Hello, everyone. I am Ithaka. And this is Sponge, which is now becoming a podcast of absorption and reflection in the process of returning to or becoming our most beautiful, glorious, and unreal child selves.
The theme for today’s episode is this: one cannot give what one hasn’t unveiled in oneself; moreover, one cannot receive what one hasn’t unveiled in oneself. So it is with unconditional love. That is something I absorbed from “Joe Bell,” a movie directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green.
Spoiler alert, everyone. Spoiler alert. “Joe Bell,” directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, is a fictional work. In this episode, there will be spoilers. If you plan to watch “Joe Bell” and do not want spoilers, do not listen to this episode at this time.
Before I talk about anything else, please note that this episode will not be about the politics of what happens within the movie “Joe Bell.” Nay, rather than politics, this episode will be about the nature of existence. Part of that nature of existence may very well be politics, in some people’s worlds. But, the nature of existence encompasses other things besides politics. It includes areas that aren’t about politics, necessarily. And I mean to talk about that broader reality of existence rather than politics only.
Having said that, I will read you the short description of the movie, which I got from Google. Quote, “The story of an Oregonian father who pays tribute to his gay teenage son, Jadin, embarking on a self-reflective walk across America to speak to heartland citizens about the real and terrifying costs of bullying.” End quote.
And the main spoiler is that Jadin is dead. He is bullied for being gay and died by suicide. The plot is straightforward and unsurprising. While the bullying was a key element in Jadin’s death, the fundamental cause, I believe, is that the father character could not accept Jadin’s being gay. Thus, the father character belatedly feels regret and remorse, hence the “self-reflective walk across America.”
One cannot give what one hasn’t unveiled in oneself; moreover, one cannot receive what one hasn’t unveiled in oneself. So it is with unconditional love.
That is the theme of today’s episode, but before we get to that, I want to mention an interesting idea that I found in the interwebs, specifically, on a Youtube channel. It’s a spirituality channel in Korean. These days, I consume an eclectic mix of somewhat unconventional content related to existence, so, that is how I encountered one of her videos, in which she says, “Conditional love is like hatred.”
This sentence, because I think about the concepts of conditionality and unconditionality a lot, these days, stuck with me. And along with thinking about the concepts of conditionality and unconditionality, I also think about the constructs of right and wrong, as well as good and evil.
And before we proceed… let me clarify what I mean by love, here. Love, here, doesn’t mean the romantic kind of heart-throbbing love depicted in Hollywood romantic comedies. Love, here, also doesn’t necessarily mean parental love. It does seem that parental love is more romanticized than romantic love, which somewhat sounds ironic. I mean that parental love is romanticized as being more absolute than romantic love. There seems to be an ideal for parental love, where… the assumption is that when a human has a child then they will care about and care for the child, naturally, spontaneously, and absolutely.
But this is not the case, necessarily. No matter how a given society may define parental love—and oh, the definitions, as in, conditions, are different from society to society—no matter that, not all parents exhibit or even harbor this love, necessarily. And yet there seems to be a romanticized vision of maternal love and paternal love. And when people don’t exhibit or harbor this perceived default love, then they are considered abnormal. I wonder if that really is the case—as in, whether it is really abnormal to not exhibit or harbor this perceived default love, in that it is statistically abnormal, unlikely. Or whether the perceived default parental love is so hardcore demanded from society that the majority of humans are great at exhibiting it, whether they harbor that love or not. Meaning, some will actually feel this love, and others are great at faking it.
I wonder about this, because in some cases, it is so clear that what the parent or parents call love is simply their desire to obsess about their own failures or successes and get a second chance or extended chance through someone else, a.k.a. their child, without the responsibility of having to live with that someone else’s life, a.k.a, their child’s life.
Anyway, so, parental love, I’m not sure if it is necessarily a kind of love that can be romanticized and idealized as a category. There just are… there just are some really shitty parents. And they call what they have love. So, either one can attempt to stop them from calling what they have parental love or one can argue that parental love, in fact, by definition, isn’t something that is to be romanticized and idealized. All parental love means is that it is some kind of love given by a parent. The end. That is all.
I lean toward the latter option, because… it’s kinda like when there is a book.
See, some people may believe in a statement like this. “This book is so bad, it cannot be called a book.” That statement implies that they believe that only good books, whatever their definition of “good” is, can be called a book.
But then… then, by definition, the word “book” must contain “good” in it. And I think that’s not the case. Bad books are also books. That is why we talk about good books at all. If all books were good then there would be no need to talk about good books. The word book would have the meaning “good” in it. Hence my belief that bad books are also books.
Same with parental love. Bad parental love, no matter how I or others define the word “bad,” is also parental love. Any love that supposedly comes from a parent can be considered parental love.
