indeed, it is a happy heart that creates a functioning brain!

What if we focused only on that which makes our heart sing? I submit that a singing heart is an engaged heart. That means to me that it isn’t always about what is best for me in an objective way, but what allows me to feel really connected and compassionate to the whole world. How would our culture change if we learned at an early age that when we rage against someone else we are literally hurting ourselves and making ourselves stupid? As I was preparing for this talk, I watched the movie, “Ghandi” for probably the 100th time. I am always impressed that Ghandi was not angry with the British—he showed complete non-violence at all times, not only in his actions, but in his heart as well—at least to the best of his ability.

Well, that is the world view of the mystical traditions and increasingly of scientific studies as they converge with time-honored mystical traditions of all religions. How does that compare with our Western psychological tradition that says that we must love ourselves first before we can love anyone else? That view does seems to make sense. We spend considerable effort, time, and money on looking back at our childhood memories and working through old injuries, coming to understand that we are our own best parents to our inner child, because we know ourselves and what we need more than even the best parents ever could. By the same token, as we look back at lost loves or disappointing loves, we realize that each of us are flawed individuals here to do our own work and that no individual will be our ideal mate nor will we be anyone else’s ideal mate.

We are each responsible for our own emotional needs while we can still enjoy having relationships with others. This modern psychological view of love is certainly far removed from the romantic version of the fairy tales. Sounds pretty far removed from the fairy tales of Sleeping Beauty who is rescued from unawareness by a kiss, doesn’t it? Or the knight in shining armor? Or the beautiful muse who will bring out all of a man’s hidden potentials?

So, let’s put the fairy tales aside. Perhaps the ideal relationship in the Western tradition is one in which each of the partners knows themselves very well and provides their own basic emotional support while wishing each other profoundly well. Partners are willing to make compromises in order to meet the needs of their partner, expecting that in the long run those compromises will be approximately equal on both sides. And that anything is open to negotiation.

Sounds tidy, doesn’t it? Then life happens and life is anything but tidy. Children die, spouses have affairs, partners lose their jobs, houses are foreclosed, and chronic illness descends on one or both of the partners. Old age and death happen. Everyone in the room has experienced some of these difficult events in their lives.

How does the Western understanding of love help us in these times? Certainly, it helps to have strong emotional cores during such trials, but an emphasis on self-love might well cause us to abandon the situation because it is “just too hard” and not in our own best interest. What is the difference between being a martyr (a negative connotation in psychology circles) or a committed partner who acts from love? Is losing our boundary between ourselves and the other a bad thing--or a good thing? There are no black and white answers, here, but I feel it is important to be aware of the contradictions in our thinking when faced with real life situations.

The Valentine season inspires focus on intimate relationships, but, of course, the boundaries between self and other are issues in every relationship, whether with individuals or organizations. When do we let go of our own self-interests on behalf of the larger whole? And is that letting go in the long run, really in our on best self-interest? What is the difference between the psychologically pejorative term of martyring ourselves and the lives of enlightened individuals who simply move from compassion and love without any regard for themselves. Those people literally see themselves as part of the Oneness and look at such a large view of what is occurring that their own self-interest isn’t on their radar screens.

So, we come back to the dichotomy between these two very different points of view about love. Perhaps as we come to embrace the new scientific view that we are all connected and that every action, every thought, indeed every feeling we have influences the whole world, there will come modifications of the psychological thought that take these realities into account and we will come to have a more coherent understanding of what it is to be a human in relationship with all that is.

I have no tidy answer for a grand finale, only the suggestion that is these days, it is not someone out there who gives us the answer, but that it is going deeply within to ask ourselves, what from these thoughts rings true for me? Is there something here that I want to contemplate? Might anything that I have read today change my behavior? Is a deeper consideration of love as the final frontier a part of my journey? Clearly, it is for me—and perhaps it is for you as well.


back to reflections