Re-post for my All My Valentines

The Course in Miracles tells us that what keeps us from a spiritual search and the search for true “love” are what it calls “special relationships.”  “Being in love” is a powerful drug…

It’s Not Love that is Blind…

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The Flirtation

The Flirtation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not one to generalize (haha!) but here’s a generalization that seems to hold true often:  Women like “bad boys” and men like women who are kinda mean and high maintenance.  Why do I think this is true more often than not?  Read on…

A friend of mine and I were talking about how people get into relationships.  He said he doesn’t know why people end up with each other, that it happens for various and mysterious reasons.  I was surprised by this. Is it really so mysterious?  Or is it easier to not think about why we get with someone.

 

In my opinion there is no mystery at all.  People choose partners who resemble their parents–for good or ill.  Simple. If we had loving, healthy parents, we will have loving good relationships, if we had less than that, we will have less than that.  There is no magic, cosmic process by which you end up with someone. We form our ideas about who loves us and why in the first years of life and look for people who confirm those ideas even when we are forty, fifty or even older.  Some of us look for the “magic” until we die.  And if we don’t look mindfully at who we are and who we are attracted to, we will repeat the same patterns even when we think we know better.If we had a controlling mother  (and who hasn’t?) we will be drawn “mysteriously” to the same controlling nature of our partner.  If we have a passive, withdrawn father, we will a “strangely” strong pull towards the man who is passive and withdrawn.Why would we do this?  Because we go unconscious and fall into habit.  This feels comfortable and natural because it is our habitual way of thinking and feeling.We call it mystery when it is actually blindly following our story that we established as kids with our parents.  The woman whose father who approved of his pretty girl when she flirted with him will likely seek men who relate to her on a mostly sexual level  The  man whose mother dominated him will seek a woman like her and then be surprised when the woman is dominating.It’s not our fault. None of us are immune to solidifying our ‘stories” about who we are and then living out those stories unconsciously.  It would be lovely if all of us had been told we were worthy of unconditional love by parents who gave it to each other and their children.  In those cases we would seek partners who reflect the same wonderful stories. But the ego is running the show for most of us or we would have a much kinder, happier world overall.

 

I think what blinds us most to the mundane, yet challenging truth of why we choose a partner is sex. Sex lets us both hide from the fact that we are probably with a person like our parents (again) for a while. Sex allows us to identify most with our bodies where the need is simple and direct.  We lose ourselves in the physical sensations and focus on our body and our partner’s body as we do with no one else–as if that is all we are, bodies.  We feel that we mesh somehow, that we are like one person, one grand energy. We can even think we have surpassed ego, that now we are a new spiritual unit together.  We want sex to be  our easy spiritual answer.  It’s fun, and we think it is the kind of pleasure that we can return to again and again.  It is not the hard work of a spiritual practice.

 

The most powerful sexual attraction I ever had was with the man who most completely identified with  his body.  He’d been with a lot of women because he was physically attractive and driven by his sexuality. He used sex to escape his intense emotional pain and to control his lovers.  He was  the most emotionally damaged person I had ever known, other than my parents, whose only bond also was sexual.

 

So, I was thinking about what is it, other than sexual pleasure, that makes me wish I was in a couple sometimes even now at 65 and no longer have the compulsion to be coupled. I know that the ego now wants my attachments to shift to grandchildren who will “make me happy” as a man was supposed to do when I was younger. The proof that we are driven by our egos is that we relegate our lives according to bodies, their age, their desirability. The body is the ego’s prime identity.The problem, for women especially, is that an old body is de-valued in the extreme. Not that I’m immune to that sortof ego-thinking.  Would I want to be in a couple with a man in his 80′s? Unlikely.  Though much more likely if I was a man.What is different about being in a couple than what I have with my friends now?  My friends love me, care about my well-being, recognize my talents, will be there for me in times of trouble, think I am a good, interesting person.  What am I missing?  The answer is that with my friends I am not the most special person; they have other friends who are just as “special “ as I am.  With a partner, I am extra special because we have sex. Because of what I think is special intimacy, I want extra approval from a partner.  I don’t need as much approval like that from friends. Why?  We don’t have sex.  They don’t care what my body looks like. I know they love me for who I am, not because I am special.

