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     Volume 9 Issue 7 | February 12, 2010|

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Smile, Breathe, and Go Slowly
A Buddhist Valentine

Sharbari Ahmed

In Ecuador there is a flower that has bribed a humming bird--a sword billed--to do its bidding. What has resulted is a perfect symbiosis of existence. The sword billed has an extra long beak, longer than its own tiny body actually and this is because the yellow and bright red pasiflora mixta or the aptly named, passion flower, on which it feeds has a long corolla. The passion flower's nectar is hidden high up and to reach it easily the humming bird needs an extra long beak and tongue. This serves a dual purpose as when the bird feeds it becomes covered with pollen, which it obligingly releases into the next blossom it dines on so the passion flower can then propagate.

I feel I have just described the perfect love to you. It is evolutionary, and creative, thus allowing each one concerned to grow into a more efficient and productive version of themselves. The partners in this relationship recognise one another clearly, each one seeing the unique value of the other and how this value will allow them to live a full life. Neither the hummingbird nor the flower require a pre-nuptial agreement nor a man-made contract of any kind--because real love cannot be defined by written laws. As great as the human imagination is I will argue that true love is something that most of us cannot fathom, thus, even when it appears, we would not be able to identify it easily. It is defined by a divine law, and though spiritualists claim that we are all divine beings I feel our divinity, in 2010, is largely hidden from us.

Between the sword billed and the flower there is no attachment, just a pure understanding of the role each of them play. It is about mutual need and mutual nourishment and maybe that is all love really is--nourishment of one's soul so we can all go on to do the great things I firmly believe we are all capable of. With no judgements, no recriminations and simple acceptance.

I borrowed the title of this article from Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk, who wrote a slim book on this very subject. Hahn says that true love starts with maitri and you. If you can show yourself love then and only then can you truly love another. Also, true love is contingent upon one's ability to bring joy to the one they love. If your love causes them suffering, or stems from a will to possess, then it is not True Love.

Right now some of you, on this valentine's weekend, are literally burning with passion and expectation that involves another person. You have convinced yourself that you are in love and it is making you unhappy. I will then argue that you are not at all in love, at least not true love because TL is not supposed to cause suffering of any kind. It is not supposed to inspire the kind of passion that gives you indigestion and what was known in Victorian times as the vapours.

Hanh says that “training is needed in order to love properly; and to be able to give happiness and joy, you must practice deep looking [and listening] directed at the person you love. Because if you do not understand this person you cannot love properly (TL, page 2).”

I took this revelation rather personally and if the mild mannered monk had been in front of me, I might have clocked him. You see, it played into my anxieties about who I am. Lately I appear to be bestowing my love on people who completely baffle me. I mean like, when they talk, it's as if they are speaking Latvian or their actions have no rhyme or reason, at least none that I can identify. So did that mean that I actually did not love them? According to Monk Hanh, yes, that is precisely what it means.

Anxious, I asked my kid, “do you think mommy loves you?”
“Uh huh,” he said, very pre-occupied with an inappropriate video game.
“No, seriously!”
“Mom! I said yes! How come you never listen?”
First rule of TL, broken! I did not listen.

I have a large family and am blessed with many friends both male and female. I started wondering how I love these people. Am I loving them properly? Based on the further criterion by Hanh, I am nowhere near the neighbourhood of true love with most people. Alas, many will forgive me and are actually none the wiser. The truth is in order to really love --any kind of love-- one must be in touch with one's Spirit and I am not there yet. I have not thrown off the shackles of ego and expectation. I can make people laugh, even sometimes help them believe in themselves. I can give advice and opinions; I have too many of those, but I have not yet mastered the ability to bring complete joy to another human being. My kid likes me (for now). And since I started meditating, I have been paying more attention to how I interact with him and how he reacts in certain situations. I do dread the kid in the therapist's office in 20 years: “I think most of your problems stem from your mother's narcissistic tendencies and fundamental inability to get you on the bus in time. But at least she loved you.”

I have always felt that the love I feel for my son is the purest emotion I will ever experience and I have been trying to be mindful of what Khalil Gibran says: that children are only lent to us. We do not own them. It appears, however, that I have some work to do in that department as well.

This is meant to be comforting, believe it or not, this article. The fact is, most of us do not know how to love and are afraid of true love. We are all in this together, so to speak. We all need help. It occurs to me that the whole concept of soul mates is also wildly misrepresented. Very rarely is it as simple as running through a field of daises holding hands. Soul mate for soul growth a friend keeps telling me. “A soul mate is there to show you your demons, and to help you fight them. But the intensity of the connection is bound to frighten at least one of you at first and bring all that junk up, the sludge of your fears. It's nothing like the movies.”

I would have to disagree, that first soul mate meeting can be like a horror movie that suddenly takes a u-turn into phantasmagoria and then boom! Ends up like a divine romantic comedy.

So now that I have helpfully deconstructed the fantasy for you, we can all set about really loving one another, n'est pas? I leave you with the words of Thich Nhat Hahn: “...our love is not contingent upon the other person being lovable.” Happy Valentines Day.





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