Perfect love and complete joy

What’s your emotional baseline?

As a melancholic my inner life has been characterised by anxiety, hypervigilance, doubt, struggle, and frequent dismay or despair.

Being an introvert, my inner life is essentially my entire life.

But I’ve been looking to change my life or my experience of it, and taking a cue from some familiar religious sources, I’ve set upon some emotional goals or ideals: perfect love, and complete joy.

Perfect love comes from 1 John:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Anxiety is a form of fear. It is triggered (however unconsciously) by beliefs about the world, myself, and the intersection of the two. I’ve spent many years analysing my fears and their source, arriving finally at a point where there is nothing more to learn from them.

There is no fear in love, therefore, wherever possible, I’m replacing fear with love. Where it isn’t possible, I try to dig a little deeper and understand what’s going on, what lies behind the fear.

Complete joy comes from John’s Gospel:

Truly, truly, I tell you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.

Joy is the opposite of sorrow. We feel joy in response to good things, sorrow in response to bad. Complete joy implies complete goodness in life – a life so full of good things that our joy is complete.

That’s a pretty high bar to set.

Joy and love are different. We can experience love because God Himself is love, and love is the fundamental nature of reality. As children we experience love naturally. Love is, as it were, our default setting, but for various reasons it is drowned out or obscured by fear and sorrow.

We can experience joy because God is love, and love entails a desire for the good of the one loved. Put simply, when you love someone you want them to be happy.

Hence the reference to prayer, to asking God to give us things, and the assurance that He will do so. The omnipotent deity, the divine being behind and within all existence will shape that existence to our complete joy.

But why has He not already done so? Why do we have to even ask? If the ‘default’ setting is love, why is there so much evil and misery and hatred in the world?

Honestly I don’t know about “the world”, I only know my world. And with deep introspection I’ve found that every misery and hurt and fear in my life has been chosen by me.

That might sound strange or implausible, but it is true. Going back, I can recall key moments where I was threatened or terrified by some external event, and at that moment I assented to fear or anger or hurt and did not assent to love or faith or hope.

Ever since, I’ve maintained those fears and sorrows in my own inner world.

The great commandment is to love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and Jesus implores us to remain in His love.

Anxiety means I am not remaining in that love, and while this shouldn’t be a cause for feeling guilty or blameworthy in an emotional sense, it does mean we are responsible. It is up to us to choose love instead of fear, though it may take a lot of time and effort to discover the moment where the wrong choice was made.

That is why life is not full of joy. We made choices in favour of sorrow and fear instead of love, and we have inwardly maintained those sorrows and fears ever since.

We actively reject love, though we may not be entirely conscious of it. I guess that’s why the commandment refers to all our heart, soul, and mind. All of it. Not just “a lot”.

Jesus said in terms of prayer that:

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

But we don’t believe, because we don’t have love. And while we might pray for things we feel we really want, I’ve found deep down that I’m divided. Praying for success when parts of you don’t really want to succeed, because they’re enmeshed in fears and sorrows. Praying for healing when parts of you are content with your disease.

The bottom line is that perfect love and complete joy are immanent, though they may not be imminent. But the more I examine myself and my own experience, the more it seems the resistance is all on my side.

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2 thoughts on “Perfect love and complete joy

  1. Just my personal thoughts on perfect love & complete joy after reading your text –
    I would not have considered perfect love and complete joy to be emotional goals or emotional ideals. Wikipedia tells me emotions are brief in duration. I would agree. The etimology suggests “moving”, “stirring”, “agitation”. They come and go. I think “perfect love” or “complete joy” as refered to in religous scriptures such as the bible, mean divine love and divine joy. Refering to divine love and divine joy as emotions does not seem appropriate to me. I do think in the most deep and honest part of our self, we humans seek divine love and divine joy. It is the seeking of truth (or God). Maybe I am wrong, but I really doubt that perfect love and complete joy can be achieved on a worldly plane. Maybe I have just had too little luck, but on the other hand I have had some rather amazing experiences, or “glimpses”, which appear to me to represent proof that there has to be a kind of breakthrough, a transformation, a transcending of typical tendencies of human consciousness and understanding (for example of dualities such as happiness / unhappiness, past / future, passivity / activity, emotionality / rationality, sleep / awake), because though the seeking of truth is a real part of subtle human awareness, the goal is evidently not part of human awareness, at least not part of my normal human awareness. I believe such breakthrough or transformation corresponds to the “second birth” or experience of “self-realization” many scriptures and prophets refer to (including Jesus Christ), or entering into the kingdom of God or self-knowledge or god-realization.

    In Sanskit there are terms that describe divine states beyond human awareness. Nirvichara Samadhi means without or beyond thought (our thoughts are apparently a veil that prevent us from realizing the truth), Nirguna means beyond the gunas (which as you know are tamas [past, passivity, sleep, sub-concious, sustainance, rhythm, emotional self, mana], rajas [future, activity, planning, ego, expression, melody, rational self, prana] and sattva [present, balance, evolution, seeking]). The gunas are also considered to be the fundamental three moods of creation. So if divinity means a state beyond the moods, then I would say perfect love and complete joy are not only not emotions but also not moods. They must be something eternal and without altenative e.g. beyond dualities. Nirananda is one of many sanskrit terms for joy. Though Ni- usually means “without”, it apparently can also mean “beyond” or “nothing but”. So Nirananda means nothing but joy, absolute joy, pure joy. I think this is the “complete joy” you are looking for. It is a divine joy, not attainable by normal human endevours. It is beyond the gunas and beyond thought. Also, Shiva who is the atma or spirit and is apparently the goal of all seeking attainable only through self-realization is also described as sat chit ananda (truth, attention, joy). In this context ananda also means divine joy beyond human awareness. Lastly I think perfect love and complete joy are in reality one and the same thing.

    • Hi Martin,
      I don’t mind if we call it an emotion or something else. It just depends on what our purpose is. I like to use a Thomistic-Aristotelian framework, in which case we would call them ‘passions’. However if I used it I would struggle to describe an ’emotional set-point’….it would be more like ‘habitual passions’ or ‘an experience of the world dominated by certain passions and not others’.

      But my purpose is more practical: I want my experience to reflect more of these things we commonly call love and joy; and yes there is a presumption that perfect love and complete joy are either on the same spectrum as ‘ordinary’ love and joy, or at least share some other common quality that lends credence to the use of these terms.

      ie. the exact relationship between divine love and joy and human love and joy doesn’t really matter to me (for practical purposes) unless there is some practical implication. Often people say that the practical implication is we cannot experience divine love and joy through human efforts; nonetheless, they go on to stipulate spiritual practices that in some way contribute to the experience of divine love and joy.

      So to put it simply: we’re promised by various traditions that our desire for love and joy can be fulfilled completely. Different traditions describe the process differently, but the bottom line is that the promise of love and joy can be fulfilled.

      I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on truth, with the assumption that truth would bring love with it….that jnana and bhakti bring us to the same point. But lately I feel that my attempts to know are a bit one-sided. I’ve spent many years seeking to understand, but I find myself growing frustrated with the lack of progress.

      I suspect this frustration is actually a good thing.

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