“The harder the conflict, the more potentially glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheaply and easily, we esteem too lightly, for it is dearness only that gives a thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price on its treasures, so it would be strange indeed if something so sublime and transformative as Love (real Love) would not prove to be very costly. . . .” ( – my riffing on something Thomas Paine wrote in “The Crisis”— http://www.ushistory.org/paine/crisis/singlehtml.htm)
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a person finds and then hides again, and out of joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” – Matthew 13:44
Such is our condition when it comes not only to the kingdom of heaven but also to chemistry of romantic love. The same principles apply. Romantic love—however rare and difficult to find we may think the experience is—is still an unearned or easy or automatic experience. It just happens; we fall into it, we get lost in it, in the swirl and whirl and roil of all of the pheromones and neurochemicals and hopes and dreams and infatuation. The visceral physical attraction to another that is the hallmark of romantic love takes no effort.
And so when two people suddenly find all of this unmistakable chemistry and electricity between them, they each are like that person in the parable Jesus told. They each have suddenly found a great treasure hidden in a field.
And so what do most of us do when we find that treasure? We do what is very natural and understandable, but what is also at the same time very naïve and unwise: we start living off the treasure and exhausting it, depleting it. We start living very decadently emotionally, enjoying our newfound boon—our new emotional windfall.
And in doing so we do very little that will allow us to sustain and deepen and nurture and strengthen the original attraction, give it roots, give it sustenance.
In other words, we don’t go and “sell all that we have” in order to buy the field or earn the windfall in feelings and the beauty of the experience and to make ourselves more worthy and capable of such love—not only receiving it, but giving it, practicing it, becoming a better conduit for it. Real love—the real stuff with all of the passion and wonderful connectivity and conversation and companionship and growth—costs, takes effort and work. (“Hell, I sympathize; I sympathize completely. Apathy is a solution. It is easier to lose yourself in drugs than it is to cope with life. It is easier to steal what you want than it is to earn it. It is easier to beat a child than it is to raise it. Hell, love costs; it takes effort and work.” – from the motion picture “Se7en”)
And it’s not necessarily a case of romantic love being something that we obtain too cheaply and easily and thus we will esteem it too lightly; rather it’s a case that since we didn’t work for the experience and have to earn it in the first place, we likely won’t do the work required to sustain and deepen and legitimize the experience—to give roots as well to our wings so that we might increase and fund the experience.
“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: one is roots, the other is wings.” – Hodding Carter
The same is true of Love. With limerance (romantic love) we are gifted an unearned pair of wings that allows us to effortlessly fly and soar and feel like we’re on top of the world and above all of the bustle and superfluity of life for a while. The key is to give the experience some real roots that will allow it to continue and deepen and grow. The key is to put a foundation beneath it—
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” – Henry David Thoreau
The key to making romantic love last and deepen into something “real” is work, right effort, devoting ourselves to learning what love really is, and then growing in that direction, becoming the type of person who is not only capable of being visited briefly by the experience, but becoming the type of person who can actually hold and cradle and sustain the experience, that is, actually love another, actually be good to another, bring oneself and another more to life, and day in and day out consistently bring the gift of one’s best self to the relationship.
And that may well require more than a lot of technical know-how, mastery of techniques, a calm mind and kind heart. It may require—it likely will require—that we connect with another in a very deep and essential way, which means that we first must connect with ourselves in a very essential and non-discursive or non-monkey-minded way, and then that we meet another who also has such a relationship with his or her deepest and most authentic or essential self. Real Love is not based on periphery to periphery contact between two people—it can’t happen under such conditions; real Love is based on soul to soul or core to core contact between two people.
That’s the only foundation that sustains and legitimizes the experience by transforming it. That’s what it means to sell all we have and buy the field where the buried treasure is hidden.
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(The following is my riffing on some of Rilke’s letters)
With each meeting of two inattentive, unsolitary people, chance begins. Chance happens whenever two gather in its name. And its power increases with the frequency and duration of their relationship.
Nothing keeps two people so fast in error as the daily repetition of that error. Nothing keeps two people bound by chance as the daily repetition of unsolitary, haphazard, behaviors. Each time there is a behavior in any relationship that is not mindful and deliberate, chance enters the relation and increases its effects. How many people bound to one another in a destiny gone rigid might have been able to, by short, clean separations into brief moments of solitude and clarity, ensure that their hearts would have remained courageous and open and inexhaustible from change to change?
The only hope that two people have who are bound by chance, whose relationship is like that of two falling leaves, is if they learn to take leave of each other from time to time and become solitary, mindful, more essential, become law to themselves first, before trying to become anything essential to someone else.
Because for the solitary person there are no chance occurrences—everything is law: he is encircled by laws, circumscribed by them, hemmed and pent in by them, sustained and nourished and conditioned by them, even in danger (especially in danger), even in difficulty (especially in difficulty), and even in love (most certainly in love).
Fortune favors the bold and the solitary. So let us be sufficiently bold and brave to live always from this place, to always approach our interactions and exchanges with each other from this innermost most-mindful place. This is, after all, the dharma put into practice, here, in a relationship. This is what it means to stay truly present—to be this open and attentive and receptive, to graciously bear and live this Namaste, to commit oneself unflinchingly and unfailingly to truth, to light, to change, to impermanence, to lovingkindness, to difficulty, to what’s best in our selves, to our future strengths, to not further tangling and cluttering and knotting ourselves, to not living wastefully and wanderingly and discursively, to not evading the full intensity of life, to not closing ourselves off and making ourselves false, to not chasing constant sedation, but instead remaining courageous, reachable, to detaching and accepting that things are passing away—now, and at every moment. Because, most of all, staying present means staying inquisitive, it means bravely and patiently enduring—not simply reacting and avoiding, which is accidental, but being more centered and deliberate and essential when determining how to respond, to think of future strengths that want our help now in being born, and the future partings and deaths that eventually must take place.
Only a relationship that begins like this, in the invisible and the essential, and that has strong roots like this in the invisible and essential, and that takes time to nourish and strengthen those roots, can ever be real. Everything else is chance—the relationship of two falling leaves—two leaves that drift and flutter and turn in the air, and are acted on and moved by every breeze and little gust, leaves that travel in no defined path, leaves that have no wisdom or guide within themselves.
Fate favors those who are daring enough to begin a relationship this mindfully, who put down strong roots in the invisible, and give proper attention and deference to those roots,—even when they are present with each other in the visible.
This is what all communing means—growing through encounter—two people falling more awake in each other’s presence.
On a long hard road, whose end no one could foresee, we suddenly arrive at this point in eternity, and, surprised and shuddering, we gaze at each other like two people who stand unexpectedly before a gate behind which God has already arrived.
Are you ready for this?
Have you been readying yourself for this?