 

Really when we seek a partner it is either to have children (when we are in child-bearing years) or to find approval.  If we stay together, we spend the rest of our lives seeing how our partner resembles the still-resented parent and hopefully, now more awake again, healing that resentment. This is good. Mystery solved. We finally can gain consciousness. We can finally recognize our false selves, our habitual childhood longings. We can love at last

Dear Valentine,

We have many ideas about love. The most profound thought we have about love, which is propagated in novels, movies, and billboards, is the idea that love exists between two people who are utterly compatible, usually young and pretty, and who for some odd reason have a chemical attraction toward each other—none of which can last. Most people find out during the course of their lifetime that this is a myth, that it doesn’t work that way. Most people then think it’s their own fault or the other person’s fault or the fault of both, and they try a new relationship. After the third, fourth, or fifth try, they might know better; but a lot of people are still trying. That’s usually what’s called love in our society.

In reality, love is a quality of our heart. The heart has no other function. If we were aware that we all contain love within us, and that we can foster and develop it, we would certainly give that far more attention than we do. In all developed societies there are institutions to foster the expansion of the mind, from the age of three until death. But we don’t have any institutions to develop the heart, so we have to do it ourselves. Most people are either waiting for or relating to the one person who makes it possible for them to feel love at last. But that kind of love is beset with fear, and fear is part of hate. What we hate is the idea that this special person may die, walk away, have other feelings and thoughts—in other words, the fear that love may end, because we believe that love is situated strictly in that one person. Since there are six billion people on this planet, this is rather absurd. Yet most people think that our love-ability is dependent upon one person and having that one person near us. That creates the fear of loss, and love beset by fear cannot be pure. We create a dependency upon that person, and on his or her ideas and emotions. There is no freedom in that, no freedom to love.

Ayya Khema, “What Love Is”

Not Drowning

Our suffering is holy if we embrace it and look deeply into it. If we don’t, it isn’t holy at all. We just drown in the ocean of our suffering.

 – Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings

 

Alan Watts, from “Brain Pickings”

…Such “unselfishness” is apt to be a highly refined egotism, comparable to the in-group which plays the game of “we’re-more-tolerant-than-you.”

Echoing C.S. Lewis’s advice to children on duty and love, Watts writes:

Genuine love comes from knowledge, not from a sense of duty or guilt.

…Nature and nurture conspire in the architecture of this illusion of separateness, which Watts argues begins in childhood as our parents, our teachers, and our entire culture “help us to be genuine fakes, which is precisely what is meant by ‘being a real person.’” He offers a fascinating etymology of the concept into which we anchor the separate ego:

The person, from the Latin persona, was originally the megaphone-mouthed mask used by actors in the open-air theaters of ancient Greece and Rome, the mask through (per) which the sound (sonus) came.

Indeed, this bisection is perhaps most powerful and painful not in our sense of separateness from the universe but in our sense of being divided within ourselves — a feeling particularly pronounced among creative people, a kind of “diamagnetic” relationship between person and persona. While the oft-cited metaphor of the rider and the elephant might explain the dual processing of the brain, it is also a dangerous dichotomy that only perpetuates our sense of being separate from and within ourselves. Watts writes:

The self-conscious feedback mechanism of the cortex allows us the hallucination that we are two souls in one body — a rational soul and an animal soul, a rider and a horse, a good guy with better instincts and finer feelings and a rascal with rapacious lusts and unruly passions. Hence the marvelously involved hypocrisies of guilt and penitence, and the frightful cruelties of punishment, warfare, and even self-torment in the name of taking the side of the good soul against the evil. The more it sides with itself, the more the good soul reveals its inseparable shadow, and the more it disowns its shadow, the more it becomes it.

Thus for thousands of years human history has been a magnificently futile conflict, a wonderfully staged panorama of triumphs and tragedies based on the resolute taboo against admitting that black goes with white.

