There are different types of love and selfish love can be purified and sublimated to a more refined love, It is not a question of loving less, but of loving more and better, according to Assagioli.
By Roberto Assagioli, (date unknown) translated from Italian by Gordon Symons. Original Italian title: Purificazione E Sublimazione Dell’amore
We must face the difficult problems associated with love, we must see how we can try to solve the numerous and serious difficulties that arise in this field, how we can settle the disagreements and conflicts that, yes, often arise in the human mind and that give rise to many intimate dramas.
There are many conflicts that arise in the sphere of love: conflicts between the instincts’ impulses and the thousand circumstances and reasons that forbid their fulfillment; divergences between the attractions of the senses and the aspirations of feeling; antinomies between the desires aroused by passion and emotion and the sense of duty, responsibility, dignity; disharmony between the emotional attachment to a given person and the calls, the needs of a wider and higher love.
All these conflicts are often the cause of bitter travail and acute sufferings, occasions of noble struggles and magnificent victories, the cause of purification and elevation; they indeed mark the great stages of the soul’s rise.
Such conflicts are therefore part of the most vital human experience and it is vain to try to escape them. Those who, out of false modesty, out of fear or ignorance, shy away from taking a clear stance in the face of these problems make mistakes and expose themselves to downfalls more easily than others. On the other hand, those who have the courage to resolutely resolve the internal and external issues and situations that life proposes to them and examine them serenely in the light of the spirit, can dispel many confusions and illusions, can avoid mistakes and faults, saving themselves and others from unnecessary suffering; they can find new and unexpected ways to harmonize discordant energies, to resolve these conflicts happily and with dignity.
Let’s see what the various attitudes are that can be taken and that are taken regarding those conflicts.
- Forced repression of the lower elements.
Those who have a rigidly dualistic and separative conception, who consider instincts and passions as something fundamentally bad and impure, naturally tend to consider them with horror, with disgust, and to make every effort to repress and suppress them.
But this attitude gives rise to serious drawbacks. Psychological observation shows in fact how the living forces existing in us cannot be suppressed, they cannot be killed. One can only, by repressing them, prevent their external manifestation, paralyze them by using a countervailing force of equal intensity that counterbalances them. But such forced inhibition does not constitute an adequate and satisfactory solution; it requires a great expenditure of energy which exhausts and depresses other activities and gives rise to a strong unconscious inner tension from which violent crises and nervous and psychic disorders can arise.
Above all, the opinions of those who consider sexual continence to be harmful to health originate from this. But in reality, the fault of these ailments is not to be attributed to continence of itself, but to the wrong method that has been used to maintain it.
- The second attitude that can be taken is to give free rein to instincts and passions.
This attitude has become increasingly widespread in modern times, both as a reaction to certain excesses of forced repression, and as a consequence of the weakening of religious and moral sentiment and the accentuation of individual rights in the face of duties. The return to nature advocated by Rousseau and his followers, the revival of the Greek hedonistic and aesthetic ideals, materialism and philosophical and practical positivism, rigid Nordic individualism in the Ibsen style – in short, all the main movements of ideas of the last century contributed in various ways to create the cult of the personal self, to justify the free rein of instincts and impulses, abandonment to every passion and every whim.
The results of this trend have been – as everyone knows – disastrous, both individually and collectively. Fulfillment and the happiness dreamed of by those who had thus sold their spiritual birthright, were completely lacking. The excesses are inevitably followed by disgust and exhaustion; passions often cannot be satisfied due to lack of correspondence from others, or due to the clash with other conflicting passions. The lack of any inner support makes man restless, unable to be enough for himself, a slave of every internal change, of every external affair. The enslavement to his lower nature then arouses, even in those who consider themselves more unscrupulous, a deep discontent, a continuous protest of the outraged spiritual element present in every man; the voice of conscience does not give them any peace, and in vain do some try not to hear it, imprisoned in their continuous agitation, they try to suffocate it by throwing themselves into ever greater excesses.
In short, even giving vent, abandoning oneself to instincts and passions, not only clashes with the higher moral principles, but cannot give any lasting fulfillment.
Fortunately, there is a third way which does not present the drawbacks of the other two and which can lead to liberation, fulfillment and peace.
- The transformation and sublimation of instinctive, passionate and sentimental energies. This method has been known for a long time and, moreover, being a good and “natural” method in the highest sense of the word, that is, corresponding to the true nature of man and the ascending path that he is destined to follow, is practiced successfully by many intuitively, without fully realizing it, without knowing about it and wanting it consciously, following the dictates and indications of that inner Guide that never fails those who sincerely seek the good.
That method is the basis of alchemy, of true alchemy, the spiritual one, which used material symbols to express reality and spiritual processes.
The sulfur, salt and mercury of which alchemists speak, represent the different elements of the human psyche. Athanor, the container in which they are placed, symbolizes man himself. The fire on which the container is placed has been called significantly “incendium amoris”: it is heat, the transforming force of spiritual love. The substances subjected to that process go through three transformations: a first stage, in which they become black and which is also called putrefaction: it corresponds to the stage of purgation or purification of the soul of which the mystics speak. In the second stage they turn white and turn into silver; and this corresponds to the illumination of the soul. Finally, in the third and highest stage they turn red, turn into gold, the spiritual gold which is the fulfillment of the Magnus Opus and corresponds to the glorious “unitive” state of the mystics.
