Love is such a unique force in the universe. It’s a phenomenon that seems to have no particular origin. Try as we will, we are unable to say with any certainty where it came from. I suppose one could take a theistic position and attribute the source or beginning of love to an omnipotent being or god(s). This has been the position of many throughout human history. But, what about the millions, perhaps even billions, of individuals who don’t hold this belief. What would account for them being so interested in love?
If you’ve read any of my postings, I’ve abandoned trying to describe love. Definitions in the realm of emotions and individual lives are heavily subjective. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it could not be otherwise. However, given that subjectivity I have began asking different questions about love. One such inquiry has been whether love is impermanent. Initially, such a question may appear inert. But, with a little further consideration, the question becomes more interesting. You may wonder what would be the use of knowing the answer to this question if indeed it is even knowable. I’ll explain.
For me it’s tied to suffering. That is, I evaluate most everything (of real importance) from the perspective of its relationship to suffering. Specifically, I ask does X seem to cause me more or less suffering. Haha, now this becomes extremely challenging to evaluate when it comes to love! Here’s the quagmire for me. I don’t believe that pursuing or desiring anything that is impermanent is particularly healthy. That said, if we made no plans or intentions to “do something” then that might bring an entirely different type of suffering. I must admit that I do desire some things which are also impermanent. An example, I like being healthy. Thankfully, as of this writing, I remain in excellent health! But one day, no matter how healthy I am, I am going to die.
As it regards love specifically, if it is an emotion, we know how impermanent emotions can be. You can be deeply in love with someone and loathe them in the future. I’m not just speaking of romantic love here, but love of any variety. So I use to ask myself if loving causes me to suffer. Honestly, I had to admit that it did. Not all of the time, but some times deeply so. For example, when my mother passed I suffered immensely. I don’t mean that I felt really sad and cried a lot (which I did) but rather deep down to the depths of my soul “life will never be the same” kind of suffering. It lasted for quite some time. At that time, I had a strong idea about the notion of impermanence. I fully understood it intellectually and “religiously.” What I lacked then was a daily spiritual practice regarding the truth of impermanence.
As it regards love and its relationship to suffering. I have come to two realizations. The first is that yes loving can cause me to suffer. I know this from direct experience. However, the second realization is that it can only cause me suffering by the “way that I love.” If I love anyone or anything without realizing on a deep and meaningful level that it’s already fading with each moment, I will absolutely suffer on some level. I don’t believe that love is an exception to the general principle that ALL phenomenon are impermanent. What has been the effect of this belief in practice? It has given me the courage and strength to love wholeheartedly and fully. I have no concern or preoccupations about whether my friend, family member, lover or whomever “loves me as much.” In a sense their level of love for me, or lack of it, is irrelevant! Haha, sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it?
When I choose to love, I’m choosing to experience (via love as the vessel) the world through a phenomenon that is itself impermanent. Additionally, whatever I choose to direct my love towards in this world is also impermanent. All of it. Please understand this is not psychological gymnastics but a deep spiritual realization that I wanted to share. One of the real-life results since adopting this practice is that when it comes to romantic relationships I have no fear of having my heart broken. The only thing that may be “broken” is a trust, commitment or oath, which is still no light matter. I firmly believe that a broken heart (about anything) is more the result of a confused understanding of the impermanence of things.
I’ll be honest about one of the results of this practice of understanding the impermanence of love. It has caused some to think that I care less about them. I don’t just mean in romantic situations. Nothing could be further from the truth. But, the typical reaction that one would expect in many “negative” emotional situations does not register in me. The lack of a knee-jerk response is erroneously interpreted as nonchalant or not caring enough. That’s not it. It’s my daily meditation practice. It’s my nutritional preference. (i.e. plant-based/no dairy or meat) It’s my martial arts training. It’s my more-than-intellectual understanding of impermanence. It’s my practice…
I’ll leave you with a practice I developed several years ago and was a catalyst for a major shift in my experience and consciousness. I call the moments just before we are fully conscious while waking up in the morning or going to sleep at night our bookends. During these brief flashing moments I asked myself: “What are you holding on to?” Your deep subconscious won’t let you lie to yourself. I went for nearly a year and half with very rare moments that I could honestly answer “nothing.”
As I increased my practice and understanding of impermanence, the peace began to arise first more often. Instead of once or twice a month it became once or twice a week. It was beautiful. I remember two or three rare occasions when I had several days in a row of “nothing” as the answer. Things still enter my consciousness at these times that can lead to worrying. The difference is now I can dispel them as soon as they pop up. I simply ask myself “what is permanent in this world.” The answer “nothing.” Yet you expect this (fill in your worry here) will always remain the same or not change forever? My mind then immediately shifts to something more productive about that thing. A new solution, resolution, different approach, my day or simply acceptance. Any of which are more healthy than worrying and suffering. It’s sincere though and not halfhearted pretending.
If in your morning waking moments you’re worried (not just thinking) about how bad the traffic is going to be, whether the kids will be ready in time to walk out the door or whether the market (or your portfolio) is up or down these are causes of your suffering. So it is with love. If the way you love causes you to focus equally or more on how others love you back, or at all…you’re causing yourself to suffer. Either choose to love fully or not at all. In either case love is impermanent. That’s a tough pill to swallow only if you don’t fully understand the nature of existence. But, once you do you’ll love like never before! Love is a footprint in the sand. Ask for how long or why and you’ll suffer. Simply appreciate it, share it and enjoy it while it’s there and you’ll be happy!
-Sensei Derek Fletcher