Saturday, June 1, 2013

Love and Heartbreak Feel the Same

Susan Piver
Think about that statement: "love and heartbreak feel the same." Susan Piver said these words during a dharma talk at the DC Shambhala Center last Thursday. I think she's onto something. When I stop to contemplate the love I feel for my wife, my parents, my friends or a pet, I feel an aching in my heart. It is literally a physical feeling.

Susan also said that the difference between love and heartbreak is that, "heartbreak is love unbound from an object." The object of that love could be someone who is gone now. It could be someone you have a crush on. It could even be the image in your mind of you with your dream job.

There is your mind and there is an object. In between there is a tender feeling like a heart breaking in two.

I'm putting her words into mine, but Susan pointed out that when someone says they want to find love, they are full of shit. What they really mean is that they want safety. They have convinced themselves that having this other person around will calm the suffering.

Safety in love is a fairy tale. Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown, also a Shambhala teacher, says that "romantic love is the one true religion in our culture that people practice fervently." It's a religion that teaches us to believe another person can make you happy.

On the other hand, love is something real, even though we can't really nail down what it is beyond this aching-heart feeling. If we want love to be deep and meaningful, we could treat it as a path. To make this path something other than a series of disappointments we might consider building compassion into our relationships.

If my relationship with my wife is to be built on compassion, my practice at this point in time will be built on two ideas:

  • I work with mindful precision to be aware of her presence 

Mindfulness in this situation means paying attention. Practicing this kind of precision builds awareness. When my wife has something to say, I could place my attention on her as a meditation. I can focus on her voice, her mouth, her words, her body language, her expressions. I can practice listening deeply. When she asks me to put away my shoes, I could find their little corner in the closet.
  • We face the discomfort and uncertainty of life together
The realization that love is full of suffering is oddly shocking. But it is also kind of obvious. I've never been in a meaningful relationship that didn't cause me a lot of pain. There were moments of doubt when I feared it would end, or when I decided I didn't like the other person, or the irritation when that person called me out for doing something. There were breakups and getting back together. Of course there were moments of bliss and perfection too. Up and down.

Finally, the part of Susan's talk that really woke me up was when she talked about how great teachers with real compassion must be totally broken-hearted all the time. Nevertheless, they don't seem to be a weeping, slobbering, nose-blowing mess all the time. How is that possible, when they are completely open to all of the world's suffering all the time? Her answer was that unlike us, they don't open and close to the world all the time. They've stabilized their minds by being open all the time.

As a meditator, I find this last point deeply inspiring. I can't think of a better place to try being open than in my loving relationships.

1 comment: