Love, Rebounds, & Relationships: Part 4–“The Love of My Life”

“The Love of my life” is a familiar term–the person who stands as the greatest inspiration of (romantic?) love in a lifetime. It is the superlative relationship, partner, or desired. The Beloved. Perhaps, we cannot help but think in such comparative of superlative terms, yet in this post, I hope to call this label and evaluation into question to some extent.

In one of my last face to face conversations with my ex, I told her that I was afraid that she was the Love of my life and that I would spend the rest of my life looking back at her and our time together. She batted away such concerns and said that I would find someone else who would be amazing–with such certainty as though it were verified as a scientific constant. Writing this now, both stances seem so black and white, and this is precisely why we were both wrong.

I was wrong because it’s silly to worry so intensely about something that is totally uncertain. There’s absolutely no way for me to say whether she’s the love of my life or whether I’ll die tomorrow–what lies in the future is unknown to me. I’ll be able to say for sure who the greatest Love in my life was with my dying breath, but before that, life can and will unfold as it will. It’s not something to feel such fear about.

She was wrong precisely because she also can’t say what will happen with such certainty. There are simply some things that will never happen again in life. For instance, I ran a 4:34 mile in high school. Even if I trained really hard every day for a year, I doubt that I’m physically capable of doing this again. I’m a bit too old now–that time has passed. Likewise, I might search the rest of my life and never find another person who sparks feelings of romantic Love like she did, or maybe, I will have a chain of lackluster relationships despite trying my best in each, or… There’s simply no way to say what will happen, but it’s a definite possibility that some high point in my life is over. Again, who’s really to say until it’s all over? Until then, life can and will unfold as it will.

Worrying about whether someone is the Love of your life or continually thinking that that person is out there somewhere to be found is living in a hypothetical realm, a fantasy world in which you can compare and evaluate your whole life, yet underneath this lie those simple samsaric elements that drive so much of our activity: desire and aversion. In one version, we’re afraid of losing what we have now–aversion–so we cling to it. In another, we’re tired of what we have and want something else. We hope that it’s out there and run toward this hope–desire. Of course, the second can be a bit more of a mixture of desire for something else and aversion regarding the familiar. Pop advice says that “hope” is better, but they both drive the same game and keep us locked in fear of/hope for the life we don’t have.

That is the ultimate silliness of this entire thing. You are always who you are in this moment–not in the past or the future. We may yearn for or fear the changes that come, as nothing (not even atoms, according to science) lasts forever. However, we fear change or run towards new changes in order to have something that we want to hold onto–something that if we try just hard enough will defy this one absolute law of flux. Basically, at the heart of all this is a yearning for or fear of death, yet each moment is born and dies, passing by without our notice much of the time. We would do better to welcome life as it comes and be open to it no matter what arises, rather than getting lost in comparisons of “my ideal life”.

So, is the person you’re with the “Love of your Life”? Don’t worry about it, one way or the other. The one thing that is certain is that your relationship with him/her will end–no matter what; even if it’s just the ending of death due to old age 70 years from now. That end could come at any time, so treat them with love, kindness, intimacy, and appreciation now. Don’t get trapped in comparisons with the future that might be or the past that was. Those are dreams of whimsy or nostalgia. Be here now. Be with your partner. Treat him/her with love and work towards a future of growth, wisdom, compassion, and truth together, and at the end of it all, that person may just be the Love of your Life. You can’t say till then. You never know, one way or the other…

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May this bring you the courage to be present in your romantic relationships and light them up with wisdom and compassion. May this ground you, rather than allowing you to float in the samsara of fantastic or nostalgic comparison.

Gassho!

Love, Rebounds, and Relationships: Part 3 – Love and Metaphysics

When I first started writing these posts on love, I was confounded in part by a friend’s post. There was some shared comment about Love being everywhere with some sort of sentiment that everything is all beautiful, shiny, good. While I don’t want to vouch for negativity and be a naysayer, there was something disconnected and starry-eyed about the whole thing. It felt just as unrealistic as someone being very jaded and nihilistic. Such odd emotional feedback on my end as a reader gave me pause, and I thought about why it felt so … off. This post will examine the thoughts I came to.