So, all this to say, the kind of unconditional love I talk about, in this episode, isn’t parental love, although some say that some versions of parental love are the closest to what a human can feel in terms of unconditional love. And the unconditional love I talk about, in this episode, also isn’t romantic love. Neither parental love nor romantic love nor friendship love requires unconditionality. Many of them are conditional. I would even say most of them are conditional. And in that conditionality, they become hatred.
Depending on how you use the word “hatred” you may think that’s too extreme of a word. I don’t think it is. I think this statement is fundamentally valid.
Say if a child got bad grades and the parent doesn’t like that. Even when it’s something mild like that, “doesn’t like” or “disprove” or whatever other seemingly less extreme of a word, personally I know of no cases in which this so-called “soft” rejection doesn’t register very strongly in the child’s mind.
And decades later, as grown-ups, we may want to think that because we’re now oh so strong and adulting, we don’t feel our very core is being rejected when someone points out that we don’t meet some kind of standard, especially because so often, it seems that we voluntarily subjected ourselves to such evaluations—say, evaluation at work or taking tests or getting a license—we may want to think we aren’t affected by that, but we are, is what I am thinking, these days.
This is neither good nor bad. It’s only that, I think we are affected. When conditions are put on us, we are affected. We may be so used to it by now, or we may have had all the major rejections—such as rejections from parents—behind us so that the smaller rejections don’t feel like hatred, but deep down, to experience something that seems to prove that the world is a place where unless I am x, y, or z, I will be abandoned or I may not survive, is… I think that is what this Youtuber meant, by “conditional love is like hatred.”
Having said that, we think of “hatred” as something active. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Maybe that sense of activity is where the perception of “hatred” as an extreme word comes from, but it needn’t necessarily be so.
It’s the same with love. True unconditional love, which I want to talk about in this episode, this is a fundamental love, this isn’t a love that can be gotten from trying, necessarily. I mean love that accepts everything as is, unconditionally. In other words, this is love that loves by not doing a single thing. This isn’t love as an activity. This is love as a state of being.
This is the kind of love that one would feel toward a rock.
And at first, this might sound weird. It was weird for me at first. “I don’t feel love for a rock,” I thought, because I was used to the idea of love as an activity. But then I heard the explanation. In this spiritual worldview, the idea is that what you feel toward a rock is truly unconditional, because you don’t expect the rock to be anything else. You don’t look at a rock and expect it to be rounder or sharper. You don’t expect it to be bigger or smaller. You don’t expect the rock to lie 10 meters to the left or right. Or to lie someplace higher or lower.
You look at a rock and you behold the rock and it just is, and you leave it be. Because there are no conditions, there cannot be hatred. There is only pure love, the only kind of true love, unconditional love.
Let’s go back to the ideas of conditionality and unconditionality, right and wrong, as well as good and evil.
This movie, “Joe Bell,” has me wondering: when someone has very clear notions about dualities, is unconditional love even possible? As in, is true love possible? Truly acknowledging and accepting a person as they are. Is that possible when you live in the paradigm of dualities?
See, in this movie, the father couldn’t love Jadin as is. And, I’m not talking about his method of expression. Yes, in the movie, the father character does have some personal issues, it seems. He is angry and he doesn’t express himself very well. But to me, I don’t think that is the point. I think even if the father character had used the prettiest words and the gentlest tone, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference to Jadin. Because, see, sometimes that very use of pretty words and gentle tones is exactly what gives away that the other party does not accept you. It is exactly what veils the fact that there is a duality, there are conditions, and you aren’t meeting them, so this person is choosing to bury that in pretty words and gentle tones.
In Jadin’s case, I think that would have been… that would have been the same as what his father did to him anyway. If his father were to use pretty words and gentle tones, there may have been less surface conflict, but internally? To demand that the recipient accept that using pretty words and gentle tones is the same as actual acceptance is such a… it’s a huge ask.
The asker thinks that the defining experiences in the askee’s life is something that can be debated into or out of existence. Or they think that those elements are something to be agreed or disagreed with.
The major reason for Jadin’s suffering—I think—is that his being and experiences due to that being weren’t something that could be debated into or out of existence, and that they weren’t something to agree or disagree with, and yet, people, especially his father who should be aware of so much additional context, reduced him to this one single duality—namely, whether Jadin was homoxesual or not—and then attempted to debate this thing out of existence and disagreed with it.
See… I don’t know what it is like to be gay. But I daresay everyone has something that they cannot debate into or out of existence. They have something that isn’t a matter of agreement or disagreement. It may be a traumatizing experience, it may be a state of their body, whatever. And… I think it’s expecting too much from the world, if one were to demand acceptance of such elements from the entirety of the world. But Jadin didn’t demand that level of acceptance from the world. He wanted it from his father. He didn’t even demand it, because it’s pointless to demand it. One can either give this kind of unconditional love or one cannot. And, people change, as did this father character, yes. But at any given moment in time, one can either give unconditional love that exists beyond dualities, or one cannot.
