Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Gems from the Forums: Three Kinds of Restriction on Love
Since one of the key slogans of Thelema is “Love is the law, love under will,” we can conclude that the concept of love is vital to understanding this philosophy. But this conclusion immediately raises the question of what exactly this phrase means. Looking through various “Thelemic discussions” online, one can see that there’s no shortage of self-proclaimed Thelemites willing to blather on about their mushy feelings and pretend it has something to do with the writings of Aleister Crowley. One gets the impression that a lot of these jokers think that love in Thelema has something to do with “love” in the sense of mystical Christianity – love of God, or selfless love for all of mankind. Others seem to think that this “love” refers primarily – or even only – to the kind of “free love” that came into popularity in the 1960s. Still others seem to think that the teary eyes they get when watching Marley and Me has something to do with Thelema.
The “under will” part presents even more problems. The most common misreading of this line of Liber AL is to treat “love” as “underlying” the True Will, as if the True Will springs from the emotions that commonly get called “love” in our colloquial speech. The theory, it would seem, is that as long as you’re experiencing some kind of emotion that you can label “love” in some way, then hey, all you have to do is act and viola! You’re doing your will.
Worse, there are even those alleged “Thelemites” committed to using their misunderstanding of the concept of “Restriction” in Thelema as an excuse for obnoxious or vile behavior. “The word of Sin is restriction,” reads the Book. So, naturally, it should come as no surprise that dumbasses read this verse as implying that any woman with enough standards and self-respect to reject their socially inept advances is “restricting” them. Others accuse anyone who expresses a dissenting opinion – particularly anyone who dares express a dissenting opinion with conviction (and particularly anyone who can support this dissenting opinion with compelling evidence) – of “restricting” them (presumably on the grounds that they “love” being idiotically wrong).
But what is love in Thelema? How can love be “restricted”?
The answers to those questions were the subject of a forum post I wrote several years ago and will reproduce below.
Read on for more.
“Love,” in the context of Thelema, means union, a uniting of a point-of-view (one manifestation of Hadit) with one possibility (one manifestation of Nuit): that is to say, every single event that happens is an act of love. All experience is love. It is for this reason that Liber AL states, “For I am divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union."
The division of the universe into self/not-self occurs so that experience (love) becomes possible. The image is of Hadit expanding outwards into the starry heaven of Nuit, growing with each experience until he is eventually coterminous with the universe itself (it is possible to generate a faint but useful echo of this feeling by the practice of the Qabalistic Cross, Liber NU, and other practices along these lines).
So if all experience is love, and everything that happens to you is experience, then how is it possible not to love? Why even bother talking about love? [In one sense, arguably, it is fruitless to speak of: “let them speak not of thee at all, since thou art continuous!”…but in another sense, not talking about a subject isn’t very practical and helps absolutely no one, so let’s continue our discussion.
The answer to this question is to note that the Book of the Law does not state “Go thou forth and love however you like.” It says, specifically, “Love is the law, love under will.”
Acts of love – our experience – must be under the control of the will, our natural inclinations. Attempts to try to direct our experience down a particular course of action – to restrict the expansion of your true self out into the universe – are in violation of the Law of Thelema and will accordingly bring suffering.
Examples of such violations are almost too easy to call to mind for anyone who is even slightly self-aware. There are three main forms. The first is emotional: one allows the emotions to talk one into thinking that one enjoys an activity when, in fact, one really just enjoys the idea of the activity or the corresponding self-image it provides.
If you’re looking for a “personal” example, I can think of several times in my teenage years, long before I had anything remotely resembling insight into my nature, when I talked myself into thinking that I enjoyed being in certain relationships and even that I “loved” some people who did not, in fact, love me back.
Instances like these – which are pretty common in everyone, especially stupid teenagers – highlight the tendency of our sappy emotions and our saccharine self-images to restrict our manifestation of love. In the name of “love,” we turn our backs on the fulfillment of self that is actual love.
