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A Map of Souls - 
The Quest for Love's True Story

Publishing 2023!

A Map of Souls takes readers on a remarkable 100,000-mile journey by Harley from homeless shelters to the halls of academia, seeking love’s story in the hearts of extraordinary people, through the eyes of diverse cultures, and in the minds of leading thinkers from religion, history, and the arts to quantum physics and neuroscience. The adventure brings astonishing hope and an understanding of something people universally treasure and believe they know when they see it, yet for which there has been no universal explanation or definition. With an explorer’s heart, A Map of Souls reveals the interconnected story of love’s origin, nature, and meaning and what living that story means for our lives, times, and world.


Selected Tale fromThat Perfect Blue


Too Good

 by Scotte Burns

Can a thing be too beautiful, too perfect for us to be worthy of it?


We all entertain the thought as hyperbole, as in, “Oh, this is to die for!” when enjoying a decadent food, or proclaiming “We are not worthy!” when praising a friend’s brilliance. But are there really things in life that are simply above us? Every example I’ve entertained remains stubbornly subjective, so the answer rests on each person’s sense of self-worth. In that, people run the gamut between valuing themselves not at all to having nothing in the world good enough for them. The extremes make such folk’s answers simple enough. They either feel unworthy of anything or unsatisfied with everything - either of which is a downright dreary place to be. For the rest of us, weighing ourselves against the things and people around us from somewhere in the middle, the answer deserves a little more digging.


When we’re young and captivated by appearances, many of us accept the notion that some people are just too beautiful for us or those like us. We even have a term for it: “out of our league.” It’s funny how often we use baseball metaphors in matters of love and sex - first base, home runs, playing the field, strikeout, etc. Toni and I believe that’s because baseball, especially minor league ball, is sexy and exciting! But experience shows time and again that “out of our league” isn’t a rule, just a musty axiom comforting us into believing that we know how love and attraction work. But love is exceptional. Singer Lyle Lovett and actress Julia Roberts present a stark visual for this, and they aren’t alone. Yet, such pairings still seem counterintuitive enough that people remark, “How’d he/she end up with them?” It’s quite vexing for some people at times too, as it seems to upset the accepted natural order and force difficult questions, such as, “If the beautiful babe at the gym will hang out with that vastly imperfect specimen of a man, what the hell am I working out for?”


It’s understandable and very human to want there to be rules for such things, though, since our desire for love and relationship are so central to our lives. The trouble is that while there may be averages and guidelines, for every rule we make up for love, and especially for marriage, there are, once again, exceptions.  It’s frustrating, even maddening at times, like trying to master English grammar, but infused with interest and passion. And that parallel offers surprising insight into the search for love. (Stay with me here, I’m both an English teacher and in love, so I’m fully qualified to make this comparison.) Our problem is that we misunderstand the verb form of love. All this time, most of us have worked under the assumption that love is an action - something we do - when it is actually a state of being. Here’s why that is such a significant difference.


Consider: Some man-made places are beautiful but intentionally designed to exploit our tendency to make comparisons to ourselves, elevating some people and things, while seeing others as lesser relative to us or to some ideal we hold. The height and polish of a judge’s bench, a king’s gilded and throne on its dais, and a cleric’s pulpit raised above the flock are all intentional ways of making it clear which of us has important things to say and who’s supposed to shut up and listen. We’re supposed to compare our relative positions, weighing ourselves from a physical disadvantage to the judge, the ruler, or the priest, accepting that they are up high and unique while we are down low and common. Of course, it’s logical to encourage respect for institutions and the exalted figures who represent them. However, it’s still a play on the predictable, subjective ways in which we determine our relative value. That imperial geometry extends into the architecture of those institutions too, making sure that we collectively never forget our places over time. We have to climb up from the common ground to reach high court buildings, palaces, and cathedrals. 


This relative value concept is compelling because we’re conditioned to make the requisite comparisons, but such subconscious surrender is not always healthy - nor is it inevitable. Think how the natural world presents places far grander than the ones we build for ourselves. The Grand Canyon, the ocean, the cosmos - all make us feel immaterial when we compare ourselves to them. But we feel inspired and whole when we see ourselves instead as part of them. The difference is that in comparing ourselves relative to these things, we are made insignificant; there’s just no way to measure up. But when we drop the comparisons and stop weighing and sizing ourselves against them, we are free to simply enjoy their wonder, to appreciate them for what they are in themselves rather than in how they compare to us. We become part of them.


Love is like that too. When we compare ourselves, our lives, or our loves to others, we start to think of some as either lesser or greater than our own, judging ours better than some and falling forever short of others. We thereby perceive and judge our lives and our loves through the filter of their relative defects. Eventually, we can come to see only the flaws, and are thereby doomed to chase an impossible perfection. Letting go of comparisons instead and not trying to measure or possess love as if it were a thing we could capture (an action verb) means that we can simply enjoy and appreciate it for what it is (a state of being) and see ourselves as part of it. We already know this on some innate level, which is why we don’t say, “I have caught love,” but “I am in love.” When that happens, an amazing thing follows: The entire notion of perfection in love becomes meaningless because there is no longer any external ideal against which it must be judged!


This is why Toni and I don’t commonly offer advice about love based on our work. People hungry for such advice are usually comparing themselves and their relationships to an ideal - their parents, Romeo and Juliet, Kermit and Miss Piggy - thinking there must be something they can do to make that magic happen, some secret to capturing it, rather than love being a part of who they already are. So long as those comparisons and ideals reign, they will never find what they think is “true love”, because ”truth” is slippery enough in itself, and love isn’t a thing anyone finds or keeps. It isn’t a beast to be hunted, a commodity exchanged between people, or an art that we can master over time. (Although practicing couldn’t hurt, I suppose.) It isn’t something we do, but a way that we can be. And when we “be” that together, we are in love.


My argument may not convince others, particularly those I might have lost with the grammar lesson. Still, I’m compelled to convince everyone that love is the most profound way we can be, and since it’s in all of us already, we are all innately worthy of the good things it brings. I have the same problem trying to convince people that God is love, bagpipes are beautiful, baseball is sexy, or that Star Trek remains the best thing on television. I will keep trying, though, because people deserve to know important things. Besides, there’s this amazing and beautiful woman who keeps proving my case by choosing to “be” with me.


And to that, nothing else compares.

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