In The ABCs of Love, I present an operating system for healthy relationships that includes a reference point beyond human control t hat I call a “God” Factor. Because this element may trouble some readers, I want to clarify what I mean by a “God” Factor. I expect many readers to find a way to identify their own “God” Factor and feel less troubled by my use of the term once I clarify what I mean by it. I address this issue up front because its resolution is vital to a reader’s exploration of The ABCs of Love with an open mind.
I use “God” Factor as a label for a target or focus of faith. We all put our faith in something, even when we don’t realize we are doing so. Our choice is not whether to have faith but in what we place our faith. The tiniest target of faith towards which we might aim is the self alone, separate and unrelated to anyone or anything else. Although I encourage all of us to cultivate self-love as an essential part of experiencing love, I believe that love must be shared to be activated and not stillborn, shallow or stagnant. To fully activate love, The ABCs of Love lays out a system for setting love free to be shared as a form of energy, the energy that sustains our health and empowers us to recover our health if we allow it to slip away. So, I take the position that our individual self alone is not an adequate focus of faith to serve as a “God” Factor. To be healthy and share love, we need to have faith in our individual selves but not only in ourselves. To enjoy an ever-expanding encounter with love, we need to be true to love’s nature and place our faith in a “God” Factor larger than individual self.
The possibilities for a larger-than-self target for our faith are varied. In my investigation of the wide array of possibilities, I have identified characteristics of a “God” Factor that hold the greatest promise for setting love free to be shared abundantly as The ABCs of Love envisions. These characteristics include:
- Motivation and guidance to nurture ourselves, others and our relationships with increasing competence to enrich our lives with deeper, equitably shared satisfaction;
- Tendency to improve the quality of our lives as measured by heart-honoring factors such as peace, hope and joy;
- Capacity to be tested within our experiences regardless of our inability to establish and control it or the effects is has on us. In other words, the capacity to be independent of our control and surprise us with outcomes different from those we initially may have expected – whether or not flattering to our pride.
- Capacity to help us recover from our mistakes and misunderstandings about how to relate to life and one another and help us courageously take risks and sustain balance as we walk our talk;
- A not-completely-known nature we can progressively understand better and better as we exercise our faith in it and grow more mature, wiser and more loving on account of wrestling with its mysteries.
Possible categories of “God” Factors with these characteristics include, but are not limited to:
- The Golden Rule and other principles for cultivating mutually uplifting relationships (see, for example, Source of variety of restatements of the Golden Rule);
- The Desiderata (see This text of the Desiderata) and other comprehensive statements of a positive, balanced orientation to life;
- The Serenity Prayer (see Text and history of Serenity Prayer) and other statements of commitment to seeking and sustaining balance between our intellect (mind) and our emotions (heart) as we explore life’s opportunities;
- An ethical, religious or scientific thought system that honors the value of ourselves and others and calls us to grow wiser, more empathetic and more understanding as we both age and mature;
- An entity we honor as a “Supreme Being” of benevolent orientation towards all of humanity, including ourselves and our loved ones and strangers whom we welcome as potential friends;
- Nature, including all forms of life and the ecosystem that sustains the life we call “Earth;”
- Love, Life and/or Truth as an expansive array of desirable qualities most significant to your heart.
This list is incomplete. You may identify another “God” Factor that works for you as you practice The ABCs of Love.
Although I leave open the choice of label for this “God” Factor, I encourage every practitioner of the ABCs of love to be accountable to a standard for quality beyond himself or herself as a necessary condition for experiencing more love. In setting our standards and evaluating how well we meet them, if we ask only whether we please ourselves, love has little chance to appear within our endless loop of self-indulgence and self-pleasing. For us to get along cooperatively with each other, we each must have a beyond-and-greater-than-me standard for how we treat each other. “We” is greater than “me.” Relationships inherently involve interactions with others whom we accept as being other, independent people and not merely trained pets, puppets or pacifiers of our pride (ego). Just as we expect others to do for us, we must respect as fact that the “others” in our relationships have wills, feelings and ideas of their own and voices by which to share them, even when we might not prefer to hear them. If we are not willing to honor and listen to those voices, then we condemn ourselves to having no genuine relationships, choosing instead to fake them or go through life alone without sharing love. To totally indulge one’s ego is to rule out the possibility of encountering love and stifle the inflow of the “more” we hope might still be possible. If I insist that I am the ruler (or even owner) of all others and none may dare defy me without suffering my displeasure or banishment, then I’m not interested in participating in relationships on love’s terms. Love will not insist on its terms and yet will also not be bent to do the ego’s bidding.
