In Redefining our Relationships, Wendy-O Matik says, "There is a tendency to want to put love in a tight frame, easily defined, and then put it on a shelf to over- or underanalyze. But love is far too clever to cooperate on this insignificant level." So, it could be said, is the self that touches buddha nature.
During the fervent fertile years of my Buddhist practice, when I spent much time digging and tilling in myself during Zen retreats, I experienced a fear at times, a trepidation over some next step, some next digging. I don't remember the specific question, but I remember the teacher's answer, "Perhaps you are bigger than you think you are." The small self of the ego tries to protect its walls through defensive posturing, through shrinking into corners, through over- or under-analyzing. Visually I always picture my friend Patrick, who (years ago) put his arm up over his face, bent elbow sticking out both as sword and shield, gleefully reducing the fearful ego to a tiny armor-bound body that clearly couldn't see beyond those sharp-edged walls.
I was finding that big self that needed no sharp elbows, that could see and be seen. Step by step, my zen teachers and my sangha, my beloved spiritual community, helped me expand my self beyond, always going on beyond that little defensive self.
I was learning to love myself. I didn't really know what love was, until it burst off that little shelf and knocked me sideways when I was thirty years old. "There is no place to rest," my buddha nature said. "Nope, you have to learn to love with your whole heart, your whole body, your whole mind." I thought I had come into my own. I thought I had become who I was meant to be. I had. I had learned to love myself. I had learned clarity. I thought I had come to an end, but it was only the beginning.
Wendy also said, "To give without expecting something in return is the ultimate gift of love, but it takes practice." If those first ten years of my Buddhist practice were all about finding the me I was meant to be, this second ten years have been all about forgetting about me, and learning to love without expectation. I don't mean a kind of love that still sets you apart. It's easy to love from inside a monastery on a hill. No, I'm talking about passionate involvement, along with all the psychic bumps and scrapes that come with negotiating the balance of attachment and nonattachment, with diving headfirst into feelings and connections and needs and revulsions. It takes practice.
Being poly, I got to get a lot of practice! Now, I'm not talking just about romantic love. The more I've experienced of that, the more I'm inclined to resist those boundaries. Love is love is love. There are different flavors of love. Each relationship I have, each love I have, has its own flavor, its own urgency, its own rhythm, its own boundaries. All these connections, all my relationships, flow from this love within me that is the same, a pure intention and movement in the direction of good wishes, kindness, compassion. Sometimes that pure intention and movement toward particular persons includes sexuality, sometimes it must exclude sex, but include loving affection. All those monumental rides and crashing highs and lows that came with romantic love helped me open up to a more passionate caring love for my platonic-flavored loves. Those bumps and scrapes prepared me for greater ease with a tender heart. They gave me a tender heart.
I was inspired to try to express this by my newfound blogger friend, Rachel, and her post about How She Found Out She's Poly. She fell in love. She still loved her husband. The feeling and the secret were tearing her apart. She confessed. Her husband had an interesting response:
Now I would call such a thing a "crush", because I believe you shouldn't call something "love" until your souls have mingled, and that takes intimacy and time. I think you can easily have crushes on other people without it affecting love for your partner.
I don't like using that word, crush. Or infatuation. Or even NRE for new relationship energy. I still prefer to say "falling in love". The first smashes the feeling down as insignificant. Indeed that was the intent of the man I quoted. If a feeling is made insignificant, crushed down and made small, well then it will be small. This is what most of us do to ourselves. We have an opportunity for expansion, and we do our damnedest to shrink it down to something we can control and kick around. The second belittles the love, makes it something that doesn't even qualify as love. Love is relegated to some lofty exclusive realm that only certain people are allowed to receive, while others are only worthy of receiving a delusion. The third, so clinical. At least not a delusion, but still not worthy yet of inclusion in this space of love.
Later he says,
I think about human nature, and the way that love can make us irrational and jealous and giddy and happy and sad... Love between two is complicated enough!
Indeed love can be overwhelming with the giddiness and the sadness, but with more experience, more practice, it becomes easier to steer, easier to transform and redirect those strong feelings. You may not be able to control it on that little shelf, but it can be possible to steer it in a general direction. I have learned too that love between two can be simple enough. When we don't have to share all the same interests, the same hobbies, or even the same sexual tastes, it becomes easier to love and accept each other just as we are. The points of conflict become less when we don't expect to have so many points aligned. Not so complicated, we can simply share this space of love.
There's more that Rachel inspired me to say, but I'll take that up in the next installment. Go here for part 2.