And you need to Climb up the Ladder of Love.
There are couples that look so great together.
They might be 30, or 75. They come in all colors, shapes, sizes and income brackets. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been together. Whatever the demographics, when you see a happy couple, you just know it!
Their spiritual kinship, mutual respect, and tenderness are so obvious. Partners who have found the key to success in a relationship are like a good wine — over time their love becomes only stronger, more exciting, and every day is like a new one full of fresh emotions and feelings.
How do these couples stay in love, in good times and in bad?
As per Plato the great philosopher, the secret of a long-lasting loving relationship lies in the Ladder of Love.
And Couples who are able to successfully climb up to the last rung of the ladder are the happiest ones.
The “ladder of love” is a metaphor that occurs in Plato’s Symposium.
The Symposium is one of Plato’s liveliest dialogues, with each person at the ‘drinking party’ (that’s what ‘symposium’ meant) giving their own speech in praise of Eros, the god of love.
The men include the philosopher Socrates, the general and political figure Alcibiades, and the comic playwright Aristophanes.
And Socrates in, particular, becomes the star of the show when he recounts the teachings of a priestess, Diotima. The “ladder” represents the ascent a lover might make from purely physical attraction to a beautiful body, the lowest rung, to unbridled creativity achieved by the lovers by conscious coupling of their souls.
And Diotima spells out the stages in this ascent in terms of what kind of love, the lover desires at every stage to reach the ultimate zenith of everlasting love.
And each stage of love is given a place as a rung on the ladder of love.
Ladder Rung 1: Love as Lust
A particular beautiful body. This is the starting point.
Here love, which by definition is a desire for something we don’t have, is first aroused by the sight of individual beauty.
Thus the first rung, the narrowly focused perception of beauty — what Plato refers to as “a beautiful body,” can be considered as pure infatuation or lust.
A very simplified notion of beauty that is sharply limited to the obvious. It is a spontaneous reaction which just “happens” and overwhelms us. It is the beauty of roses, clear skin and comely features, the ocean on a lightly cloudy, sunny day.
It is the beauty of the very basic.
Ladder Rung 2: Love as a comparison
When one begins to perceive the hidden beauty of the world — beauty that is less overt and obvious, one has transcended that first rung and moved to the second.
And here is where the comparison starts with the world.
My Lover has an acerbic tongue which can cut anybody to pieces.
I like her pragmatic approach to life.
He has faced a lot in Life but he still maintains a lively sense of humor.
This is where they perceive the beauty that is hidden in decay, faces etched with the lines and wear of time and wounded souls.
This is the inherent beauty of the individual which gradually gets peeled off layer by layer and uncovered. This may not be always aesthetically pleasing but Plato tells us, that is how Love is meant to progress forward step by step. The less obvious things come out glaringly in the forefront.
This is the beauty of unkempt gardens and chipped paints.
Ladder Rung 3: Love as Institution
By Love by Institution Plato means the correlation of love with our cultures and traditions.
It is here that. one becomes aware not just that there are these institutions in which we engage, but that these institutions are something beautiful — a wonderful, enriching aspect of who and what we are.
For example, we have an institution of marriage which plays an important role in our society. We have a culture of respecting elders and obtaining their consent in important matters. We also have certain moralistic laws which are following since ages that imbibe values within our society.
It is where one begins to seek to understand not just the what, of how one lives, but the why. And it is here that one can not only perceive the beauty of these institutions as they are but as they could be.
And Love needs to consider and honor these traditions to stay relevant and acceptable.
Ladder Rung 4: Love as Emotion
This is the recognition of the “beauty of souls,” as Plato puts it — or the beauty of the abstract.
The fourth step of this divine ladder brings the lovers to a plane equal in value and as worthy of unconditional and unwavering love, respect, gratitude, and forgiveness.
When we choose to live life predominantly from this fourth step and beyond, we cross the bridge from personal to trans-personal consciousness. With love as our guiding principle, our motivation shifts from personal gain and pleasure to achieving the highest good in “our life”. We begin to live life as a soul, and in this way, establish heaven here on earth.
It is ultimately this point, at which one begins to understand beauty as more than just something that the senses express to our minds.
Ladder Rung 5: Love as Knowledge
This is the highest pinnacle of love where we are moved toward greater creativity and purpose. Here is Where rote learning about each other turns into absorbing, extrapolating and applying knowledge to one’s life and to the world around them.
It is from here that people are able to change their world — both in small part, closer into themselves and in larger part, expanding outward and changing large swathes of their world. As an integrated whole, we enjoy confidence in our abilities in career and social settings, our state of health and well-being. Togetherness, cooperation, collaboration. We seek to share our gifts in the highest ways we can participate.
Plato describes this love as “an everlasting loveliness which neither comes nor goes, which neither flowers nor fades. It is the very essence of beauty, subsisting of itself and by itself in an eternal oneness.”
Diotima tells Socrates that if he ever reached the highest rung on the ladder and contemplated this Form of Beauty, he would never again be seduced by the physical attractions. Nothing could make life more worth living than enjoying this sort of vision.
Because this is Beauty at its very best, it will inspire perfect virtue in those who contemplate it.
Bringing it all together
The ladder of love is a continuum of desires, all of which “partake” in the Beautiful. Nothing in the visible world can be entirely beautiful all the time, since these things undergo change and decay, and even at their best just aren’t quite perfect.
Still, these things have aspects of the beautiful, and through them, we learn to desire beauty itself.
The hardest step is the willingness to persist along the ladder and reach the final rung. A lot many of us fail and fade away in disappointment. But if both of you are willing to make it work and see beyond the “decay of the flesh” (as Plato calls it), true love is very much reachable.
As Plato has rightly said in the Symposium.
“Love’ is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete.”