Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find
all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it
I have not been in a significant relationship with anyone for just over three years, much as there has been the occasional false alarm along the way. My friends constantly ask me if I’ve met someone new and this is oftentimes followed by the reassurance that someone is bound to come along. And as time has progressed, their good intentions have been met with my response of having decided that I am going to die a spinster with ten cats. I can be facetious. I am also bisexual.
The latter is a story in itself but what I will say is that it can be experienced in a myriad of ways, but for me being bi means nothing more than falling in love with the person and not the gender. It comes down to who the person is, what that person stands for and the way in which we connect regardless of that person’s genitals. There’s the joke that a bisexual has double the chance of finding a date on a Saturday night, but the opposite is true. But this isn’t what I’d like to share about today. What I would like to talk about is what the concepts of love and relationship have come to mean to me, and why. Especially with yesterday being Valentine’s Day.
Albert Schopenhauer, a German philosopher, once demonstrated the challenges that we as human beings face when it comes to matters of the heart, by using an analogy of hedgehogs on a cold winters night. He made a comparison between hedgehogs seeking to share each others’ warmth while running the risk of getting spiked, with our own need to be close to others while at the same time opening ourselves up to the possibility of getting hurt. The result is that we tend to draw near because life is cold and hard and lonely, but then we are hurt and so we retreat, only to move toward each other once again but for this to yet again be followed by moving away. The result is a cycle that psychologists refer to as ‘approach-avoidance conflict,’ which oftentimes leads to love representing loss and pain and rejection. Until, finally, one vows to never set oneself up again. Ever. Again. Never. Ever. Again.
And this, good people, is where I have been and what I have done for the latter years of my life. Day after day, month after month and year after year the walls around my heart grew higher and more unbreachable. With the relationship false alarms being nothing more than me attracting the least available people into my life as a means of protecting myself and my heart…because if the relationship is doomed before it has even begun, then I don’t really have to put myself out there, right?
But, last year, all of it changed for me. I met someone. Ironically, a couple of days prior to our meeting, I saw a friend who asked the usual question of whether there was someone new and she was met with the usual response: Me…spinster…dying with ten cats. And then I met someone. We spent time together. And after doing that a couple of times, I realised that I had come to really, really, really like him. And then I felt physically ill, for no reason other than me realising that the walls to my heart were in the process of being breached and I was terrified! The fight or flight instincts kicked in. And it was at this point that the process of the expansion of my human heart began.
You see, two very important things surfaced during that time of conflict. The first was the acknowledgement that all that I really wanted to get out of the equation was to offer him my gentleness, kindness and care. The nature of the way of relating, be it as friends or as lovers were mere details. I just wanted to give him my care. A lot! This, was when the concept of love took on flesh – my own – and I concluded that love seeks out the best for the other, for the sake of the other. Cue: a huge lightbulb moment for me because an image of who and what I was as a child stood in the forefront of my mind.
I think that I must have driven my mother ditzy as a child. Whenever we’d go for walks around the neighbourhood, I’d have the tendency to pick flowers from the gardens on the sidewalk and hand them out to strangers as we’d pass them by. Regardless of how my mom would try to persuade me not to steal the neighbours’ flowers, I couldn’t help doing anything but that.
As I allowed myself to feel my way around that image, I was hit by the stark reality that as my heart had experienced the knocks that life inevitably brought its way and the walls grew higher, so too had I let go of who I inherently am as a human being, along with the way that I am called to engage with life and others. This silent acknowledgement to myself stung like a bitch!
This was the trajectory that led to me embracing Buddhism to the degree that I have. Buddhism teaches about bodhicitta – the spontaneous wish to gain enlightenment through spreading compassion and diminishing suffering for all sentient beings in this world. One of the ways to bring about bodhicitta is through what is known as Tonglen Practise. Tonglen is the basis upon which I live my life and I feel that I have changed for the better because of it.
You start by focusing on yourself and make yourself present to how you are experiencing yourself internally. With your in-breath you consciously take all of your hardship and suffering upon yourself. And with your out-breath you offer yourself compassion and mercy and healing and light. You then do the same for your loved one/s, your family, friends, acquaintances, enemies, people that you hate and finally, with all living things on this planet. This process is done with the intention of maybe, possibly, perhaps allowing others to experience a sense of peace and healing even if temporary, while raising the vibration of this planet.
You always start with yourself. Always. Buddhism teaches that the root of self esteem is mercy, compassion and kindness of self. Tonglen has reinforced this fact for me. It has enabled me to return to the child who picked flowers and handed them out to strangers. As a single man, it has shown me that there is a world full of people to whom I am able to extend my love and compassion, while encouraging me to put myself in the front of the queue. But it has also guided me down into the very core of who I am and allowed me to identify that within this realm lies a soul-ache. A soul-ache to offer another a place of absolute togetherness and undeniable belonging. And this is good. Very good. It affirms that my heart is open to the possibility of letting somebody in one day. When the time is right.
But for now, I do not need somebody to take care of me, to give me what I need or to validate my presence in this world. My capacity to love allows me to live in the light of who I am and it enables me to respond to what the Universe calls me to be, as a human being. And this for me is enough.
And for the record, no, I haven’t met someone and I may not any time soon. But I am in a loving and committed relationship with myself and with this planet.