In Part I of the previous article, (Love as Act of Will Part 1), I presented a definition from Scott Peck’s book, “The Road Less Travelled” in which he described love as “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s and another’s spiritual growth” and briefly explored the meaning of “spiritual growth.”
Let’s look more closely at this action described as “the will to extend oneself…”.
The act of extending oneself can be seen as two movements; one inwards and one outwards. The inward extension can be identified as an ongoing and compassionate inquiry into the nature of one’s self. It is taking a look at who or what one is made of, moving down into one’s being and exploring the psychological space and places that define us – some of which we may not even yet be familiar with.
This inquiry is more than simply an examination of our thoughts and feelings.
It includes, for example, making a genuine effort to see how we really, truly feel about our partner, other people, and ourself. It is a sustained attempt to fully appreciate the differences between our many emotional experiences such as pleasure, pain, envy, anger and how we move through the world and make choices on the basis of those feelings. It is an interested inquiry into our memories, images, sensations, dreams, hopes, fears, and the endless depth of other experiences that comprise the fundamental sense of “who am I”.
The outer extension involves the considerate sharing of one’s intimate self to another. This is an attempt to let the other know more about you, to share what you are finding in your personal inward discovery with the other.
This is much more than a recounting of one’s thoughts, recounting the day’s activities, or a reviewing of one’s personal history to the other. It is the willingness to “put oneself fully behind” what is being said, to present the actual depth of one’s experience, including their emotional aspects such as shame, doubts, fears etc.. It is in a very real sense an intention to fully risk oneself with the other, something we seldom do.
Extending oneself towards another also involves more than communication. It also means responding and acting on behalf of the other in terms of their needs and their best interests, not simply your own needs and interests (see my article – The Golden Rule).
Having said all this, it is much easier to give to others when they are also also taking the time and making the commitment to discover themselves and are willing to extend their self to you. It is this reciprocal effort which really moves the relationship along and provides the ideal conditions for growth in the relationship.
Needless to say, without a basic level of mutual interest, trust, and care, this type of relationship can not occur. Nonetheless, it does not preclude you from acting in this manner since your own personal growth still requires this whether another is interested or not.
So how does this all work together? In future articles I will comment on how I see most relationships working in terms of this definition of love. I will also identify several key areas for you to consider to help you decide if your own relationship is currently functioning as a vehicle for your emotional/psychological growth.
* Scott Peck, M.D. “The Road Less Traveled”. Simon and Schuster (1978)