In the two previous posts on Love, I’ve challenged some of the ways that the word is used and understood. Specifically, I’ve questioned the idea of Love as some sort of completion of self through the Other, and I’ve also questioned the seeming simplicity of the concept, trying to show that it’s a mysteriously deep experience for us to investigate.

To move forward with this post, I have to back-pedal just a bit. There is clearly a core to the experience of love despite the complexity that I have previously outlined. That core is a positivity. To love is to feel some sort of positive connection, a positive regard toward the loved. I think that that captures the core idea of love. From such a simple definition, hate–a negative refusal of something–is the opposite. This simple distinction is utterly familiar: Love–ultimate Good; Hate–ultimate Bad. This is one of the most basic dualities.

This is why vapidly saying that everything is Love without clarification sounds so checked out. Furthermore, I suppose that part of that feeling for me was knowing about and having received a lot of vitriol and negativity from this person regarding her life. “Everything is Love” is not the case just because you’ve turned your eyes away from the parts of existence you don’t like. Those things continue to exist.

No matter how you spin it there are numerous things in life that most would consider bad. There’s loss in its myriad guises, including death. There’s rape and murder. There are myriad diseases that eat your insides in misery like ebola or grow and slowly turn your body into a defiled ball of pain like cancer. The world is full of traffic jams, inconsiderate people, obnoxious sounds, putrid smells, headaches, natural disasters, injured pets, screaming children, petty revenge, and the dog shit you stepped in on your way to work. This list could go on much, much longer. There’s a reason that theologians have struggled with questions regarding why this is the world we have with all its pain and suffering, with all of these “bad” things if God is all powerful and all Good. This is a conundrum that shouldn’t readily be tossed aside by a simplistic usage of words.

I will do my best to address the problem. Love is indeed everywhere, but not like the relative understanding we have. Love is not everywhere in the sense of everything being positive, good things for us to like, or that are beneficial for us. It may come as a surprise, but it’s a truth you should come to terms with, and the sooner, the better: the Universe with its billions of years of existence and trillions of stars is not about you and what you like. It’s not here to make you happy, and it has no concept of good and bad that it uses to order existence. Again, to return to the point, Love is everywhere, but that’s because everything that exists does exist. If there is any animating metaphysical principle, it has brought this universe into existence out of some sort of intention, some sort of desire for it to be so. This is Love. It is an unfolding of that which wants to be, that which loves to become. This is Love without any duality of good and bad. It includes your highest moment of ecstasy and the most excruciating physical pain you’ve endured, your favorite dessert and that dog shit you stepped in. It is both far more profound and more mundane than any of the dualistic ways we think of love. From a metaphysical standpoint, we can take Aristotle’s famous culmination of his Metaphysics as the principles of the Universe being “Thought thinking itself” and change it into “Love loving itself”.

One thing that a meditation practice aims to get past is the dualistic way we see the world. With the prajna of our awakened and engaged perspective, we can get a sight of this absolute Love that is unfolding around us all the time beyond our more self-interested and relative concepts of Love–the Love of the wanting self.

May all who read this see and find Love.
Gassho


Kahir, the fifteenth-century Sufi poet, writes, “The universe is shot through in all parts by a single sort of love.” This love is what we long for. When we bring Radical Acceptance to the enormity of desire, allowing it to be as it is, neither resisting it nor grasping after it, the light of our awareness dissolves the wanting self into its source. We find that we are naturally and entirely in love. Nothing is apart or excluded from this living awareness.

