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!

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Reiki: The Five Precepts (Gokai – 五 戒) – 3rd Precept: Gratitude

Just for today:
Don’t hold on to anger
Don’t focus on worry
Honor all those who came before
Work hard on self-improvement
Be kind to all living things
– Reiki Center App, Windows Phone

Now:
Peace
Faith
Gratitude
Actualization
Compassion
– My shortened mantra of the precepts


“I want”–there may be no more fundamental aspect of our psychology, or at least, our standard psychology of samsara. Freud placed the wanting aspect of the self as the original identity of the psyche. In doing so, he hardly broke the mold (no matter what the psychology or literature textbooks might lead you to think)–stealing from and echoing his precursors in Western philosophy, reaching all the way back to Plato. No, this position is not new or radical. Reading Plato’s “Phaedrus” will quickly disabuse the reader of any notion that Freud’s positions regarding the systems of the tripartite psyche or the driving nature of desires were revolutionary. He took a lot from Nietzsche, Plato, and his mentor, Charcot, at the very least. However, Freud succinctly identified a part of our experience with his descriptions of the id as primary: we feel driven through life by desire. In a certain sense, how could it be otherwise?

On another philosophical note, Aristotle’s entire system is about the becoming of things into their end product (a woefully quick and dirty summary that does not do full justice to this dynamic thinker). His physics and his understanding of behavior are teleological–that is, everything is oriented toward its telos: its goal, its fruition, its end. Desire drives us towards ends. For Aristotle, the end that all behavior aims at is happiness (eudaimonia–which is not quite the same as our standard understanding of “happiness” now; just as one swallow does not make a spring, for Aristotle, a fine moment does not make eudaimonia. Rather, eudaimonia is always in action, always in development through a well-lived life by sets of standards that cultivate excellence requiring an ongoing examination and engagement). We desire happiness and we act to move toward it.

Buddhism actually agrees that we all aim for happiness. However, and in a certain way Aristotle would agree: Buddhism thinks that we misunderstand happiness and its pursuit. True happiness is not to be found in the neverending chase of desire. As Zen Master Dainin Katagiri said, “Desires are endless.” How could we ever think that we could pin them all down just right to get an ongoing sensation of tickled nerves? It sounds silly, but that’s precisely what we do when we seek “happiness” as it is standardly understood. No, happiness is not that, Buddhism reveals; rather, it is finding joy in this moment, whatever arises. This doesn’t mean that we obliterate desire, as some people imagine when they envision a Buddhist monk. Hardly. Meditation and mindfulness are not about blotting out every thought and desire. That’s precisely why Katagiri Zenji said that desires are endless: it would be ridiculous to even posit blotting out the flow of thoughts as a path. Instead, we are supposed to see them arise one by one without investing in them and getting entangled with attachment. From a related perspective:

Desire that has no desire
is the Way.
Tao is the balance of wanting
and our not-wanting mind.
-Loy Ching-Yuen, The Book of the Heart: Embracing Tao

Such a path takes a lifetime of training the mind, or rather, it’s an ongoing engagement of a present mind in every moment. Every moment is a journey, walking the way with mindfulness. With cultivation, the happiness of being simply what one is comes forth instead of the ongoing chase after what one wants to be (or have), the anxious flight from what one does not want to face, and the hazy-eyed ignorance of the ways of the universe. As Dōgen Zenji would remind us–every moment is a miracle; miracles are not the grand, crazy moments when huge desires are fulfilled, fears avoided, or laws of nature superceded. On the contrary, every moment is a miracle–even the mundane annoyances like washing the dishes.

A key first step to finding the miracle that is in every moment is cultivating gratitude. Usui-sensei’s 3rd precept tells us to be grateful, and perhaps, its position as the 3rd of 5 precepts, the middle precept, is no accident, as it is the heart of practice. In fact, the precepts are meant to be recited while holding the hands together in the pose of “Gassho” (have a look at my original post on the Reiki precepts for a refresher on this). This gesture is an expression of gratitude. So, as we recite all the precepts, they are framed by this gesture, and this precept of gratitude stands in the middle of each recitation–its beating heart.

The Reiki center app translates this precept as “Honor all those who came before”. True gratitude does not lie in the hazy avoidance of averting your gaze from that which you don’t want to see/admit. That’s merely bad faith. Instead, gratitude sees this moment in all its particulars, all of the conditions at play in it–arising and disappearing, just as they are. “Whatever arises”. True gratitude honors all of these current conditions as well as all of the conditions that came before–the causes and precursors to now, necessarily entangled with this moment. True gratitude is grateful for this unfolding karmic situation, no matter whether “I” like “it” or not.

