Can we imagine what love means on a scale that extends beyond the human and even the biological—as a kind of relationship that can be found in various forms throughout the cosmos? Could doing so help us to break out of the destructive relationships that pass as love, today?
Getting to safety also meant making safety thinkable. I had to prove that will and love could be regained. And I had to build the proof from what I had at that moment: fragments of a religious upbringing divested of its community and even its god, scraps of poetry, invasive thoughts, academic systems theories and materialist philosophy, and the embodied realization that in some sense I had already done it: I had gotten to safety, I had understood love well enough to know that wasn’t it, and I had found the will to leave. And if it could happen, there must be a way to explain it, at least to myself.
This is a Valentine to anyone who needs it.
An anarchist trans woman composed the following text after escaping domestic violence, as a means to understand her own journey. She offers it here as a sister text to bell hooks’ All About Love—that is to say, a “definition of love that says we are never loved in a context where there is abuse.”
Love and Will: A Tentative Unified Theory
This is a thought about lines of flow. Lines of flow of any kind, really. Liquids and feelings, occult energies and avalanches of tumbling stones, travelers and poems—all of them flow, and we can visualize their patterns of movement as lines.
Lines of flow affect one another. The wind, the current, the sailors, and the ships—wherever their lines of flow intersect, they accelerate, accommodate, and disrupt one another.
We can locate fields of flow where several such lines interact. Reality is a field of flow so complex that we cannot fully think it, because our nerves and our language are limited lines of flow within it. Perception and analysis are finite activities within a local field of flow. From this vantage point, there is a certain level of resolution at which we may notice lines of flow folding into complex patterns that can maintain themselves, holding significant characteristics even as they change, weathering and creating some change in the lines of flow around them. Let’s call these loops.
A loop is not unbreakable, but it is also not mere chaos. Eventually, the lines of flow that comprise, contain, and sustain it will change enough that it will cease to exist: its forces will disperse and be drawn into other loops. But while it exists, a loop can retain its characteristic patterns through various kinds of change, and for a while, the lines of flow that move into and out of it will shape its surrounding field to keep it changing within its characteristic bounds. A loop is not an “individual,” not really, but it is a pattern worthy of a name.
When loops come close to one another, the lines of flow at their edges begin to intersect. This can produce any number of different results.
Love is what we call the pattern in which two or more loops sustainably transform each other within a shared field of flow. In love, loops continue to be themselves for a time, although they are engaged in reciprocal transformation.
So many things are not quite love. We can find pseudo-loops that seem complete only because they are parasitically bonded to other loops. We can find loops that engage one another in such a way that they are mutually sustainable, but which become, together, a system that depletes the field of flows that surrounds them, working together to make themselves vanish. There are loops that allow other loops to exist only by transforming them into new systems entirely, replacing every characteristic flow into something that fits them better. None of these patterns are love.
Where there is love, we often find certain traits. Love can produce long-lasting growth and resilience for the loops involved, and in some cases, acceleration of movement. Love, most amazingly, has the ability to create new loops. Giving birth, per se, is an inadequate analogy; try picturing the entire process of birthing, weaning, growth, and development into healthy independence, including all the different relations it entails—the entire process that makes a new life viable. This is also a way to understand the creation of works of art, which are produced from the love between artists and their traditions. Such works are complete, viable loops that can leave their creators and survive on their own, nourishing other creators and, in the process, giving rise to other creations.
Our language freely confuses real love with many horrific parasitisms that go by the same name. We can find this confusion woven deep into many of the religions that profess to extol love. For example, Jewish scripture urges readers to love foreigners “as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34); but the same book depicts Abraham binding up his son, whom the text explicitly says Abraham “loves,” and preparing to kill him in order to appease a voice from the sky. Likewise, in the Christian Bible, we find 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.” But that same text, in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, makes “love” the domain of husbands, to which wives are asked to merely “submit.” Surely no coherent ethics can build upon the hideous misidentification of domination as love.
In 1 John 4:7, we read that “God is love”—another fraught premise of Christianity. Which vision of God? Drawing on a just and reciprocal understanding of love, it might be wiser to reverse the formula, placing love where we currently place God. Perhaps the notion of the source of all that is holy would be an adequate frame for the sense of awe that love compels—but we should seek this among and within us, not above and outside us. Such a precious, powerful thing, so commonly mistaken for its parasitic imitations, deserves to be examined with the care of a theologian and the intensity of a mystic. Love is not something to fear, but when fully encountered, it makes us weak at the knees.
