- starting with a stone
by Peter Harris
Published by Eutopia Press
31 December 2015
[+ Non-random Acts of Love -Resources +]
It is not an easy thing to get down to love, to really want to love everyone. Since you are reading this, the hardest part is hopefully already done – by you. Congratulations!
Now, the tricky part is to lose the old habits of thought that assume that love is something that it’s not. Love is such an important thing that everyone has a received version of what it is and a lot of ‘shoulds’ connected to it. This puts us off even going there. This is a pity, well no, a huge tragedy. Not to even mention the tragedy of the English language having only one word for romantic -erotic love and love in the general, all-embracing, sensuous and natural yet not narrowly erotic sense in which I use the word here!
So, now let’s get out of the way some of the most pernicious assumptions we probably all Westerners have grown up with:
1: That love is something you (ought to) DO for others – the more of a sacrifice for you the better. Even to the death. This is completely perverse and back to front. We naturally do things for others because we value them, like them, respect them, see something beautiful about them, and feel a kindship with them. Then, it’s true, we may even feel we would die for them if necessary!
2: That love is a kind of sympathy or pity. This is such a half-truth, and leads to those who receive your pity-love resenting you for treating them as inferiors. ‘Cold as charity’… No, if we love in the healthy way I propose we will never come across as superior, coldly pitying, but as warm, loving, kindred spirits, as one with the beloved, knowing them truly enough that we do for them as they would love us to do, not as we would have them do for us. To love someone in such a way that the recipient really likes it we must first know them, and truly appreciate them (accepting that there are some non-essential things we can’t like about them), and then act, as essentially one with them.
3: That love is selfless, even self-hating. ‘Jesus first, Myself last, and others in between’ was the saying my wife grew up with. Another half-truth that is worse than a plain lie! Of course, when we love in a healthy way we are in that moment selfless, so enthralled we are with the Other. But what an odd world if everyone went around hating themselves on principle and ‘loving’ everyone else! How illogical that rule is! No, there is no essential difference between us and others but the individual bodily viewpoint. To love truly is to love everyone, ourselves no less – and no more. In practice, however, we can be forgiven for tending to begin with ourselves and working outwards.
4: That love is impossible for normal humans, requiring that we, as depraved sinners, hand over the reins as it were, to Jesus or God, and let Him ‘do the loving through us’. Another pernicious half-truth! Of course when we ‘run a different program’, say a ‘loving-everyone’ thought-form, in our minds we are letting something operate through us. But not as spiritual puppets, but as minds, whose very nature is to run ‘programs’ of one kind or another. It’s our job to pick the best programs, the ones that make the most sense. And to test and refine them, consciously. We are not puppets; no religion really teaches that, even if it seems to. But there is a tendency in all religions to say ‘you can’t really do the Right Thing without believing just these thought-forms, in these words, under this banner.’ That’s just plain wrong!
5: That Love is blind. No, we can feel the positives deeply, but still see the negatives about the thing or person. But we are endlessly patient because we see the essence of the person, their value, their beauty, and their wanting to be good, even if they are currently struggling with multitudes of demons within… just like we may be. ‘To know all is to forgive all’. And remember, every single being is on a journey, and the story isn’t over while they still draw breath… just like with us. In fact, I find it very helpful to assume that it isn’t over even then – that we go on to other lives, and continue the story, gradually learning and growing in love. So, as the saying goes, ‘Be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.’ Nor are we finished with us. I think all of us secretly want to be good, loving and being loved. Even those who pretend to be uncaring monsters.