Returning to our inability to grasp intervals as the basic fabric of world and integrate foreground with background, content with context, Watts considers how the very language with which we name things and events — our notation system for what our attention notices — reflects this basic bias towards separateness:

Today, scientists are more and more aware that what things are, and what they are doing, depends on where and when they are doing it. If, then, the definition of a thing or event must include definition of its environment, we realize that any given thing goes with a given environment so intimately and inseparably that it is more difficult to draw a clear boundary between the thing and its surroundings.

[…]

“Individual” is the Latin form of the Greek “atom” — that which cannot be cut or divided any further into separate parts. We cannot chop off a person’s head or remove his heart without killing him. But we can kill him just as effectively by separating him from his proper environment. This implies that the only true atom is the universe — that total system of interdependent “thing-events” which can be separated from each other only in name. For the human individual is not built as a car is built. He does not come into being by assembling parts, by screwing a head onto a neck, by wiring a brain to a set of lungs, or by welding veins to a heart. Head, neck, heart, lungs, brain, veins, muscles, and glands are separate names but not separate events, and these events grow into being simultaneously and interdependently. In precisely the same way, the individual is separate from his universal environment only in name. When this is not recognized, you have been fooled by your name. Confusing names with nature, you come to believe that having a separate name makes you a separate being. This is — rather literally — to be spellbound.

‘Man as Industrial Palace,’ by Fritz Kahn, 1926. Click image for details.

So how are we to wake up from the trance and dissolve the paradox of the ego? It all comes down to the fundamental anxiety of existence, our inability to embrace uncertainty and reconcile death. Watts writes:

The hallucination of separateness prevents one from seeing that to cherish the ego is to cherish misery. We do not realize that our so-called love and concern for the individual is simply the other face of our own fear of death or rejection. In his exaggerated valuation of separate identity, the personal ego is sawing off the branch on which he is sitting, and then getting more and more anxious about the coming crash!

And so we return to the core of Watt’s philosophy, the basis of his earlier work, extending an urgent invitation to begin living with presence — a message all the timelier in our age of worshipping productivity, which is by definition aimed at some future reward and thus takes us out of the present moment. Watts writes:

Unless one is able to live fully in the present, the future is a hoax. There is no point whatever in making plans for a future which you will never be able to enjoy. When your plans mature, you will still be living for some other future beyond. You will never, never be able to sit back with full contentment and say, “Now, I’ve arrived!

Illustration by Maurice Sendak for Ruth Krauss’s ‘Open House for Butterflies.’ Click image for details.

Traditionally, humanity has handled this paradox in two ways, either by withdrawing into the depths of consciousness, as monks and hermits do in their attempt to honor the impermanence of the world, or servitude for the sake of some future reward, as many religions encourage. Both of these, Watts argues, are self-defeating strategies:

Just because it is a hoax from the beginning, the personal ego can make only a phony response to life. For the world is an ever-elusive and ever-disappointing mirage only from the standpoint of someone standing aside from it — as if it were quite other than himself — and then trying to grasp it. Without birth and death, and without the perpetual transmutation of all the forms of life, the world would be static, rhythm-less, undancing, mummified.

But a third response is possible. Not withdrawal, not stewardship on the hypothesis of a future reward, but the fullest collaboration with the world as a harmonious system of contained conflicts — based on the realization that the only real “I” is the whole endless process. This realization is already in us in the sense that our bodies know it, our bones and nerves and sense-organs. We do not know it only in the sense that the thin ray of conscious attention has been taught to ignore it, and taught so thoroughly that we are very genuine fakes indeed.

The failure to recognize this harmonious interplay, Watts argues, has triggered a lamentable amount of conflict between nations, individuals, humanity and nature, and with the individual. Again and again, he returns to the notion of figure and ground, of a cohesive whole that masquerades as separate parts under the lens of our conditioned eye for separateness:

Our practical projects have run into confusion again and again through failure to see that individual people, nations, animals, insects, and plants do not exist in or by themselves. This is not to say only that things exist in relation to one another, but that what we call “things” are no more than glimpses of a unified process. Certainly, this process has distinct features which catch our attention, but we must remember that distinction is not separation. Sharp and clear as the crest of the wave may be, it necessarily “goes with” the smooth and less featured curve of the trough. … In the Gestalt theory of perception this is known as the figure/ground relationship.