Over the next few days, each time I opened deeply to the force of longing, I was filled with a refreshed and unconditional appreciation for all of life. In the afternoons I would go outside after sitting and walk in the snowy woods. I found a sense of belonging with the great Douglas firs, with the chickadees that landed and ate seeds from my hands, with the layered sounds of the stream as it flowed around ice and rocks. … When we don’t fixate on a single, limited object of love, we discover that the wanting self dissolves into the awareness that is love loving itself. — Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha pp. 154-155.

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Love, Rebounds, and Relationships: Part 2 – Love as a Word and as a Concept

Disclaimer: I wrote most of this section some time ago but have found it difficult to return to and post. It’s a continuation of the previous post with the same title Part 1. This post expands in a very philosophical direction – giving a terse analysis of our understanding of words and concepts and how these influence our experiences and understanding of them. In particular, this is about our concept/experience of Love. This will likely be my longest post thus far, and I plan to post more on the topic of Love in the near future. Please read through this post and write any comments or questions. Thank you, fellow negotiators of the Way. Deepest gratitude to you all!


In my discussion of Love, I’ve tried to emphasize the sense of “I”, ego or identity, that comes into play. Yet, I would argue that identity, who we “are“, if we really “are” anything (by this, I mean being something permanent. This is precisely what is at stake with much speak of “who I am” – being an entity: identity), is a conceptual core of what we understand of Love. It is hardly an open-ended experience; rather, in being involved in our own personal narratives and expression, it is a conceptually interpreted, filtered, and compiled experience. In fact, much of philosophy would question how it could be otherwise. We have a small conundrum here related to the philosophy of language. The concept of Love is hardly as clear or concrete as something like the concept of “chair”, so our understanding and usage of it allows for a lot of variance, slippage, and ambiguity. This may seem a contrived position, but with some observation and personal experience, such hesitation doesn’t hold. In recent times, I’ve read others’ writings about Love and its significance, but in trying to read into and understand what they were saying about life and Love from their statements, it was not clear at all beyond the initial knee-jerk of perceived understanding–of a preliminary, personal interpretation. Was it speaking of acceptance? Gratitude? Emotional support? Joy? Compassion? It really was unclear. All of these ideas and more can find their place in our concept of Love. However, in speaking with friends, it seems that one person to another varies in their understanding of what Love is based on their own experiences, upbringing, and likely, education. In a sense, we could all benefit from the investigations a The Symposium of our own. To return to the philosophy of language at this juncture, I take these immediately preceding comments and follow them with these snippets from Stanley Cavell’s The Claim of Reason. I quote them at length because of his deeper insight and mastery of this philosophical approach as well as the very human implications in his expression of these issues:

Consider an older child, one ignorant of, but ripe for a pumpkin (knows how to ask for a name, what a fruit is, etc.). When you say “That is a pumpkin,” we can comfortably say that this child learns what the word “pumpkin” means and what a pumpkin is. There may still be something different about the pumpkins in his world; they may, for example, have some unknown relation to pumps (the contrivances or the kind of shoe) and some intimate association with Mr. Popkin (who lives next door), since he obviously has the same name they do. But that probably won’t lead to trouble, and one day the person that was this child, may for some reason, remember that he believed these things had these associations when he was a child. (And does he then stop believing or having them?) And we can also say: When you “I love my love” the child learns the meaning of the word “love” and what love is. That (what you do) will be love in the child’s world; and if it is mixed with resentment and intimidation, then love is a mixture of resentment and intimidation, and when love is sought that will be sought. … To summarize what has been said about this: In “learning language” you learn not merely what the names of things are, but what a name is; not merely what the form of expression is for expressing a wish, but what expressing a wish is; not merely what the word for “father” is, but what a father is; not merely the word for “love” is, but what love is. In learning language, you do not merely learn the pronunciation of sounds and their grammatical orders, but the “forms of life” which make those sounds the words they are, do what they do – e.g., name call, point, express a wish or affection, indicate a choice or an aversion, etc. And Wittgenstein sees the relations among these forms as “grammatical” also. Instead, then, of saying either that we tell beginners what words mean or that we teach them what objects are, I will say: We initiate them into the relevant forms of life held in language and gathered around the objects and persons of our world. pp. 176-178

