Sunday, November 16, 2014

Love and Strife

Sunrise: Mountain View CA
Division has stricken the world. Wars, ethnic fighting, uncivil discourse and social fragmentation are rampant. Yet many spiritual practices and religious disciplines encourage the cultivation of the virtue of love among their adherents. How can we reconcile love with evident strife? Reflecting on my life as a therapist, I have realized that the psychological process of "triangulation" or "splitting" is a root cause of much individual misery; indeed, much ethnocentrism and religious exclusiveness demands that individuals be put into dualist categories: us vs them, the good child vs the bad child, believers vs unbelievers, the list goes on and on.

Aside from reading dualistic religious texts, can we discover some sort of understanding of this splitting and triangulating so pervasive across the earth? Well, an ancient pre-Socratic philosopher, Empedocles of Agrigento in Sicily, who is notable for his original cosmology of the four elements: air, fire, earth and water, formulated the notion that love and strife are two principles that undergird all of the cosmos:

"66. And these (elements) never cease changing place continually, now being all united by Love into one, now each borne apart by the hatred engendered of Strife, until they are brought together in the unity of the all, and become subject to it. Thus inasmuch as one has been wont to arise out of many and again with the separation of the one the many arise, so things are continually coming into being and there is no fixed age for them; and farther inasmuch as they [the elements] never cease changing place continually, so they always exist within an immovable circle."--Arthur Fairbanks, Fragments Empedokles (tr and ed, 1898)

So, if Empedocles is right, then both uniting love and  dividing strife are essential forces to lead creation from the one to the many and back to the one, in a kind of circular movement. Maybe, then, our calling as spiritual people is to cultivate love (after all we do need a countervailing weight to division and separation), but to recognize strife in its manifold forms: splitting, triangulation, ethnocentrism, religious exclusiveness. If we are seeking unity, internal or external, let us hold onto love, all the while, letting go of strife.

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