MARIA POPOVA’s brain pickings

Whom We Love and Who We Are: José Ortega y Gasset on Love, Attention, and the Invisible Architecture of Our Being

How our loves reveal who we are, an illustrated serenade to aliveness and seeing the world with newborn eyes, and a great forgotten love story

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,” the great French philosopher Simone Weil wrote shortly before her untimely death. An epoch after her, Mary Oliver eulogized the love of her life with the observation that “attention without feeling… is only a report.” Looking back on centuries of love poems by people of genius who dared to love beyond the cultural narrows of their time, the poet J.D. McClatchy observed that “love is the quality of attention we pay to things.”

Because our attention shapes our entire experience of the world — this, after all, is the foundation of all Eastern traditions of mindfulness, which train the attention in order to anneal our quality of presence — the objects of our attention end up, in a subtle but profound way, shaping who we are. 

Because there is hardly a condition of consciousness that focuses the attention more sharply and totally upon its object than love, what and whom we love is the ultimate revelation of what and who we are. 

That is what the great Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset(May 9, 1883–October 18, 1955) explores in a series of essays originally written for the Madrid newspaper El Sol and posthumously published in English as On Love: Aspects of a Single Theme (public library) — a singular culmination of Ortega’s philosophic investigation of Western culture’s blind spots, biases, and touching self-delusions about love, that is, about who and what we are.

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