Archive for the 'love' Category

Compassion, love, and “the ties that bind”

May 10, 2015

I was talking to Gita a couple of weeks ago, and she observed that I clearly have an abundance of compassion for a certain person to whom I am related but that my compassion is for that person as a human being and not as a consequence of the relationship.  Her observation was based on the content of what I had said, the emotion with which I had said it, and my tears on their behalf.

That kind of broadly-based compassion is kind of like the smile that fashion experts tell us is always in style, I think.

This distinction Gita and I articulated explains a source of friction between this relative and myself, who seems to want to claim that I do not love them.  The way I see it, this relative wants something different from me from what I am giving, and wants to claim that the difference between what I am giving and what they want from me is love.  I don’t think it is, I think I do have a vast amount of love for them, but, as Gita and I agreed, it’s love for them as a human being, not as a relative.  I think what the relative is looking for is some sort of add-on to love that they associate with the relationship.  I’m not sure how I would characterize that add-on except to say that it seems to me, from past experience, to be that which lets the bear in the backdoor, if the person happens to be a bear — something that can be used to attempt to derive something else they want for themselves from me.  I don’t say an add-on can’t have positive aspects with some people, just that it is a gateway to more than love.

I think if more people tapped into compassion and love for others as human beings and not on the basis of their structural relationship with the person, “the world would be a better place.”  I think there would be less exploitation and inequality at the level of individuals and also less at the level of groups.

I think many people like the add-ons, however, especially when they can derive some benefit from them, and especially when they have figured out how to do so in a way in which they derive the benefit and the other person incurs the cost and the roles are never reversed — where flow is only in one direction.  An analogy from past times, I think, would be the husband whose wife supports him through medical school and who then divorces her.

I can say at this point in my life that I am, unfortunately, drawn to people like that, I can see the repetition of the pattern.  I suspect I am drawn to people like that because it is a familiar pattern for me, and one I was brought up to accept as, well, acceptable.  What I think I am trying to learn is to just say no without feeling guilty about it, to not fall for the bait-and-switch and then for the guilt-trip or retaliation campaign that follows when I protest;  my love is there, just not that other thing the person wants.  That other thing is not necessary for me to contribute in order for me to be a loving and compassionate person.

Of course, if I don’t actually locate that love and compassion within me for the other person, that would be a different scenario — it’s not, to be clear, just a cerebral idea I am talking about, it’s an actual outpouring of positive energy in the direction of the other person.  I do not expect it, or feel a need for it, to be returned.


Adulation, love, and nurturing a child

February 15, 2015

I was interested in a comment David Brooks made on the PBS NewsHour the other evening, on the topic of Brian Williams and the futile pursuit of fulfillment through obtaining adulation.

Adulation may be a form of love, both as it is produced and as it is received, but I don’t think it includes a reciprocal vector of love in return — although I am not sure how public figures feel about their audiences, for all I know they do produce love in our direction.  I thought the issue bore some consideration because I think feeling fulfilled in love has a lot to do with the love one is giving out.  Certainly it is pleasant to be loved, but to love another, to produce an outflow of love, I think actually settles one’s yearning more.  And I don’t mean because it could be judged “morally superior” to love another, rather than to seek love, I think it is more fundamental than that, kind of like a “physics of love.”  Loving someone else is satisfying.

My example is the need I had to nurture a child.  I had always wanted to be a mother, to have a baby, and when events made that unlikely, we adopted.  I really didn’t think about whether the child would love me back, I just had all this maternal energy that needed to be gainfully employed, kind of like the breast milk that comes in after a birth even when the child dies.

Some self-help organizations also advocate service as a component of improving emotional outlook and contentment; kind of like priming a pump, it produces flow in a direction that seems to be needed, they seem to have found.

So I can imagine that adulation could be unsatisfying if it does not include a component of love in the other direction.  Not that public figures, unlike God, can be expected to love millions of individuals, but maybe that speaks to whether adulating other human beings is beneficial to anyone in the long run.


March 25, 2014

What does it mean to do something out of love for someone, whether that love is for God, neighbor, or stranger?  (I was reading this.)  How does it differ from doing it because one is willing to do what one is called upon by God to do?

I think the coloration of the doing probably does make a difference — doing out of love of God, doing out of willingness to serve.  Maybe they are like different diplomatic portfolios.

I have been aware of doing things out of love for God and I have been aware of doing things out of willingness.  I find the second more difficult to do — it requires more detachment, more ability not to be plugged into a feedback system of any sort and instead to navigate and travel on faith.

