|"The Tao is infinite, eternal. Why is it eternal? It was never born; thus it can never die. Why is it infinite? It has no desires for itself; thus it is present for all beings. The Master stays behind; that is why she is ahead. She is detached from all things; that is why she is one with them. Because she has let go of herself, she is perfectly fulfilled."|
On the day he proposed, my husband gave me a list of 50 reasons why he loved me--fifty really good reasons. Reasons so good I finally believed he loved me for the right reasons and had no reservations about accepting his proposal. Those reasons are so good I love him today after discovering his list of reasons among the boxes he threw into a flooded storage room after we separated. His reasons were so good I love him all over again after reading them now, despite the fact that I can’t talk to him since our divorce because he won’t return my calls.
One might ask whether refusing to engage is the way to treat someone you love. I mean, whose calls do we not return? Perhaps people we wish to debase by saying they don’t matter enough to merit a common courtesy or, more than likely, people whose existence forces us to confront something we would rather not. Like a homeless person on the street, perhaps my name on the caller ID is to my husband that uncomfortable testament that this world is not as he would wish it to be—a reminder that the things we hold sacred like a home or a marriage are not permanent. Well, I’m sorry. It’s not my fault, but I do know that the one unequivocal inescapable fact of our human existence is that nothing lasts forever. And pretending that it can or does is to hold on to an illusion. There is no surer way to suffer as to hold on to an illusion, and no illusion more painful than the one of permanence.
Two important concepts of eight-limb paths like yoga or Buddhism are those of Impermanence and Attachment or Non-attachment - which is different from unattached. In essence, these traditions recognize that impermanence is an inescapable truth, and the main cause of our suffering is our attachment to the illusions we create to escape our truth.
“El amor no se exige, se da” sang Gloria Estefan, “love is something you give, not demand”. But loving without attachment is challenging. The challenge lies in this illusion of permanence. Somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that we can will things into lasting forever, and often, people who break their “til death do us part” promise are seen as weak-willed while the ones who remain in their marriages, despite good reason to leave, adopt an air of righteousness for their strong will—and then end up in my office looking for help to lose those extra 60 lbs that remain attached to them. Love is a commitment, no doubt, but the commitment to love is different from the commitment to marriage. And, while the two should meet, while a person who truly loves you would keep their promise, a marriage will succeed only when there is first and foremost a commitment to love. That commitment to love, in its true form, has no ties. That’s right, no ties, no attachments, no piece of paper, or band of gold, or witnesses, or expectations—if divorce rates were not so sad, it would be funny to think of the many things we invent to support the illusion of permanence. But love, real love, has no attachments. It says, “I love you because I cannot help it, and whether you love me back, or stay with me forever, or leave, my love will always be with you”. Now that, my friends, is love!
I was introduced to the idea of non-attachment during my first heartbreak. Through a series of events, my best friend and boyfriend left me crying as they went off together. During those first inconsolable months I happened upon the phrase, “If you love something, let it go, if it comes back, it’s yours, if it doesn’t, it never was”. Though I resisted the idea of letting go, the idea that doing so might bring my boyfriend back offered me enough hope to try. So I let go, prayed that he would come back, and found a bit of consolation in that. But I clearly had not completely let go since I was still attached to the outcome of his return and the idea of possessing him. While I was able to surrender to the circumstances that kept him away, my happiness was fragile since it depended on his return. To be more helpful, the phrase should read, “If you love something let it go”--period. But then who would get it?
I mean, how hard is it to let go of someone you love? In my slightly more enlightened, non-attached state (and from the distance of all the time that has passed), I can say, “if he’s happy with her, I am happy for him since I love him, and if she is happy with him, then I am happy that they are together since I love her”, but in the midst of it all I couldn’t help but ask, “what about ME? I trusted her! I loved him! Don’t I deserve to have them both love me?” Well, that depends. If my love for them was based purely on my own interests in the outcome, then it wasn’t love, and I was getting just what I deserved. And if my love was pure and unconditional then it, in and of itself, is enough to make me fulfilled regardless of their actions. Like the Tao, my love is only infinite when it has no desires for myself. Without selflessness, love cannot be infinite, it cannot last forever because the self is finite and, through attachment to the self, love and happiness reach limits, cabisce?
Yes, this all sounds good on paper, but how does one apply it? I mean, it hurt to be abandoned by people who both told me they loved me. How could I, in the midst of all this pain, find it in my heart to be happy for them as I cried? Well, you can’t find anything in your heart unless you first find your heart. And this is what I have learned from my devoted yoga practice, “Accepting pain as help for purification, study of spiritual books, and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute Yoga in practice” writes Patanjali. As I am in that pose that pulls at my hamstring causing sharp pain, all I want to do is curse that pose. And as I curse it I find the pain sharpens and I curse some more. And I find that the more I brace myself against the pain, the more that forward bend hurts me. It is not until I let go of the thought, “I hate this pose”, accept the pain as part of the release, and ask myself, “what is really going on here?” that I discover the tightness of my quads and glutes. As soon as I resign myself to the pose with a big sigh, surrender to it, I notice that my quads and glutes relax, and suddenly, the tightness that was preventing the freedom of movement is released and the pain subsides. I find myself free to move forward in the stretch. What I realize then is that I was holding on to the pain, before I even began, by resisting it. By anticipating the pain, creating a story about how it would hurt based on my experience, I braced myself against it---against it—and created the tension that kept me from moving into the stretch.