Noting “our difficulty in noticing both the presence and the action of the background,” Watts illustrates this with an example, which Riccardo Manzotti reiterated almost verbatim half a century later. Watts writes:

A still more cogent example of existence as relationship is the production of a rainbow. For a rainbow appears only when there is a certain triangular relationship between three components: the sun, moisture in the atmosphere, and an observer. If all three are present, and if the angular relationship between them is correct, then, and then only, will there be the phenomenon “rainbow.” Diaphanous as it may be, a rainbow is no subjective hallucination. It can be verified by any number of observers, though each will see it in a slightly different position.

Like the rainbow, all phenomena are interactions of elements of the whole, and the relationship between them always implies and reinforces that wholeness:

The universe implies the organism, and each single organism implies the universe — only the “single glance” of our spotlight, narrowed attention, which has been taught to confuse its glimpses with separate “things,” must somehow be opened to the full vision

In recognizing this lies the cure for the illusion of the separate ego — but this recognition can’t be willed into existence, since the will itself is part of the ego:

Just as science overcame its purely atomistic and mechanical view of the world through more science, the ego-trick must be overcome through intensified self-consciousness. For there is no way of getting rid of the feeling of separateness by a so-called “act of will,” by trying to forget yourself, or by getting absorbed in some other interest. This is why moralistic preaching is such a failure: it breeds only cunning hypocrites — people sermonized into shame, guilt, or fear, who thereupon force themselves to behave as if they actually loved others, so that their “virtues” are often more destructive, and arouse more resentment, than their “vices.”

In considering how an organism might realize this sense of implying the universe and how we might shake the ego-illusion in favor of a deeper sense of belonging, Watts expresses a certain skepticism for practices like yoga and meditation when driven by striving rather than total acceptance — a skepticism all the more poignant amidst our age of ubiquitous yoga studios and meditation retreats, brimming with competitive yogis and meditators:

An experience of this kind cannot be forced or made to happen by any act of your fictitious “will,” except insofar as repeated efforts to be one-up on the universe may eventually reveal their futility. Don’t try to get rid of the ego-sensation. Take it, so long as it lasts, as a feature or play of the total process — like a cloud or wave, or like feeling warm or cold, or anything else that happens of itself. Getting rid of one’s ego is the last resort of invincible egoism! It simply confirms and strengthens the reality of the feeling. But when this feeling of separateness is approached and accepted like any other sensation, it evaporates like the mirage that it is.

This is why I am not overly enthusiastic about the various “spiritual exercises” in meditation or yoga which some consider essential for release from the ego. For when practiced in order to “get” some kind of spiritual illumination or awakening, they strengthen the fallacy that the ego can toss itself away by a tug at its own bootstraps.

In asserting that the ego is “exactly what it pretends it isn’t” — not the epicenter of who we are but a false construct conditioned since childhood by social convention — Watts echoes Albert Camus on our self-imposed prisons and reminds us:

There is no fate unless there is someone or something to be fated. There is no trap without someone to be caught. There is, indeed, no compulsion unless there is also freedom of choice, for the sensation of behaving involuntarily is known only by contrast with that of behaving voluntarily. Thus when the line between myself and what happens to me is dissolved and there is no stronghold left for an ego even as a passive witness, I find myself not in a world but as a world which is neither compulsive nor capricious. What happens is neither automatic nor arbitrary: it just happens, and all happenings are mutually interdependent in a way that seems unbelievably harmonious. Every this goes with every that. Without others there is no self, and without somewhere else there is no here, so that — in this sense — self is other and here is there.

(Perhaps this is what Gertrude Stein really meant when she wrote “there is no there there.”)