The function of a “God” Factor is to provide a reference point for keeping our egos in check. It need not be a “Supreme Being.” It may be an ideal or principle such as the Golden Rule. It may be “Truth,” “Love,” “Universal Energy,” “Chi” or some other target of belief that we admit that we imagine exists but do not totally understand nor control or bend to our will and yet offers us something “more” we desire. Whatever “God” Factor we choose, if we can totally define and control it then it’s not going to serve as the reference point we need to allow our minds to open to possibilities beyond what our egos accept as “comfortable” (totally controlled). The “God” Factor we adopt must motivate us to seek answers beyond what we believe we already know and make room for the “uncomfortable,” “undominated and “uncontrolled” to enter into our experiences. Truth welcomes Love. Love welcomes Truth. We who seek both Truth and Love seek what we do not yet know by experience and yet imagine may be possible. The ABCs of Love will serve us in our quest. Even if we do not name Truth or Love as “God,” so long as we admit that we do not yet know all the Truth or Love we want to know, we’ll find it as we journey together in our quest for it beyond the terms on which our egos previously dictated we must live.
The love-energized system presented in The ABCs of Love incorporates the idea of a “God” Factor as a fundamental assumption and prerequisite for success in sharing love. Does that mean that someone who believes that there is no “Supreme Being” cannot make use of the ABCs of love? Not necessarily. But it does mean that a person who insists on defining love for himself or herself without reference to any standard of quality beyond his or her own preferences or current ideas about love is likely to not encounter the love towards which The ABCs of Love points its practitioners – unless that person is open to the possibility of allowing his or her own experiences to reveal new insights and understandings.
In short, a close-minded person who shuts his or her heart and mind to the possibility of discovering new things about life and love through personal experiences may be disappointed because forcing the ABCs of love to fit rigid, pre-determined definitions cripples love’s nature. To enjoy the experience of more love than one has encountered thus far means to open oneself to discovering more by experience. The discovery of more love is not merely a theoretical journey but an applied one as well – one practiced within relationships with others whom we do not control by domination or manipulation. Expanding definitions of love’s qualities are unlikely to remain confined within fixed boxes. They are more likely to outgrow boxes like many potted plants outgrow their pots. To grow we need more room for our ideas about love to extend their roots into deeper soil and expand their branches upward and outward to boldly welcome life as it shares its light.
Are you willing to unbox your ideas about love and allow them to take on new life and become enriched with deeper and more expansive meaning because of the experiences you are having?
Being open to growing on account of one’s experiences is a central theme of The ABCs of Love. This is as true of those who first approach the ABCs of love declaring that they believe in a “God” Factor identified as a “Supreme Being” as of those who approach declaring that their starting position is that there is no “Supreme Being” of any kind. For all of us, the quest for the truth inherent in practicing the ABCs of love holds a common question: Based on our experiences, are we willing to re-examine our beliefs about life, including about a “God” Factor and our definitions of words we use such as “love,” “God,” “sacred,” “true,” “false,” “right,” “wrong,” “good,” “bad,” “devotion,” “growth,” “satisfaction,” “wisdom” and “life” as we encounter experiences and let them enrich our insights and understandings? A discussion about whether the “God” Factor is a fact or a fiction need not be a source of friction any more than a discussion about what we believe to be “good and bad” or “right and wrong” needs to be. We can expect each of us sometimes to hold our opinions and viewpoints with passionate emotions. The exploration of issues introduced by The ABCs of Love invokes our emotions. Sometimes we may be surprised by the strength of our emotional attachment to an idea. The question that love raises is “Are we willing to look at our emotions to see why we have strong attachments to certain ideas and consider revisiting those attachments and revising our ideas if and when each of us – without pressure from another person or any group – decides it is appropriate to do so?”
A discussion of any issue need not produce more friction than we can tolerate if we are willing to release our minds from assumptions and beliefs we’ve acquired earlier in life when our current experiences challenge those assumptions and beliefs with new information or perceptions. By “release,” I do not mean that we automatically discard a belief simply because an experience seems to conflict with it or another person (or group, minority or majority) disagrees with it. I mean that we exercise our freedom to be “willing” to re-examine our beliefs and assumptions – together with the emotions associated with them – in light of our experiences. In this freedom, we then decide whether or not we continue to hold onto a belief or assumption or let it go in favor of a revised or alternative one. I encourage us to participate in this process of shared thinking because I discovered in my life that reasoning includes revisiting and rethinking our ideas not alone but in the company of others who honor our emotions and ideas as well as value us as people.
