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The Imaginary Lovers

It's easy to get lost in the hopes and fears of the mind

When I was training as a novice monk, I lived in a monastery that was generally closed to the public, but that once in a while opened its doors so that people could come and try a one-week meditation retreat. It was usually a mix of men and women, with the men living in the monks quarters, and the women staying with the nuns—as you might expect. But each day the men and women would come together to practice their meditation.

In these moments, eyes would inevitably wander, sometimes catching another pair of wandering eyes in the process. This would usually happen early in the week, often on the very first day. Little did the pair realise at the time the significance of that fleeting glance. At this point it’s probably helpful to add that these were silent retreats, offering participants as few distractions as possible. For some people this really helped, but for others it was torture to go a whole week without talking.

Anyway, having locked eyes on each other, the pair would then go back to their respective rooms to meditate some more. Within seconds the man would invariably be thinking about the woman... “She definitely looked at me. I think I might be in there. And this is perfect, she’s interested in meditation, so we’d have loads in common. Right, as soon as we’re allowed to talk at the end of the week I’ll ask her out”.

Meanwhile, over in the nuns quarters, the woman would be thinking... “I wonder if he saw me? Did he like me? It would be so nice to be in a relationship with someone who’s sensitive enough to take care of his own mind.” Not even ten minutes would have passed and yet there would be the ‘R’ word. Anyway, this behaviour would often continue throughout the week, with the pair stealing glances once in a while and then feeding off those moments when alone.

By the end of the week, it’s no exaggeration to say that some couples had taken that chain of thought so far, that not only had they dated in their mind, but they’d got married, consummated the marriage, had children and spent time thinking where they might retire to. Some had even gotten divorced! Even though it was their own story that they were writing, creating in their mind, they had still chosen to build in pain, anguish, and divorce. And yet they’d never even spoken to the other person!

It’s so easy to get caught up in all the little stories, the dramas, the hopes and the fears of the mind. Just something to think about...or not, as the case may be.

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