This used to be not clear for me, the way it wasn’t clear for the father character until it was too late and Jadin committed suicide. And in my case, I don’t mean the sexual orientation side, specifically. I mean, broadly speaking, it wasn’t clear to me that when you hold very strong notions about what is right and wrong, you cannot love unconditionally.
These very strong notions could be about religion. It could be about sexuality and sexual orientation. It could be about this very idea that everything is a matter of agreeing and disagreeing. So long as the strong notions are there—these dualities of right and wrong, good and evil, and whether conditions are being met or not—then, one cannot love unconditionally. One can attempt to make it seem like it’s love by using pretty words and gentle tones. One can even mutually agree to disagree.
But fundamentally, in Jadin’s being. I do not think that he is incapable of telling the difference between being loved and agreeing to disagree because that is polite.
Even if in the movie “Joe Bell,” the father character had told Jadin, very nicely, something like “I disagree with you, son, but I love you anyhow”—I very much doubt that Jadin would have been happy. What Jadin wanted and needed wasn’t that. In fact, if the father had had the guts to fight it out with Jadin, then maybe they would’ve reached a point of catharsis.
But no. This father character, although he may seem like he is facing things head-on, does not face things. And it’s clear after Jadin’s death too. During this walk that he does, across the country, the obsession he has with that walk. I mean, it’s a way for him to survive. That is clear. But it takes him a long time to realize that his version of “facing things head-on” was avoidance.
I mean… It is understandable. Because Jadin stopped attempting to talk to this father character about his difficulties, and because Jadin committed suicide, and also because this father character does feel remorse and regret, the father character’s impulse might have been to victimize himself and to wonder why Jadin didn’t demand more attention if Jadin was having such a hard time.
And, in a way, it is correct that perhaps this father character is a victim. He doesn’t exist in a vacuum. He lives in a town where people around him are really… conditional. They have many conditions as to whom they will accept as their own. Likely, this father character had his own father who only knew how to love conditionally. There are a few things I can guess, without the movie ever overtly referring to such conditions. For example, “Oh, you gotta be a real man.” I can guess just how many times a statement like that was made to this father character, by his father. So, if he isn’t a “real” man, however that may be defined at a given timespace, then the implied conclusion is that he won’t be worthy as a son.
This is a generational thing. A lot of this feeling of lack of self-worth due to conditional love is generational. The grandparent gives it to the parent to the child. You have to be a lawyer, or else. You have to be a doctor, or else. You have to be tall and pretty, or else. Or, it’s impolite to show your feelings, you have to talk a certain way or you’re a bad child, if you cry, Santa doesn’t give you a Christmas present.
All of these conditions that are prevalent throughout the entirety of the world, no matter what timespace, are not mentioned in the movie, in detail. But, it’s easy to guess them.
So, the point isn’t to blame the father character for feeling, almost, a sense of… a fear for his own life. That’s only natural. Just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean that you cease to fear for your own safety.
But… see, even if the whole world had been against this father character and Jadin. Even then. Wouldn’t it have been nice if Jadin and his father could have loved each other unconditionally? That is what I wondered, thinking back on this movie, in recent days.
Hence, again, the sentence from that Youtube video stuck with me: conditional love is like hatred.
This is what some of the townspeople show toward Jadin. They can accept him so long as x, y, or z. But if he isn’t x, y, or z. “Oh, I’m very sorry. I’m being so very polite here. Look, we’re all civilized here. What a misfortune that you don’t fit our standards. So very sorry, it’s on you. And if you raise your voice, or if you react with violence, even if the other side used violence first, then it’s especially on you.”
Now, practically speaking, I don’t know if unconditional love is possible, especially in the universal sense. Isn’t that ironic? Unconditional love that isn’t universal. Unconditional love that applies, on the condition that it is a specific person.
Because the movie “Joe Bell” is about a teenager who committed suicide after being bullied for being gay, the first instinct in my case was to say, of course he should be accepted as is. As I said, this part of him isn’t something that can be debated into or out of existence. It’s not something to agree or disagree with. Same with short people, tall people, people who’re black, white, or have whatever other skin color. These aren’t matters of debate. People are born this way.
So then I thought, well, then, is unconditional love a matter of accepting what we’re born with? But then, where does “what we’re born with” start and end? Are we talking about genes? Are we talking about education at home, since we can’t choose our parents? Are we talking about the collective subconscious? Are we only talking about things that can be measured? Are we talking about things that cannot be measured?
What about religion? It’s not something that we’re born with, in the sense that a religion isn’t like genes. No one is born with the inability to change their religion, as far as I know. But frequently, it’s categorized together with skin color, in that we tend to think that someone’s religion should be accepted as is.
Then, if a person can change their religion but it should be accepted as is while it is, what about other things that can change?
