“Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.” Iris Murdock


When we wake up to it we all know that we live at the centre of our own worlds; that we do not find in others the same reality we find in ourselves, even those closest to us.  In this lack of awareness of the reality of the other lies some of our deepest pain.  When someone says to me that I have offended or hurt them my first instinct is to withdraw more deeply into myself and to become aware of my own pain: in self-protection I build the wall higher between them and me and in so doing become less conscious of their reality.  Actually, what I should aim to do when I am challenged is to go outwards to the person.  At the moment of exposure to their pain to move consciously towards them, saying to myself, “This person is real, is feeling these emotions now; has a life out there completely separate to mine with a family to go home to, washing and cooking to do, bills to pay, holidays to plan.”  You notice the reaction is not one of who is in the right and who is in the wrong?  That is the reaction of the one who is living with the unreality of the other, who withdraws to a place of self-defence.  When we expose ourselves to the other, right and wrong cease to matter, or not to matter as much.  Something else comes into being.  The world becomes a larger, more real place, full of more fully defined human beings with whom, we realise, we share this space for a little time.

Iris Murdock knew what she was saying when she wrote, “Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.”  It is extremely difficult to realise that someone or something, like a tree or animal, has its own reality which has nothing to do with you.  We have to ‘realise’ it, which means we have to make it real for ourselves.  It is love because it is about standing in the other person’s shoes, looking at the world from their point of view: being merciful and compassionate.  It is love because it is giving yourself away, not self-seeking.  It is love because it is service and a willingness to become smaller so that the other may become bigger.  It is love because it is the discipline of trying to wake up every day to the reality of the present moment rather than indulge in the fantasy that is often so much easier to live in and with.  Finally, it is love because it is the determination day in and day out to go on trying to wake up to the realization that someone other than oneself is real, however costly it may be.

Looking at Jesus in his meetings with people, I am quite sure he saw the reality of each and every person with whom he came into contact, and they felt more real, more cared for, more present because of his utter and grounded authenticity.  If you have ever had anyone give you their full attention, have met them mutually, in deep and attentive sharing, then you will have tasted what it is to be real for someone else and to know what a gift it is to both of you.