This weekend the band was flown to the East Coast, to an island wedding that was spectacularly fun and joyful and quite extravagant. We don’t play many weddings, and the ones we have played have sometimes ended awkwardly, with the bride obviously unhappy that she got talked into indulging the groom into hiring a pounding rock band for her reception. This one was not like that. We had a great time and were part of a series of musical events that kept the party going until late at night.
I was happy, seeing two people so obviously well-matched and in love. Married people like to see other people getting married. For most of my life I assumed that was because they wanted other suckers to commiserate with, to validate their poor choices. Which says everything about my previous mindset about marriage and pretty blatantly shows that I am probably not the best person to which you should hitch your wagon.
Despite my unromantic leanings, I have had good luck in my life when it comes to relationship. I don’t think I’m the easiest person to be with, always pulling back into MINE, always nurturing a firm belief that I need no one. Maybe it’s the state of the artist: the nurturing of the creative impulse causes a sort of self-centeredness that overwhelms other relationships. Yet, the people who have been insistent on dealing with me have been marvelous, and now I find myself half of one of those married couples who get all teary when they see other people getting married. Now I see that the reason we get so happy for newlyweds is that we know of this magical deepening of partnership that is the source of such bliss.
Recently, my dear friend was falling into some deep places in meditation, and she was connecting to that universal oneness that comes from letting go of the ego and personality. She was falling into infinite awareness. At certain points, she found that what kept her from falling further was a fear that by letting go of her false self, she would be letting go of the relationships she treasured, that of her very adored husband, her very adored dogs. What happens to relationship where there is no objective self? When there is no longer any differentiation in how you love or to whom, and all of the clinging and judgment that creates preference falls away? What happens to a marriage when one awakens to no self?
I have witnessed this fear in deep meditation as well. As I am falling, expanding into awareness, hearing a pulse of thought saying: let go, let go, what often stops me is the vision of my loved ones and thus the person who loves them, the Clementine who takes joy in these other presences, who is defined in relation to the love. I feel others’ expectations of me and how I reflect their desires and needs, and I pull back from truly falling into neutrality.
Relationships are a conditional way of being with another. A mother’s love is often the only true unconditional love we experience, and yet even in this there can be preference, judgment, two solid egos negotiating reality together. In every other relationship, the unconditional is only achieved in an ego-less state of pure awareness. Otherwise, no matter how peaceful or deep the love emotion, there is always a requirement there that the other person behave in a certain way to keep the relationship structure strong.
We love our partner, but then they betray us and the structure becomes broken, the façade crumbles. Suddenly the person we loved unconditionally until the day we die is the source of pain. We curse them, and the pain becomes a steel wall that obscures the former love. When the ego is hurt, it will dissolve all emotion that once seemed so solid and eternal. Love in our lives is never unconditional as long as our ego is the lover.
Once, at the beginning of the internet, I carried on a correspondence with a person overseas, and it developed into a romantic, flowery, sweet infatuation. I didn’t know what he looked like, or what he did for a living, and I loved not knowing. By not knowing, I created a fantasy of all I could imagine. I was building up a mirror in which I saw a reflection of my own dreams, and it had nothing to do with the person on the other end. I was creating a mirror of the self. Of course, when we met later there was nothing of the connection I had imagined, and I was struck by how narcissistic I had been, and how cruel, to use this person on which to build a structure of my ego.
I think that’s what we often do in relationships, even with people who are right in front of us. We put all our desires on to another person. We build a reflection of our self, with its desires and expectations and judgments, and then we become heartbroken when the person we’ve piled all our stuff on behaves according to their own ego needs. When two egos work together to create a relationship, it can be beautiful only as long as conditions are met.
What would it be like to love unconditionally? The first step is to realize that love the emotion is not what is required for this state. An emotion always has an opposite, and to depend on the emotion love is to eventually fail. At times, love becomes its opposite. It wanes, changeable. We no longer find the warm feelings of the beginning of the relationship, or we become so attached to the way the emotion felt at an earlier time that how it appears later becomes unbearable. Expectations are always broken, it is their way.
The love that is required to love unconditionally is energy, not emotion. It is the open, neutral, boundless and infinite energy at the bottom of our true self. In this place, love energy expands exponentially: in fact, there seems to be no beginning or end. There is no requirement of the other, and no ego to be hurt or needy. It is pure love that accepts the other entirely.
What often comes up is that we think by loving this way, we become a pushover, and that we’ll used by others who are not in their true selves to take advantage of this open acceptance. Yet, if you have no ego, and live in this infinite truth of self, then your boundaries are true as well. You know the right course of action at all times, and what is right for both beings is the action your take. With unconditional love, your energy is not spent on reacting and attacking, and instead there is endless energy to open to peacefulness. There is no ego to create a barrier in front of understanding or compassion, and relationship becomes painless. Even when the other is closed off to this energy, even if a person feeds on conflict and problems, the deep energy of compassion shows the right path of action. Maybe it’s time to let this person continue on without you. Maybe you let them go. When this decision is done from a place of unconditional love, then suffering is alleviated by the deep knowing that this is the right course of action for all. Truth carries us through.
When you live in unconditional love, that expands into unconditional love for all, all beings, all people. My meditating friend got stuck on worrying about what would happen to her marriage if she became so open she loved everybody with the same love. She had recently sat at a Zen retreat and she wrote to a monk there, asking this question.
His answer was simple: Awakening helps everyone. There is no down side to Awakening.
We had a laugh about this. To let go of attachment is to let go of misery. How could there be a problem living in the infinite bliss of awakening? It was funny to see how the ego made us think that this could possibly be a bummer. Of course. Awakening to a boundless well of love energy would just deepen all your relationships. What bliss to truly love those around you purely and infinitely. It seemed so obvious once the monk said it. What were we afraid of?
It’s interesting, the things the ego grasps onto to keep you from falling into awakening. During meditation we watch how we grasp at our attachments, and see our concepts around the big structures of our lives: relationship, family, career. We we put so much need and expectation on these things, and we have no control over any of it. We only control our Now. Our only choice is to hold on, or to let go.
In these old structures of relationship, I will always disappoint you. I will always be selfishly fighting for what my ego needs: to be respected and cherished and cared for and left alone. Yet, when I fall into this infinite energy of love, there is no ego to coddle, and I am here to celebrate you as I celebrate me. What is best for you is all I am. We are one being. How magnificent this peace. How everlasting this love.
I guess humans created weddings and marriages as a reflection of this understanding. If there is no me and no you and yet we are both aware of this infinite field of perfection at the base of us, then we live here in perfection. Your bliss is mine, and we move together from a pulse of truth. The beautiful thing is that when you have a taste of this in a personal relationship, it is not so big a jump to imagine what the whole world would be like in this unconditional energy. How would unconditional love in the world look: meeting enemies with compassion and understanding, letting go of the ego concepts of right and wrong and good and evil and just falling into truth.
The ego fears this. The whole world fears this, I think, but then I just let that concept go with all the rest of it. All I can do is to let go of the Me, let go of the fear and fall in. Then, maybe those I love this way will find their own way to this kind of infinite love. It’s all I’ve got.