To continue our discussion about an ethic of love – and what that means when we talk about activism, about participating in the political from a place of love – here is a quote from another article by bell hooks. For hooks, the idea of an ethic of love comes out of engaged Buddhist practice, an idea that hit America in the 1960s and 70s, during the second wave, and inspired a lot of Western activists: the revolution is love.
“When lecturing on ending domination around the world, listening to the despair and hopelessness, I asked individuals who were hopeful to talk about what force in their life pushed them to make a profound transformation, moving them from a will to dominate toward a will to be compassionate. The stories I heard were all about love. That sense of love as a transformative power was also present in the narratives of individuals working to create loving personal relationships. Writing about metta, [in Buddhism] “love” or “loving-kindness,” as the first of the brahmaviharas, the heavenly abodes, Sharon Salzberg reminds us in her insightful book Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness that “In cultivating love, we remember one of the most powerful truths the Buddha taught … that the forces in the mind that bring suffering are able to temporarily hold down the positive forces such as love or wisdom, but they can never destroy them.… Love can uproot fear or anger or guilt, because it is a greater power. Love can go anywhere. Nothing can obstruct it.” Clearly, at the end of the nineties an awakening of heart was taking place in our nation, our concern with the issue of love evident in the growing body of literature on the subject.
“Because of the awareness that love and domination cannot coexist, there is a collective call for everyone to place learning how to love on their emotional and/or spiritual agenda. We have witnessed the way in which movements for justice that denounce dominator culture, yet have an underlying commitment to corrupt uses of power, do not really create fundamental changes in our societal structure. When radical activists have not made a core break with dominator thinking (imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy), there is no union of theory and practice, and real change is not sustained. That’s why cultivating the mind of love is so crucial. When love is the ground of our being, a love ethic shapes our participation in politics” (hooks).
THE ROLE OF ANGER WITHIN AN ETHIC OF LOVE
In class during our first week, I asked if it was possible for anger to exist if we were practicing an ethic of love, and we talked about how anger is part of self-love, of self-care, especially for women, who may feel hesitant about claiming or expressing their anger. hooks once met and spoke to Vietnamese Buddhist monk, writer, and speaker Thich Nhat Hahn, who advised her to use the anger and suffering she felt as compost for garden, and reflects on both her excitement at this metaphor as well as the challenge she faced in trying to understand how to practice it in her real life:
“I remember talking deeply with Thich Nhat Hanh about a love relationship in which I felt I was suffering. In his presence I was ashamed to confess the depths of my anguish and the intensity of my anger toward the man in my life. Speaking with such tenderness he told me, ‘Hold on to your anger and use it as compost for your garden.’ Listening to these wise words I felt as though a thousand rays of light were shining throughout my being. I was certain I could go home, let my light shine, and everything would be better; I would find the promised happy ending. The reality was that communication was still difficult. Finding ways to express true love required vigilance, patience, a will to let go, and the creative use of the imagination to invent new ways of relating. Thich Nhat Hanh had told me to see the practice of love in this tumultuous relationship as spiritual practice, to find in the mind of love a way to understanding, forgiveness, and peace. Of course this was all work. Just as cultivating a garden requires turning over the ground, pulling weeds, planting, and watering, doing the work of love is all about taking action” (hooks).