Again, the moment of washing dishes deserves our gratitude just as much as the moment of a bite of ice cream that made those dishes dirty. Seeing the entire karmic unfolding of each moment and smiling at it, whatever arises, that’s our true path to happiness. If we can even begin to do this for just a few minutes a day as Usui prescribed (30 minutes in the morning and the evening: “Do gassho [the hand position of gratitude and blessing in Buddhism–hands held in front of neck/face with palms together] every morning and evening, keep in your mind and recite” (Steine, The Japanese Art of Reiki”)), we’ll find that there is truth to what he said about the precept recitation practice: it’s a key to health and happiness. This practice can truly grant “happiness through many blessings”. The heart of this happiness beats with the pulse of gratitude.


Buddhist lore states that the Buddha taught the precious opportunity of having a human life. His parable: imagine a planet that is covered by one giant ocean. On the ocean, a wooden yoke floats in the water, tossing violently to and fro with the ebb and flow of the ocean’s waves. A blind turtle swims in the ocean and rises to the surface once every 100 years. Being born as a human being is even more unlikely than the blind turtle rising to the surface and sticking his head through the hole of the yoke by “blind” luck. The conditions of your life are greatly precious, and each moment is an opportunity to take up a path of enlightenment and compassion for all. If you see this preciousness instead of your myriad stories of “me” which are intertwined with a neverending web of desires, gratitude can open to the way things are, and action can be taken to walk this path with open eyes, knowing that the opportunity of this life–the chance to cultivate wisdom and compassion–is not permanent and could end at any time.

May this inspire you to gratitude for your precious life, and through the regular practice of reciting these precepts, may you find gratitude for the way things are as well as the true happiness that goes beyond the eternal game of fulfilling selfish desires.

Gassho!

Previous Reiki: The Five Precepts Post – 2nd Precept: Faith

Reiki: The Five Precepts (Gokai – 五 戒) – 2nd Precept: Faith

Just for today:
Don’t hold on to anger
Don’t focus on worry
Honor all those who came before
Work hard on self-improvement
Be kind to all living things
– Reiki Center App, Windows Phone

Now:
Peace
Faith
Gratitude
Actualization
Compassion
– My shortened mantra of the precepts


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At the end of my last post, I spoke of hope and fear as opposites rather than love and fear. This will open the door for the discussion of this precept and my interpretation of it as faith.

The more traditional translations of this precept are “Don’t focus on worry”, or more simply: “Don’t worry.” Worry and fear are closely related–anxiety and terror. Let’s use a couple sentences to see just how close these are in our conceptual/semantic/experiential space:

  1. I’m worried that I may have left the burner on at home.
  2. I’m afraid that I may have left the burner on at home.
  3. I worry that I might never find the love of my life.
  4. I fear that I might never find the love of my life.
  5. I’m worried about the spider across the room.
  6. I’m afraid of the spider across the room.
  7. I worry about my sister.
  8. I fear my sister.

The last few sentences were chosen to show where the similarities in our usage/semantics/experience diverge. #5 is ambiguous: am I afraid that the spider will come to get me, or am I concerned about its well-being (perhaps my roommate will notice it and smash it to bits, and I won’t be able to save it from such a squishy demise)? The last pair take this further to show that “worry about” can have the connotation of “concern” and “fear” does not make sense as a replacement. What do we see here? Being afraid of something is fear of it– an object is seen as a threat as in #6 (and #8???) or there is fear that the threat of an unwanted situation will arise: a “could” or “what if” type of hypothetical extension. In a sense, they are the same thing: an object as a threat is the potential “could” of that object harming us. That spider might come over and bite me! Being worried is similar in terms of the hypothetical extension. We worry about things that could go wrong (or could be going wrong/have gone wrong, depending on the situation). Again, there is an aversion to an unwanted situation. Even worry as concern holds this: we are worried about somebody because we think something bad may happen to them, may currently be happening to them, or may have happened to them. To summarize: this is all about aversion. Worry and fear are about experiencing things that we want to avoid. On a simple level, there is an aversion to being harmed or dying, and such fear can be helpful or good in the right circumstances, but there is a lot of aversion that pulls our monkey minds hither and thither, drawing us to continually react to the world as we think it is.

Now, let us compare hope. Again, let’s take up a few example sentences:

  1. I hope that he’ll show up on time!
  2. She held the hope of seeing her son again until the end of her days.
  3. He hopes that with practice he will improve.
  4. We’re hopeful that she’ll pull through.

