How to Connect With Your Unworldly Love and Why
Literature can help you find the hidden you.
Posted March 31, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
- Literature is a gateway to laying out your outer and inner worlds. Self-discovery is part of the reading process.
- Literature can force you to become aware of and understand specific things. The sparsest of details are often the most revealing.
- Literature provides a way to get in touch with your unworldly love(s).
Perhaps you know someone who seems detached in a sad, real-time situation yet will cry his eyes out witnessing a similar scene in a movie.
Literature is a gateway to laying out your outer and inner worlds. At the personal level, using it this way can enable discovery and deeper, freer, potentially more meaningful experiences.
Over the past forty-five years, in discussing the subject of healing through the arts with public groups, I have regularly asked this question: “Why do you read?”
Here are the answers I regularly get: I read
- Because the reading is mandatory.
- For entertainment.
- To escape.
- To find out something I didn’t know about.
- To hear new information about something I do know about.
- To connect with someone who feels the way I do.
- To experience something outside my world of experiences.
- To problem-solve.
- To find out something about myself or others.
At this point, individuals will mostly agree that literature, for most of us, is a staple we rely on for similar reasons. It is a tool for self-discovery, learning, and change. Sometimes people are surprised when they find out that the same reasons a person reads also apply to why one writes. So, in the end, it doesn’t matter what side of the pen you are on. Self-discovery is part of the package.
A piece of literature can force you to become aware of and understand specific things. These can be about yourself or others.
“I felt I was living a kind of double life,” said Pulitzer winning poet Galway Kinnell of his boyhood, as he discovered a growing fondness and bonding with his art.1
He was referring to the one life he was living in public with all the people he knew and another that was a sort of hidden life, in his room with poems he would read late into the night.2 This begs the question of all who experience something similar: which is the more authentic?
Literature (the Arts in general) can convey what you might say to someone, how you might be if you only could. It has the power to articulate what otherwise would remain unspeakable, sometimes even to yourself. And this creates opportunity. Of course, what you do with those private realizations is up to you.
In this way, literature may be likened to a lab experiment used for experiencing those things in life we really don’t want to be trying out in real-time. It can rigorously explore the notion: this is what would happen in (my) actual life “if…”
Literature can be a window to new information and inspire new models for behavior, feeling, and thinking, or it can be a mirror, giving perspective on what’s already going on. In this way, it offers a path to self-discovery, assessment, and growth. And/or deep, authentic change.
Poet Robert Bly said to cut out the busyness, find some solitude, and have an authentic experience that puts the emphasis on humanity, acting humanely.3 This can be done environmentally in real-time via mindful observation or through literature within the medium of words. Bly emphasized you can’t find out who you are if you live your life the way everybody else lives it. 4 So connecting with the hidden you is key.
Well … this brings me to a term introduced by poet Allen Ginsberg years ago which he defined as unworldly love. According to Ginsberg, unworldly loves are deep, private desires we all have that we’ve locked away, in a sense, because, as he said, we feel there is no hope for achieving them in our everyday world.
Yet, many times these longings are essential to the quality of life we want to live. Just acknowledging them and realizing them from time to time will put us in touch with the desire to do good, to help. Ginsberg said,
It's there all the time, the desire to do good, a Buddhist ZOFA [action] desire, a desire to help. Some political systems say that does not exist in the human breast, and that nothing exists but tigerish selfishness.
Others say the very nature of human consciousness is unobstructed compassion. I think those who are aware of that unobstructed compassion [and] have tapped into it themselves are not defeated by the defeat of the world. 5
Literature provides a way to get in touch with your unworldly love(s). Bly’s short poem, Driving to Town Late to Mail a Letter offers an example. You might like to read the poem. Just follow the link. As you read the piece, make yourself aware of any parts that strike you emotionally or thoughtfully.
Trace the footsteps of these responses in your mind, even if they are just tiny shades of a feeling. Is it the snowy night he describes that moves you? A slight vibe you sense from the deserted main street? Or the feeling of quiet privacy or perhaps the feeling of cold. Or is it even subtler, like a wave of warmth you feel between quiet and cold?
Go through the piece this way, looking for what may be affecting your feelings and thoughts. Pay attention to the subtler, sparser details and feelings as they can reveal the proverbial mountain below the tip of the iceberg. In literature (as in life), these can be the two sentences up next to the ten pages of feelings and longings that reside beneath them and remain unspoken, unworldly longings for goodness.
Ask: What is the goodness I desire? What do I humanely and humanly value for myself, for others? If you were a character in the piece, what would those details, those feelings you are having suggest?
As you are discovering detail that moves you, ask if this connection could be related to anything you are or have experienced (or perhaps not experienced) in day-to-day life. Ask: Does any detail generate an opinion in me, or perhaps a strong opinion? Trace the footsteps of that opinion. Think. Then ask: Is there anything you might do differently.
When literature is most successful, it breaks through some linguistic sound barrier. It opens the gate to both your external and internal worlds. It breaks through politics, gender, religion, culture, all “dividers.” It enters a humane place of pure human experience.
When this happens, the composition’s core experience can whisper to us the secrets of our unspeakable loves.
1. Kinnell, Galway. Walking Down the Stairs. (Ann Arbor, MI, The University of Michigan Press, 1978), 21.
3. Bly, Robert. Talking All Morning. (Ann Arbor, MI, The University of Michigan Press, 1978), 53.