Friday, September 13, 2013
The Second Element
compassion, karuna. This is not only
the desire to ease the pain of another
person, but the ability to do so.
- Thich Nhat Hanh, True Love
* * *
It is an easy thing to love another. I once dated a woman who complained of my love for her this way, "You have been in love too many times." It is an easy thing to love, to feel it in the marrow of your soul, to daydream about your beloved, to feel that love as a sign of your inherent goodness, your worthiness to be here. Love of your child, your spouse, your partner, the one you are with - all are signs of your humanity. Right on. Have at. But don't kid yourself - there 's more to it than that.
Love's not a noun, but a verb.
* * *
The basic requirement of love is to place another before you, to put their well-being, their needs ahead of your own. Viktor Frankl spoke of it as "a cause larger than yourself." But most of us fail this elemental test. What we profess as love is self-referential, about how we feel about ourselves as some one who says, "I love you." And it fucks you. It fails you. It sends you into the arms of another and another and another and another. It stupefies you in front of your children because you can't trade them in and that first rush of pride in their arrival is replaced by frustration as your children grow into who they are, formed in part by your half-love.
The problem is one of misunderstanding what love is and is not. The simplest way to think of it is this: love is active, never passive and it always moves from the inside out. Anything else is pleasure, not love, useless suffering, not love, ego and pride, not love. It is not enough to desire love, or wish to be good and loving. You have to have the chops to actually do it.
* * *
When my children arrived I thought myself a good man, a good father. I was, too. I read to them, held them, got on the ground and crawled with them. I cooked for them, bathed them, cleaned them and considered myself a good man, a man who did all those things. It was what I knew of love and it was mostly about me. This is not to damn my actions, but to point out we don't know what we don't know until the day comes and we learn something new. But once you come to know something you can never unknow it. Fatherhood and love became known to me at the nadir of both: divorce. An unhappy and toxic marriage found its bottom and the process of unraveling it all was moving down the well-worn paths of the courts. Fathers become ghosts seeing their kids 4 days a month and the kids forget who their fathers are. So it was for me. Clueless, I was pushed along on the dis-assembly line, accepting whatever was said because I didn't think I had a voice. And then the line stopped. I said, no.
What would have taken a few months and little money, became a long fight to keep my place with my children. At this point it was still about me, about how others perceived me, about how I perceived myself: I am the man who fought. Again, you don't know what you don't know. Each step along the way here was colored with fear and hubris until the day it wasn't.
My youngest has been storm-tossed her entire life. The divorce heightened that. The damage done to all my children was crystalized in her and it shattered her. Her hurt spread out in all directions adding pain to pain for my other children. It was her need that woke me. It was seeing how her hurt affected and magnified the losses for my other children that woke me to the basic truth of love: it is not enough to desire it, to say you feel it, to promise it - you must act on it. Love is not a noun but a verb. It is active, vital. It moves. It moves from the well of your soul through the things you say and do and travels into the world. This is the world you create, the one you live in.
* * *
What world have you created for yourself? If you have been unknowing, if you have been self-focused, you're probably fucked. We fear letting go of our primacy because we don't know how our needs will be met and so we act to protect them. But here is another truth to awaken to: when you love another, a cause larger than yourself, when that love is active and you master the ability to give, to offer compassion, joy, kindness and freedom to another, all of your needs are met in the same moment. It sounds like a ridiculous koan - by giving you receive, but it isn't simply that you get yours, but your needs have changed, you have changed. No longer a noun, but a verb, you move and are sustained by the motion.
And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I'm flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.
* * *