Love in a Time of Crisis: A talk for the Decurion Holiday Festival 2020
The psychological effects of the Covid 19 pandemic are more debilitating and widespread than most people realize. To order us to practice “social distancing” is a serious mistake. The correct term is physical distancing.
The last thing we want to practice is social distancing. Lack of social support deepens our fears and anxieties in these stressful times. It makes us more physically and emotionally vulnerable not less.
We are social animals and we need each other. We need love and open, caring hearts.
Some of you know of Leo Buscaglia. Leo was a famous professor of special education at USC from 1965 to 1984. He was convinced that children with physical or emotional difficulties need love and support more than anything else. He often had his students hug each other in class and they nicknamed him Dr. Hug and Dr. Love.
Leo developed a course on love, but his colleagues refused to grant the course academic credit. They felt that love was not “academic enough.” So Leo offered Love as a non-credit course—and Love 1A was a wonderfully popular non-credit course for many years. (There were no grades by the way.)
One of Leo’s first books was simply entitled Love. His publisher was convinced that the title must have been already taken, but Leo had his publisher check. The title “Love” had never previously been used, and Leo was fond of saying, "I hold the copyright on LOVE!"
In 1964 I discovered Aikido and I was deeply touched by the saying of the Founder, “The martial arts are love.” He taught that the real goal of the martial arts is to prevent violence, not add to it. The Founder argued that the martial arts are not meant to defeat enemies but to transform enemies into friends, through love. Somehow, I knew he meant it and that Aikido would teach me everything I needed to learn.
I’m convinced that love is essential to our health. We need love in the same way we need vitamins and good nutrition.
Earlier today we agreed how self-centered and narcissistic was Bill Murray’s character Phil in Groundhog Day. The Greek myth of Narcissus tells the story of a young man who was so self-centered he was unable to love. He rejected everyone who tried to love him. The Goddess Nemesis decided to punish him and the next day when he saw his reflection in a lake he fell in love with his image. He tried to kiss his image and ended up with a mouthful of water. He was rooted to the spot and eventually turned into a narcissus flower.
Narcissus did not have healthy self-love. He was in love with an unreal image of himself. Healthy self-love allows us to love others. Unhealthy self-love does not.
I am convinced that Freud chose the wrong Greek myth in developing his theories. I have met very few men who want to kill their fathers and marry their mothers. But I have met many people who suffer from a combination of egotism and self-absorption, and who are unable to love.
I learned Tai chi chu’an years ago and I have recently gone back to my tai chi practice now that all the Aikido dojos are closed. The old tai chi masters claimed that tai chi is essential to health because it teaches a relaxed flow of physical movement and also a flow of chi or life energy. The paranoia about social distancing has inhibited everyone. Healthy energy flow and healthy connections are severely inhibited, and what does not flow becomes stagnant. Most people move around as if in a “Covid cocoon” avoiding contact with everyone around them.
When I was a graduate student at Harvard I noticed a similar phenomenon. In the winter everyone bundled up and walked hunched over as if that would keep away the cold. When Spring finally came, there was a wonderful transformation. Not only did the flowers begin to blossom, but so did the people. Everyone shed their bulky overcoats and seemed to bloom as well, enjoying the sunshine and warm spring air. That is a far healthier physical and emotional attitude than hunching over out of a false sense of self protection.
I suggest you do the same. When you interact with others, open your heart to them. Smile and look them in the eyes. (I guarantee that will not cause you to catch Covid-19!) Make a heart connection to everyone around you. Please, don’t hold yourself in and try to distance yourself socially.
Let’s try this simple exercise together for a moment.
Sit comfortably and sit still for a moment. Breathe easily. Now imagine someone you love in front of you. Open your heart and radiate your love to them. Bathe them in the light of your heart. Then bring that love back to yourself. Feel your own mind and body infused with your own love. Now slowly come back.
I want to end with some lines from John O’Donohue, one of my favorite spiritual poets. Here is what he has to say about love in his book Anam Cara:
The heart is the inner face of your life. …
It is here that love gathers within you.
Love is absolutely vital for a human life.
For love alone can awaken what is divine within you. …
When you learn to love and let yourself be loved,
you come home to the hearth of your own spirit.
You are warm and sheltered.”
- John O'Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
Thank you for listening.