Of course, both of these postures for doing things are different from engaging in a loving relationship as the basis for going out into the world to accomplish something.  When that kind of love gets mirrored back, there is often no willingness from the original beneficiary to switch roles.  They may even be horrified at the thought of such utilitarianism.

If loving for the sake of anything produces a coloration of motive, then maybe willingness has its place as a simpler posture with less ego involved — I don’t know, but it’s a possibility, it seems to me.

Longing for love

January 19, 2014

There’s longing for love and then there’s longing for Love — yearning for the romantic love of one’s life to walk in and desire for spiritual union with the divine within us and outside of us, respectively.

The two can get confused, or maybe they are simply the same urge experienced at different stages of development and expressed according to the vocabulary with which the person is familiar.

But, maybe because the anniversary of my father’s death is in a week, I am thinking that romantic love with another person may be a decoy for deeper love with the divine.  He seemed to come to me after he died, confused about where he needed to go, and I redirected him — “No, not my light, but that bigger light in the distance; go with those nice folks who will help you go where it serves for you to go.”

I think I’ve gotten people who are actually searching for, yearning for, God, getting distracted by the kind of love I apparently can provide.  Again, “No, it’s not my love, but that bigger Love, for which you are really searching, and if you confuse what you really want, with having a relationship with me, it won’t end well, for either of us.”  I have these suspicions, I think, less because I am looking to flatter myself and more because I get so drained by those sorts of relationships;  I don’t have infinite love available on demand without pause the way God does, and when people expect that from me, I get exhausted.  That’s what gives me the heads-up that something is amiss.  Such a misplaced relationship also tends to play out as devastation in my personal life, as well as this emotional, spiritual, and physical depletion of me.  (Al-Anon talks about this pattern arising in relationships affected by the disease of alcoholism, too.)  I notice what’s going on more quickly when the love sought is not romantic, but eventually I even recognize it there — and I think it’s harder for me to resist, too, when the love is romantic, although I’m not sure why — romantic love can be quite seductive, I guess.  Maybe it’s got a quality found in substances that encourage a Pavlovian response or an addictive response.  As I said, there seems to me to be some connection here with patterns found in situations affected by the disease of alcoholism — maybe people so affected are looking in their own way for God, too, and get waylaid by a more immediate but destructive substitute.

My point is that, if people are looking for Love, could they please direct their attention to where they can find the supply they need?

For my own part, I need to recognize earlier what’s going on for what it is, and to find a way to redirect the person searching, preferably in a way that also results in a relationship with that person that works for both of us.

Feathers in wings

October 29, 2013

The line in the Leslie Smith song “Words of a Kind” is actually about “tattered wings,” not directly about tattered feathers.  It goes, “Our wings are older now and tattered.”  Just wanted to correct what I wrote in my last post.

I thought to do that earlier, but I forgot about it.  Until I was walking home again through the woods this afternoon.

I was studying the area where there are steps down to the ball field for the middle school.  Used to be a large tree there, then it fell, then it was cut into pieces and they lay across from where it had stood.  Now it’s all gone and the area is much more open.  I was also looking at the stonework near those stairs and wondering, yet again, if the stones ever were the foundation for something beyond what can be seen now — they look like what you see in an archaeological dig, foundations to a structure long gone.

Anyway, I was contemplating all this and saw a motion in the sky at the edge of my field of vision, which I assumed would turn out to be an airplane, but no, it was a hawk.  It was gliding in circles, they looked as if they were overlapping, like you’d make with a spirograph.  Maybe that’s how hawks scan sectors for prey.  Don’t know, but it struck me that the feathers are much better on a live bird sailing through the sky than scattered on the ground.

I guess I also liked the idea of the feathers sailing up high because this was Willy’s birthday, and there’s that section at the end of “Reunion Hill,” by Richard Shindell, about the hawk “spiral[ing] higher still / As if from such an altitude / He might just keep our love in view.”

I’m sure there’s a story out there somewhere about how the husband sails off as the hawk himself, up to the higher reaches, after he dies.  That’s actually how I hear the Richard Shindell song, but I suspect that’s my overlay.

Reinflating trust

October 13, 2013

My last post in a way was about turning love outwards after there has been a loss.  The context was love for a child.

I am thinking about the equivalent for a loss in which the context is loss of a romantic partner.  I think this is a more complicated situation because, whether this is rational or not, trust seems to be involved as well as a lost opportunity to love.

I think we think that when adults are involved, more free will has been exercised and therefore there was more room for things to turn out differently if this or that person had only made different choices using their free will in the situation.  That makes it harder to trust that people will exercise their free will in ways that will not be painful to me, the other person.