What is this dualistic concept of changeability and immutability anyway? Are we just… adopting one or the other as we please? As in, all these ideas, notions, and constructs… possibly, they really just are ideas, notions, and constructs. They could be what we say they are, but also could not be what we say they are, had we lived in an alternate universe. We just chose this particular set of what is and isn’t out of convenience or chance or fate.
In some time periods and in some places, religion was viewed as something that was immutable. Same with your social status. If you were a slave then you were a slave for life, if you were a royal, you were a royal for life. Even now, only royals born royals can be true royals. But I think we can all agree, simultaneously, that the construct of royalness isn’t something that one is born with. We make it so.
So… all these questions, all these non-answers… They have been preoccupying me greatly, these days.
Like so often in other cases, I am inclined to believe that whatever conclusion I come to, it cannot be applied to the larger world. Likely, it will apply to me, and if I am lucky, it will apply to the small, teeny tiny part of the world that I occupy with a few other people. If I am luckier, then you who are listening to this right now will expand the network of the parts of the world where our conclusions apply. But even so, we will be a network of small dots, like, constellations in a dark night sky, and we will not be able to fill the entirety of the night sky with the dots, the stars.
If we do, then you know what’s funny? We will not be perceived as stars anymore, because there will be no night sky.
Which makes me wonder: I need these others to not agree. Thereby any unconditional love that I contemplate and somehow manage will not be unconditional. It will require conditionality elsewhere. As in, maybe this really isn’t something that humans as a group can accomplish, this unconditional love. Maybe humanity’s love is conditional and is like hatred. And when an individual chooses the path of unconditional love, that unconditional love perhaps cannot be applied truly unconditionally, unless a path above and beyond conventional humanness is chosen.
Maybe this is why folks who devote their lives to spirituality and/or religion do not marry, do not seek romantic attachments, put their birth family behind, and never have children. It’s an imperfect way, but it may be the only way for a human to get close to divine love. Because, with all the human attachments to fleeting ideas, notions, and constructs about what family should be, what religion should be, and what society should be… with all those things in the head, one cannot love unconditionally. As soon as a person has a single person whom they love more than another: boom! No more unconditional love for the rest of the world.
So, ironically, unconditional love in the purest sense involves giving up some other forms of love that one might have experienced.
But. Despite all the ironies and paradoxes and oxymorons, I still keep thinking, wouldn’t it have been nice if, no matter what the whole rest of the world says, Jadin and his father could have loved each other unconditionally? Just this very specific one relationship, not universal. But within the relationship, unconditionality.
I think this is possible at the practical level, especially in the parent-child relationship. We do not choose our parents. Most of us also do not choose our children. The beginning of the parent-child relationship, unlike other human relationships, inherently contains unconditionality, at least as of yet.
See, this is where I also wonder about gene selection and such things. When we can start to really pick and choose the traits of our children, I wonder what parental love, in such a world, will mean. Presently, there is still the illusion that at least it is somehow the norm that parental love is akin to unconditional love, but… if you can pick and choose from birth, then from birth on, you were born because you’re tall, or short, or male, or female, whatever.
I used to attend a school where only a third of our class was female. Two thirds were male. You know why? Because I attended that school in a timespace in which so many girl babies were aborted, that the male-female ratio was severely skewed in favor of males.
And for the record, I’m not against abortion. I think it is extremely irresponsible to claim that existence is good by default. In fact, so, Jadin in the movie “Joe Bell” committed suicide. And in real life, I hear things like… a priest telling a family of a person who died of suicide that their family member will go to hell. And I think… that priest… He is no man of God.
Nobody knows all the specific situations of all the babies and all the parents and all the societies and all people who commit or do not commit suicide. He is no man of God, of his church, or in any larger spiritual sense.
Anyway. To go back to the girl-boy ratio topic. See, even for the kids who were born. Some of them were born because they were boys. Existing, for these boys, isn’t good by default. It’s not bad, but it’s not good either. And the girls who were born. Some of them were literally born despite being girls and they knew. Some were explicitly told so—that they should be grateful that they were born at all. Did that keep the boys safe from the same kind of “you should be grateful you were born” talk? Absolutely not. I hope I don’t have to explain why this is horrible. And even the girls and boys who were born because their parents wanted them—it wasn’t good for them to be so fully aware that by birth, our generation was subjected to conditional existence, directly or indirectly.
Anyway, for now, in this present reality, most of us do not choose our children. We may choose to not have children, but when we do have them, they’re how they are. Perhaps this is why in psychology and spirituality, and I would say, general common sense, it is perceived as so critical that one is accepted by one’s parents. The other way around is also valuable, with the parents being accepted by the child, but at least the parents made the decision to have the child, hopefully, so the effect of being rejected by your child cannot be the same as the effect of being rejected by a parent who literally made the decision to make you exist, and then went on to decide that actually, you weren’t worthy of existence because you didn’t meet some condition, which, likely, is based on arbitrary constructs and/or arbitrary values attached to constructs.
