“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Have you ever fallen in love? Like, really been in love?
I’m a little ashamed to admit I haven’t.
Not exactly, anyway.
Recently though, I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life—one that I had previously challenged myself to learn, but always seemed to fall short of actually getting.
You can ask just about anyone who knows me how they would describe me, and they would say I’m “sweet.” Although I can have an edge and intensity that some find intimidating at first, “Sweet Tara” and “Angel Tara” are monikers that I have frequently received over the years. I’m compassionate. I mother people, and am often called “Mother Tara” at work, because I make sure my coworkers are taken care of, especially the girls who are a few years younger. Strangers frequently tell me of their deepest sorrows, and I am a receptacle for their pain. I receive it and bring them a measure of solace. I listen. I’m quick to smile (or make goofy faces), and quick to put a smile on the faces of others. I am known to be honest and capable of talking frankly about my life and past.
I believe I know something about love and loving others. Yet, I’m beginning to understand that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The poetry of Rumi and Hafiz frequently speaks to the necessity of vulnerability, the responsibility inherent in an individual to allow for love.
The modern day researcher Brene Brown, however, is the woman to bring science to vulnerability through her ten years of studying “vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame.”
To her, vulnerability is not only “the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change,” but also “our most accurate measurement of courage.”
She really hits the nail on the head here: “excruciating vulnerability, this idea of: in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.”
She gives “cred” to what I have long felt: vulnerability and surrender are keys to love.
The most pertinent questions (for me) are: Can I fully surrender to life and love? Do I really know about vulnerability? Can I let love in?
The answer: Not quite yet, but that is the goal.
When it comes to male/female love and vulnerability, I just don’t go there. I’ve had relationships, yes, but the whole falling madly in love thing? It’s like I can’t let myself. In some ways I want it more than anything, yet I’m not really capable of the love I desire, because the love I desire (and the vulnerability it requires) is terrifying!
Recently, though, I came closer than I ever have to allowing myself to be vulnerable in that way.
I met someone. In many ways, he embodied the mate I had long wished for.
Not only did we share joys and interests, we also approached life with a similar curiosity and innocence—“Wow! Did you see that shooting star?!” There was an uncanny underlying connection. We had this sweet link: he would buy bread when I was about to buy it, and be craving what I was about to cook; I could pull a number out of his head for Pete’s sake! We both felt better, physically and emotionally, in each other’s presence, and there was a tenderness I had never known with anyone else—I had never felt so at home in someone’s arms.
Most beautiful of all: we could be in silence together, and there was nothing needed to fill it. The silence was full. Well, there’s that, and when he cooked, well, no one’s cooking, save my mother’s, has ever nourished me so deeply—major props on the cooking! It was a link, a kind of closeness I’d waited much of my life to experience.
For better or worse, I will hold each new connection up to that, gauging how it measures.
It’s sort of hard to imagine how two people can tear apart a nifty connection like that, but oh yes, they can. In record time, too!
Two terrified and stubborn people can do a bang-up job of shredding the most beautiful tapestry.
I’ll speak for myself: I was terrified (and, yes, obstinate can be a word used to describe me.) I felt more vulnerable than I ever have, and I did not want to admit (to myself or him) that I was falling in love. That would have meant being more vulnerable, and, well, I’m stubborn, prideful and attached to my independence. He really got under my skin, and how could I even fully fess up to it?
Because the connection was so strong, it forced me into a place of vulnerability I’m unaccustomed to, and it touched places in me that had been long left in the dark, some of them ugly traumas of the past, re-awakened in the memory of my body. I wasn’t ready for that Pandora’s box. It overcame me.
Seeking safety from my own fears, I wanted to shape him and the relationship into something that felt safe, something I could understand and control.
But that was not the nature of the connection. The connection was there to break me open, to make me more vulnerable than I have ever been, and being broken open never feels, well, safe. It ain’t comfy.
In each other’s presence, it was clear—we just meshed. But in the space between, the demons did their dirty work.
So, I found myself frequently pointing the finger outwards to his fear of love and commitment. Yes, his fear was very real, but what would have happened if I’d taken a good hard look at my own? What if I’d stared deeply, honestly into the mirror he was holding up for me? What if I had looked in at that wounded little girl there, terrified of being torn apart, abandoned? What if I had not hardened my own heart, even in little ways? What if I’d really looked at how scary it is to imagine committing myself to this one person who, because of how close they come to my heart, could hurt me so deeply?
Who knows. They say hindsight is 20/20. Maybe I would have simply spontaneously combusted (I’m pretty sure I just wasn’t yet calibrated for that much intensity.) But these are valuable questions to ask as I move forward.
So, needless to say, as quickly as the connection was there, it was gone. I was left feeling like a lightning bolt had rocketed through me. I was left seeing what I had found and lost, seemingly in an instant. I was left with an ache bigger than I could have imagined.
Loss has a transformative power all its own.
When it comes to endings, I have either tried to make something work that really wasn’t working, or I would use my negative feelings and memories to eclipse the sweetness, so I wouldn’t have to completely face feeling the force of loss.
