‘What if the leading energy in our lives were to be our heart and our heart’s cry? What if living a “spiritual life” was actually synonymous with living a “heart-centered life”? These are some of the questions I have been asking myself—and the answers have pushed me more and more into prioritizing what I am calling “spiritual friendship.” What is spiritual friendship to me? It is the genuine meeting of two people who are vulnerable and open and truth-telling and available for actual contact and communion at the feeling level.
What this means is that interpersonal challenges can’t be healed on the meditation cushion or in solitary retreat. Wounds from relationship require the context of relationship for healing. This seems pretty obvious, huh? But as someone who has been a meditator now for almost three decades, this was not something that was obvious to me in the early stages of my journey. Somehow I thought I was going to open completely to the universe and all of its mystery without ever needing to relate closely and vulnerably with others.
What I am actually finding is that connecting with other people in a heart-centered way is not just about healing. It is actually the most rewarding and fulfilling part of my life. Period. There is something about being fully received by another person and fully receiving another person, without the need for any part to be edited or left out, that feels to me like the giving and receiving of the greatest soul nourishment that there is.”
-–Tami Simon, Founder and Publisher of Sounds True
What Tami Simon describes so eloquently is the type of healing relationships I have experienced in spiritual communities like my sangha, in Alanon, CODA, and recently in a wonderful “meet up” group called “egonots.” I know from my friends in AA they find the same. These relationships offer unconditional love and focus on who you are other than this false, grasping, frightened “self.” The openness and vulnerablity is greater in those relationships than most marriages and all romances. Yet…
I still hear young women worrying about not finding “love.” I too remember pacing the earth on constant look-out for “love” that would make life worth living. Maybe young women now no longer plan their entire future based on marriage and family, but the pressure is still there. Witness the flourishing wedding planning businesses. Much of this has to do with wanting to have children. I recall being told by a friend that “having children is what gives life meaning; it is the purpose of life.” I did not have a child then and never ended up having children. Is my life meaningless then?
“As soon as there is ‘self’, there is selfishness.These two are very different, nonetheless, they are inseparable. The ‘self arises, then selfishness comes…. Selfishness gives rise to love, greed, anger, hatred, fear, worry, frustration, envy, jealousy, possessiveness. All of these are aspects of selfishness. Love through fear and worry, are just different aspects of selfishness.” –Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, from Buddhism Now online magazine
What does the self need? Everything. From whom? Another self. And when that changes or lessens, as it always does, the self needs More. From another self, and yet another….Or the self repeats its demands of one other for what could be decades.
What does your buddhanture need? To be love.
Allow me to offer an unpopular, radical conclusion, one that I’m sure will raise many objections, but here it goes: If we assume the self, the body and all the physical forms our mind creates constitute reality, then the purpose of life is, as my friend told me, to procreate an extension of yourself. However, if the purpose of life is to awaken from the illusion of self and see the unity of all that is, then it is not necessary to marry and procreate at all.
So you might say, that the love between husband and wife and children is the deepest love a human being can achieve. And that is why women, especially, long for that from young ages. And the divorce rate is 50%. We can only imagine the percentage of marriages mired in the selfishness of “self” but unable or unwilling to change or grow.
What if, as Tami Simon, says, our societies valued love that is not aimed at the self– a selfless love? And I am not talking about the neurotic selflessness of all those who adopt the mother/wife as martyr role. What if our dream was not of our wedding, our cake, our dress, our honeymoon, our children, our house, our cars….? The needs and desires and attachments of the self underlie the entire “dream.”
I have watched the pain and loneliness of my single women friends as search and do not find love–there is real suffering for these women that can subsume all else. We fear we won’t find romance, passion, our soul mates (definition: someone who is what I want him or her to be). Ironically, we eventually lose romance, passion or we divorce our “soul mates.”
“Love through fear and worry, are just different aspects of selfishness.”
Love based on craving and desperation is no love at all–it is need; the need of wounded, frightened children. This is the longing for parents, not partners–but this wound, as Tami Simon says, can be healed in a spiritual relationship, not a traditional relationship. In the traditional model of love wounds are often exacerbated. Yet this accepted model is celebrated as the key to happiness and fulfillment. How can children not follow that dream? Why do we burden them with is illusion for the rest of their lives?
Am I proposing a hermit’s life? Am I suggesting we all sit on the mat and meditate all alone for the rest of our lives. Punish our “selves” and try to be rid of them so we are not selfish? No.
I am suggesting what Tami Simon talks about: The source of true love is a unique type of friendship, not a romantic or sexual bonanza. What is a spiritual friendship? It is aptly described by a quote from a Facebook friend in India:” When two minds with same interests come together they develop understanding, when two hearts with same feelings come together they create love. And when both mind and heart with common understandings and feelings come together, they create a beautiful relationship…Friendship!”
In the spiritual friendship I believe I am experiencing, I am not craving for another to approve of my “self,” or to have the other do what my “self” wants, to fill the needs my ‘self” thinks must be filled. In a spiritual friendship we love what is beyond the “self” and what is common to everyone, buddhanature. We strive to see buddhanature in each other and all others. Our Minds open to the mystery of who we are beyond these two seemingly separate selves. Far from fear, we are free to be apart, to aim for non-attachment that is grounded in universal love, agape. Only what does not change is true. But what does not change is what is allowed to change, is not threatened by change: The solid ground, the secure source of our buddhanature. Buddha friend, I see your nature, I salute your nature, I feel comforted and loved by our shared changeless nature. Buddha friend you appear in this body, with this face but also behind all bodies, all faces.
No reason to seek another. No reason to fear. When your friend appears you will be looking into the mirror of your own complete, unchanging nature. Ah, true self, your nature is to be love, not seek it.
…the removal of the notion of self is crucial for peace. If we can do that, we can be free from discrimination, separation, fear, hate, anger, and violence. With mindfulness and concentration, you can discover the truth of interbeing.—-Thich Nhat Hanh, in a teaching on The Diamond Sutra in the 2012 Winter/Spring issue of The Mindfulness Bell