The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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Tag: alone

Love and Neutrality

Love isn’t generally associated with neutrality.

Love is associated with all sorts of positive experiences — joy, cheer, generosity, good wishes, hugs, support. Neutrality seems very cold in contrast. Like a noble gas or a non-reactive element. We want the people we love to respond to us. We don’t want them to be cold or aloof. Or so we understood what it means to be neutral.

When we love someone, we are pretty much in their business openly. When we cannot stand someone, we are in their business too. In our heads, that is. We cannot stop thinking about them. But when we love someone, it is well understood (and expected) that we are connected to them in many ways. This includes providing them with physical/mental/emotional support, wishing them the best, giving them the gift of time and presence, being available to them. Or so the popular understanding of love goes.

Love isn’t meant to be neutral or empty. It is meant to be filled with positive vibes and generosity and blessings.

There is no space in love. We keep wanting to close the space, end the distance. Sometimes, it is impossible to close the distance physically, so we do it mentally. And we project our best hopes and wishes on to the people we love. Isn’t that expected? How else do we love the people we do, if not by wishing them the best? “May you live long, prosper, be healthy.” And so on.

Of course, we also claim that we want space in our loving relationships. Space is a neutral element. Yes, we appreciate space but we don’t much care for its neutral nature.

If we are to stay neutral, what is the differentiation between us and a stranger? None, or so we think.

Imagine a parent remaining neutral towards their offspring. It is impossible! We are so emotionally close to them; there can be no space in question. And if that space exists, it isn’t empty. It is filled with hopes, dreams, and expectations.

All these positive vibes begin to exert subtle control on the loved ones in question. It hovers over their lives like a cloud. Not a grey, ominous one necessarily. Maybe a white, fluffy one. But it persists. It follows them around. And of course, we shrug it off, thank it even. We are happy to be the beneficiaries, the receivers of such largesse. We are grateful for the support, the encouragement. We regard these as the hallmarks of true love and support. When we don’t see them, we think that love has passed. That it no longer exists.

We could never recognize true neutrality for the immense freedom it provides. Indeed, we are incapable of appreciating the gift of neutrality. We crave connection, and we think neutrality is its opposite.

I remember a talk by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar titled “Guru Shishya Sambandh,” translated as “Guru Disciple Relationship.” In it, he explains that the relationship between a Guru and disciple is like none other. It cannot even be called a relationship because it lacks all markers of typical relationships. He issues a gentle warning, do not make this into a relationship like the others. Because that is the perfect trap to fall into, leading to unmet expectations and drama.

Of course, we like to put a spin on this relationship as well. We imagine that the Guru wants the best for us, s/he wants us to grow and progress and move forward.

What if we came to realize that the Guru has an attitude of complete neutrality towards us? That s/he wants neither the best nor the worst for us, not happiness or sorrow or health or wealth or sickness, whatever. That s/he simply lets us be. That s/he isn’t really looking out for our so-called improvement, progress, whatever.

Our tender hearts would be broken. We’d feel let down, all hopes dashed. “You are the one I trusted completely, I thought you’d take care of me.” How can the Master be neutral?

I wonder if we can even begin to comprehend the immense freedom granted to us by neutrality. Freedom to be (or not) whoever or whatever. Freedom from love and projection, support and bonding, ties and expectations.

Really, do we even want such freedom? Ahh, I think not.

We like to be supported. We want blessings from loved ones. We rely on their best wishes and positive projections, laden as they may be with subtle expectations. We cherish those connections. We cannot bear to hurt the ones who love us. We don’t want freedom. In fact, I doubt we can handle it.

Community, Solo

The last time I spoke with my sister, she brought up the topic of urban loneliness. Perhaps it is a recent phenomenon. It is fairly common for educated people in the developed world (any other qualifiers needed?) to have a large social network but not many close friends. Am I overstating it? Let’s rephrase. Not many people belong to communities any more. Ahh, that does not sound “proper” either. I think what I am trying (and so hard) to say is my own story.

These days, we hear a lot about the importance of social connection, community, and positive social interactions, all of which are linked to good health, longevity, mental fitness, and many other you-can-read-about-it-online benefits. Yes, I can see how that might be true. But what does one do when she isn’t particularly inclined to go join a community, engage in social interactions? What if she has to force herself to go to social gatherings and form connections?

Now, I wasn’t always like this. Or maybe I was. Maybe I wasn’t particularly enthused about social interactions and connections and gatherings but I went along, like a sporting person, gamely participating in all that stuff. And now, maybe I am finally acknowledging that I am not a fan. I prefer solitude, quiet time, less talk. But if I don’t bother engaging with others, how can I partake of the benefits of community? How do I ensure that I remain mentally fit, free of inflammation and hypertension, loneliness and other ailments?

I can only hope that when I am in that kind of a situation, I will have the strength/ability to reach out. And a hand will reach out and grasp mine in return, no questions asked.

(Not having a child sometimes makes you think of the future in all sorts of dark, grim ways.)

Alone

The last three weeks have been instructive in many ways.

Last month, the husband announced that he had work travel planned this month. He’d be gone for a little over three weeks to India. Fun. For him, I mean.

I was fairly okay with this plan. I didn’t wonder – Oh, what am I going to do, all by myself, for such a long period? I knew that I wouldn’t really have a problem filling my days, and happily so too. It has been that way for me all the while. I greatly enjoy solitude, as I have come to understand about myself over the last twenty-something days.

But it has been a revelation, even to me, as to how much I enjoy time spent by myself.

A dear friend asked me, frankly curious – What do you do all the time? Or something along those lines. I had a tough time coming up with a good answer, so I gave a vague response. Ahh, you know… I read. I cook. I am cooking daily, you know? Then I just chill, haha. You know? Attempting to give the guilty smile/conspiratory look.

Well, I don’t think of myself as an introvert, but these days I guard my alone time fiercely. I pull it close to myself like a warm woolen shawl.

I remember a conversation with a friend about loneliness. People tend to think that alone = lonely. Of course, I disagree. I don’t deny the value of social connections and interactions. But really, it is important to know how to stay/be on your own, and remain joyful and fulfilled. I think the ultimate truth that most of us regularly push to the dark recesses of our mind is that alone-ness is a reality. Sometimes, we end up living many years of our life without any friends/family/children around. Sometimes, it becomes the story of our entire life. Everyone dies alone. Sometimes, death comes in a flash, and we face it solo without the comforting company of a loved one or a friendly face.

Surrounding oneself with people, things, projects, etc. feels very safe and comforting. It feels like a buffer against the sentence of loneliness. Oh, I have my children around, my spouse is here, I will always have my pet with me.

Of course, none of this is true. And I think each one of us knows it.

The lovely skill lies in living a joyful and splendorous life while remaining fully aware of this reality.