With him I did the former, wrestling with the reality that it just wasn’t working at that given time. I pushed for something. Anything. I tried to figure it all out with my mind.
I squirmed in discomfort, as I felt something precious slipping away—not just the person I cared for, but something more familiar and prized—control.
Then, I did the latter, as I had often done. Pride kicked in, and I put him in a little box labeled “shit-head” (or something like that). I began to shut him out of my heart, reminding myself of all the things that didn’t work, all the things that baffled and hurt me. But, imagine this! That didn’t feel good, either! Something shifted inside me—I couldn’t approach loss that way anymore; I’ve made a commitment to myself and life to not only live as true to myself as I can, but to live with a heart as open as I can bear at any given time. So, what to do?
One night I curled up with my journal and wrote down as many of the things I love about this person as I could, as well as how some of these things helped me. I wrote as though to him, directly. I wrote until my lids could no longer hold themselves open and sleepy tears ran down my cheeks.
I wrote simple things like how I love the way his mouth fits around his teeth—I could stare at those shapes for days.
I wrote more complex, emotionally based things, too, and the writing came near its closure with:
“I love how afraid you are of loving and being loved, for your fear reminds me of my own. It reminds me of the wounds I am just learning to make peace with, the wounds I am beginning to see will heal in time. Your fear reminds me of this unifying thing: we are all here to learn about love, to learn how to break down the barriers within and between us that keep love away.”
It’s strange, in consciously recalling the things I love and had lost, the ache I felt ebbed, rather than increased. Though there was still the visceral and emotional pain, what began to fill me was a great openness and gratitude.
This openness changed me, reached into nearly every aspect of my life.
I did not forget what didn’t work.
I didn’t spend all my time wishing for something that just wasn’t happening—I just allowed for the love to be there, the longing to be there.
It changed me, and is still changing me. I am freer now. I have more clarity.
Again, Brown has something to say: “Vulnerability pushed. I pushed back. I lost the fight, but probably won my life back.”
I had always felt that when we cut someone from our heart, we do ourselves an incredible disservice; we cut out a valuable part of ourselves and our past. We dishonor the other. We dishonor what they brought to us.
I want to live a life of honor. I want to live a life that is honest.
Still, I had never been so tested.
A few other losses have helped to open me, including the passing of a beloved family member. But, there is something unnatural about cutting off communication with someone who is still on the earth. Granted, it happens all the time, it’s just harder to wrap my brain around.
Paul Simon once wrote: “Losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart.”
I’d always had too much pride to allow myself to be truly blown apart. And allowing for this vulnerability, allowing for the love and the pain to coexist, requires a great deal of strength.
But this was the gift: I was called to make that choice. Closed? Or open?
Love is a choice.
In this instance, choosing love didn’t mean allowing myself to fully love this person during our brief relationship, but in the end, it meant coming to the place where I am learning that love is not something I can control or pretend isn’t there.
It is something I can choose to allow for.
I can choose to allow it to shape me better than I know how to myself. Like the tide, it’s better if we work with it; then it can bless us with its fierce strength. Sailors know this wisdom well. Perhaps my will is the little ship, and the ocean my heart; we will learn to have a great relationship, one where that willful little ship knows it cannot be in control, but can work with the forces that are present.
Everyday I have to make that choice. Closed or open? When the ache returns and regret comes to the surface, I have to ask myself: how do I really want to live my life? Will I close myself off? Or can I just sail the currents of love and longing that run beneath the pain? Can I sail, even, the pain? If I am courageous enough, I can continue to surrender and let the process of sailing this experience transform me, storms and all.
So, did I fall in love? Yes, really, I did.
Although it did not turn into what I wanted, and perhaps still want, I know this new openness, this new freedom will help me the next time I am ready to enter into a relationship. My heart blossoming out toward the world, my increasing willingness to work with what is, is a gift I cannot return.
Now I feel this innocent little girl who is a part of me. She knows how to be fully joyous and fully vulnerable. She knows how to guide that ship pretty well, because she doesn’t try too hard. She still remembers the wisdom of simplicity. She listens to the ocean, feels it, tests the wind, and acts with deep knowing. Many of her wounds will also be waiting in Pandora’s box. All will be waiting there for the next time I’m called to deep vulnerability, the next call to sail my ship somewhere that’s a little scary, to the shores of love.
Within a few days of writing my “let me count the ways” list of things I love about the fellow I lost, I came across a poem from Hafiz.
This is what I will leave you with:
The Past’s Lips
Why not look at the beauty your memory holds,
So nourishing that light can be.
The past’s lips are not deceased.
Let them comfort you
Tara Rose Crist is a music junkie, yoga junkie, equestrian, lover of the outdoors and deep ecology, bees and nurturing things (like plants and humans). Her academic background is in Literature and Creative Writing, and these days the written word serves purely as a vehicle for expression and tool for self-exploration. It also seems like a good way to reach other people’s hearts, and she’s pretty sure that reaching other people’s hearts is a worthwhile undertaking!
Editor: April Dawn Ricchuito
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