6: That love is ‘soppy’, all emotional. Well, that would be enough to put many folk off. Emotional exhaustion alert! Luckily, it’s a complete misconception. There are as many expressions of love as there are object of love, and individuals experiencing it. Some of the most loving people can seem gruff, or unemotional, or cool and intellectual. Here is an imagined extreme of this, in C. S. Lewis’s ‘Voyage to Venus’. Ransom sees the two angelic beings that guide Mars and Venus, and their expression was single and clear, but he wasn’t sure at first what it was:
‘He concluded in the end that it was charity. But it was terrifyingly different from the expression of human charity, which we always see either blossoming out of, or hastening to descend into, natural affection. Here there was no affection at all: no least lingering memory of it even at ten million years’ distance, no germ from which it could spring in any future, however remote. Pure, spiritual, intellectual love shot from their faces like barbed lightning. It was so unlike the love we experience that its expression could easily be mistaken for ferocity.’
Wow! So much for emotion being the measure of love! Back to our less emotional humans: their love shows maybe in their eyes, or their kind words, or their actions, or any combination. Relax, and be yourself emotionally, and just connect as you!
7: That love must be ‘pure’ and unworldly. We really can love this world. God, however you understand Him (or Her or It or I Am) must have some love for this visible world and theatre in which the great play and pageant of life unfolds.
(Here I will bracket a little aside on the Idea of God, the Problem of Evil, and Christianity, which, whatever we believe about its other claims, has been the inspiration for much great thought and action in the field of love:
If God has some love for this world, then surely it will be infinite, since God is infinite (by definition – how significant it surely is that God is the only ‘being’ which can be defined as a concept, and logically seen to have certain properties, such as benevolence, whether He exists or not! Hm…)
‘The very hairs of our head are numbered’, as Jesus reportedly said. If you doubt just how much time God has for this little world, and little you and me, consider the nature of infinity: it is not diminished at all by adding or taking away any finite number of items – or seconds or hours or years. Therefore God, or the Absolute Infinite, has an infinitude of ‘time’ or attention, or love, for every tiny thing.
Why then does God allow all the evil in it? Don’t know. I will ask next time we meet; meanwhile (significantly) it is written in our hearts and minds that no matter what evil God has allow to go on here, good is good and challenges us to side with it and not with the evil. Maybe that’s the whole point of the Story of life – God doesn’t want puppets, but courageous lovers of all that is good; godlike heroes of all-conquering love. For the Christians who (I hope) will read this: it seems clear to me that the times when the Bible (in the New Testament) says what is the greatest thing, the most important duty, and the very essence of God, it comes down on the side of my angels, though I’m not a Christian:
John says: ‘Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’
And Paul: ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’)
Well, we’ve pretty much covered what love logically isn’t (and a bit about the wonderful godlikeness of love, whether God actually exists or not). Now for what it logically IS:
Love is, in its essence, the noticing and appreciating of the ‘Other’ (animate or inanimate). It starts as a sudden ‘seeing’ of the beauty and value in the other. It then gives us a natural positive feeling of connection.
As the philosopher-poet Buber would say, it’s a pre-intellectual moment of ‘I-thou’ communion with a thing or person. In his book ‘I and Thou’ Buber first uses the example of a Tree. Here, I propose to use a Stone, because that is what gave me the ‘revelation’ for this little book.
The basic idea of this book is that we can start with the easiest thing to love – inanimate objects – and work up from there, as we get more used to the act of being with and appreciating the Other. Maybe for some it would work to skip inanimate objects and start with their cat, but I think for many of us the practice of opening to love and connection is so unfamiliar it’s good to start at, as it were, ‘rock bottom’. It helped me a lot, it was soothing and gave me a deep joy and feeling of connection with the Earth. I think we don’t realize how alienated we are getting from just the world around us, natural things that exist calmly being themselves.