So, again, I think it would not have made much of a difference to Jadin if the father character had chosen the prettiest words and gentlest tones. Jadin would have gotten the same message loud and clear: that his father does not love Jadin. Not in the truest sense.
Jadin also would’ve gotten this message: not only does his father not love him due to his father’s own fears, but also, his father is able to control the fear and then, still, even after that, act as if Jadin’s being is something to be debated, something that can be rationalized, something that can be cast into the realm of different opinions. The realm of polite, “let’s agree to disagree” opinions. The realm of so-called mutual respect.
I actually think it would’ve been more maddening for Jadin. And the main reason I feel for this father character is that he couldn’t control his fear. If he could have controlled it and had still decided to not love Jadin, that would have been a whole another story. But this story is about how this father character was likely exposed to similar sets of conditions, knew exactly the consequences of being gay or being anything other than normal in other ways, and he was afraid.
The fact that the manifestation of this fear lasted so long is only understandable. I would guess that he is somewhere in his 40s, at the time of Jadin’s death. So then, for at least 40 years, this father character was exposed to conditional love, conditional existence. If he isn’t x, y, and z, then else. It’s no surprise that his resistance to realizing that he could have loved Jadin unconditionally, but didn’t, lasted so long.
And, to be clear, this idea of unconditional love is different from loved ones agreeing on everything. I am saying that love, unconditional love, exists beyond agreement and disagreement. The very idea of the father character needing to agree on Jadin’s being gay is… it’s outrageous to me, especially because of the experiences that Jadin went through due to being gay.
I am not saying that it is gonna be easy for the father character to overcome his fear for his own safety, in a world where very clearly, as Jadin’s case shows, if you aren’t what others perceive as normal, you could get attacked. And… literally, you die, whether you do it yourself or someone else does it to you.
I am not talking about ease or convenience here. I am talking about how, at some level… at some level, we… just decide that this person is it. Whatever it is. And whatever it the person is, we fully acknowledge and accept, unconditionally. And there lies the realm without the need for agreements and disagreements. But this realm is difficult imagine so long as it isn’t found within ourselves.
Self unconditional love. It’s no wonder the father character in “Joe Bell” is so miserable, because he utterly lacks that, and I can relate to him. He loves himself only on condition, the way he does with Jadin, until it’s too late.
I think, partly, it comes from his inability to separate himself from the label. For example, well, I haven’t actually talked to the father character, because he’s a character, but my guess would be that he cannot distinguish between a statement like “You are an idiot” and “Your behavior is idiotic.” I think that he thinks he is the label, in that if it’s pointed out that he is acting idiotic, he thinks that means he is an idiot. It may be the case, but frequently, it’s not.
Related to this, the other day, I was reading an article about narcissism, and it mentioned how one of the traits of narcissism is making statements that are out of place. The example in the article was, when someone’s father just passed away and a person complains about their father, that’s a trait of narcissism. But it’s like… people make statements like that. From my experience, such statements aren’t uncommon. And there is a difference between making a narcissistic statement and being a narcissist.
The same thing applies to the whole gaslighting construct. It is a construct. It puts together a combination of behaviors and traits and gives it a name. You look at the list of gaslighting, and I know very few people who don’t display some of the traits on that list. Does that make them a gaslighter? I don’t think so. They make some statements associated with gaslighting. And remember that gaslighting as a thing did not exist until the label gaslighting was created.
We aren’t the word unless we let it be. When we let it be, it defines us and becomes this huge thing.
Now, especially with a label like being heterosexual or homosexual or asexual or bisexual or any other sexual—I daresay that there is absolutely no human being in the entirety of this world who is only that. There is no human who isn’t anything else except be heterosexual. I am heterosexual and Asian and have black hair that I recently shaved. I am an American citizen, I am drinking coffee right now, and I am the host of Sponge. There is simply no way that I am only heterosexual. I daresay this is the same with people who are something other than heterosexual.
Being heterosexual is one part of me. My sexual orientation is heterosexual, and because I don’t see it changing in the future, I am a heterosexual. However, at the same time, I am not only heterosexual and I know this.
Part of what the father character in the movie seems to have thought, when Jadin told him he was gay, is that suddenly the father thought that his son was a homosexual and that is it. Everything else that Jadin is, suddenly mattered less because of this one label.
By which I mean, when this father character uses the word “homosexual,” no matter how he uses the label, as an adjective or a noun or whatever else, he thinks it inherently has value judgments that overshadow everything else. It’s like looking at the words hot or cold and thinking they’re good or bad. There is no additional context, it seems, for this father character, even though as the father, he should be one of the people who have the most context about Jadin. In this father’s world, the word homosexual all on its own is supposed to represent something other than homosexuality. It represents, to him, maybe, getting ousted from the social circle he is used to, being laughed at for having a son who is homosexual, and so on and so forth.