For example, suppose we were using a new system to navigate the world’s oceans and were told that the new system was designed on the assumption that the Earth is more or less spherical while we had believed all our life that the Earth is flat and our own senses seemed to tell us it was flat. As far as we could look, we saw flatness. Would we therefore automatically cast aside the new system without testing it? Some would; others wouldn’t. At issue is not merely what and how we decide but also “Why do we decide as we do?” To be aware of our thinking process includes being aware of emotions that influence us our willingness to take risks.
To believe that there is no “God” Factor that is potentially helpful in our quest for more love simply because we cannot see or detect “Truth,” “Love,” “the Golden Rule” or any kind of “Supreme Being” scientifically may be as valid as the belief that the Earth is flat – a belief that once seemed confirmed by our inability to detect the curvature of the Earth as we stand upon it. “Looks flat to me!” So, we declare it’s flat. “Cannot detect a “God” Factor anywhere in my life!” So, we declare there is no “God” Factor. It may be logical but also may be mistaken because information flowing into an observer’s mind may be filtered through his or her belief in the sanctity of the idea, assumption or attitude with which she or he started. To remain open to the possibility of acquiring richer insights and understandings based on experiences, one cannot worship an idea as if it’s set in stone and make it sacred. To do so is to risk making that idea into a rigid idol. One must be willing to let go of blinders that limit one’s awareness. A belief that there is no “God” Factor may be sacred to those who hold it – as sacred as a belief in a “Supreme Being” is to those who hold that belief. In addition, a person may hold sacred a definition of a “Supreme Being’s” nature although it may be incomplete or inaccurate. The issue is “Do we recognize that we exercise faith when we declare something to be true without being able yet to prove it’s true?” Are we willing to be like fish who once gave little or no thought to the invisible water in which they swim and unconsciously place their faith and now investigate the invisible with growing curiosity about its nature and function in our lives? Might the nature and quality of the waters of life be important?
Placing faith in the Scientific Method of hypothesis, experimentation and observation is as much an act of faith as placing faith in religious teachings or some abstract principle like the Golden Rule. Science, religion and ethics are sets of ideas making up systems of ideas handed down generation after generation complete with their own internal self-validating processes. Every thought system risks being a closed system of thinking. The ABCs of Love is an open system of thinking. That is why every practitioner of it will find aspects that challenge the beliefs he or she holds dear, even sacred. Are you willing to tolerate having your most cherished beliefs and assumptions uncovered,questioned and perhaps validated, or perhaps not validated in whole or part?
I write about The ABCs of Love based in part on my own challenging experiences that have demonstrated the value of the principles and practices outlined here. I remain open to feedback from practitioners to continue to enrich the content and sharing of the ABCs of love. I am on a journey as a practitioner just as I encourage everyone to be. The “God” Factor has challenged me throughout my journey. At the beginning of my journey, I had given little thought to what a concept of “God” might mean. I had heard about there being a “Supreme Being” and assumed that to be “Supreme” meant having the power define life and be more in control of it than I would ever be. To me it was the essence of any idea of “Supreme” that I could not define the nature of a “God” but could only accept that, if there is a “God,” that entity (by whatever name called) would define itself and reveal itself to me if it chose to. I believed I could not create a “God,” but there might be a “God” who created me. Otherwise, I did as best I could to treat others “right,” whatever that may mean from time to time. Looking back, I believe my initial “God” Factor was some version of the Golden Rule.
Eventually, I began to think more consciously about a “God” Factor as I matured and had children of my own and also addressed issues in my community that concerned the welfare of children beyond my own. Thinking about the welfare of children stretched my mind to consider an ever expanding range of ideas and options that came to my attention that seemed to influence the welfare of children. Gradually, the “God” Factor that I’d pushed off to the edge of my life while a young adult, edged back into an increasingly more central role in my thinking. I began to reference what I thought (my “opinions” and “viewpoints”) to sources beyond myself, most of which I found in material authored by experts in fields of study related to life in general and to children’s wellbeing in particular. The authors’ ideas came alive to me as I wove them into my own practices and explored their benefits. I began to adopt aspects of other people’s viewpoints into my own. I came to see that ideas that proved most helpful often came from authors who made reference to a “God” Factor (e.g., life’s spiritual features and principles) as if there is a “God” Factor of some sort. I also noticed that the “God” Factor many authors believed in did not express the judgmental nature that I had assumed a “Supreme Being” would express. I had to continually revise my ideas about the “God” Factor as authors’ ideas came together to build a picture of a wise, compassionate, understanding and forgiving “Gentle Essence” who might have a personal nature as I do and even include me within the scope of His/Her/Its benevolent care and love.