The Stone on the cover is my own little ‘first love’, picked up on a quiet ramble along the harbourside by our land on the Kaipara Harbour, New Zealand, but it can really be anything you like – a feather, a leaf, your cat, a little disk of polystyrene with a hole in it like the sacred Chinese Pi (more authentically Bi) disk. I mention this because today I was walking the doglets, just thinking about the book when I saw a light polystyrene disk on the grass. Thinking, ‘Yes! Truth is as light as this disk!’ when I saw a feather. So I picked it up too…
I painted the disk to look like jade, which the Chinese Bi disks were mostly made of. But really, I could have done well to leave it exactly as it was, because this is the beginning of love, just to see and appreciate the other just the way it is, right now. Here is the disk and the feather:333
Here are a couple of other ‘common’ things I picked up at the beach recently. All photographed on a section of an old totara log washed up on the same beach in Gisborne:
If you are reading this at an airport or somewhere far from natural Nature, bear in mind every single atom in the Universe is part of Nature. So you could just pick up a bottletop and practice on it. I think it would be good to pick something you can put in your pocket or bag, and later a shelf or cabinet, to practice the feeling of love connection and express it with this first object. Then later, when (not if!) you have a bad hair day with more complex things like humans or even your cat or dog, you can go ‘back to base and reconnect with that stone, or feather or bottletop…
My stone I got a little carried away with and carved on one side, which was nice but it was a bit of a sidetrack from the practice of loving a thing just the way it is. Wanting to change and improve is natural, but a danger for the beginner in love. Fixing and improving can become an addictive replacement for simply loving.
Ok, back to the important matter at hand: how to take the first steps that will quite possibly culminate in your quite naturally being able to love (virtually) EVERYONE. I say virtually because there are some pretty hard cases out there, mean, nasty, violent people who have already hurt you and seem to have nothing good about them. It is OK to ‘bracket’ them and work around them. Just say to them (in your mind) ‘I can’t love you in any way, yet. Maybe later.’ Far better to do this than give up the practice of love altogether! Then ‘the Dark Side would have already won,’ to quote Obi Wan.
Now, let’s start.
You’ve chosen something real, tangible and ordinary-ish, not normally seen as very ‘valuable’ or ‘lovely’ (that would be a distraction from the goal which is to love everything, not just your own stuff, stuff you’ve learned to value highly already, say because of its money value. Just let it be something fairly ‘ordinary’ YOU happen to have noticed. Now find a quiet place and just observe it, keeping your mind non-judgemental, open, in what I call the Blue Phase, of pure receptivity. Keep like that until you start to ‘see’ it anew, as a unique thing among things, a thing of wonder in and of itself, its own story, and in its relatedness to the story of the whole World. This is the Green Phase, when a lightbulb turns on in your mind, and you see something as if for the first time… in ‘a new light’, as they say.
What if nothing happens? My wife asked me this, concerned that you might then feel bad and give up. I guess the thing is you WILL see something good, feel some connection, if you let it come naturally and keep relaxed about it. It might take time – let it take as long as it takes. Do something else and come back to it if necessary.
Now say ‘Thou’ (or You) to your object, instead of the usual ‘it’. In short, love it, for what it is you have seen and appreciated. Naturally, not theoretically or because you should, but only because you saw something lovable about it. There may of course be several things you perceive in it in this new light – all good! Everything is really made up of many things, many aspects and levels – Even a stone.
Now, take it home with you, care for it, appreciate what it is to you now. Make time to meditate with it, commune with it.
Think and remember where you found your object, or look where it is now, and appreciate that little area in the same way. Then go wider, and appreciate the block or district it’s in, then the whole country, then the whole round, wonderful Earth. Then, if you are cosmically minded, go out to love the solar system, and beyond to the galaxy, and beyond that to intergalactic space, then beyond that to the galactic cluster, then eventually to this whole finite but unbounded Universe…
Once you are overflowing with love and appreciation for all or at least some of all this, go back and really ‘see’ the animals and plants.
Then do it for the people. This is the hardest. We have so many stories and attitudes and ifs and buts around our fellow humans. Hamlet who saw humanity’s greatness, had such problems with certain murderous humans that he lost his enthusiasm for them altogether:
What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me.
Our aim, here and now, is to get that delight back.
