The Ultimate Gift of Love
How to keep the doors between two lovers open
Posted March 1, 2013
All experiences are mysterious, love is no exception. We cannot accurately reconstruct any experience because too many variables are involved, however attentive or scientific we go about the reconstruction. Bits and pieces and the whole of life are twirling around, inside out and outside in, firing and dying fast, often beyond rhyme or reason. Everything reflects everything in the diamond of life. Because everything is relational in nature, pinning experiences down is impossible. Even though it is invaluable to our all happiness to approximate the truth with the practice of mindfulness, we can never really know ourselves completely.
It really feels as if we do know ourselves though, doesn’t it? Most of us have a sense of certainty about who we are, who others are, and how the world is really like. When I was young, I thought I had figured out the entire world, especially my boyfriends. I knew what was right with them and I certainly knew what was wrong with them.…. In Eastern philosophies, this sense of certainty is called an illusion (see my book, Chapter 11 (A Unified Theory of Happiness). And Western scientists have caught up with this insight, noting that we often don’t hear and see what is said or what is really happening. 1, 2 Instead we perceive that which we are prepared to perceive. Give me a bit of information, give me a man in a hoody in twilight, and I make a whole scary story out of that. We have categories for everything. It’s difficult to realize that a good man can lie, that a beautiful woman can have ugly thoughts, that a Zen master can be egotistical, and that a criminal can be gentle and kind. Of course, our sense of certainty about the world fosters the tendency to jump to conclusions which makes the “truth” an even greater, often terrible mystery.
Love is so important an experience, almost all of us have looked into that one, deeming it, rightfully, mysterious. Here we can see it. Rarely do we understand why we fall in love with a particular person. What is attractive and intriguing to us is the result of either trillions of beautiful, ugly moments before ever having laid eyes on the chosen one or a few, quantum-leaping, powerful moments that make us do the unthinkable: kiss that frog.
Still, I think most people agree on this: Love is a form of saying “Yes” to one another, the ability to open up, become compassionate, and available to somebody the way we think she or he is, flaws included. This “Yes” needs to be said again and again to pass as real love in the long run. Most know that this becomes harder as we get a better taste of the other’s flaws while simultaneously habituating to the attractive, intriguing parts. There are relatively simple Zen things we can do to keep love going, as I have blogged about previously (see Ten Zen Things to Save Your Marriage). But there is one not so simple Zen thing we must do, or better: be, to invite long-term love .
If it is true that we cannot ever really know ourselves or the other, if it is true that everything changes all the time in this interconnected whole that life is, and if it is true that certainty is an illusion, then our righteous, usually self-serving attitude will have to be altered. Instead of meeting our loved one as the old pal, we must greet her or him with renewed curiosity over and over. When we find ourselves think, “What could he possibly say that I don’t know yet?” we are in trouble. When we stop asking questions about what the other really feels and experiences, we are in trouble. When we don’t dig deeper as time goes by and fail to acknowledge how each moment becomes born anew, we are in trouble. Curiosity, a state of being in which we are accepting of uncertainty, is the ultimate gift to our own self and to the one we want to say “Yes” to, again and again. Buddhist Stephen Batchelor wrote,
“The problem with certainty is that is static; it can do little but endlessly reassert itself. Uncertainty, by contrast, is full of unknowns, possibilities, and risk.”3
Curiosity invigorates love with questions while staying humble with the answers. It keeps the doors open between two people, helping them to take the risk to discover and to be discovered, as intimately as humanly possible.
© 2013 Andrea F. Polard, PsyD. All Rights Reserved.
1) Robert Ornstein, The Evolution of Consciousness: The Origins Of The Way We Think. New York: Simon & Schusters, 1991.
2) Antonio Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Hartcourt Brace & Company, 1999.
3) Stephen Batchelor, Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2011, p. 65.