Updated: Dec 13, 2020
by Thea Iberall
The second valley in The Conference of the Birds is the Valley of Love where reason is abandoned. It is a place to let one’s mind be blinded to all reason, a place where love consumes one. There is no good or bad—only burning desire. Attar says, “If he who sets out on this way will not engage himself wholly and completely, he will never be free from the sadness and melancholy which weigh him down.”
This is a story Attar uses to explain the Valley of Love:
A beggar once fell in love with a princess. When the princess rode through the street, perfumed with musk, the beggar would run out to see her. Mahmud said: ‘Miserable beggar, do you expect to drink from the same cup as the Sultan?’
The beggar replied, ‘I am not inferior to you in the play of love. You may think you are in love, but your love is commonplace. For true love, a burning heart like mine is necessary. If I sacrifice everything for love, that is a token of my spiritual poverty. If you ever have the experience of real love, sacrifice your life for it; if not, you have no right to speak of love.’
In the Conference of the Birds, the first valley was about patience and learning your own values. Letting go of dogma. This second valley is as confusing, if not more so, than the first. This second valley is about love, about fire, about the lack of reason. Sacrifice is important in the Valley of Love, to not think of only oneself but to make sacrifices for others. This love can be the love of god, or of a person, or of things like fame and power. But focusing on the love of things stops the seeker from progressing because she or he is not discovering anything about themselves.
I wrack my brain trying to understand this valley. It’s hard to try to reason while I am abandoning reason. I know the goal is to learn about myself on a path towards the truth, but how can I stay on the path without using my mental faculties?
And what is love? Scott Peck defines it as “the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth.” It’s a definition I’ve adhered to since the 80s as I extracted myself from the clutches of codependency: I learned to not give myself away and to not become a doormat for love. I learned the five ways people experience love: through words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, gifts, or physical touch. And I worked at learning to extend myself to nurture myself and also to nurture another. How can I align this concept with sacrificing my life for someone else?
I used to walk along the bike path on the Santa Monica beach in California. It went for miles along the coast. It became my model for the kind of relationship I wanted. I would walk along the path looking at my own feet and metaphorically, my partner would walk along a parallel path looking at her own feet. Our arms would reach out wide, our fingertips barely touching. The only thing keeping us together being our faith that our paths will remain parallel no matter what we were doing on our individual paths. No matter the good or the bad that happens. Because there is no difference.
Keeping my eyes on my own feet is not an act of selfishness. Maybe that is what Attar is saying. To live my life by being truly in love: with myself, with a partner, with learning, with the world. Being in passionate acceptance of all. Living by being heart-centered, not mind-centered. Not listening with my ego but with my heart the way I learned to listen to my dad. When Attar says to sacrifice everything, perhaps he is talking about this willingness to extend myself. Not by giving love, but being love. Edna St. Vincent Millay says, “Love in the open hand. No thing but that.” I can tell when I am focusing my thoughts on love because it’s in that state that my biofeedback device makes a low beep and the LED turns green.
Today, I choose to do selfless service for those around me. I choose to be grateful for all the gifts my parents gave me and for all the gifts I receive from the people and living things around me. I choose to be open to learning about myself and the world. I choose to strive for awareness about myself, identifying my flaws and my essence. I choose to live in passionate acceptance. I choose to fill myself with love.
Please tell me the things you love about me,
As it makes me feel treasured.
Please show me your love by serving me in big and small ways,
As I carry heavy burdens and your partnership lifts my spirit.
Please set aside some of your precious time for me,
As I feel loved when you are close enough for me to reach out and touch.
Please bring me a simple gift,
As it proves that I’m on your mind even when we’re apart.
Please touch me,
As your affection meets needs that I can barely express in words.
The first thing I thought of about sacrificing life for love, now we are sacrificing our unmasked, free lives for the love of humankind, especially the essential workers working in hospitals, for people in nursing homes, essentially everyone. We’re being love and showing love by doing that.
That spoke to me, the conflict between protecting ourselves and looking at our growth and wanting to love, and the boundaries. My mother called me last night after some time, although I’ve tried to reach out to her. She’s told people how terrible I am. I see my mom as the Queen of Swords card in the Tarot deck. I can protect myself against that with my Celtic weaves. But last night when she called, she was like a little girl and sad. My resistance lets go and I could feel a sword through my defenses. It doesn’t feel right that I should give in to that. How do I love and feel her sorrow and still protect myself from that other overreach because she will swing back? This child state scares me more.
It is important to protect ourselves by being nurturing to ourselves and accept people where they are.
Thank you. I was thinking about that line that said be love, not give love. I have a person in my life who is the ‘general’, as Shirley describes. I’ve given love trying to get approval or kindness or acknowledgement. It doesn’t feel good when I do that. When I give love, there are expectations. But when I am being love, that feels better, to just be kind to anyone who is trying to stick it to me. It’s not easy. But I have control over it in a way I don’t when I give love.
I used to have problems with my father. After I joined the 12-step program, I learned to talk through the triangle. Instead of talking to him directly, I would talk to my higher power and let my Higher Power talk to my dad. And then I’d listen to everything he said through the voice of my Higher Power. I wouldn’t listen with my ears because my ears were the hurt little ears of the child. I learned to listen with my heart through my Higher Power. It protected me.
The seven valleys, I want to read it and go over them and think about what they mean. What came into my mind about love was pure love. I am steadfast in my feelings towards animals. It wouldn’t bother me if people criticized me about this. A few years ago, I got into my car and saw a little mouse on the dashboard. I had been finding mouse droppings. When I saw the mouse, I could feel it and see how starving it was. It was dehydrated. My first thought was to get it food and water. He ate and thankfully he found his way out of my car. It was pure love, love of another living thing. The benefit was that he didn’t die in my car’s air conditioning system. I named him Buttons.
That is definitely being willing to extend yourself to nurture another living thing.
I also like the phrase ‘being love versus giving love.’ When we can’t seem to give love, it’s better to be felt by another as being love. It doesn’t have to be words, it can be silence, or ‘I hear what you are saying’ even if you don’t agree. To me, that’s being love and being a solid rock of love. Sometimes silence can give another a lot of food for thought.
Thank you for joining us today. Have a blessed day and fill your day as a solid rock of love.
Photo credit: Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Folio from an illustrated manuscript dated c.1600. Paintings by Habiballah of Sava (active ca. 1590–1610), in ink, opaque watercolor, gold, and silver on paper, dimensions 25,4 x 11,4 cm