I won’t compare these with the much more complicated and nebulous/term/concept/experience “love”, but both have to do with desire (as I mentioned at the end of my last post). Notice how clearly hope stands in contrast to fear/worry: I hope for a desired situation to come to be. Again, in a “could”/”what if” hypothetical extension, I look toward what could be this time with desire instead of aversion. These are things that I want to happen rather than don’t want to happen.

Pointing out these general motivations of desire and aversion is intentional. From the Buddhist analysis (remember here that Usui-sama was a Tendai Buddhist priest), the three roots of suffering (“dukkha“: suffering is the standard translation, but it does not capture the full range of meaning in the original word) are desire, aversion, and ignorance. You could say that desire and aversion spring from ignorance. This ignorance is not ignorance in the sense of being unaware of another’s virtues, equalities, etc. or being unaware of an idea, i.e. uneducated or closed-minded. This ignorance, in contrast, is a basic confusion about existence. It is the groundwork of delusion–the opposite of enlightenment. The push and pull of our desire and aversion, two mundane aspects of our existence that send our monkey mind running back and forth are rooted in an underlying misunderstanding of the way things are. For further description, see Chögyam Trungpa’s The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation

With these considerations of Buddhist analysis in mind, we return to the precept; “Don’t worry” gets us beyond the ego-laden motivations of desire and aversion. “Don’t worry” also implies “Don’t hope”. In hoping for an outcome, there is always the attached possibility that it won’t turn out to be. Worry carries the same hope that the bad thing won’t happen, albeit a small shadow under the impending doom. “Don’t worry” tells us not to reach out with energy about how things could happen, one way or the other. Rather, we should be right here in now: seeing and accepting all just as it is and trusting the process of unfolding.

Thus, I changed the precept into “faith” as a shortened version. Having faith in this sense is not about believing in salvation through a higher power. Rather, faith is a fundamental trust in and acceptance of the world just as it is. Here, faith is an affirmation of the world in its glory and mystery, its agony and ecstasy, its banality and wonder. Faith is both the way of the bodhisattva who seeks enlightenment for all and the stillness of the Sage who cultivates Te in accordance with Tao.

The simple injunction of “Don’t Worry,” calls us to be present to the world and to pursue it as practitioners with acceptance of our place in it, with faith; getting past hope and fear–the ego’s pulls of desire and aversion. Let your desire be to practice well–cultivating true happiness and spiritual health–and to help all sentient beings achieve peace and enlightenment. Let your aversion be the various traps and pitfalls of ego’s constant attempts to turn even the noblest of intentions into self-aggrandizement and the stagnant cocoon of I, me, and mine.

May this inspire your own faith.
Gassho!

Previous Reiki: The Five Precepts Post – 1st Precept: Peace
Next Reiki: The Five Precepts Post – 3rd Precept: Gratitude

Flowers Fall

“Therefore, flowers fall even though we love them. Weeds grow even though we dislike them.” – Dōgen Zenji (trans. Okumura)

1866-Pink-Flowers-Fallen-(www.WallpaperMotion.com)

Out of the many pains that we experience in life, the most stinging and most common are losing what we want and getting what we don’t want. This happens on levels both great and small everyday. Beloved flowers fall–beautiful moments end, friends move away, the sun sets, and you eat that last bite of ice cream. Despised weeds grow–you get sick, bills come, cold, grey weather sets in, and you realize the only ice cream the store has is that other, gross flavor.

So, what do we do? The point is not to give up desire completely. Desire is also what drives us to seek enlightenment, to strive to help others, and to get out of bed each day. However, we would do well to let go of attachment to having everything go the way we want: let go of the gratification of those grasping desires. Ask yourself: is that really happiness? To collect a life of fulfilled desires and avoided aversions? Can you find peace and joy with the world as it is and try to help others find that peace and joy as well? Can you pursue that instead of pushing your own agenda first and foremost in the pursuit of happiness even if others burn in your wake? Perhaps happiness is not something you can “get” at all, and such grasping to get all external circumstances just right is a fundamentally deluded idea of what it is to be happy. Pause. Meditate. Connect. Love. Try these things, and you may find within yourself the seed of a true happiness beginning to grow alongside those weeds and fallen flowers.

May this help you find equanimity, non-attachment, and skillful action in the pains of desire.
Gassho

See also: Tao a Day — Verse 26, Inner Virtues for a Taoist take on how to cultivate such internal stability, peace, and joy.