If I take this lesson off the mat I sit with my tears, go inside, find my heart, and ask, “What is really going on here? What am I doing to keep this pain alive”? And with an honest open heart, in the case of my best friend and boyfriend, I realize that I chose to believe without question the things my best friend told me, and that the only reason I cared so much about what she said is that I worried about what people thought. It is then I realize that I acted against my true nature to please others and it was I who hurt my boyfriend not the other way around. That my friend lied or exaggerated about what was being said matters less. If I didn’t care so much about appearances, if I weren’t so attached to an illusion of my perfection, I wouldn’t have paid attention to what my friend or anyone else had to say. And, when she lied, and when she moved in on my boyfriend and stopped talking to me, she went against her true nature, and hurt herself. Karma eventually took care of everything and I have to say she suffered much more than I did for the lies that she told. And when I saw her suffering, I realized I loved her because it hurt me to see it. Realizing that I had the capacity to love made me feel strong enough to reach out to bring her back from isolation. I became fulfilled, not by her pain, but rather by relieving her of it. I ended the cycle of pain between us with love. It would be nice if I could say that I learned my lesson then and there, but it is only as an adult, with the lessons of Buddha, Lao Tzu, Patanjali, and a regular yoga practice, that I am able to go back and see things with more clarity. Before I began a yoga practice, I closed myself off from people, going against my loving nature, even when I met my husband, from whom I demanded reasons why he loved me before I would believe him.
What was that all about? When one loves, one loves without reason. I may have been trying to distinguish between infatuation and love, but I clearly had no idea what love was if I had to ask him why he loved me before I would accept his love. And why was it so important for me to distinguish love from infatuation? Why is it that only when I was satisfied with his answers that I was willing to exhale and decide I loved him too? Clearly I had become attached to some story about what love is that had nothing to do with what it really is, and I acted against my true nature when I accepted reason over faith. No doubt, that’s where our trouble began.
And it continued in reason number 5 of my husband’s list of fifty where he wrote, “because I could not foresee a future without you in it”. If there is one undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence from which nothing on this earth is ever free, it is impermanence. Impermanence is a principle concept of Buddhism and Hinduism, and, regardless of any spiritual teaching, is undeniable. Regardless of my will or commitment, the inescapable fact is that I will someday die which would render my husband a future without me in it and vice versa. And that is impermanence at the basic level, one we struggle with when a loved one leaves us through death. Another level of impermanence holds a future in which who I was when we met is replaced by the person I become. From the days of my first heartbreak I was too keenly aware of the impermanent nature of things. As my husband remarked on the way my long hair took over the house (another of his fifty reasons), I remember saying, “honey, what will you do with yourself when there is no more hair to pick up”? I knew, as I have always known, that everything we have is only on loan. We have to enjoy it while it lasts because it could, and very likely will, be gone tomorrow. And shortly after we married my husband stopped accompanying me on our free nights, choosing, instead, to stay home alone as I went out. And I chose to go out rather than stay home. And very quickly even when we were in the house together, neither of us was present with each other. My husband settled into the comfort of tangible evidence; the paper, the ring, the promise, my hair beckoning the Swiffler from the corners, while I searched for a connection between us. That future he could not foresee happened right before his eyes, and he couldn’t see it behind the illusion. I, however, felt our separation almost immediately after we got married. So when our physical and legal separation began, I had already accepted it and he didn’t know what hit him.
In number thirty-one on his list of fifty reasons for loving me, my husband cited my tolerance and acceptance, confirming it with number forty-six by writing, “because you tolerate my shortcomings”. The truth is, I never saw his shortcomings, or rather, whatever he considered his shortcomings to be were not something I noticed or was even aware of. Yet, he clearly had a story in his mind of what he ought to be and wasn’t. Shortcomings exist only when there is an attachment to an ideal that hasn’t been reached. Without an idea of what things should be, there are no expectations that anyone should meet those expectations, and, thus, no possibility of falling short of those expectations, thus, no shortcomings. Surrender is another word for acceptance. Accepting things and people as they are means you see them as they are not as you wish them to be. When a person is seen, truly seen, without preconceived notions about who they are or ought to be, that person is truly loved. When I looked at my husband each day, I saw the person he presented to me each day. I saw no shortcomings, ever. Even in the end, when the connection was gone, I could still see him in all his perfection, as I felt my self disappear from his line of vision.
Today, I am privy to a photo of my ex-husband sitting on a beach, holding hands with a mutual friend of ours. Their blond hair and blue eyes complement the sunset over the sea behind them and the light in their eyes shine as brightly as the bubbles in the champagne on the table. I remember how well they talked together about their shared interests as we sat around the pool during our visits. I remember thinking how much they have in common as I listened, unable to contribute to something I didn’t know or understand. As I see this picture, I look into my heart and find happiness at the thought that they are together, perhaps consoling each other, and definitely sharing good times. I smile, grateful for the connection to a joyful heart, grateful for the freedom from any feeling of possession or attachment. And I am hopeful. Hopeful that he has found the same freedom from any attachment to a story of love that didn’t stand a chance because it was based, not on faith and truth, but on reason and illusion. Hopeful, too, that he is able someday to poke through the illusion to see the truth and find me there, loving him as I said I would….forever.