This passage gives a clear background of what happens in learning a language–we learn the usage of words in a very particular way, a very human way that resonates in our lives. We learn not just the word for love, but what love is. In other words, our understanding of it as a part of the world is shaped and imprinted in us. It is a conceptual-experiential background to our engagement with our lives and world. With this in mind, compare these ideas about learning forms of life in learning language to the following passage about another imagined child’s difficulty in learning “kitty”:

But although I didn’t tell her, and she didn’t learn, either what the word “kitty” means or what a kitty is, if she keeps leaping and I keep looking and smiling, she will learn both. I have wanted to say: Kittens–what we call “kittens–do not exist in her world yet, she has not acquired the forms of life which contain them. They do not exist in something like the way cities and mayors will not exist in her world until long after pumpkins and kittens do; or like the way God or love or responsibility or beauty do not exist in our world; we have not mastered, or we have forgotten, or we have distorted, or learned through fragmented models, the forms of life which could make utterances like “God exists” or “God is dead” or “I love you” or “I cannot do otherwise” or “Beauty is but the beginning of terror” bear all the weight they could carry, express all they could take from us. We do not know the meaning of the words. We look away and leap around. pp. 172-173

The most complicated concepts/experiences/forms of life will always be somewhat ineffable or at least overflow the limits of our expression. We speak of Love as a self-evident word, but with a moment of pause, it is clearly anything but. We can throw out a whole barrage of related concepts such as acceptance, support, desire, compassion, concern, care, deep want, reverence, adoration, nurturing, gratitude… None of these alone, nor all of them together, exhaust the myriad complexity of Love. They clearly point the way to some shared notes, some of the core intricacy of one of the most sought and expressed human experiences. However, Love remains so familiar and powerful yet so impossible to express; it is like using words to express the most profound piece of artwork you’ve ever experienced. No matter how elaborate the expression, our concepts come up short, fragmented, and ultimately, without that pause to see this slippage or difficulty of reference in our language, we can get too wrapped up in our very words. We fall into holding on to our expression as Truth with certainty that we know precisely the full weight of our expressions, unlike the profoundly eye-opening statements of Cavell above. If we can’t see the fundamental inexpressibility of our most human, complex, what I might even call “sacred” (in a very Buddhist sense of the dynamically profound unfolding of the absolutely real in this moment) experiences, then we cling to concepts as definitions–as forms of certainty rather than as placeholders, as forms of wonder.

Such a deep word…

In overlooking this inexpressibility, we fall into the fragmentary forms of life that Cavell describes in the first quote: love as tinted with resentment and indignation due to the learning of a Word, that is: of a concept as certain. It takes little pause to realize that Love is not nearly as certain, in the sense of clearly definable, as “chair”, “rock”, or “book”. We haven’t quite learned its form of life. If you think about it, this explains a lot about the apparent oddities in others behavior and moreover reasoning related to Love. Here then, in closing a chapter, a proposition: we want to understand Love, and as such, we’re quick to use this word without hesitation, but ultimately, these expressions don’t “express all they could take from us” (Cavell). This isn’t meant to say that these words are pointless or that they refer to nothing. Rather, they refer to something that defies a ready conceptual understanding, a form of life that overflows with meaning. As such, speak carefully, and to really understand these aspects of existence, open yourself to surprise, wonder, and uncertainty. Meditate rather than declare. In order to know, be ready to learn rather than thinking that you’ve already got it in saying that “Love is X” (in this I mean that you can’t pin it down simply as one thing). So, we have another challenge to our myth of completion and identity; here we have an embrace of the hyper-abundance that can’t quite be pinned down. In returning to the premise of identity from the beginning, a challenge: what do such musings about words, concepts, and forms of life bring to bear on “I am X” or “I”?

