Thursday, March 06, 2008

Marginalia: Love, pt. 1

Blogging challenges my instinct to finish a thought before posting it, so I'm trying something new with a series of posts.

In recent months, I've been molding and modeling and wordsmithing bits a pieces of what feels like a larger thought about love. But I've not found the glue to hold the pieces together. I've been inspired by a few posts touching on aspects of love at Integral Options Cafe, She Lives Her Life In Widening Circles, musings of, Buddhist in Nebraska, ... By talks with Ed and Hampton hiking through squeaky December snows and in an odd little tavern outside Kripalu; by online conversations with many people in many places; by a yoga teacher who one day adjusted my head and neck while I lay in savasana, touched her forefinger to the center of my forehead, and whispered to me, "You are divine. I love you." But most of all, I've been inspired by my wife, who has found ways to continue to love me from a time when we shared the same visions of life and eternity along a long path into loneliness and darkness, only to have me emerge profoundly changed. Less abled in some ways, lacking beliefs that I had when we started together, much more alive in other ways.

I suppose that nothing that can be caught in a net of words will look like the ocean the net sweeps through.

So I've decided to share bits and pieces as they are, hoping for comments and community to help me understand how they relate, where they conflict, how I might explore them more deeply.

Part 1:

So recently, I was reading in Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul, and in making a particular point, he tossed out the line that articulated so clearly my experience of the past several years:

"In most human beings, the heart does its work unattended. Even though its behavior governs the course of our lives, it is not understood. If at any given point in time the heart happens to open, we fall in love." p. 49.

For years, I’ve practiced yoga, and for almost as many years, I’ve found myself falling in love.

You’d expect there to be here some qualification – “not love like…” But I won’t give you any such qualification. The more I practice opening my heart, the more I find myself in love.

Sometimes it’s love of something as broad as existence itself. Sometimes it’s existence manifested in a particular person. Sometimes it’s intensely concentrated on a particular person. Sometimes it’s diffuse across a group. Many times, it’s been entirely oriented toward my wife. Sometimes, unexpectedly, I found it concentrating in men. Occasionally, it manifests itself with my dog.

But here’s the thing: it’s all love. And by love, I don’t mean only some abstract fondness. No. I mean the kind of experience you have when you let down your last defense because you realize that the other person is as completely important to you as yourself. Perhaps more.

Falling in love and acting for the benefit of all beings are not in the slightest inconsistent. I’m a living testament to the fact that it’s possible to fall in love with someone without pursuing intimacy – that it’s possible to be in love with someone without being intimate.

Love is what happens when we let down the defenses to our hearts, and when we push our mental barricades to one side.

For a long time, I didn't see the link Singer writes about. I had no idea that love could be so pervasive. But when I practiced yoga, my heart would open. Sometimes a little bit. Sometimes a lot. And I found myself feeling overwhelming love at various times. That discovery was disturbing. Didn't feeling such love require action? How I could stay married to one person and feel love so strongly for another? When I feel love, doesn't that mean I should seek to bind myself to that love, to grasp it, to preserve it, to perpetuate it, to cling to it?

With hindsight, I can see that once I started down that thought path, I began creating a world that fit the "love is exclusive" model: I began to close my heart when I was around the familiar ones. And once my heart began to close, even without me realizing it, I found that I felt less love toward those people.

But fortunately for me, those people were patient, and I wasn't in a hurry, either. I opted to wait and see, rather than act on my desires to possess new love. And I found that six months in, the infatuation would subside, and love would remain. Less a desire to control, to capture for myself; more a desire for the other's well being, empathy, sympathetic joy, and desire to extend compassion. As I wrote several months ago, learning and practicing a loving-kindness meditation radically changed my perceptions of how love worked. And finding Singer's articulation of exactly what I'd experienced provided a capstone to the realization:

When I allow my heart to open, I fall in love.

The more I let go of my insistence on being, I find not nihilism, not nothing, but a kind of love that seems woven into the fabric of consciousness, rather than embroidered on top of it.