The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

Menu Close

Tag: love (page 1 of 5)

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.

Equal and Separate

One of my nieces is a high-school teacher. She was asked by a student, “Do you have a favorite student?” She responded, “Do you have a favorite teacher?” Her point was, yes, of course. She had some students who were absolute darlings, and then there were others that she wished would stay home more often. But as a teacher, she was clear that her personal feelings about the students were separate from how she treated and evaluated them.

Perhaps it is the same for a parent?

As an adult, I often reflect on my own childhood. It was perfect. Or was it? Well, what is perfect? Perfect does not exist. We are groomed to put a positive spin on every experience. Perhaps it is a technique to stave off pain, to prevent an emotional setback. So we layer the prettiest colors over all our experiences, refusing to see the blacks and dark greys underneath.

Who’d relish knowing that perhaps, they were the less favorite (or less favored) child?

I think each parent relates to each of their offspring in a different way. Maybe you share a passion with one of your children. Or maybe both of you have similar aspirations. And then it could be that you share nothing in common with the other child. Or maybe s/he is so similar to you that it becomes a bit of an irritant, a sad reminder of some sort. Perhaps you have a dream that one of them looks poised to fulfill. Perhaps there is a natural reserve in one of the relationships that simply cannot be overcome, despite your best intentions. Maybe one of the children is a natural attention magnet, and all of it flows in their direction.

After all, parents are human too.

I know it is common to evoke compassion at this point. To encourage adult children to forgive and forget, to focus on the present, to let go.

Perhaps these actions, if undertaken in a spirit of sincerity and empathy, serve their purpose. Perhaps they bring closure and peace. Or maybe they take a lot of effort and energy, and you end up empty-handed, right where you started.

I think truthfulness can help. By not pretending, not hiding ugly emotions behind positive affirmations, by not prettifying unpleasantness… we may hope to gain closure. It sometimes feels long and arduous, but it will ultimately heal hearts and minds, I think.

Husband

He was a tall man, a little portly around the middle. His eyes were deep blue marbles that shone bright, not cold or hard. He had a nicely shaped head, the hair gathering gray near the temples. His face had the ruddy sheen of a healthy man, warm-blooded and passionate. When he laughed, his eyes crinkled shut, mouth open. His face was transformed, its contained expression morphing into one of simple joy, open and uninhibited.

Then he started, “My husband says…”

And my heart plain burst with the unexpected sweetness of it all.

(How wonderful it is to hear “my husband” and “my wife” in all kinds of hitherto unknown contexts.)