Love, Rebounds, and Relationships: Part 1–Moving On?

Disclaimer: This is something I actually started writing quite some time ago (the date in my journal is a month ago to the day). This topic grew and unfolded in many different directions from the original inspiration as I started putting it on the page. Due to this prodigious growth, I’m going to break this up into pieces, trying to focus each post on different aspects of this topic that I want to discuss. The first piece is about rebounds, primarily, having recently gone through a breakup and seeing people’s ideas and reactions about moving on. Sometimes they are geared toward grabbing the next person who comes along. This will be discussed alongside a discussion of our conceptualizations of romantic love and all the hidden issues that lie in those unanalyzed concepts. I aim to present a more mindful approach to yourself and Love in these posts.


A common maxim proclaims that there is no better way to get over the last than by getting under the next. Yet, what is the draw of a rebound? Why is it both a sought remedy and a denigrated followup to a broken heart?

Heartbreak challenges our ideas of ourselves and our world. Suddenly, a shared companion in the adventures of life, in your perspective, and in your memories is gone. There’s a hole. This absence is almost palpable, like an aching scar after a piece of oneself has been removed. Everything–and I mean almost every moment–makes it ache. You yearn for the ache to subside, and the easiest way is to cover up that hole–that lack, that ache–with something else, or in this case, someone else.

Furthermore, this pain is the loss of an entire way of life, a path into a now lost future. Where there once was a “we”, there is now just an “I”. Now, you are left alone with a broken idea of partnership, with that of a feeling incomplete, again as though a part of your identity had been removed, as though part of your story had been cut off. Is this identity crisis and this idea of love/partnership so painful that we must rush to find that completion elsewhere, even if only temporarily, until the edge has worn off?

I think that there is something to be said for being present to the pain of this loss–facing it head on. Covering it over with someone else is a band-aid, a denial of the pain of this moment. Psychological research speaks of the five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. Moving on to someone else right away may seem like acceptance, a quickening of the grieving process, but it’s really a refusal to look back and feel. It’s a denial of the old loss through the replacement of a new gain. Perhaps, it’s no surprise that from my experience, rebounders act either as though their previous relationship never existed, or they are still tied up in knots about it and can’t stop talking about it if they start.

Under all of this discussed so far is the problem of identity (as I’ve previously pointed at our personal story in the experience). If you observe the way people talk about romantic love and how they seek it, it’s primarily about ego identity. A narrative of completion of one’s self in the Other lies at the core of so much talk about “Love” (here capitalized to emphasize our concept of it: Love as an idea, a placeholder of sorts while we investigate, and of course, we mean romantic love). We look for salvation, completion, rescue, and an ultimate, intimate connection–a holy communion– with the Other in Love. As such, Aristophanes’ depiction of Love as finding your other half to realize an original but now lost wholeness is so familiar. It’s human, all too human. From this familiar notion, Love is approached often as a communal “I” (We as one) or as another person who completes “me”, who fulfills many aspects of who “I am” and makes me whole. The continuation of the search and the desire for completion in the other is a bolstering of the story of “me”, the drama of ego. There’s a search here for certainty when life shows its uncertain, dynamic, unfolding nature–a sacred chaos of emergence. We seek an “I am” here in the arms of another, and this is completely understandable given the expression of the experience of loss that I have shared here. However, the confusion in this is that these experiences of pain and loss reflect on an underlying truth about my “self”: the dynamics of change are taken as a threat to my “self” as some set entity, when they are in fact, an expression of it–an unfolding, a time-being. The confusion is precisely around this idea of lacking something, no matter how much pain and desire for things to be otherwise may make it feel that way. The search for love as completion of myself with my “other half” is often denigrated, with the response: “I am already a whole person”. However, this duality of whole vs. incomplete merely continues the problem of ego. “I” am neither “whole” nor “incomplete” in their standard senses of needing or not needing more to be something. I already am sacred and luminous, neither “whole” in the sense of “perfect” or “incomplete” in the sense of “lacking something”. I am whole and perfect in the sense that I am precisely what I am in this moment, a particular configuration of conditions with the possibility of awareness and present, active compassion, yet this is always going to be pulled and covered over to some extent by my desire to not feel pain, to not suffer, to cover over that which I don’t want to face. As such, there is great value in standing present for the pain of losing a partner; it could be a moment for us to experience being awake to our lives as they are and acting from that open, tender place: a love which is not about my story, my self-bolstering, or my gratification–an active feeling and giving rather than the receptive filling of a lack. There’s no need for a rebound if you can be present to your own life as it is: not as you think it should be in your idealized concepts of yourself, Love, and what you “want”. Ultimately, this is about your relationship with yourself. Are you ready to look at that and question everything you take for granted? Are you ready to mindfully show up to your feelings and bring that into your next partnership, with whomever that may be? This is an invitation to actively embracing as I-You rather than the separation of I-It. You have the chance to gratefully feel the ebb and flow of your “self” with the beating of an open heart, but this requires the courage of staying present to those feelings and not running from them into an idea of completion and gratification: running into desire for pleasure rather than the love of your life, your fate, your world.

