The capacity for love is a marker of spiritual health – perhaps its most important marker. What the saints and realized beings of every spiritual tradition share in common is an extraordinary capacity for love.
It is love, reflected in the eyes of our parents, that tells us in infancy, who and what we are. In our earliest days, the physical presence of loving adults may mean the difference between life and death, quite independent of the provision of food and warmth: recent research suggests that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome may be the result of the physical separation of mother and child. The countries with the lowest rate of SIDS are those in which infants sleep in physical contact with their mothers.
As a baby’s growing awareness takes in more of the world, including himself, he continues to learn from his parents what it is to be loved, and to love. This is not an intellectual learning; it is not something that can be defined and taught with words. A child learns from the experience of love; his internal world, as it grows and takes form, is shaped by that experience. Relationship, for mammals – and we are mammals – is in large part a physical experience, and it changes how we experience the world.
For millennia, right back to the dawn of our species, human children – like all mammalian young – spent virtually all their time with their parents and extended family until they themselves were ready to venture out into the world, their independence emerging naturally and effortlessly from the satiation of their dependence. By observing everyday life within their families, they learned both values and survival skills, including crucially important social skills: how to live in relationship with others.
But human children learn something in addition to survival: in the loving gaze of parents who truly see them, they find a sense of themselves as unique individuals. Adults who were fortunate enough to have enjoyed the consistent presence of a supportive family tend to be confident, emotionally stable, and able to withstand the knocks that life deals out. They know who they are; they have a sense of their own value, perhaps even a sense of destiny. And they are able to form close relationships with others; they are able to love.
There are intimations of many of these themes in Hexagram 61, ZHONG FU. Zhong means centre. The character Fu is formed with the legs of a bird on top, and a child underneath: thus, it means to hatch. It implies the quality of a mother hen: steady, faithful, loyal, trustworthy. In the context of Hexagram 61, it is most often interpreted as truthfulness and sincerity, and particularly being faithful to yourself. Zhong Fu is the equivalent of the Daoist concept of ‘zhen’: authenticity: being faithful to what is at the centre of your life, to your own nature, your own Dao.
Huang sums up the essence of the lines, from 1 to 5, thus:
The Duke of Zhou says that, being sincere and trustworthy, one should be at ease and confident. It should be as natural as a mother crane calling affectionately to her young. One should persist in being sincere and trustworthy. First beating the drum and then stopping is not the proper attitude. Being sincere and trustworthy, one is able to link with others in union…
Modern Western society does not support us in spending the time our children need to establish their strong centre, their personhood, their inner truth. In Southeast Asia, I observed a different norm: families spend most of their time together. Extended families live together; small children are looked after by their grandparents, and wander in and out of their parents’ place of work; the whole family takes meals together, often in the workplace.
But even in Asia, this is changing, as ‘developing cultures’ begin to ape the patterns of social isolation that have poisoned the West. Most of us have lost the immediate proximity of extended families; most of us in nuclear families work outside our homes.
It is into the cracks opened up, as families fracture, that we slip deeper into Kali Yuga. I applaud those families who are raising their children to be strong enough in their personhood to eventually pull us out of it.
Huang says of Hexagram 61: “In hatching chicks, the hen must be faithful to her obligation.”
The Tuan commentary for the hexagram says that sincerity can transform a country.
In the 21st century, we need it to transform the world.