We have all had bad experiences with other people. The key is to put aside all that and see the positive in each, the love, the beauties every single human does have; their unique story, their sufferings, their joys. Maybe start with yourself – put yourself in the picture as a unique found ‘thing’ like the stone or feather or polystyrene disk you found on the side of the road. Then when you see and accept that, try the family members, the friend, the neighbour, the corner store owner, the bus driver, the postman, the ‘enemy’ who you think hates you so much… the politician you love to hate… the criminals who have so little love… appreciate them all without bothering to judge them (you can do that another time, if you still want to!).
How do you feel now? Great? Full of joy and love? I hope so. Now, keep practicing that, and keep not doing all those other things I mentioned in the Introduction.
1 Trying to repeat the experience without repeating the action. So obvious, but we do it all the time…
2 Falling back into the old ‘Shoulds’ of Love. You are free to love or not, to whatever degree you like and are able now. There is a duty to be as good as we can, I suppose, but only as good as we really can, from the heart, authentically. Not out of guilt and fear and obligation. That’s not the real stuff anyway – it fools no-one for long, least of all those we inflict it on! No, keep going back to the meditative, non-judgemental looking, noticing, feeling. It’s natural, it flows, and nothing else really works.
3 Falling back into blaming others for not loving enough. Once we feel and tell ourselves how easy it is to love in this natural way, we may well in the same breath start to blame our near and dear ones for their loveless ways. Oh dear, what a trap that is! It hauls us back into the barren desert of should and guilt and blame. Go back to your rock, as often as you need to, and feel the simplicity of appreciating it. Then go out again. They say any new habit takes three weeks of continuous practice… Persevere in the delightful pursuit of true love, which is natural as breathing, and you will know joy and contentment. It all starts with a stone (feather, leaf, shall, lump of coal), and you.
4 Telling other people and finding they either laugh at you or get angry – ‘Who do you think you are to think you’re some wonderful loving person – Jesus? You wouldn’t make Jesus’s big toe,’ or some such attack. It’s like telling your broke friends you plan to try and start a business and get rich. Resentment and envy are a breath away from all of us, given the right provocation… So, be prepared, if you can’t trust someone to appreciate that you are trying this, not claiming to be better than them, consider keeping it a secret, until they (perhaps!) notice a difference in you and ask. Especially, be wary of trying to ‘convert’ just anyone – they may turn on you and hurt you badly. Sadly… But warriors of love though they don’t attack must still look to their defences and wear a little armour – that is, not expect instant understanding, changes of heart, etc. Love, as Paul said, is patient. Why? Because you see the other and know how hard it is for them to be kind, or understand, but also you know that deep down they like all of us just want to be safe, to be loved, and to be able to love in return.
To quote the movie Moulin Rouge,
The greatest thing
You’ll ever know
Is just to love someone
And be loved in return
He was singing about true romantic love, but it applies to stones, and people, and nations, and galaxies too.
The greatest of these is of course when it is a person you love, whoever they are, truly ‘sees’ you and loves you too.
5 This occurred to me after the first draft, but it’s probably the hardest thing of all to overcome: conflict of interest. This is such a big bully of an obstacle to love it is demanding a whole chapter of its own…
If I want one thing, and someone else wants the opposite, should I give way just because I love them?
Conflict of interests is I think the biggest obstacle to ongoing loving relationships. Love, not truth, is the ‘first casualty of war’… and ‘war’ – apparently insoluble conflict of interests – arises early in life – for example whenever my two-year-old grandson wants a toy and his brother wants it too.
So, is there a natural reason to sacrifice our own interests, even our own rights, for the sake of love? In the case of the toddlers, we adults usually say something like, ‘Well, it’s good to share…you should share’. But, says our Bruno, ‘I don’t WANT to share!’ Then we often reason like this: ‘Well, if you let Eddie play with your toys, Eddie will let you play with his.’ Better, I think. But what if Eddie’s a selfish bastard, I mean, won’t co-operate? Then Bruno seems to lose out. But I think it is still better for Bruno to share, because then he keeps his love going, feels good about himself, and can hope that in the long run it WILL work out – most little boys WILL reciprocate. And the ones who don’t are less popular than Bruno, and get less love and fewer rewards all round. In the long run, then, on average, love and kindness is rewarded. And if Bruno comes to know Eddie for a determined non-co-operator, he is free to not share with Eddie, but instead share with those who do reciprocate. And just because he doesn’t keep ‘turning the other cheek’ Bruno doesn’t have to hate Eddie.