“We want to be perfect, but we just keep seeing our imperfections, and there is no room to get away from that, no exit, nowhere to run. That is when this sword turns into a flower. We stick with what we see, we feel what we feel, and from that we begin to connect with our own wisdom mind.

Without the maras, would the Buddha have awakened? Would he have attained enlightenment without them? Weren’t they his best friends ,since they showed him who he was and what was true? All the maras point the way to being completely awake and alive by letting go, by letting ourselves die moment after moment, at the end of each out-breath. When we wake up, we can live fully without seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, without re-creating ourselves when we fall apart. We can let ourselves feel our emotions as hot or cold, vibrating or smooth, instead of using our emotions to keep ourselves ignorant and dumb. We can give up on being perfect and experience each moment to its fullest. Trying to run away is never the answer to being a fully human being. Running away from the immediacy of our experience is like preferring death to life.

Looking at the arrows and swords, and how we react to them, we can always return to basic wisdom mind. Rather than trying to get rid of something or buying into a dualistic sense of being attacked, we take the opportunity to see how we close down when we’re squeezed. This is how we open our hearts. It is how we awaken our intelligence and connect with fundamental buddha nature.” – Pema Chödrön, “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”, p. 72.

It doesn’t need to be this way unless you keep playing a game that you are constantly trying to win.

Partnership

The lesson I’ve learned about love in the last few weeks is the wisdom of “love the one you’re with”.
You can either appreciate and affirm the partnership you have, or you can look for another.
The seduction of wanting another is in thinking that there are other people who complete you—people who readily match with you in all the important ways and with whom you have a deep connection as though the two of you were one twinned whole. This, however, is pure fantasy, the undying yearning of Aristophanes’ myth, yet human, all too human. It’s another iteration of the human desire for the completion of God, this time in the form of relationship.
Other partners, no matter who, will always have flaws, points of disconnection as well as connection, and all relationships will take work. None will be fully easy, and in my experience, even easy ones get hard over time – yearning for it to be otherwise is yearning for this easy completion, the twinned souls looking to become one. If you are looking for someone to make you feel this way, you probably need to work on your love for yourself.
Loving the one you are with, on the other hand, is not waiting for someone who will *make you feel* perfect, rather an engagement which acts out the feelings, acting your reactions—spilling them over into a hyperabundant embrace of the other person’s virtues and faults, warts and all. Only in enacting this embrace, this full, loving affirmation, can one truly see the beloved, enabling the ecstatic dissolution of I-You into real depth of soul. This is how one finds and enacts a deep soul connection with a partner. It’s not a passively felt emotion. It’s an ecstatic and compassionate act, not a feeling—an embrace beyond I and you, not a completion of you and me into one.