• Love your opposite

    Consolations of the Forest book by Sylvain Tesson
    What we think about when we think about love

    Watching people in airports is a great pastime. During a session in Copenhagen this week, I noted, not for the first time, how sibling-like many couples are. 

    They say opposites attract, but it’s amazing how often we choose a mirror image of ourselves. We choose self-love, in effect. 

    My polar opposite on Earth

    Which made me wonder whether it wasn’t a very well adjusted, secure person who is able to find the capacity to love one entirely different from them. That would be love. 

    The thought then chimed with something I read in the novel I took with me on my flight: Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin in the Middle Taiga by Sylvain Tesson – a wonderful mix of raw backwoods simplicity and highfalutin intellectualism. 

    Here’s what he had to say after a few months alone by Lake Baikal:

    Wouldn’t real love be the love of what is irremediably different from us? 

    Loving a Papuan, a child or one’s neighbour is hardly a challenge. But a sea sponge! 

    Considering how quick we are to love the comfortable and the familiar, it’s a good exercise to put yourself in the headspace of loving that which is weird and unfamiliar. 

    Love thy stranger

    On the human level, this is a case not so much of Love Thy Neighbour as Love The Person You’ve Never Seen Before In Your Life. Feel love for someone truly from another place, climate, race, culture, age. 

    Beyond the human, as Tesson himself goes on to suggest, it’s about getting as uncomfortably far away from mammals as possible. Dogs, cats, rabbits, bears – they’re easy to love. Ants, reptiles, sharks, spiders? 

    Then comes the real test

    What Tesson doesn’t extend it to, but which is perhaps still pertinent, is the love for anything, however repellent. Could you feel tenderness for carrion? Could you love a cancerous cell? Ultimately, could you as a living thing feel love for death and decay?

    One way to feel what an animal feels is to move like an animal. Find out more in my blog Ever Wanted To Be A Bear?