Maria Popova of Brain Pickings just posted a terrific piece on an essay written by philosopher Judith Butler entitled “Doubting Love” which was published in Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two. Butler’s essay cracks open a fascinating analysis of the role of doubt as a major culprit in the short-circuiting of potentially life-altering brushes with love and our individual searches for our one true soulmate.
Popova opens her review of Judith Butler‘s essay with a perfectly appropriate quotation from Albert Einstein who once said: “the most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.” The implication being that it’s not only the embracing of the mysterious around us in our everyday lives that is essential in the path towards discovering love, but also the embrace of the mystery which all too often lies dormant within ourselves. Butler’s advice is that as we age we become so increasingly grounded in our concepts of who we are (i.e. who we think we are) that we refuse to venture into the unknown for fear of being destabilized. Butler writes, “One knows love somehow only when all one’s ideas are destroyed, and this becoming unhinged from what one knows is the paradigmatic sign of love.”
Butler continues with a reflection on Freud’s powerful observation that “A man who doubts his own love may, or rather, must doubt eery lesser thing.” In essence, if you meet someone who gives you the butterlies and you find yourself getting bogged down by doubt and hesitation, not only will you miss out on perhaps the greatest thing that could ever happen to you, but there’s a damn good chance you’re the kind of person who doubts everything else under the Sun.
It’s not uncommon for teenagers to embrace every part of the mysterious, throwing caution to the wind and running madly into the arms of love. Unfortunately, it’s this same reckless abandon that can send that love flying off into deep space. When NASA sends an orbiting spacecraft or satellite into the atmosphere there’s a razor thin slice of “sweet spot” space that will hold the precious cargo exactly in perfect orbit. Too much force and it will fly off never to be seen again. Too little force and it will fall crashing towards Earth in a disastrous ball of fire. What Butler suggests is that our all-too-powerful grounded sense of who we “think” we are is certainly essential to our survival, but this doubting gravitational force can be the very thing that sabotages our precious attempts at finding love.
In an interview with This Emotional Life, Elizabeth Gilbert once spoke of Schopenhauer’s thesis that we are all very much like a bunch of porcupines out in the cold. We need each other to stay warm, but if we get too close we end up stabbing one another with our quills. Retreat, heal, repeat. One could easily make the same analogy for the dance of intimacy that is going on inside of each one of us as well. One part of us doubts too much, while the other can send us flying off into the vacuum. True love is a perfect harmony of these dimensions — both inside ourselves and outside as well — that results in that sweet spot we’re all working so hard to find. And there’s no doubting we all want to get there. You can read the entire review of Butler’s essay by visiting BrainPickings.org.