I wake, alone, always alone, and wonder; why does it have to be like this?
I move slow, zombie like, to the kitchen dragging a handful of clothes which will be my armor this day. Too thin to keep life’s pains from intruding. Just enough to hide them.
It is too late in the morning to stretch my body and mind. Too late even for coffee.
Half dressed, I look down to Brown Dog, my traveling partner for these last twelve years, though he is going on fifteen or sixteen or I-don’t-really-know-what-teen since I picked him up as a feral stray, and I smile. I admire him. He is always ready to love and be loved.
I celebrate his birth along with my own in November which looms ever closer. I will be 54. How the fuck did that happen?
I make the time to love him then let him out the back door and shuffle to the front while pulling a dirty shirt over my head (too late now to find a clean one) and let myself out.
As the day progresses, the loads of water going from my truck to the road we are building keeps time like a slow moving metronome, those morning thoughts continue to intrude.
Surely I’ve learned the lessons that earn me the right to love and be loved? Surely the person I am now, regardless of my past, is worthy? Surely I deserve that most basic of all rights? Why am I such a failure?
I get ahead of the work crew and park my truck by the river that supplies the water I get paid to make the roads muddy with and walk to an overlooking edge.
I sit and breathe. Deep and slow.
I allow those thoughts to flow like the water that passes in near silence in front of me. I listen to and acknowledge each of them; “You are not worthy”… yes, I understand that’s how you feel. “You do not deserve”… it’s ok to feel like that. “You will never be happy”… it’s ok.
Each thought repeated with the impact and clarity gained through years of practice. Each identified, acknowledged, validated then treated with the same care and compassion I would offer another and released.
They are just words. Labels. They mean nothing.
Slowly, with practiced patience, the thoughts are reduced to a whisper and are replaced by the sound of the wind, a trickle of water, the birds, the rotation of the earth through the cosmos.
I slowly open my eyes and watch the gentle flow of the river and, without thought, begin to understand; The path I am on is like this little river that cuts its way through miles of prairie. It’s sweeps and bends the altered courses of my life. Its flow from past, through present, and towards the future.
I see my reflection in the surface. Static. Unmoving. It is in this static image that those thoughts live but it is an illusion. Beneath the surface the water is constantly flowing as it slides past stones and cuts its ever changing course through the prairie.
If I were to submerge myself in those slow moving waters, become one with it, there would be no past, no future, no false reflections, only a sense of Now. Eternal. Dynamic. It has no beginning. No end. It flows to the sea. Evaporates. Returns as rain. Flows.
It is that sense of Now, that never ending cycle, that I strive for in my meditation. Yes, the thoughts remain. My mind, like everyone else’s, never ceases its rumination and contemplation and formulation. It mutters incessantly.
But today, right now, I am like the river.
Image by JMGreff
“Craving and desire are the cause of all unhappiness.”
– Gautama Buddha
The Buddha taught us that desire is one of the root causes of suffering.
Yet the universe seems to have designed us for exactly that purpose with the intention of forcing us to alleviate or even eliminate the suffering only through connections to, and service of, others.
I understand the concept of desire being the root of suffering, but I am not convinced that the suffering caused by desire—at least when it comes to love—is always an unwanted thing.
Some time ago, I fell in love with someone I had known as a friend for five years prior. One day, after several weeks of very intense and intimate conversations, our relationship changed, those magic words were spoken, and I once again found myself in that unhappy state of desire.
It came with all the trimming; self-doubt, self-pity, fear, you name it. A suffering so pure that the Buddha himself might have pointed at me and said, “There, you see? That is what desire will get you.” As he shrugged his shoulders and strolled off to meditate under his bodhi tree.
The woman who professed her love to me, and captured a permanent place in my heart and soul, is the epitome of everything that I find most attractive in a woman—physically, intellectually, and spiritually. This is not an opinion based on that rosy view of fresh love which blinds, distorts, and softens, I have always felt this way about her.
I desired this woman in ways I am unable to describe; I still do, but we can not be together. Not now. Maybe not ever. This does not mean I love her any less.
There are many good reasons why we cannot be together, and maybe I will talk about them sometime, but for now, I just want to share that my desire caused considerable pain and suffering.
Yet, I chose to embrace that desire, not of her, or that which cannot be, but my desire to be loved by her, which I have not felt in many years, because something else came along with it that made me question everything I had learned not only about desire but about love as well.
I was loving deeper, truer, and more fully than I had ever loved before. Words that I had used with what I thought was full understanding, words like “unconditional” and “non-attachment,” took on new meaning. Meaning so clear and expansive that it made my prior understanding—an understanding gained through years of study and introspection and experience—like that of an infant.
I needed to know why, so I began the process of understanding with this one simple question: Is the desire to be loved a bad thing?
According to Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee of The Golden Sufi Center, the answer to that question is no. The Sufi mystic says that the feminine quality of desire, a part of Self that is largely ignored in our society, creates an imbalance both in Self and in society.
- “Like everything that is created, love has a dual nature, positive and negative, masculine and feminine. The masculine side of love is “I love you.” Love’s feminine quality is, “I am waiting for you; I am longing for you.” For the mystic it is the feminine side of love, the longing, the cup waiting to be filled, that takes us back to God. Longing is a highly dynamic state and yet at the same time, it is a state of receptivity. Because our culture has for so long rejected the feminine we have lost touch with the potency of longing. Many people feel this pain of the heart and do not know its value; they do not know that it is their innermost connection to love.” ~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
We are all familiar with the concept of yin and yang, those opposing parts of Self, masculine and feminine, that make us whole. When viewed in this way, yin represents the desire to be loved, while yang represents the action to love. Two halves of a whole. One cannot exist without the other—not fully.
To love I must also desire to be loved because desire is the driving force behind loving, and to be loved I must also know how to love.
It can be summed up in the words of Ibn ‘Arabi, who said, “Oh Lord, nourish me not with love but with the desire for love.”
To which I might add: Sustain me with love but nourish me with desire.
The Buddha is right, desire is causing me suffering, but it has also opened my heart, my mind, and my eyes to the fact that desire can be a path to a higher love.
Does this knowledge somehow diminish the suffering? No. In fact, the pain is made all the more severe by my understanding—but is worth every iota because of what it teaches me, and the depth of love which it has amplified and released.
So I surrender to love and to the universe who designed us this way and I accept the pain of desire because through that desire I have learned to love more fully.
It does raise another question, however: What happens if that desire is fulfilled?
Perhaps Rumi already knew the answer to this question when he said,
“Do not seek for water, remain thirsty.”
Author: J.M. Greff
Editor: Taia Butler
Supervising Editor 1: Travis May
Supervising Editor 2: Emily Bartran
As published in Elephant Journal (except for the shitty “Friends” pic they used which I replaced with this excellent image by Jeny Gevorgyan “The Desire of the Soul”)