And therein lies the essence of what Watts is proposing — not a negation of who we are, but an embracing of our wholeness by awakening from the zombie-like trance of separateness; not in resignation, but in active surrender to what Diane Ackerman so memorably termed “the plain everythingness of everything, in cahoots with the everythingness of everything else,” that immutable recognition of the sum that masquerades as parts:

In immediate contrast to the old feeling, there is indeed a certain passivity to the sensation, as if you were a leaf blown along by the wind, until you realize that you are both the leaf and the wind. The world outside your skin is just as much you as the world inside: they move together inseparably, and at first you feel a little out of control because the world outside is so much vaster than the world inside. Yet you soon discover that you are able to go ahead with ordinary activities—to work and make decisions as ever, though somehow this is less of a drag. Your body is no longer a corpse which the ego has to animate and lug around. There is a feeling of the ground holding you up, and of hills lifting you when you climb them. Air breathes itself in and out of your lungs, and instead of looking and listening, light and sound come to you on their own. Eyes see and ears hear as wind blows and water flows. All space becomes your mind. Time carries you along like a river, but never flows out of the present: the more it goes, the more it stays, and you no longer have to fight or kill it.

[…]

Once you have seen this you can return to the world of practical affairs with a new spirit. You have seen that the universe is at root a magical illusion and a fabulous game, and that there is no separate “you” to get something out of it, as if life were a bank to be robbed. The only real “you” is the one that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every conscious being. For “you” is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new.

You do not ask what is the value, or what is the use, of this feeling. Of what use is the universe? What is the practical application of a million galaxies?

Watts ends with a wonderful verse by the infinitely inspiring James Broughton:

This is It
and I am It
and You are It
and so is That
and He is It
and She is It
and It is It
and That is That

No words can describe just how profoundly perspective-shifting The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are is in its entirety, and with what exquisite stickiness it stays with you for a lifetime.

love, love, love ?

“When we say we are in a love relationship, it is better to be truthful to oneself and evaluate whether what we are feeling is true love, or it is something else masquerading as love—comfort, convenience, habit, possessiveness, dependency, business, security, control, freedom from loneliness or boredom, or just pure physical attraction. When your relationship is none of the above, you are truly in love.”

Pudugram Vaidyanathan

A Radical Notion

 

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“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.”  Maybe young women now  no longer plan their entire future based on marriage and family as my generation did (and finally rebelled against),  but the pressure is still there.  Witness the flourishing wedding planning businesses.  Of course, 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.

Enough said.

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.

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.“~~Tami Simon

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 friendships  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

DANCE, PEOPLE, DANCE!

….bodies and the ego, continued…

Today, on Facebook I saw this posted by a male friend of mine (thank you, Petey!).  It shocks me that this young woman still talks about what issues we were protesting thirty years ago.  Our preoccupation with bodies and beauty is ego’s favorite weapon to keep us from seeing our true selves, and that cannot be changed over a matter of years.  To change the culture is to recognize the ego and its messages in the culture.  I’m encouraged that this young woman recognizes ego for what it is.

http://www.upworthy.com/ever-considered-what-guys-look-for-in-girls-forget-it-think-about-what-a-17-year-old-says-instead?g=2&c=fea

If the link doesn’t work, here is the “spoken word” poem transcribed.  The writer is 17 years old and the irony is that she is actually physically beautiful:

When I first learned that no one could ever love me more than me, a world of happiness previously unseen was discovered because somewhere along the line of aging and scrutiny and time, I was taught to despise myself.

But I made sure I kept myself beautiful so someone would love me someday, so I could belong to someone someday, because that’s the most important thing a little girl could ever want, right?

I was 13 the first time I was embarrassed about my body, of course it might not be the last, and I remember stuffing my bra in the morning, tears stinging my eyes, hoping, praying to something that I could look beautiful enough today, braces and all, for the ruthless boys who mercilessly told me I was worthless because my boobs weren’t big enough.

And I would go home and put on a sweatshirt with my eyes closed, deny myself the right to be shown myself because I didn’t dare want to insinuate beauty in regards to something so insulting as my body.

But, I mean, we all end up with our heads between our knees because the only place we’ll ever really feel safe is curled up inside skin we’ve been taught to hate by a society that shuns our awful confidence and feeds us our own flaws.

And sometimes when I need to meet the me that loves me, I can’t find her or remind her that the mirror is meant to be a curse so that I could find her in my mind, but when he or she shouts, “Let me out!” we’re allowed to listen.