The difference between whether a word is being used as a label that inherently has some kind of value judgment, or if it is being used to point out a specific thing, may be difficult to tell, without context. And even when people are in a situation together, they may have a different interpretation.
And, aside from the possibly different nuances between being something and exhibiting some traits sometimes—the more a person is used to labeling, it seems that the more they also interpret labels as being absolute. My guess is that this father character often underwent labeling, whether for perceived positive labels or for perceived negative labels. Without the positive labels, he feels unworthy. When negative labels are attached, he feels in danger.
The context becomes insignificant in the face of such labels. And likely, this father expected, before Jadin’s death, for others to take the labels and attach similar or same meanings as he does, in the arena of dualistic value judgments. Because that is what is inside him, that is his world, he thinks the world will do the same.
See, I think condition setting cannot be applied to either yourself or the outside world. It’s always both, if you dig down. Sometimes we think that “Oh, this person has such high standards for everyone else but not for themselves.” I don’t think that’s what’s happening; I think it only appears so. Deep down, the more dualistic value judgments a person subscribes to, the more miserable they are. At least that’s what I gathered from observation of myself and others. This is because we cannot fool ourselves. We could be oblivious to dualistic value judgments, but once we do become aware of it, how are we supposed to unaware ourselves?
So, when it comes to self-unconditional love, it’s no wonder the father character in “Joe Bell” is so miserable, because he utterly lacks that. He loves himself only on condition, if even that, the way he does with Jadin, until it’s too late.
And for Jadin, conditional love indeed was like hatred. Which in turn means that for this father character, his self-conditional love was like hatred. It may not be possible for humans who aren’t monks to unconditionally love the entirety of the world; but to impose conditions on the being that one made exist, a.k.a. one’s child, and to impose conditions on oneself—that definitely adds up.
Things add up. The knowledge that you’re loved conditionally, and therefore, pretty much, your existence—during which I think it’s safe to assume that you want to be loved—is conditional, adds up.
And, on the surface, it may seem like the simplest way is to just meet the condition. Say, something like money. If you make x amount of money, you’re worthy.
The problem is that after having made x amount of money, you still don’t feel worthy. Why? Because you may have met the condition, but you know that had you not, you would have been abandoned—by your loved ones, by society, by yourself.
It’s not money that is bad or evil. It’s that from the beginning, the condition setting happened. Money is simply a common condition, is why we may be used to the idea that money causes trouble. But in reality, with or without money, a troubled soul is a troubled soul. If you are an untroubled soul, if you are a creative soul, oh, money can do a lot of great things for you and people around you and maybe even the entire world.
But when money becomes a condition, or when beauty becomes a condition, or when even, say, something like mental health. This is a tricky one, but… from what I have gathered, there is more misery from knowing that one does not meet the mental health condition than from the mental health problem itself.
For example, if someone has depression, then there is the depression itself, and then there is the stress from knowing that one has depression. The latter causes a whole bunch of fears, such as being ousted from one’s circle of friends and family, and a feeling of worthlessness. And what does that do? Make the depression worse. It’s a vicious cycle.
And… when similar condition setting happens in close relationships, it can lead to much misery, much tragedy. The labels that are put on humans to serve functions: as the wife, the husband, the mother, the father, the daughter, the son, Republican, Democrat, Catholic, Buddhist, … whatever else.
Yes, they are useful labels. However, to think that they mean anything beyond labels, to think that they inherently carry good or bad, right or wrong, or any other dualistic value judgment, as if they were some pawns fighting each other to death in a war arena? That’s a whole another different thing.
Yet, in the name of intellectual debate or objectivity or statistical analysis or some other such thing—or from sheer inertia, because we’re so used to dualities from decades of public education which differs from country to country but nevertheless shares similarities since we have to somehow function in a global society—due to all those factors, this happens all the time.
And… the pain.
Of… not being heard and not being seen.
When you realize that you are nothing but the set of labels that either you yourself or others have attached to you.
And especially if a person has never thought about things like this before, and everything hits that person at the same time because of a huge life change? Then that could lead to a huge whirlwind of emotions.
That’s one of the reasons I am doing this episode and doing this podcast or writing anything—because I guess… I think being aware of the possibility that one might be able to exist without labels or despite labels would have made a difference in some cases I have come to be aware of.
And the reason I am now interested in spirituality and the broader reality of existence at a very personal, life-depending level, is that some strange synchronicities happened. So strange. There was an entanglement that I couldn’t explain, and there were associations that were terrifying. The entanglement was beautiful, which is how the association could build up at all. The association… it was the closest to a threat to life I could feel. And after all this ended, for a period of time, I was contemplating suicide.