This reasoning does mean we may love someone but end up having to leave them. But I think it will always be surprising how well a person will respond when confronted with – given – unconditional love and affection of the kind I have been describing – true connection, noticing and non-judgementally knowing and appreciating. They will realise that it is a precious thing, and will not want to lose it, so will be willing to give up some of their selfish demands and be more generous in return – and start to reciprocate the listening and noticing as well. Love is, someone said, the universal solvent, dissolving even the most implacable attitudes in time. So, if you are ‘stuck’ in an unequal relationship, where you seem to be the one who always has to back down, who loves more, gives more – practice this love, and give it time!
Should this giving more go on forever? Isn’t it just too hard, too unfair? Well, if you are loving naturally, keeping on seeing the good, appreciating that, it is not a burden to keep loving. It feels good! Give it time – in fact, throw away the clock, and see what happens!
Now we are nearly done. It has occurred to me though, that I haven’t even suggested techniques to practice when you are ready to go from feeling love to effectively expressing love! This, the ‘love is actions’ folk will exclaim, is outrageous! I hope you would have forgiven me if I had omitted this little chapter altogether, as by now you will hopefully see how desperately important to get away from the pernicious assumption that we must DO things to people in the name of love before it IS love. Love is essentially appreciation. Loving acts come later – hopefully when we know enough for them to actually be loving and helpful to the beloved.
As the saying goes, the process of getting anything good is ‘First BE; then DO, then HAVE. I have focussed on what to be, or if you like, what to do before you do. But now if you have firmly anchored the idea and habit of returning again and again to really seeing and appreciating, it is important to use all the intelligence and knowledge you can get to practice the Doing stage of love. This is what I call the Red Phase – Action, planned Output.
So, you have come this far and seek further guidance in the risky and complex path into real abiding love as a way of life. But this is a short little book, and the way of love is long and winding, with many branches. I must now say Godspeed, and recommend some other books which take my endpoint as their starting-point, that is, they assume you WANT to do kind deeds, or that you at least intend to… (This is not a complete list at all, just my own and my wife’s. Many books have some bits about love, but few major on it, except in the area of marriage.)
My list of books to help us love better:
‘The Four Loves’ by C. S. Lewis. It is that rare thing, a reasoned analysis of the four types (and levels) of love (natural affection, friendship, erotic love, and divine or pure love), and very helpful, even for non-Christians. Also, I recommend the little book ‘The Greatest Thing in the World’ by Henry Drummond, again a Christian sermon on love, from a hundred years ago, an analysis of Paul’s great passage in First Corinthians 13. Or just read that passage.
Then there are all the good books on how to be a loving spouse/partner. The area of romantic love is very well covered in our culture – to a fault. Things like ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ help us get more acquainted with the objects of our intended love. If we really want to love well, we need all the knowledge and awareness we can get – especially when loving those who are so unlike ourselves!
Another in the couples field – but also great for friendship in general I think – is ‘The Five Love Languages’ by Gary Chapman. Again, Christian but the material makes great sense. Obviously, we in the West owe a lot to Christianity for our understanding of Love. That official Churches have fallen so far short of love is not to say that the New Testament didn’t raise the bar in all our thinking on love. But their belief that it takes conversion and being ‘born again’ to become able to love truly at all seems to fly in the face of experience. There are loving people of all faiths and philosophies, and very unloving ones in all faiths too, as far as I know! Let us just get to trying love out with all the understanding we can, and see how we go… I have always believed (perfect) love to be the fulfilment of all the moral law, and have tried to practice it both as a ‘born again’ Christian (for a few hard years) and then as an agnostic, a pagan, a Platonist (for many more years). It is never easy to learn and unlearn the big things, but when a lasting change has come either as a Christian or as anything else, it has always been through truth, and the understanding of it, not through the alleged miracle of being born again, filled with the Spirit, or any such experience. There have been emotional realisations, epiphanies, and grinding episodes of head-butting against the way things work, but the logic of love is the most powerful of all, and it is not a feeling but a process, a series of positive actions – beginning always with the act of being open to the Other, whoever and whatever it, he or she may be.