But it’s met by a chorus of conceited, egotistical narcissists. But since when was self-substitute a sin? Since when was loving who we are made an offense by morons that don’t matter? Change this physicality and that one. Don’t you dare shatter the illusion that you could ever be anything beyond paper-fine flesh and flashy teeth and fingernails. A code of accusations of not good enough, never good enough. Have you ever felt so numb that it hurts? Entertain me.

You can’t surrender to them. You’ve gotta remember that you’re the only thing you’ll ever truly have. And no, I don’t mean your body. Because someday that will go bad no matter what you do. I mean you. I mean the way your bright eyes go wild when you smile and how your laugh is so melodic it’s a song.

I mean the way your creativity is a compass that leads you to what you love. And you don’t need any miracle cream to keep your passions smooth, hair free, or diet pills to slim your kindness down. And when you start to drown in these petty expectations, you’ve gotta re-examine the miracle of your existence because you are worth so much more than your waistline. You are worth the beautiful thoughts you think and the daring dreams you dream, undone and drunk off alcohol of being.

But sometimes we forget that because we live in a world where the media pulls us from the womb, nurses us, and teaches us our first words: skinny, pretty, skinny, pretty, girls, soft, quiet, pretty, boys, manly, muscles, pretty. But I don’t care whether it’s your gender, your looks, your weight, your skin, or where your love lies. None of that matters because standards don’t define you.

You don’t live to meet the credentials established by a madman. You’re a goddamned treasure whether you want to believe it or not. And maybe that’s what everyone should start looking for.

Mindfulness of the Body: Youth, Age, Sex

“Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s scepter, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.”  ~Mary Wollstonecraft

The last time I fell for a man based on physical, sexual attraction primarily, and he for me for the same, we were both in our  mid-forties.  The result was disastrous largely because we connected primarily as bodies.  Not that there was not some recognition of the person inside the body; there was, but not enough.  He didn’t leave me for a younger woman, nor did I leave him for another man, but our connection was a powerfully physical one and blinded me at to what was real.  It was as if I had been hypnotized.  I think that hypnosis is what our culture refers to as “love.”

Since I am fairly fit for my age, I still attracted some attention for my body even when I was sixty.  (I am sixty-six now and that ship has sailed).  A man who was forty-six thought I was hot stuff. The fact that he was fourteen years younger than me was flattering and I felt the old excitement that only sexual energy can generate.  However, I recognized that he was a sex addict and put the kibosh on all that. Also, it is still unusual for a woman to be involved with a man so much younger than herself.  It just does not seem to ever work.  It works for men without question, though.  It’s all about bodies.  How much we choose who to love by what their body looks like.  Which of course leads me to the question, what type of love are we talking about?

In my lifetime, I have only known a couple of women who accepted their bodies and did not see them as the most important part of their identity.  The rest of us suffered to be “pretty enough” to “deserve” love.  Sad. Sad. I am now at an age when it is most obvious that my body is diminishing in importance.  I cannot pretend that my body is not aging.  This new stage of my life brings major challenges.  My body is no longer valued currency; I can no longer rely on it to attract approval.  And I am not about to slice and dice myself to look younger,  Now it is just me as a person.  Imagine that!  In a sense I feel free at last of the pressure to please men with my looks.  However, that old habit energy of needing approval for how I look is hard to break free of.   Being someone’s “princess” was for me, like most women in my generation, the prize.  Even now I see many younger women do what I call “lead” with their bodies and sexuality and then wonder why their relationships don’t work.

Today I have two wonderful male friends.  One is in his early fifties, the other in his late fifties.  The one in his late fifties recently broke up with a woman 15 yrs his junior and has recently become involved with a woman also 16 years his junior. The man in his early fifties is longing for a beautiful woman in her thirties or early forties.  Neither is likely to be with women their age.