So, I am pondering what the counter-intuitive emotional response to that situation might be that will counteract it.  I mean, clearly one can move on, there are other fish in the sea, another bus always comes — lots of metaphors for maintaining hope that there will be another opportunity and the possibility for a better outcome.  But what is the emotional posture that facilitates the resurgence of trust in other adults and potential partners?

I want to put in a brief aside that feeling abandoned through death of a partner gives rise to a different complex of emotions, I think, from what happens after a relationship that in theory could work out doesn’t.  The bereft may fear a repeat of the abandonment, but it doesn’t involve the same kind of mistrusting others; the use of free will I think can result in situations that are painful in a much more searing way than biology and Mother Nature produce.  People, especially those who have trouble putting themselves in the shoes of the other, can make choices that leave the other person in a more emotionally untenable situation, I think.  For example, offering a life saver and then knowingly withdrawing it.  Nature may do something that looks similar, but any imputation of intention or animus, I think, is purely a construct of our own.  Nature is not willful.

Okay, so what do I do when I’ve been through one, or more, of those situations, with adults exercising their free will in ways that cause me damage?  I could try to become more manipulative and hence not be so vulnerable to the pattern.  I could withdraw my self from the interactions and use a false self.  I could give up on adult human beings and play with animals, children, and God.  I could embrace the process of emotional damage followed by healing and not shy away from it.  I could focus on the assumption that these experiences serve a greater good and that the individuals involved are just playing a part (analogous to forgiveness for the executioner).  I could observe the situation from a remove, and note, “Yes, people can do that.  Isn’t that interesting.  And yes, it does hurt to be on the receiving end.”  That actually leads me to more of the sort of posture I think I am looking for:  “That’s what that relationship was like.  I wonder what the next one will be like.  Not knowing gives me the opportunity to look forward to finding out — my fellow human beings are interesting creatures and this will, if nothing else, be interesting.”

I, personally, am a sucker for the “interesting,” so this posture may work for me.  It may not work for others.  But maybe the process by which I arrived at it could be helpful to someone else.

In a way, it’s an end-around rebuilding trust — it says, in effect, don’t re-enter into a relationship on the basis that it will work out, only on the basis that it will be interesting.  I will learn something more about other people and about myself, and, no matter what happens, I will be okay.  That last part is faith, which for me is faith in God and the universe.

This approach to dealing with loss — loss in a relationship between adults — is much less obvious to me than my knowledge that I needed to nurture a child, described in my previous post.  This post is more of a trip through my current state of mind.  But I am quite sure that when I have hit unexpected brick walls in relationships I had emotionally invested in, I have thought, “Well, okay, I am quite surprised and hurt that this is not going to go the way I thought it was going to;  I wonder what the universe has in store for me instead.”  In a way, my trust in the universe obviates a need for trust in individual human beings that they be more reliable than they are or can be.

The point of commonality with what I wrote in my last post is that looking forward to a new relationship on this new basis allows me not to lapse into bitterness and closing myself off.


October 11, 2013

Well, of course we wouldn’t try to fill up a black hole in a galaxy as if it were a pot hole.  Why do we try to fill up holes in our hearts as if they were, too?

We want to close the hole.

I was reading yesterday this piece about pressure on cracks in a metal actually producing the counter-intuitive result of closing them.

My own personal experience has been that the hole in the heart gets resolved by projecting our positive emotions outwards.

I felt a hole in my heart open after a particularly difficult pregnancy loss, but I also realized that what I needed was a child to nurture, and what I didn’t need was to become angry and bitter.  It wasn’t a reasoned decision, or one set on achieving a particular positive result for myself, it was just a little self-awareness about next steps and avoiding something unpleasant (becoming angry and bitter).

One of the other things I had going for me, apparently, is an ability to stay on emotional pitch and not slide flat or sharp — I could hold a note of hurt or disappointment without its becoming anger or resentment.

Anyway, we found children to nurture.

I think, in retrospect, that it was kind of like throwing up a rope and then climbing it.  I ended up filling the hole through that (nurturing children) — like Harold with his Purple Crayon in the Crockett Johnson children’s books, drawing staircases to go down or go up in order to make his journey.  It’s kind of like faith, only it feels much more concrete than faith in God.  It’s a move on the physical plane that allows one to make a profit by giving something away — giving love to another closes the hole.

There are steps that come after, I think, at least in my own journey, but they are not the subject of this post.  Nor is my encounter with someone whose perceived hole in her heart was woven over through our working through enough imagery and emotional steps, at a very deep level, to allow her to feel the hole had been closed.

