In my last post I talked about motivation, and how finicky it can be when we rely on it to modify our habits.
This is the motivation that naturally waxes and wanes, as BJ Fogg describes it. It can be fleeting, like waves rising and falling in an ocean. You can surf this motivation wave as it builds up against the shore and be exhilarated by it. But as it inevitably dissolves, you won’t be able to ride it forever. And if you’re not careful, a big motivation wave may wipe you out — as we see every year around this time, when your New Year’s resolutions may begin to overwhelm you.
But there is another form of motivation, one that’s more fundamental and significant to you than passing waves. This motivation is like the currents of the ocean, both the one that pulls you out to the ocean’s depths and the one that returns you to shore.
The current that draws you out to the deep unknown has been known through history as Eros. In our modern time, Eros gets conflated merely with sexuality. But spiritual thinkers from Plato and Plotinus to Ken Wilber and Marc Gafni have identified Eros much more broadly, as the drive of the lower aspiring toward the higher. Eros is the path of ascent, that longing in you which strives for something more significant in your life.
Eros is the force that brings you closer to God. But you don’t really need to be religious or spiritual to appreciate the power of Eros in your life. Eros is alive when you resolve to master an instrument, when you compete in sports, when you emulate your role models, and when you grow into your life’s purpose.
Eros is the desire of the universe to expand through you.
The current that brings you back to the comforts of the shore has been known as Agape. Agape is the drive of the higher reaching out to the lower. Agape is the path of descent, that cherishing in you which seeks to preserve and protect what is fundamental to your life.
Agape is the force that brings God closer to you. But again, you don’t need to invoke God to understand the role of Agape in your life. Agape is alive when you care for your dying parent, when you shield your child from harm, when you honor your traditions, and when you show compassion for the earth.
Agape is the desire of the universe to embrace through you.
Eros and Agape are the dual dimensions of love. As Ken Wilber describes in his magnum opus Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, Eros (or, wisdom) is the love of the lower reaching up to the higher, and Agape (or, compassion) is the love of the higher reaching down to the lower. These are the two forces of healthy evolution.
They are also the two sides of one coin. As Wilber relates, Eros is what provides Agape its object for embrace, and Agape is what provides Eros its object for aspiration:
Likewise, the love of the Kosmos reaching down to us from a higher level than our present stage of development is also Agape (compassion), helping us to respond with Eros until the source of that Agape is our own developmental level, our own self. The Agape of a higher dimension is the omega pull for our own Eros, inviting us to ascend, via wisdom, and thus expand the circle of our own compassion for more and more beings.
As philosopher Charles Taylor writes in Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, “The two together make a vast circle of love through the universe.”
But there is a dark side to every force.
As Wilber explains, the dark side of Eros is Phobos. Phobos is the force that reaches out for the higher while repressing and alienating the lower. It’s your desperate move to pull out to the sea when you feel you’re too close to the rocks.
Phobos is lurking when an ascetic gives up all his material possessions because he thinks they are evil, when nature is defiled in the name of progress, and when life in this world is denied to get to the promised land.
Phobos is Eros divorced from Agape.
The dark side of Agape is Thanatos. Thanatos is the force that regresses toward the lower while fleeing from the higher. It’s your desperate paddling back to the shore when you feel like you’re caught in an undertow that’s pulling you dangerously away.
Thanatos is lurking when a materialist accumulates possessions as her salvation, when nature is worshiped at the expense of progress, and when life in this world is deified because there is no promised land.
Thanatos is Agape divorced from Eros.
Phobos and Thanatos are the dual dimensions of fear. Phobos is the higher’s fear for the lower, and Thanatos is the lower’s fear for the higher. These are the two forces of unhealthy evolution. We might say that the two together make a vast circle of fear through the universe.
I would maintain that Eros, Agape, Phobos, and Thanatos are not just theoretical concepts for esoteric consumption. They are at the heart of what deeply motivates us.
In the next posts, I’ll discuss how these forces are actively in play in medicine, how they will shape the future of medicine, and how Marc Gafni’s insight of the Unique Self can harness these forces and renew the health of healthcare itself.