Category Archives: healing

Levels of Love

Fear Less Love More

Artwork by Mary Beth Volpini. See more at

Valentine’s Day feels like a good time to take a closer look at Love. February is also Black History Month in the US, and lately I have been reading and listening to sermons and speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin_Luther_King,_Jr in 1964.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964

When you listen to Dr. King speak, his message is more powerful than ever before. As his deep baritone voice melodically rises and falls, you are swept across the tides of time into his eternal message of Love and Will. His gift was to help us touch the human heart and awaken our deeper transpersonal nature. He was a master teacher, leader, and poet – using his voice to conjure truth through the most familiar of images and the essence of everyday life.

“Levels of Love” was Dr. King’s sermon for 16 September 1962 at Ebenezer Baptist Church. I actually found three sermons on this topic. In all of them Dr. King ultimately  urges us to love our enemies. As he returned to this topic of love over the years and especially love for your enemies, Dr. King kept deepening and adding new levels to his treatise.

Below I outline the levels of love that he distinguishes. (You can read the entire sermon by clicking here.)

Utilitarian love

This is love at the lowest level. In this case, you love another for his or her usefulness to you. You depersonalize the person whom you love, and that person becomes merely an object. This love is entirely conditional. There is no I-Thou relationship, but rather an I-it.


This term is used by Plato in his Dialogues to refer to the yearning of the soul for the realm of the Divine. This higher level of love is what King called ‘romantic love’. He said:

“A romantic love rises above utilitarian love in the sense that it does have a degree of altruism, for a person who really loves with romantic love will die for the object of his love.”

While romantic love is beautiful, King insists that it is not the highest form of love, because it is basically selfish. We love another because we are attracted to him or her. Our lover fulfills some inner need in us.

Mother’s love

This type of love is on the same level as romantic love. King said:

“Mother’s love brings sunshine into dark places. And there is something about it that never quite gives up. No matter what the mistake is, no matter how low the child sinks, if she’s a real mother, she still loves him. But even this love is not the highest. For a mother loves her child because he is her child.”

017190 King levels of Love

Amore / Love
In greco 3 parole / In Greek 3 words
– Eros (con due significati)/ (with two meanings)
– Philia
– Agape
Vedi M.L. King, Forza di Amare, Cap. V, p. 81 /
See M.L. King, The Force of Love, Chap. V, p. 81
(Notes from Assagioli’s Archives)


This is a Greek word that means intimate affection between friends. King explained the difference between philio and romantic love like this:

In romantic love, the individuals in love sit face-to-face absorbed in each other. In friendship the individuals sit side-by-side absorbed in some great concern, some great cause, some great issue beyond themselves, something they like to do together. It may be hunting. It may be going and swimming together. It may be discussing great ideas together. It may be in a great movement of freedom together. It is someone so close to you that he knows your heartbeat.

King pointed out that even this isn’t the highest love for there is something about friendship that is selfish. Friendship is always based on an affection for somebody that you like, who shares the same interests that you have.

Humanitarian love

Humanitarian love is broader and more inclusive. This is a love that rises to the point of saying that within every human there is a divine spark. But it still can’t be the highest point because it is impersonal. It says I love this abstract thing called humanity, but this love does not necessarily exist for the individual. As Dostoevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov:

“But it has always happened that the more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.”


Another Greek word, the highest level of love is agape because it is unmotivated, spontaneous, overflowing and seeks nothing in return. King said:

“Agape is the love of God operating in the human heart. And the greatness of God’s love is that His love is big enough to love everybody and is small enough to love even me. The greatness of agape is that you love every man, not for your sake but for his sake. And you love every man because God loves him. Even to the point of loving your enemy.”

Confession of My Search for Agape

Now, I want to testify how difficult agape, this highest level of love is, to willfully achieve. I have a neighbor, whom I am certain God has given me for this very practice! This neighbor is nearly impossible to talk or reason with. He has betrayed me, lied to me, and is difficult to figure out. He is negative in much of what he does and says.

In my heart, I want to love him, because I see how much he is personally suffering. I want to have compassion for him, because I see how difficult he makes his own life as well as the lives of others around him.

