Sometimes we may be tempted to think that the desire to be loved is a manifestation of "ego" - at least when the term is used in a negative sense. And indeed it IS negative, if we constrict around the desire for love and demand that we be loved by a particular person in a particular manner. In other words, when the desire takes on a solid, leaden quality, that is a manifestation of the negative side of ego, or what is sometimes called "the false self."
However, a heathy, unconstricted desire to be loved is actually an important element of the spiritual journey. It is NOT a selfish desire and is in fact a necessary part of maintaining the FLOW of divine life. With magnetism or electricity, TWO poles need to be fully operating in order for the energy to circulate properly. Similarly, with love, you can't have just one of the poles doing the loving. There must be two - a lover and a beloved - in order for the energy of love to circulate. Here, we desire to be loved "for God's sake," if "God" is understood as the two-way circulation of love. In Christian mystical terms, this is the "Holy Spirit" - the mutual love of lover and Beloved.
We only run into problems when we look for this returned love to come to us in a specific way. Excluding a committed relationship, where there MUST be equal love on the part of both persons if the partnership is to work, we cannot demand that we be loved by a particular person in a particular way. What I've learned over a lifetime of experiencing frequent unrequited love is this: in the divine economy, we often give love in ONE place and receive love back from ANOTHER.
Thus, for example, I may give out love to a person I value, yet not sense any love in return. However, if I open myself to receiving love from elsewhere - from the vibrant aliveness I feel in the presence of Nature's beauty, for example, or from the satisfaction I experience in doing an inspired piece of writing - I am indeed able to participate in the ever-circulating divine flow - the Holy Spirit - yet without demanding that the returned love occur in a particular way. In this manner, I begin to practice Bernard of Clairvaux's Fourth Degree of Love: "loving self for God's sake." In this case, "loving self" means realizing that it is OK - and even necessary - for me to want to be loved. "For God's sake" means that I allow myself to be loved (and to love my desire to be loved) as a means of keeping the flow of divine life circulating throughout the cosmos. And that, I'm convinced, is what the divine life is all about!
Photo: Ice on Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO. Bernard's Four Degrees of Love are: 1. Loving self for self's sake, 2. Loving God for self's sake, 3. Loving God for God's sake, and 4. Loving self for God's sake :)
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.