To Know & To Be Known

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Love is an elusive concept. It occupies much of our thinking but we don’t really know what it is half the time. As much as we like to own it, explain it, or make it exclusive to a particular tribe, like sand dunes, its boundaries shift beyond our recognition again and again.   

There are many abstract references to ‘love’ in Hafiz’s poetry but you wonder why he begins with  (مشکل عشق) rather than a definition:

Please Saki, make the rounds, offer the cup:

For love at first seemed easy, but difficulties slowly appeared.


I think some of our idiomatic usage can give a  few clues on our misunderstanding of love:  love is blind, we are head over heels, swept off our feet,  blinded by love, love will find a way, love at first sight, we are smitten with someone, someone takes our breath away, love breaks someone’s heart, we are falling in love and out of love.  In all of these phrases love is a force that will change us instantly, for better or worse. What if love wants us to create love consciously - working more toward freedom rather than remaining in our teenage frame of mind, projecting our angst and fantasies to a blank canvas we like to call love? 

What if we had idiomatic phrases like these: Love is not a drug, is not an infatuation, is not an obsession, is not a divine revelation, is not a fantasy, is not a lifeline. Love is not a shift in lifestyle. Love is not a distraction from loneliness.  

Loneliness is a good place to start. We are always alone, even in a relationship. Rumi said it is in our loneliness that silences can teach us not to feel lonely. Unless we make room for our own solitude and enjoy our own company where is the centre of our being when we are with people? We cannot bluff our way through loneliness. We either accept it, learn from it or keep it at bay with a variety of distractions.  

Love ultimately is intertwined with our mortality. It is as much about saying hello to somebody we love as it is about learning to say our last goodbyes. When we say yes to love, we also accept our inevitable decay and demise.  Perhaps the ambivalent tears shed at weddings is as much about shared transformation, loss and growing old as it is about happiness for a new union. 

Love is not a hiding place.  To love also means to face the difficulties and challenges of our life, as an individual. 

A couple can became two different people over the years only imaging that they still know each other.   Milan Kundera once said, “The emotion of love gives all of us a misleading illusion of knowing the other.”

It’s not easy to validate and affirm the changes in the other. It requires time, energy and discernment.  When the dimensions of a longterm relationship get narrower and narrower instead of wider and wider. When we pass the other unnoticed. It’s only instinctive to look for a way out. Who wants to remain unknown in a relationship?

Someone said love is a two way street constantly under construction. It is a busy picture full of activities, initiatives and creativity. Nothing like the pop culture depiction of love where we don’t have to do much, because when that person comes we’ll somehow know it.

When we unite with another person, physically, mentally and sexually we can also fall into the trap of ignoring or abandoning the world. We cannot leave the world behind. Love is about meeting the world and changing it for the better. Love is not separate from caring for the world, or creating a better world. To know the world is to better understand ourselves.  

 Some religious teachings tell us that another human being can never understand us fully, for only God can. For someone who does not believe in God the first part of the sentence must still hold some truth. No other human being can fully understand the other. But this shouldn’t stop us from knowing and understanding what is possible about the other. Ultimately we have to acknowledge life is a mystery. And we are part of this mystery. There is a feeling of liberation when we try our best to understand and at the same time accept that there is so much we don’t know.

To know and to be known is the most wonderful and rewarding experience that can happen in relation to the other and the world. It is a process, just as life is. We fail, we learn, we move on. Hardly anyone can get it right the first time. Milan Kundera said, we only live one life and have nothing to compare it with as we are thrust forward in the world till the very end. So mistakes will be made. We shall stumble at times and make detours. 

We can never see our true reflection in the limited frames of a mirror.  It is in the world, and sometimes out of the failures, and difficulties experienced in our lives that our uniqueness will emerge and we can take the next step consciously toward knowing and being known, one day at a time.