But my nature is not so good. It takes tremendous will for me to create agape for this neighbor whenever he comes around. It is much easier for me to fall into negative feelings – not exactly of hatred– but of bad will. As soon as these negative thoughts pop into my head lately, I have been turning to prayer: “God have mercy on all our confusion (mostly mine!) God please help me to be kind. God please help me to have compassion for this person suffering before me and the person suffering inside me.”

Well, it’s working … a little. I need more practice which I’m sure I will have. Neither I nor my neighbor is going anywhere! I have great faith that such love is worth working towards. For Dr. King promises us:

“Love has within it a redemptive power. A power that eventually transforms individuals… Here’s the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you. Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load.

That’s love, you see. It is redemptive. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love you enemies…

For this controlling force of love, this controlling power can solve every problem that we confront in all areas of our lives.”

The Prodigal Daughter


Detail from Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son”.

I have always loved the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), yet at the same time, struggle with it. The story seems so male in context. A young man returns home repentant and humbled after squandering his inheritance on a life of debauchery. His father is moved with pity, and runs to welcome his son home, clasping him in his arms and kissing him.

“Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. We will celebrate by having a feast, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.”

Meanwhile the elder son who always slaved in the fields and obeyed his father grows angry and refuses to enter the celebrations. But the father says:

“My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”

What would the story of the prodigal daughter be, and what would her return to the welcoming mother reveal? Continue reading

From Sexual Instinct to Channeled Love

Fear Less Love More

Artwork by Mary Beth Volpini. See more at

Let’s talk about sex. The sexual instinct that is… Lately, the media has been giving it a bad rap. Every day there is another report of a woman being assaulted by a Hollywood mongrel, fellow actor, news anchorman, US president, or fashion photographer. This is not new news. Nearly every woman has encountered this type of aggressive behavior (in various degrees) during her lifetime. I still do, even at the age of 62!

Come on guys, grow up! Sublimate and transmute already!

Let’s talk about sexual energy from a psychosynthesis point of view. Assagioli did more than 100 years ago in his article “The Transformation and Sublimation of Sexual Energy.” First, I want to say that this is mainly a male problem. For some mysterious reason, men have more difficulty holding sexual tension. This is a general fact. There are, of course, exceptions… Continue reading

Threshing our Lives Anew

But I shall sing of your strength; and in the morning I shall sing of your love. For you are my defender; and my refuge, in the days of my tribulations. (Psalm 59:16)

Since moving to Italy a year ago, I often hear the word ‘tribolazione’. While rarely used in English, this word ‘tribulation’ often poetically enters Italian conversation when my neighbors are talking about a very long, difficult, and grievous period in their or someone else’s life.

thresh and ox

Farmers in some parts of the world still use a tribulum to thresh their harvest.

Hearing this word more often, I started to wonder about its origins. I soon discovered that it derives from the Latin word tribulum. A tribulum is a threshing roller or sledge pulled by oxen that farmers have used for centuries to separate the corn from the husks, the wheat from the chaff.

How often I have felt trampled by oxen as they yanked sharp flints of cut stone over me. (Well, okay. I am dramatizing, but you know this feeling don’t you?) Something inside me is being purged and discarded allowing my truer self to be freed from its hidden form. Without the tribulum, the seed of new life cannot be beaten away from the wheat, the flail, or the corn. The new seed can only lay dormant and lost. Continue reading

(Re)Learning to Mother Ourselves

1024px-Mother-Child_face_to_faceRecently I have been taking psychosynthesis lessons from my 3-1/2 year old neighbor Martina (not her real name). She is an only child without many friends who has been wandering over to my garden whenever I happen to be planting or hoeing in the late afternoon. At first she showed up in her electrical jeep, zig-zagging down the country road from her grandparents’ house, alternatively jerking to a halt and zooming full speed ahead, her three dogs chasing after her.

Martina is highly intelligent, strong-willed and precocious. She is an organizer and often explains to me where plants should be placed and what vases and flowers I need to buy and where they belong in the garden. She is also a great storyteller. In true Italian style, her entire body moves while she talks, her hands fly around with precision, and her facial gestures rise and fall with the tone of her voice. Continue reading