Evening out the highs and lows

September 20, 2013

I don’t disagree with the idea that suffering and love, and great suffering and great love, are related.  I read about that in Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation.  I agree that great suffering can break open a human heart, and that as a result, that heart can encounter, and access, great love after.  It’s quite a roller coaster.  Lots of drama.

I don’t, though, think that’s a helpful place to rest ourselves for too long, in that stage.  I think we need to even out those highs and lows, through detachment.  I think Buddhists talk about this a lot.  I got cued to this piece (by Pema Chödrön) recently, and I really liked the idea of “no big deal.”  She writes,

This was one of the biggest teachings from my teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: no big deal. I remember one time going to him with what I thought was a very powerful experience from my practice. I was all excited, and as I was telling him about this experience, he had a look. It was a kind of indescribable look, a very open look. You couldn’t call it compassionate or judgmental or anything. And as I was telling him about this, he touched my hand and said, “No . . . big . . . deal.” He wasn’t saying “bad,” and he wasn’t saying “good.” He was saying that these things happen and they can transform your life, but at the same time don’t make too big a deal of them, because that leads to arrogance and pride, or a sense of specialness. On the other hand, making too big a deal about your difficulties takes you in the other direction; it takes you into poverty, self-denigration, and a low opinion of yourself. So meditation helps us cultivate this feeling of no big deal, not as a cynical statement, but as a statement of humor and flexibility. You’ve seen it all, and seeing it all allows you to love it all.

I think it’s what I’m getting at here.

Cupid’s sting?

August 26, 2013

I got stung on Saturday morning, as I was walking, on the back of my left hand.  I felt something on my hand, and as I brushed it off, its stinger got left behind, although not much imbedded in my skin.

But it was enough.  The site hurt, it swelled, my hand swelled, got hot and red.  I got some first aid from  a shopkeeper friend, and I continued with self-help remedies at home.  Clearly I hadn’t gone into shock, but my track record for getting stings to resolve easily and quickly is not great.  It did seem to get better on Saturday, but, it turns out, the improvement was only temporary.

This morning the red hot swelling was beginning to spread down my wrist .  So I got a doctor’s appointment, and after hearing my history, the doctor concluded I have what is called a “delayed allergic reaction.”

I have been trying to see a positive metaphor in this experience, and I’m wondering if people ever experience falling in love this way.  For example, I’m supposed to alternate treating it with cold packs and hot wet compresses; maybe that’s how people in love sometimes behave towards each other?

I don’t know, maybe I’m stretching this metaphor possibility a bit, but the area burns, and I would like to get something positive out of putting up with this.

Low probability events

August 3, 2013

I’ve had a fair number of negative low probability events happen in my life.  Yesterday I was talking to Gita about something that would be a positive low probability event in my life, and when she realized what I was saying, she looked at me with an expression that I read as, “You’ve got to be kidding,” as in “Are you nuts?”  (Ultimately her advice was “Thy will be done.”)

It reminded me of when my sister made fun of my belief in what we would call an imaginary friend, when I was about three or four years old.  It had the same quality of puncturing a certain kind of faith.

So it got me wondering whether this might be analogous to what happens to some people about their faith in God or the divine, or in forces greater than themselves in the universe when somebody without any questions it and for a brief moment the person with faith sees what the faithless person sees.

It’s as if we really do walk on water when we have faith, and then somebody says, “You can’t do that, that’s impossible.”  And so it becomes, becomes impossible, at least briefly.

For me it is faith in the possibility of an unlikely relationship with another human being after a bunch of misunderstandings.

At this point in my life I do the spiritual thing pretty okay, it’s trust in human relationships I find difficult.  Part of what gets me through is the notion that these are the same emotional trials others go through with respect to having faith in God; it gives me more patience and compassion with that.

It helps me realize I should be more patient and compassionate with myself about my faith in a particular relationship.

It’s interesting that I have no problem accepting that negative low probability events have occurred in my life, but I have real difficulty believing that positive ones might occur.

Here, I put this crisis of faith out there because I do have faith that to articulate such a thing and then ask for help with it will lead to help — help in some way, shape, or form.  The first step, for me at least, is to observe that I’m having the crisis, the next is to locate it in a context, to see its pattern and notice where I’ve seen that pattern before.  And then I ask for help.

I am also aware of a pattern similar to what happened to me with Gita yesterday in another aspect, not just the pattern of faith punctured.  This other pattern has been in the past about going to a trusted person with a report of something like sexual assault, only to be ridiculed and ultimately shunned.   I am grateful that the version of the pattern I experienced yesterday was not that.

When the experience of a pattern becomes less devastating and we can keep our wits about us and not be so consumed by it, I think we have a greater opportunity to learn from it, not to mention process it and rebound from it successfully.