What is the greatest obstacle to opening to love? For me, it seems to be fear of the other’s reaction, of rejection – especially in groups. ‘They’ might reject me… If I practice, as I do now, just getting to know the other/s, this fear recedes.
But also there’s another big obstacle, and this needs working on in anyone who wants lasting transformation. I owe this thought to Anthony Robbins in ‘Awaken the Giant Within’. He says the greatest force in determining how we will act is our self-image – who we think we are – what we believe is our identity. So, I think, if we want to be more loving we must redefine ourselves as loving people. This is much easier if we see it as natural, as healthy human functioning, to be able to love and accept love in return.
Finally, I am happy to be able to report that there is a growing movement in psychological research which is documenting the huge positive effects love has in all kinds of ways. ‘Love 2.0’ by xxx is a book by one such researcher.
Also there are websites on ‘Positive psychology’ which of course talk a fair bit about love. Then there is the Mindfullness movement, driven by some researchers but intensely practical too. They have things like lovingkindness meditations which are similar to my ‘love a stone and then go out from there’ approach.
And this brings me to the Buddhist tradition, which apparently has a lot of lovingkindness meditations, which have become a resource for the mindfulness movement.
At the end of the day, or a lifetime, what matters is the love we have given, and received. One of the books that has some of the most sweeping and beautiful descriptions of the cosmic reality of love is ‘The Bridge across Forever’, a romantic novel by Richard Bach. I have to quote this – I hope it inspires you too!
‘The things we own, the places we live, the events of our lives: empty settings. How easy to chase after settings, and forget diamonds! The only thing that matters, at the end of a stay on earth, is how well did we love, what was the quality of our love?
…We’re the bridge across forever, arching above the sea, adventuring for our pleasure, living mysteries for the fun of it, choosing disasters triumphs challenges impossible odds, testing ourselves over and again, learning love and love and LOVE!’
And loving those who could benefit from this little ebook… Feel free to quote from it, share it anywhere, anyhow, even to add to it or embed it in some other labours of your own love, in a website or even a book. Just attribute it and/or leave a link back to me – I love me too, and my wife and doglets, and I hope that some folk – maybe you! – will buy some of my other books –so I can live to write another day.
Or, give the wonderful, rare (and in my experience increasingly rare – one in 1,000 downloads or thereabouts) gift of actual feedback – review this book, give it some star rating on whichever platform you found it, if it was worth anything to you. Or feel free to email me at . Thank you! I will love each and every one of you who does this and thereby becomes part of my little story, which is a part of yours, which is part of the Great Story of the Universe, and – I believe – beyond that.
For more writings from me, go to my main blog and see the links there to my other blogs in the ‘Wood between the Worlds’ page. And links to all my (often free, if not 99cents) ebooks on the two main platforms I use.
For my blog mostly about Love, see
Thank you for joining me in this meditation on the most wonderful and natural thing in the world – love.
We assume we know what love is, and that we just 'need more of it in the world', but we have huge emotional and mental obstacles to actually attempting to be 'more loving' ourselves. Here are 7 things love ISN'T, and the one thing it IS - and it's probably not what you think. Once we're clear on what love is, we can be much more relaxed about practicing it in real life - starting with a stone... This book examines love from a logical and process point of view, and looks also at the psychology and philosophy of it. There is some discussion and critique of religious assumptions about love, too.