I discovered in the process that I was afraid of the “God” Factor of which I held a fuzzy, ill-defined concept. And I was afraid of love. Fear colored my ideas about both. In the face of fears of the Unknown and of my failure and inadequacy to master the art of love, I wrestled with a “God” Factor that I assumed was judging and finding fault with me – and would therefore impose consequences upon me for my failure to perform well enough to earn a “good grade.” I realized that I confused my concept of a“God” Factor with the performance-oriented habits I’d acquired trying to please my parents and other authority figures in my life. It became as important to me to please a “Supreme Authority Figure” as a “God” Factor as it had been to please my parents and teachers. Questions such as “What pleases ‘God’ most?” became important to me. Was it blind obedience to rules? Cooperation within relationships? Grace, mercy and justice that might sometime supersede rules? Forgiveness? Faith? As I stumbled along pursuing these questions to their limits, I discovered by experience that there is a “Supremely Gracious Authority Figure” quite unlike any most people speak about or seem to know exists.
Through my experiences, I discovered that Huston Smith made a valid point in his book The World’s Religions. Having studied a broad range of paths of faith in depth – both mainstream and minority branches, Smith summarized that all paths of faith in some sort of “Supreme Being” held in common these three ideas about the “God” Factor: 1) there is a Creator who is the source of all life; 2) one can seek and receive help from the Source of life who desires to sustain the life of every person (seeker and not-yet seeker) on the best terms possible; and 3) regardless of how certain some people claim to be about the “Supreme Being’s” nature and what that “Being” thinks, most of what is true about that “Being” remains a mystery to humans. I formed the impression that A) all paths of faith converged in and shared a common mystical experience of a “God” Factor not yet experienced by those who had not yet become aware of the mystical dimension of their chosen path of faith and B) all who delved deep enough into their chosen path would arrive at this mystical encounter.
I now accept that I’m on a journey delving into the depths of a multifaceted mystery that I’ll never fully comprehend. Many people fear the “Mysterious Unknown.” No longer fearing it, I’ve discovered that the “Mysterious Unknown” has never stopped creating for the benefit of Creation and that we are an important facet of Creation but not the only facet. We have our place and role and need to learn to respect all living beings throughout Creation in order to fulfill our role and feel deeply satisfied within our hearts. I’ve learned that the “Mysterious Unknown” is pleased when we feel deepest wholehearted satisfaction because that’s how we detect the presence of the “Being” even now – within our empathy-connected hearts as if we and that “Being” share one heart as well as one life of continuous co-creation. I’ve discovered that I prefer to be wise rather than foolish and that, in the long run, learning to listen to the “Supreme Yet Mysterious Authority Figure” in my heart allows me to be guided by wisdom and joy.
While the ultimate destination of my life remains a hinted-at mystery, I grow a little more confident every day in my capacity to walk forward into the Unknown while filled with unfathomable depths of love and allow the Unknown to be revealed to me bit by bit rather than be so afraid of the Unknown as to avoid it entirely. Although the “God” Factor remains a mystery and largely unknown to me, on account of my experiences I can report that the journey has been wondrously enriching and rewarding and that my encounters with the “God” Factor have not included any condemnation or punishment by a “Supreme Authority Figure” such as I once was taught to fear. All condemnation and punishment has come from frightened, ego-based people who refuse to experience and express the fullness of their own compassionate hearts. While I don’t know all there is to know about the “God” Factor, I am encouraged by what I’ve come to know so far. I am also grateful for having come to accept the presence of a Divine Source of Love and Life so that my heart can be awash with the flow of Life and Love moment by moment – all as if to prove that heaven is here and now on Earth because it manifests itself to me within my heart and mind as our sharable Reality.
I hope you also will boldly investigate the “God” Factor and dare to explore the possibilities to discover your own insights and understandings while enjoying the journey of life as love’s gracious peace, hope, joy and wisdom flow into, through and beyond your heart and mind with increasing, yet ever gentle power.
© Art Nicol 2017