This desire to die came after the fury. See, initially, my defense mechanism was to multiply my list of conditions. A huge huge list of red flags. So unfair. So tragic. The perpetrators, so clear. The sequence of events, so clear. Most tragic of all is that the tragedy isn’t even uncommon.
It’s like Jadin’s case in the movie “Joe Bell.” You can say “Not all gay teenagers die.” But you can also say, “Some gay teenagers do die.” You could say it’s uncommon, you could say it’s not uncommon. What does the word “uncommon” mean anyway? I don’t know.
And like with “Joe Bell,” you cannot separate one tiny aspect and call that more relevant or not. That’s one of the tricky things with situations like these. You could blame the school that Jadin attended. But it wasn’t the school alone. You could blame the churches in that neighborhood. But it wasn’t just the churches. You could blame popular media. But it wasn’t just the popular media. You could blame the parents, the siblings, the friends, all the grown-ups in the neighborhood, all the kids who looked on while the bullying happened, etc, etc.
But after a while, that appeared so… pointless. And so… tiring. Where does the problem start and end? I came to wonder if it doesn’t start and end at all. It only is.
And in trying to find where it started and ended, I was doing exactly the same thing as the people who perpetuate the misery and tragedy. I could pick and choose the conditions endlessly, but at some point, it was just… ah, what’s the point?
Especially because of the impossibility of absolute categorization of good or bad, right and wrong—what’s the point? If the same words can be beautiful or lethal in different situations, what’s good or bad? What’s right or wrong? What’s desirable or undesirable?
All the labels and functions and roles, suddenly, they… I wouldn’t say they stopped meaning anything, but I could see how they could potentially stop meaning anything. That’s what I’m trying to get at, in this roundabout way. If rocks can exist unconditionally, then by gods, shouldn’t humans be able to do the same? Or does being human mean that we must live with conditions, therefore we can only get conditional love, which is like hatred?
Even this threat to life I felt… Even these, suicidal ideations, as they call it—which sounds so fancy, ideations—even these. I don’t know if I can call them good or bad. Without taking things personally to that level, I would not have recognized the futility of ideas, notions, constructs, labels, roles, and functions. Simultaneously, without not taking it personally, I might have found life too pointless and tiring to continue.
Overall, I am exhausted by the ideas of safety and protection, defenses and enemies. These barriers, the duality, they’re tiring. The victim and the perpetrator. My initial defense mechanism was to shut down the plant, so to speak, to contain the damage. Keep everything that is deemed dangerous out.
But for how long can the human mind’s plant be kept shut down, without dying off? It’s like cutting off the blood flow from a limb and expecting it to survive.
And yet, in order for me to not live in fear due to the incomprehensibility of all these meanings of these words, these constructs, what can I do?
Unconditional love. Probably not unconditional love for everyone, because I don’t intend to become a monk, but perhaps unconditional love for a few people in my life.
What is good and evil anyway. What is right and wrong anyway. I… if there ever was a time in my remembered life in which I didn’t know what they meant, then it is now. I don’t even know what’s good for me or bad for me anymore. I actually do not think anymore that perceived desirability is necessarily actual desirability.
So, I could keep trying to suss out what these words mean, what the constructs mean, what conditions I need, so on and so forth… but I am so tired. Someone will always call something good and someone else will call the exact same thing bad.
More importantly, some parts of the strange synchronicity were beautiful. The entanglement was beautiful, and I do not want to remember the person who was part of that entanglement as anything other than the beautiful thing he was. Is, probably. But because he is entangled with other events and I am too tired to undo it, I have to love those whom I considered villains. To love this entanglement person, I have to love them.
If I want to think of this entanglement person as someone who is, I need to think of them as people who are. Someone said that this is like… going from a rootless plant, this thing that is separated from everything else, to being the totality of the universe. Eh, I’m not sure if it’s gonna be that dramatic or beautiful, but certainly, I am already… Even the people who I still see as the perpetrators of so much tragedy… I look at them, and I… I was so angry, and now I feel pity.
Yeah, the main emotion I feel for them now is pity. The stress they must be under. It’s the whole “Joe Bell” phenomenon. Jadin’s father doesn’t love himself unconditionally so he cannot love Jadin unconditionally. One cannot give what one hasn’t unveiled in oneself; moreover, one cannot receive what one hasn’t unveiled in oneself. Even if someone had offered Jadin’s father a path to unconditional love, he would not have been able to receive it until he himself had found unconditional love inside him. Because, to someone used to labels and constructs and all that, it’s unbelievable that unconditional love is possible at all. Imagine a kid who was told that if he cried, Santa was gonna come punish him, or some such thing. Imagine someone were to tell him that you can cry and still receive a gift. The kid’s not going to believe it. Long after he becomes an adult, he won’t believe it.
