Love and Loss - Reasons of the Heart (1 of 3)
Updated: Dec 31
One of the quotes that I have returned to more than most is from the C17 French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, about something that in some ways is the opposite of math. Indeed, the opposition between the subject and the quote and reason is pretty much the point of the quote.
“The heart has its reasons that reason knows not of.”
- Blaise Pascal
At first blush, it doesn’t say anything beyond the banal and obvious: that people don’t behave rationally when it’s their heart that’s driving their behavior.
However, at second blush, I think it says a lot more than that – and it is this “more” that I have found helpful. What it is really saying is that the heart has a logic – heart-reasons that differ from what we normally recognize as “reason”.
I think that is a useful idea because it gives one in the midst of the kind of uncontrollable emotional maelstrom that often accompanies matters of the heart-gone-wrong something to work with. According to Pascal, all those tumultuous feelings of love lost are not just chaos and irrationality: they have their own reason, and so must be susceptible to some kind of analysis.
A rational examination of anything begins with the asking of questions or at the very least the taking of a perspective.
Such a perspective is necessarily governed by one’s own direct experiences of love and loss, which strike us and shape us with a force and certainty of magnitudes equal to those that accompany a breakthrough in mathematical understanding, for example.
Love, loss and experiences of the same teach us things – but things that invariably raise more questions than they answer. Since so much new experiential ground is revealed in the mad joy of love found and the searing pain of love lost, romantic love shows us how much more there is to being human than we could ever imagine in its absence or before we encounter it. Heartbreak is a game-changer for life – a kind of emotional rite-of-passage that makes nothing quite the same again. And so, with love, comes so many questions about what it is to be human and what a life well-lived means.
The feelings of love and its loss seem to be larger than the one who feels them – as if the feeling is something external and happening to the one affected.
These bigger-than-self feelings can overwhelm in two directions: they point us up and out of ourselves into the spiritual and, simultaneously, down and deep into ourselves into the biological and animal.
Regarding the biological, I remember the times I’ve been utterly dysfunctional, driven by raw and ever-so-basic evolutionarily programmed infatuation or attachment to a woman. In such times, one is aware of one’s pathetic nature: controlled (supposedly) by the most basic, animal function of reproduction.
Regarding the spiritual, I remember a kind of opposite experience - occasional moments of utter selflessness – not just practical but metaphysical. At the end of a particularly intense relationship in which I had been badly treated (exacerbated by my own addiction to, and therefore compulsiveness about, it) I experienced a moment of divinity – I don’t know how else to put it – when for a minute or so my ego dissolved and I was left with a completely pure desire for the happiness of the person I’d loved but was losing, entirely undiminished by the pain she had caused me. In that moment of egolessness, I felt not to be quite in my body. To this day, I remember exactly where I was sitting and everything about it. It was so profound that despite its brevity, the experience bears even now (two decades later) on my ideas of human nature, the meaning of life, and the nature of the universe or even God.
All that is heady and abstract and perhaps says more about me than about love in general. Certainly, experiences of love and loss raise plenty of more concrete questions – at least for me… and in my next couple of posts, I will ponder them in an exploration of those “reasons of the heart” to which Pascal referred and which drive so much of our lives.
Till then, here are a few questions for you.
Have you loved and lost? Did the experience fundamentally change you? Did it change anything important that you believe? Would you go so far as to say that a person who’s had his or her heart broken necessarily sees the world in some importantly different way from someone who has not.