There is one type of interaction that deserves special attention. The meaning of life cannot be just a theoretical concept, there must be an empirical equivalent at any level, including the level of human life. Otherwise, the suggested meaning is unlikely to be more than just a construct. It seems that such an equivalent does indeed exist. Love has an intrinsic sense of meaningfulness and infinity, which is why it is experienced as special.
Love is a very broad term regarding its typology and what it refers to (e.g. passionate love v. compassionate love; eros, philia, agape; caring love for children and elderly; not to mention some banal use of the term in everyday language, such as love for a particular type of food or activity). It would not be possible and necessary to address all these meanings here. The term is used in a much narrower sense, signifying a freely chosen intimate relationship between equal partners. It excludes infatuation (eros, passionate love), and agape (universal love or love of God) and is closest to philia or compassionate love (that should not be identified with friendship, to which it is sometimes inaccurately reduced).
If love is a reflection of the meaning of life, it is not surprising that the intimate relationships (which do not need to be restricted to only two people) is arguably the most complex phenomenon regarding human interactions. A good intimate relationship consists of an interplay between a tendency towards unity (which is also, on a larger scale, a prerequisite to the formation of the Other) and a tendency towards preserving separateness (enacting the separateness between the One and the Other). Although these two are intertwined, the former is what is prominent throughout the process of an intimate relationship (as well as through the process of achieving the final goal), while the latter acts as a corrective mechanism. So, the uniting will be taken as the dominant part, while the separateness can be considered (for the sake of simplicity) its ‘shadow'.
Love has the same function in every domain: the bonding of the bodies in the physical domain; the socially constructed bonding (a ritualised unity such as marriage) in the public domain; the bonding of the egos (and the ensuing personal attachment) in the personal domain; and finally the bonding of the souls in the transcendent domain. The last one goes beyond the body and mind, so it can indeed transcend illness (mental or physical), old age or death. Therefore, so-called eternal love is indeed possible (providing that those involved can survive in the after-death environment).
This is, however, not all. Love is also the road to fulfilling the purpose. If individual selves are to become the Other, the counterpart to the One, they will have to eventually merge too. The only appropriate way to achieve this is through the act of love. Love is the force that allows this process. However, not despite but precisely because of it, this ultimate act is also a most hazardous event, which is not only recognised in spiritual traditions, but its echo reaches common experiences too. Love is highly valued and desired, but it is often linked to death and a sense of annihilation. This is because the final merging requires a merging of the selves (rather than just souls), which is a highly delicate process. If, at the moment of merging, there is a shred of desire for control, fear, or inequality, the result could be a moment of panic that can lead to one soul assimilating or being assimilated by another rather than merging together. So, the risk is much greater than even the risk of physical death. If the person dies, there is always another chance. If the self is lost, there is no other chance. In a way, this is the only real death. Not surprisingly, such an act can cause extreme anxiety. Yet, the merging of selves is necessary. This is why individual development must include moral development (that can be best justified as a preparation for the act of love) and also affective development (the development of the un-constructed aspect). Equality between the partners (that, of course, permits differences) is also vital. Inequality is not appealing in any case, because it takes away agency, but more importantly, it is dangerous. An unequal love can lead to assimilation rather than the merging of the selves. In fact, the unification does not have to be the result of love or mutual choice among equals; it can also be the consequence of forceful or accidental assimilation. However, not only does this annihilate another self, but also the energy acquired through assimilation (a set of information and experience) is a ‘dead' energy, far less valuable than the active energy acquired through the merging of selves. So, a relationship that has a prospect of leading to assimilation rather than merging is unethical and far inferior.
Although the merging of souls can happen even in material reality, the merging of selves cannot, because the bodies always remain separated (therefore, perceptions, memories and experiences are also separate). This is good, considering that souls that identify with bodies are not yet ready for such an ultimate act. In fact, this final unification does not even happen at the early stages of non-material life but usually only at the later ones. Still, the journey of love leading to it starts here and is not restricted only to individuals. It may be hard to believe, but we are all already a part of this long voyage, which is the subject of the last chapter.
- . The other side, separateness, is also present in every domain: unbridgeable separateness of the bodies in the physical domain, divisions of social roles in the public domain, preserving autonomy in the personal domain, and independent selves in the transcendent domain.
- . So, loving God in terms of yearning to merge with God is pointless and likely to be rejected, as any lover usually instinctively rejects one whose love takes the form of inferiority. Therefore, love of God is best expressed through love of people.