I love these guys because they are truly good people.  Both have helped me through some rough times over the past three years I’ve known them.  I cherish their friendships.  However, it is a challenge to see the 58 year old with his forty two year old girlfriend and not wonder about the power and importance of bodies and sex—to not compare myself to the younger woman.  I know he would protest that it’s not all about sex for him with her (she’s a nice, charming woman), but I would bet the sex is a big deal in that relationship, knowing as I do that it is of great importance to him.   I know the other man suffers a great deal from not having a relationship, but when I ask him what he is looking for he admits it is for beauty and sexual excitement; he also tells he can’t imagine being with a woman his age.  Bodies.  The hypnotic power youth and beauty have on us make some of us slaves to desire.  Or at least to make some bad, sad choices.

My friends are not the only ones affected by youthful beauty; so am I.  So are most women in our culture, even in the world.  I am struck by the powerful energy generated by beautiful bodies. So often I wanted that power when I was young—it would bring me love, I thought.  Now, as I “lose” that “power” I feel a part of my identity slipping away.  Yet, I always hated the pressures to look certain ways.  Like so many women I suffered in my body.  I suffered because of my body.  As Wollstonecraft says, I felt imprisoned in my body because of this demand to be beautiful.

Handsome men, desirable women hold the controls of our desires, of the belief that beauty will bring us fulfillment and happiness, somehow.  Even Buddha was tempted.  How do I put that in a Buddhist perspective?

I think my two men friends are in my life to help me look at these issues that are still so painful for me. Not that they are intending to do this, but I think it is no mistake that they present me with this issue.   I have to face my own attitudes about the importance of a man’s looks, of my looks.  Age is pushing me to wake up to the obsession we have that our bodies are the alpha and omega.  Age is waking me up to a new way of considering bodies: that true love does not depend on youthful skin.  Age is waking me up but waking up from such long, deep sleep is not easy.

Mindfulness: Listening

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My Buddhist teacher once said that the definition of love is the ability to understand each other.  This is not only true for couples, though, unfortunately we tend to put most of our energy into that type of love which I call “small love.”  Big love is for everyone.  Big love understands everyone by true listening.  True listening requires true Presence.  True Presence is only possible by being in the Present Moment.  The present moment is where we find Presence and True, Big Love.  Tara Brach writes about this below:

To listen is to lean in softly
With a willingness to be changed
By what we hear 

                           – Mark Nepo

What happens when there’s a listening presence? 

 
When we’re fully in that listening presence, when there’s that pure quality of receptivity, we become presence itself. And whether you call that God or pure awareness or our true nature, the boundary of inner and outer dissolves and we become a luminous field of awakeness. When we’re in that open presence we can really respond to the life that’s here. We fall in love.

This state of listening is the precursor or the prerequisite to loving relatedness. The more you understand the state of listeningof being able to have the sounds of rain wash through you, of receiving the sound and tone of another’s voicethe more you know about nurturing a loving relationship.

In a way it’s an extremely vulnerable position. As soon as you stop planning what you’re going to say or managing what the other person’s saying, all of a sudden, there’s no control. You’re open to your own sadness, your own anger and discomfort. Listening means putting down control. It’s not a small thing to do.

We spend most of our moments when someone is speaking, planning what we’re going to say, evaluating it, trying to come up with our presentation of our self, or controlling the situation.

Pure listening is a letting go of control. It’s not easy and takes training. And yet it’s only when we can let go of that controlling that we open up to the real purity of loving. We can’t see or understand someone in the moments that we are trying to control what they are saying or trying to impress them with what we are saying. There’s no space for that person to just unfold and be who they are. Listening and unconditionally receiving what another expresses, is an expression of love.

The bottom line is, when we are listened to, we feel connected. When we’re not listened to, we feel separate. So whether it’s the communicating between different tribes or religions, ethnicities, racial groups or different generations, we need to listen. The more we understand, the less we fear; the less we fear, the more we trust and the more we trust, the more love can flow.

Isn’t it true to that to get to know the beauty and majesty of a tree
You have to be quiet and rest in the shade of the tree?
Don’t you have to stand under the tree?
To understand anyone, you need to stand under them for a little while
What does that mean?
Its mean you have to listen to them and be quiet and take in who they are
As if from under, as if from inside out.

© Tara Brach
 

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