Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Buddhist in loooooooooooove

Today I listened to the 1998 Valentine's Day episode from This American Life. The shows overall theme was about marriages and relationships after that first bloom has fallen. The third act featured poet Donald Hall who read poems from his book "Without" about the death of his wife from leukemia. Listening to his poems and his descriptions of his wife, I ended up tearing up in my office.

His poetry, and the entire episode really, has made me think about the nature of love. I know that the romantic love we think of today is a product of time and place; rising hand and hand with our (relatively) new notions of individualism. At the same time, we still clearly care about what society has to say about love; gay-marriage activists want society to recognize and sanctify their love and homophobes (sorry, I feel strongly about this) want society to deem homosexual love as unacceptable.

In college, I had this amazing revelation after I broke up with my high school boyfriend. Everything I thought I knew about love was wrong. The catalyst for this revelation was my Intro to Buddhism class where we read a Thich Nhat Hahn essay (page 85) that delved into his ideas on love-sickness. According to Thich Nhat Hahn, love-sickness is a kind of love that is all consuming; we are obsessed with the object of our affection to the point where we can no longer function normally. Love is like a drug and we long to possess our lover. (See also, Proust, Remembrance of Things Past.) I recognized this kind of love. I think it is the same kind of love that is idealized and celebrated by romantic comedies, love songs, and almost every show on television.

It took a long time for me to discard this model of love. I felt like I had thrown away the most wonderful thing in my life and I wanted to get it back. But it wasn't the guy; it was just the feeling. I wanted to feel that way again (minus the devastation that followed when it ended) and it didn't matter with who. The worst part was once I had this feeling again the only thing I was concerned about was keeping it which manifested itself in obsession over the idea that the person I was with was going to leave me. I spent so much time with that kind of obsession that I didn't spend anytime getting to know the actual people I supposedly loved.

[You can put this next paragraph in big "In My Opinion" brackets]

Today I have different ideas about love. When I am in love with someone I try to recognize that I have all the responsibilities to them that I do to a friend and also, that they have those same responsibilities towards me; respect, compassion, and interest in who they are. Love, to me, also means a commitment to set aside certain sexual play or expression for one person (whether that be monogamy, which is what I practice, or specific sex acts). This wouldn't be a commitment or a sacrifice if it didn't feel at times like I didn't want to do it. [Edit: For me, it should resemble a "joyful sacrifice." As I said it is hard at times, but it would be equally empty of meaning if this was something I did completely unwillingly.] Finally, love means to me allowing the person to be at their worst (while still expecting them to be kind when they can) and knowing that I can be at my worst with them (while still always trying to be kind when I can). In short love is basically showing up everyday and trying to be my best because I want to make the other person happy, but knowing it's ok if I can't be my best that day (and vice versus). Everything else is just icing on the sweet sweet (but PDA is still not ok--kidding! or am I?) cake.

And now I'm hungry.

1 comment:

maiaoming said...

Me, too.

But I liked this post. I want to hear the Donald Hall poems, but don't know if I can while at work (I know I will cry).

Love is a strange thing. It definitely is a choice. But I don't think you can entirely discount the wild version of it, either. That can be pretty powerful...