The more someone talks about protecting values, or the right to disagree, or enemies, or how the world is in danger, or some such thing—it only shows what’s inside them. I look at them and I’m like… they have so many conditions. And I see them because I have so many conditions.
And it may seem like the conditions only apply to the outside world, but no. If the condition setter doesn’t meet the conditions, then they become insignificant. They, as a human, serve a function, in their eyes. If not this, then else. And sometimes they don’t even know that that’s a threat. Because some of them are so used to pretty words and gentle tones, and they are so used to masking conditions under those veils, they think what they demand from the world and of themselves isn’t a threat. But it is.
They may not admit it to themselves. I imagine many of them will claim that they aren’t talking about something as fluffy and intangible as love at all. I didn’t admit it to myself. I didn’t know.
But in the end, if not to be loved—conditionally or unconditionally—then why are we doing what we are doing? We can use alternative words as if it represents something else. We can say that we do it for the good of society, or for intellectual curiosity, or for fairness, or whatever else. But why do we want the good of society, why do we want to satisfy our intellectual curiosity, and why do we care about fairness? Really, keep digging, down and down, deeper and deeper. What is there? There is only the desire to be loved, to be accepted, by ourselves and/or by the world.
Lastly, I would like to talk about one crucial idea in this whole love talk. There is this notion, sometimes, in popular psychology, that unless you have received love, you don’t know how to give it. It’s often thrown around as a catch-all explanation for why people who were, for example, not loved by their parents, don’t know how to express love.
This may very well be the measurable result of statistical psychological analysis. I don’t know. I’m not a psychologist, and I will never be. But it seems that this idea that unless you have received you cannot give is typically conditional, typically mainstream 2023. Perhaps that belief is what leads to the results of the measurable statistical psychological research.
And that is so depressing. So I would like to present an alternative. In the limitless and unconditional realm, for example, in the spirituality realm, everyone is, fundamentally, love. Everyone is love itself. Everyone is light itself. One only needs to unveil that core, the theory goes.
Thus, while one cannot give what one hasn’t unveiled in oneself and one cannot receive what one hasn’t unveiled in oneself, it’s not like one has to wait around for someone to recharge one’s love so one can give it and start receiving some more. That would be similar to a zero-sum game, a chicken-and-egg situation, but that’s not what, supposedly, in the spiritual theory, the world looks like.
In that world of limitless and unconditional love—which is our world here, they say—we are all love anyway. We just have to unveil it, with the veil being the notions, the constructs, the ideas, the roles, the labels, and the functions that we deem necessary in order to be worthy.
And… I mean, I don’t know. Who knows. Maybe you are screwed for life because your parents gave you conditional love. That is one story to believe in. Or, you can pick this story where you’re a limitless being. An infinite fountain of unconditional love. Maybe not universal unconditional love, but specific unconditional love for some people in your life and most importantly, for yourself.
This is what I want to believe in now. The possibility of this unconditional love. It’s because I believe, no, I know, that there is some sort of work going on. Call it chance, serendipity, or destiny—I don’t know. I don’t need to know what the label is, I only need to know that it is.
Everything is as it should be, just so. I… don’t know how else it could have happened. If I remove one tiny element, then that changes the whole path and it would not have been the same.
Note that this isn’t to say that my state is good. It’s not comfortable. Or happy, necessarily. Also, this isn’t about growth. This isn’t about learning lessons. Or learning to see how I was wrong and now I’m right. Now I’ve changed my mind, oh, I grew so much. No. No no no. Much like unconditional love isn’t doing something, this state that I am in isn’t about doing something to get somewhere.
I may not be clearly expressing what I am feeling here. Maybe I have to feel it some more to be certain. I guess the main description is that I do not need to be anything other than me. The beautiful entanglement person—he doesn’t need to be anything other than him. And even the individuals who led to so much direct and indirect suffering—maybe even they don’t need to be anything other than them.
Most importantly, you don’t need to be anything other than you. I hope everyone listening to this can give unconditional love if you so choose, and also, receive plenty in return—although, hey, the best part about unconditional love is that you’re whole without anyone giving it to you. You yourself are the infinite light and love. You’re whole as you are. At least so they say and, as I said, it is what I want to believe in.
And that is all for this episode. Thank you for listening.
If you liked this episode of Sponge, please share it with a human.
You can find a link to the full transcript in the show notes. Also, visit ithakaonmymind.com to find out more about everything else I do, besides Sponge.
Now, let us go find that love in us.
- “Joe Bell” directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green
- The Youtube video from a Korean spirituality channel where I heard the phrase “conditional love is like hatred.”
- Stanley Gurvich – At First
- Kyle Preston – A Timid Birth
- Max H. – Birth
- Stanley Gurvich – Fused
- Kashido – The Long Road Home
- Stanley Gurvich – At Last
- DaniHaDani – Bait
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© 2023 Ithaka O.