Oops! I made a mistake. I don’t think I’ve ever talked about love. For me, like Spirit. it’s silent. It goes without saying because it’s everywhere. It’s in everything. Love is the foundation for modern animism, so it’s easy to not talk about it because I take it for granted. I assume that it’s something that everyone knows.
We don’t speak the obvious because we don’t have to. I don’t announce that I am breathing, I’m female, or that I’m alive. People can see that, right?
After a conversation with someone, I realize it’s not obvious to everyone. Social and cultural norms are taught. Many of us grew up without experiencing love. Or they learned an unhealthy version of it. Many have really distorted definitions of love like: love is possession; love is control; love is obligation; and love hurts.
If that’s how you’re defining love, you are not in the best position to teach it to others, think of it in positive terms, or see it everywhere. Everything that flows from that tainted well becomes tainted too. So let’s look at some of these distortions.
Love is Possession
We only belong to each other because we choose to. Love is the binder through which we bind ourselves. When our partner binds us, that’s possession, not love. Where there is possession, there can be no sovereignty. The whole animist idea of life and spirituality just falls apart at the foundation.
Unfortunately this idea is reinforced in romantic pop culture with things like Valentines that say “Be mine.” It follows the idea that our lovers are our possessions. Possessions are things. They are not dynamic beings that we relate to. When we possess our lover, he becomes the object of our affection, not someone who is engaging in a relationship with us. Animism is relational. Everything is alive and relational.
Love is Control
Everything needs some degree of control. If we had no control, we’d have no structure. Life would be chaotic. Yet, when we force our desires or beliefs on others, that’s control, not love. That’s a violation of sovereignty. We don’t get to decide what is for someone else’s good. We don’t get to pressure or manipulate people into doing things because we love them. Love is accepting that beings have the power to control their own lives.
Love is Obligation
Hopefully we all take care of each other because we want to. It flows from our love for each other, it’s not an obligation. We care for our parents, our brothers, and the planet because we’re connected. It’s a way to show appreciation and connection. This doesn’t mean I have to volunteer, cook you dinner, or donate to your cause. That’s a distortion. What is given with an open hand flows from love. What doesn’t, isn’t.
If you grew up with people who let you down, cursed at you, hit you, ignored you, or hurt you in anyway, then told you that they loved you, you probably internalized that love hurts. This is another distortion. Someone who does hurtful things can love you, but the hurtful things they do are not an expression of it. The two don’t really go together.
It may hurt when someone you love romantically doesn’t love you back. You’re hurting because love isn’t returned. Love and pain are two different things.
When you grow up in a family or community with these types of distortions, you learn them. Then you pass them on to your kids. And they pass them on to their kids. The distortion becomes an intergenerational heritage of distortion that seems “normal.” You don’t know that it’s wrong so you don’t seek to correct it. Even if you did, you wouldn’t know how because you don’t know what you’re looking for.
This is where elders come in. This is why we need people who did learn this to teach us. Culture is taught socially. It’s experiential. You might be able to learn some things from books, but ideas need to be brought into the world to bring them to life. We need a community to live and reinforce them.
This is why people use words like, “I am a practicing animist.” It means that it doesn’t flow instinctively yet. I am still learning.
When love is the foundation, sovereignty is easy. Connection is easy. All the things that Pan Society talks about are understood from a completely different mindset. Things become simpler and clearer because the distortion is removed.
If you would like to deepen your practice with animism, we invite you to join us at Odysseys.