Are you in a loving relationship, or what amounts to a hostage situation?
Last week I published an article here on Elephant Journal entitled, “Christianity Through My Buddhist Eyes.” This article was an exploration of the Christian faith from a Buddhist point of view. In this post, I reduced the entire spectrum of Christian experience down to one basic truth: love.
I noted that the Christian tradition holds to the idea that God created “the heavens and earth.” In the beginning there was God, and the whole of creation poured fourth from this point. Christianity goes one step further, saying “God is love.” The Bible describes God’s resting place as the temple, and says that man is this temple. So, creation pours forth from God who is love and rests in man—
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
We are the Son of God, and forgetting this is original sin.
The article received quite a few comments, but there was a particular comment of interest to me. It came from Robin: “What do you think about romantic love based on what you’ve said about love here? Is it an illusion?”
So often writings on spirituality come off as vague and abstract. This is not necessarily a bad thing; they are just addressing a subject on a vague and abstract level. This post will be neither vague nor abstract! It will be a gritty look into the most common manifestation of love: romantic love.
Before we can address romantic love we need to know what we are addressing. Defining love is no small task. There are a few things we can say about it, but we would do well to start with what love ain’t…
Selfishness is the expression of ignorance.
Thomas Merton said in No Man is an Island, “A selfish love seldom respects the rights of the beloved to be an autonomous person. Far from respecting the true being of another and granting his personality room to grow and expand in its own original way, this love seeks to keep him in subjection to ourselves. It insists that he conform himself to us, and it works in every possible way to make him do so. A selfish love withers and dies unless it is sustained by the attention of the beloved… We seek to make pets of them, to keep them tame.”
Selfish love is an illusion because, it is not love! Selfish love is nothing more than a hostage situation. Relationships like this are based on fear and aggression. For reasons well beyond the scope of this article, a pervasive thread of discontentment sets the tone for such an affair. By discontentment I mean, the subtle feeling that something is broken or missing. This subtle feeling then motivates us to go out looking for a solution or that magical missing ingredient. Eventually boy meets girls, and we think we have found the answer…
When selfishness sets the mood, we are not in the relationship for the sake of the relationship; rather we are using the relationship as a solution to our problems. We have an awful lot invested in our partner slave. Instead of being an autonomous human being, our partner is seen as a precious commodity- something we can’t afford to lose because, without them we are lost. So we scan the environment for possible threats. Maybe we read their text messages a time or two, stalk them on Facebook, or subject them to a ruthless interrogation when they show up 10 minutes late. Perhaps we micromanage the affairs of our partner, or suppress their desire to pursue their goals for fear of losing them to the task. Whatever the case maybe, we do not see this person as our partner, but as our property, and we treat them as such. We anxiously peer into their lives, violently suppressing their right to creative expression, as we aggressively seek to eliminate any and all threats to our personal security.
Relationships like this are very intense. So much is on the line all the time. It is one serious conversation after another: “Do you really love me? Listen… Listen… Listen… Are you sure you want to be with me?” We regard the other as our territory, and defend it with all the neurotic energy we can muster. Our inability to see them for who and what they truly are is a symptom of pervasive discontentment. This sort of dissatisfaction runs deep. It arises from and is sustained by a fundamental misunderstanding. Unless we are willing to look within ourselves for the causes and conditions that give rise to discontentment we will continue to behave more like an emotional terrorist than a lover!
Selfishness is the expression of ignorance. So, selfishness blinds us to love. It transforms the object of our love into a reference point, which the ego uses to define itself. So what is true love?
True love is stepping out of the center.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche so elegantly described love as, “A vast share of energy which is not centered, which is not egos at all. It is this energy which is the centerless dance of phenomena, the universe inter-penetrating and making love to itself.”
True love is relationship without a center; it is freedom from self. Being without a center there is no sense of being threatened. Instead of monitoring and micromanaging the affairs of the other, true love recognizes and respects the need for that individual to spontaneously express themselves. True love is a spacious state of mind that is threatened by nothing because, it has nothing to defend. This enables us to completely accept our partner as they are—the good and the bad! True love just loves without any thought as to whether or not they deserve it. In love we see the complete person. He might be the tough guy when he is around his friends, but cries his ass of when he watches Hotel Rwanda. Or by day she maybe prim & proper, but at night she farts in her sleep just like everyone else. In love there is enough space to accommodate our partners contradictions!
This space or openness is not sappy blind love. It is intelligent. Not only does it recognize and respect the natural right of the beloved to be themselves; love embraces the fact that this self is changing from one moment to the next. Love relates to the actual person, and not some static idea about the person. In other words, love never gets boring.
The experience of true love is an unavoidable accident. It is the spontaneous malfunction of ego’s defenses. Love is the energy discovered in the gap between one fixed idea and the next. We all experience this from time to time when we are with someone whom we care deeply about. For a second, you see no faults in them. There is nothing missing. There is just the realization that the experience is whole; nothing need be added nor taken away. Contentment.
Far from being an illusion, romantic love is a microcosmic example of the ultimate macrocosmic truth: Life is a process. Everything is a dimension of this process. Therefore, we too are a process. Man is a verb, and not a noun. This process is without a beginning or end, and therefore has no center. So, there is nothing to defend. Life is spacious or playful, and the point is to flow or play. I hope that you are willing to open up enough to play with others!