Even some of the greatest and most balanced Christian mystics have intuited and indicated, more or less explicitly, the method of sublimation. For example St. John of the Cross, who says: “Only superior love can overcome the lower” (spiritual works, I, 64), and “virtues are born from passions and appetites, when passions are regulated and composed … “(spiritual works, II, 583). But to come to modern times and to more precise examples, I will first cite an unexpected testimony, that of a positivist scientist. Sigmund Freud, studying the sexual and emotional life of his patients, has certainly had the opportunity to ascertain the existence of this admirable possibility of transformation and sublimation. Here is what he attests based on his observations: “Precisely, the elements of the sexual instinct are characterized by this ability to sublimate themselves, that is, to exchange their sexual purpose for a more remote and socially valuable one. To the sum of energies thus gained for our psychic productions we are probably indebted to the highest results of culture”.
And the English writer Edward Carpenter, who also studied the facts and laws of sexual life extensively, stated even more explicitly: “Can we not say that there is probably a kind of transformation that is continuously active and feasible in the human being? Sensuality and love – the Aphrodite Pandemos and the Aphrodite Ouranios – can be subtly exchanged. It is a fact of ordinary experience that the uncontested release of purely physical desire leaves human nature devoid of its highest energies of love; while if physical satisfaction is denied, the body becomes overloaded with emotional waves, sometimes to an excessive and dangerous degree. Yet even this emotional love can be transformed, by holding back or preventing its expression, in the subtle and omnipresent influence of spiritual love”. (Love thus comes of age).
Finally, I will bring the important testimony of the great German philosopher Arturo Schopenhauer: “In the days and hours when the tendency to voluptuousness is strongest … it is just then that the very highest spiritual energies … are ready for maximum activity, although they remain latent when the consciousness has submitted to craving; but only a valid effort is needed to change its direction and then consciousness, instead of those tormenting, miserable and desperate longings, is occupied by the highest activities, by the highest spiritual energies “.
This process can be specified from these and numerous other observations
And that is:
1. Transformation of instinctive sexual energies into emotions and feelings. In this way, a noble and elevated love effectively helps to regulate, discipline, calm instinctive impulses.
2. Sublimation of emotions and personal feelings into spiritual love for souls and for God. This sublimation of human love into religious love is evident in the lives of many mystics and many saints. Here, however, we must warn against pseudo-sublimations, which are only masks and substitutes for human love. In some religious women, love for Jesus has had very human characteristics; but there are many intermediate cases, in which we start with substitution and we reach a more or less complete sublimation. There are also specific characteristics that allow you to distinguish true sublimations from pseudo-sublimations. In the former, love takes on an increasingly impersonal, universal, selfless character. It is generous and non-possessive, radiant and non-sentimental. Generally then, this type of sublimation is associated with the following one:
II. TRANSFORMATION AND SUBLIMATION OF LOVE ENERGIES IN CREATIVE AND CHARITABLE WORKS
In many artists and writers this has happened in an obvious way: think of Dante, Wagner and, among the modern ones, Fogazzaro. The same can be said of many philanthropists, educators and social workers. In these, there is often a sublimation of maternal and paternal love, a true maternal and paternal spirituality, which is expressed in the care of bodies and souls (doctors, nuns, nurses, educators, social workers, spiritual directors).
We must not believe that we need to be geniuses or exceptional people to implement these sublimations; each of us can do it to some extent. First of all, it is necessary to aspire to it, to propose it seriously, to decide, to want it, to affirm it. This constitutes a beneficial boost, an order that psychic energies will obey.
We must then move resolutely to external action. Plunge into new activities designed to attract the energies to be transformed, immerse oneself in those activities with vital interest, with fervor, with impetus; then all our forces flow into it. The important thing is not to repress, not to try to suppress the lower energies in a separative, hostile way, but to dominate them with calm firmness and meanwhile give every possible expression to the higher energies. It is not a question of loving less, but of loving more and better.
Modern man often makes the mistake of desiccating his feelings through intellectualism, sterile activism, ambition and selfishness. In this way, he destroys the bridges that exist between the various aspects of love.
Instead, we must love without fear: loving people, ideals, noble social, national and human causes; love the beautiful, love the Supreme. The radiating and ascending force of such love will attract and absorb sexual, passionate and emotional energies. And so loving, giving and creating. Give and create in various ways according to the circumstances and your abilities, but always pouring out, giving of yourself, radiating, spending your energies.
This way of explaining the problem of love is … somewhat different from the usual one, but I hope I have shown that it is based on facts and the laws of life that have certainly been demonstrated.
That it is the broadest and most integral, the highest and at the same time the most practical; that it offers the only true solution which is capable of composing – albeit not without labor – internal conflicts into a dynamic and creative synthesis.