Thus, we read in the Book of the Law: “Nor let the fools mistake love; for there are love and love. There is the dove, and there is the serpent. Choose ye well!"
Indeed, in addition to a number of spiffy “esoteric” readings we could give this passage, we need to consider that the verse is telling us not to mistake a false substitute for the real thing. Getting rid of delusive beliefs that force us to funnel our love in one direction allows us to open up to new experiences and do the things that we actually want to do, that our true selves will.
This isn’t just mushy, feel-good stuff. Dropping foolish sentimentality leaves us free to pursue other relationships that we actually find fulfilling.
There are two other primary ways that love gets retricted. The first is morality. The belief that such-and-such actions are inherently virtuous leads one to consciously try to act in such-and-such a way, even if such a way isn’t in line with one’s actual nature. This restricts love and prevents the will from properly expressing itself.
If you want a personal example of this, I can think of a number of times – again, during those teenage years – when I’ve helped others out not because I wanted to or even because I particularly liked the other person but because I thought it was “good” to do so. I can also think of times that I refrained from telling people how I really felt about their actions because I thought it would be “bad” to hurt their feelings.
Examples like these restrict love by forcing actions to conform to arbitrary senses of what is “right” or “wrong.” Telling someone off – when you really feel like telling someone off – isn’t “good” or “bad” in itself. It’s just what it is, and if you truly want to do it, there’s no ultimate reason that you “should” not do it. In this context, it is a manifestation of love to tell someone off, and it is a restriction and poisoning of love to refrain from doing what you will because of your silly idea that it’s somehow “bad” to do so.
As we can see, “love” in the Thelemic sense has absolutely nothing to do with being nice to everyone and trying to “get along.” Indeed, the idea that there’s some inherent “goodness” in being nice to people is yet another restriction of love. If you want to be nice to people, then fine; if you don’t want to be nice to people, then don’t. Spend time with the people you actually like, and to hell with the rest of them. “Good” or “bad” doesn’t enter into the question, and it is impossible to properly love – in the Thelemic sense – as long as you consider actions to be inherently good or bad.
The final way that love gets restricted is acting on delusory beliefs. In many ways, this restriction is closely tied to morality: morality itself is one kind of delusory belief, and many delusory beliefs can feed into a morality.
To name one example – a favorite hobby horse of mine – many Thelemites believe in reincarnation, a false belief with no basis in reality, and for at least some of them, reincarnation feeds into a system of morals. Since I don’t have a personal experience with constructing such a moral system, I’ll cite one that popped up on another Thelemic forum recently. Jim Eshelman recently commented the following about his belief in reincarnation:
“I've long been clear that it's been too many lifetimes since I've been a woman. Also clear that this is because I wouldn't be as effective, given societal definitions. So, part of my work is to do as much as possible to empower women in this lifetime, to accelerate the liklihood that I can incarnate as a woman next time and be as effective in the world as I've been as a man for the last few thousand years.”
Now, since reincarnation isn’t true, what this Thelemite is doing is allowing his delusive belief in reincarnation guide his actions by constructing a personal morality for him: working to “empower women” is “good” because he thinks it will help him achieve his imaginary aims.
Someone invested in a delusion of this kind is likely to act in a way that his fantasy considers “good” whether or not he actually wills it.
This is yet another clear example of the way that love is restricted and funneled down a particular path instead of liberated and allowed to follow the natural course of the true will.
In closing, let me add that it’s common in so-called “Thelemic” circles to find people yammering on and on about their precious feelings and being nice to others when the subject of “love” comes up, but we can now see that such reactions are, at best, misguided. “Love,” in the context of Thelema, is emphatically not a sentimental feeling or an injunction to be kind to others. In fact, in many situations, it is precisely the opposite: it is an injunction to rid oneself of the delusory ideas of “good” and “evil” that taint one’s ability to perceive and carry out the true will and to cease to restrict one’s experience by imposing arbitrary restrictions upon it.
Further Reading: Erwin Hessle's "Method of Love"