Romantic love is a big news item this week. Big in a scientific way. Researchers are discovering that the brain is more specialized than they expected with different regions in the brain for sexual arousal, passionate romantic love, and long-term commitment.
Yes, for all you unbelievers, there is such a thing as romantic love. Poets, musicians, artists of every kind, you may now say, â??told you so.â??
Is romantic love only a biological urge as part of a process leading to possible long-term commitment to another human? A socialization need?
Why do many people then still feel a continuing need for passion and romantic love in their lives, even in committed relationships? To reinforce commitment when ennui sets in? That doesnâ??t always occur though when passion is redirected to a new person.
If anything, this passion region of the brain is quite a mystery to me.
Benedict Carey of The New York Times writes:
New love can look for all the world like mental illness, a blend of mania, dementia and obsession that cuts people off from friends and family and prompts out-of-character behavior -- compulsive phone calling, serenades, yelling from rooftops -- that could almost be mistaken for psychosis.
Although college students were the subjects of this research, Iâ??m also reminded of passionate mystics from the past whose love was focused on a spiritual quest. I wonder what brain-scan findings would reflect if this technology had been available when Hadewijch of Brabant/Antwerp was equating love with hell, at the same time recognizing the need to search for "the offerings of veritable Love":
For there is nothing Love does not engulf and damn,
And no one who falls into her
And whom she seizes comes out again,
Because no grace exists there.
As Hell turns everything to ruin,
In Love nothing else is acquired
But disquiet and torture without pity;
Forever to be in unrest,
Forever assault and new persecution;
To be wholly devoured and engulfed
In her unfathomable essence,
To found unceasingly in heat and cold,
In the deep, insurmountable darkness of Love.
This outdoes the torments of hell.
Or when Mechthild of Magdeburg was describing her â??wild inhuman needâ? â??like a bride hungry for her husband.â?
Or when Teresa di Avila (thank you, jana) described her ecstatic experience of an angel plunging a spear in her heart, the sweet pain being so severe that it made her utter several moans, yet â??so extreme that one can not possibly wish it to cease.â?
So, would these only be wild words of frustrated ascetics? We have witnessed passionate love expressions in a spiritual light from others also involved in human love relationships. Married Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi comes to mind. Human love becomes part of divine love.
Whether viewed as solely a biological urge or one leading to/stemming from spiritual ardor,...viva romantic passion, elicitor of splendid artistic expression.