If you believe that the world is meaningful in an intellectual way, but you don't love, then you will experience it as meaningless. Conversely, if you believe that the world is meaningless, but you love, you will experience it as meaningful. Love changes our experience. It is a way of reading life.
This is why true therapy and philosophy is less about solutions to our problems, so much as a different way of being. It is here that Plato and Freud meet. For Plato - the philosopher - we fail to really see each other, and this blindness enables us to do evil, to cause pain. For Freud - the psychologist - we are blinded by our distorted attempts to survive emotionally. In both cases a failure to see is an obstruction of genuine love. When I talk of love I am speaking as a philosopher: it is more than romantic desire, it is an ethical gaze. The meaning of the other becomes apparent in love, as does the meaning of our actions. We find that we cannot do certain things, and should (or must) do others. We move beyond blindness, beyond fantasy, and become obedient to reality beyond us.
So to genuinely love is to have your eyes open. Plato. When we are in survival mode our eyes are often closed. Freud. Then we may do whatever it takes to make ourselves feel safe or whole again, and in so doing we often pass our pain onto another, while remaining trapped in our own dark cycle.
To love is to look. It is a form of reading, and a part of reading is to decipher meaning. As an example from therapy, consider speaking with somebody who is in deep pain, incomprehensibly hurt, and who struggles to find words. That which cannot be said instead shows itself. Their actions are ways of speaking the pain, or the meaning behind the pain. They need help to interpret. And not necessarily into words, yet. And sometimes words will never come; we may have to live with speechlessness, and find other symbols capable of speaking the meaning. One thing is certain, when a person cannot speak their suffering, nonetheless they must be heard. Listened to. Our survival instinct is to look away, perhaps with self-protective contempt. To blind ourselves. But their suffering is a crying out, a showing what cannot be said, and a hearing has to take place, which means that reality needs to be read.
This does not apply only to suffering.
In Terrence Malick’s film The Thin Red Line the narrator asks, “This great evil, where does it come from? How did it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who is doing this? Who is killing us, robbing us of life and light, mocking us with the sight of what we might have known?” We might ask a similar question: This light that is love in our lives, where does it come from? How does it enter the world? How does it take root in the human heart? What is it? Bringing life, creating us, making us what we are and showing us who we can be? We often fail to see what my imaginary narrator is pointing to. Our hands are those of the universe, holding itself. Our eyes are those of this mystery, looking on itself. Our hearts are the possibility of something more than stones. We stare out of our lack, while trying to run from it, and so we fail to read. We miss the meaning. That it might have the form of a question. Might contain deeper possibilities. In our dark hour, a call: What is this mystery asking me? What is the message in the pain? What is it calling on me to become. To whom? What does it want to see with my eyes? The answer is slow, given in time, perhaps remade at points. It is unfolding.
My name is Matthew Bishop. I am a counsellor, with a background in philosophy. I have spent years exploring how philosophy enters into therapy, both theoretically and practically. One of my big influences is existential therapy. Although uploaded here recently, these are reflections written at different times over the last ten years.