It is possible that many religious impulses would be better fulfilled by attention to love. What if love, not the principle or the idea, but the phenomenon itself, were our object of veneration? What if, in moments of crisis, we turned our thoughts to what harmonious interaction feels like, in hopes of finding our way to more of it? Could nourishment that is not predation be the basis of an ethics? Perhaps we can aspire to turn the flow of all of our lives loveward.
Now let’s situate these lines of flow in multiversal time. The mind can perceive flows rather than a series of points—entities rather than a swarm of meaningless occurrences—because consciousness, the present of the mind, always extends a short way into the future and the past.
Just as humans look back on our own roots, as we “grow up,” we can imagine time in the form of a tree, rooting down in the past and stretching up into the future. From the vantage point of the present, “now” describes something like a cross-section of the trunk of that tree. While a tree’s rings are concentric, the loops we find in any present overlap and entwine wildly. But like the rings of a tree, these loops are simply the traces of a more complex process.
The present reaches its edge, both before and after this moment in perceived time, where multiplicity appears—where the roots branch out, in the past below us, and the branches divide to take different routes into the future. If we can say that a flow may proceed in more than one possible direction into the future, we can also imagine that it could have arrived along one of several different possible routes from the past.
Time, viewed from the vantage point of any given present, resembles a great oak, its roots opening in one direction and its branches in the other. To be precise, time is a fractal oak, whose branches and roots are smaller trunks, all likewise opening up in both directions.
Seen across time, loops are spirals, coursing up and down the tree, drawing in the tributary spirals of possible pasts, branching out into the various futures that can sustain them. And love is a dance of spirals, meta-spirals, loops of loops through time.
Looking across the fractal field of multiversal time, we can see loops that fade in and out. While they collapse in some moments, they draw back together as true loops both before and after those moments. Often we see one loop pulled apart by another loop’s parasitic flows, but after the second loop collapses, the first coalesces back into being. A sort of tension builds between the many possible pasts in which the loop existed and the many futures in which it could exist again. There are moments when predatory, unsustainable loops collapse before their more sustainable prey, and the latter blossom into wild abundance and new potential. This creates a flow that can draw broken loops back into harmony. The force that allows loops to reconstitute and re-harmonize, the draw to ongoing existence, is called “will.”
Will is the ghostly pull toward recurrence. It is a relationship between future and past selves. It is not only the work of enduring through change, but a force that can propel personality across the gulf of death. Will is the possibility that the child self can take comfort in the arms of the future self. Will is the possibility that the elder can be sustained by their own youthful vitality.
Will can keep us mired in destructive patterns. But when it pulls us towards realignment, it represents the flow of redemption.
Imagine the will—which is to say, the extension across multiversal time—of loops entwined in love. Love cannot exist in the present when any loop that shares it has dissolved. In such a present, love may be experienced unevenly. A loop may continue, for a time, in the flows that characterized the love relation, though the complimentary flows no longer sustain it. The will of loops no longer in love, struggling to retain their own structure, may strain between past and future, seeking relationships they cannot find. They may begin to draw strangely upon their environment, or to send lines of flow into places that resemble the relation they have not fully released. This practice cannot endure forever; but for a time, it is possible for love to endure unbalanced, at a cost to the surrounding field of flows.
The ghost rattles the cabinets, seeking sustenance from places it can no longer reach. This is an accurate vision of will: a broken spiral that recalls its wholeness, like a valley of dry bones determined to someday live again: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live!”
In some tales of great healing—not only the healing of loops, but of relationships, of systems, of whole fields of flow—there is redemption for love. In these tales, there exists a messianic promise that loops that spiraled together once may spiral together again. Where parasitic loops and ancestral curses collapse, channels open across time, and sustainable involuted life can take their places. The dance, though broken, can sometimes be resumed.
Seen across time, these are the spirals that can run the longest and endure the most transformation. Just as a single loop can endure change without vanishing for a time, it is this possibility of redemption that allows love to exist as a higher order expression of the loop, healing its own wounds.
Love presides graciously over the dance of wills. “Once more,” the dance leader calls, “With feeling!”
Not all returns are returns home.
Not all returns home are healthy.
I wrote this treatise to help me break out of a loop:
I was once an alcoholic’s eldest child &
I was once a different alcoholic’s codependent.
Theology is a form of dissociation:
This is a chorus of theoreticians and theologians saying,
To me, because I had to hear it,
“Yes, love can be distinguished from abuse.”
“Yes, you have a future, even you, with your past.”
This is a philosophical sketch of the mystery
Of my Beloved, whose arms I found aching but still open,
Out here, in a space where return is not relapse.
And even still, I carry unrequited love
Like a hot coal in my bare hands,
Just as I have been carried.
It may be a long walk from wherever you are, but there’s a way:
Love, the kind that heals, inheres in reality.
Until you let yourself believe that, nothing will make sense.