Saturday, April 20, 2013

Love Like You Can't Be Hurt

     It is a good thing for people living alone in the middle of nowhere to have at least one dry, difficult, thick book to read. This is partly because it will last three times as long, and occupy one-third as much space, as three fascinating page-turners. Also, solitude and lack of distraction allow one to read difficult yet important and valuable books that might be nonstarters in such a distraction-rich environment as an American city. It was only after leaving the USA and moving into a forest cave that I was able to wade through the entire Old Testament, for example. (I had started reading it a few times as a layperson, but always bogged down at Exodus.) And of course, reading difficult books is good exercise in self-discipline, concentration, and sometimes patience.
     My designated difficult book (DDB) for this recent trip to Asia was going to be The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen, which a nice Bangladeshi lady gave me more than a year ago; but then a philosopher in Canada sent me The Essential David Bohm, so I read that one instead. (Bohm was a brilliant theoretical physicist who loved to philosophize, and who believed that a true understanding of the external universe can be realized only by integrating Physics with a thorough understanding of our own consciousness and thought processes. His Psychology was heavily influenced by his interactions with J. Krishnamurti.) To give some idea of the reading level of the book, section 7 of Chapter 1 is entitled "Reciprocal Relationships and the Approximate and Relative Character of the Autonomy of the Modes of Being of Things." The chapter entitled "Soma-Significance and the Activity of Meaning" was particularly slow going, taking me several days to grind through it. However, much of it is interesting, and although Bohm writes just like a physics professor, some of it is not so hard to read. I really can't consider myself a dedicated Bohmian though.
     One evening, in a relatively light chapter called "Structure-Process and the Ego," I encountered the following passage:
What happens is that there is something you want – call it A. This something entails B. But you don't want B. Nevertheless, the ego process, being childish, tries to get rid of B while keeping A. Thus, it sends tremendous disapproval and negations against B. But this starts to get rid of A too. So it then sends in more urgent signals to hold on to A as well. This is all possible because, through confusion one loses sight of the relationship between A and B, as well as of the signal that is keeping A going and thus generating B. This buzzing cloud of confusion is generated by the mind, in response to another urgent signal, with which one reacts to the unpleasant fact that you can't have A without B. A great many conflicts have this childishly elementary structure.
So, I stopped reading and thought, "What would be a good example of this?" and within a few seconds arose this one:

        A=deep intimacy and love
        B=letting down one's barriers and being vulnerable

Some people, especially men I suppose, resolve this dilemma by dismissing both A and B; they endeavor to "score heavy with the babes" as a pleasant substitute, with little or no deep intimacy and love. Some women do this too. But I think women are somewhat more inclined than men to crave deep intimacy with another person. The trouble is that very many of them, maybe even most of them, are profoundly afraid of being vulnerable and getting hurt. They yearn for A, but A implies B, and they are terrified of B. It may even be that the situation is further complicated by the fact that, due to an unfortunate childhood or unwise choices in the past, they have even formed a subconscious association between love and pain.
     So what people tend to do in such a situation is to seek a mate (I don't like the standard American term "partner" – it reminds me of a law firm) that is not threatening, one with whom they can feel safe enough to dare to lower their barriers and open their heart so that intimacy can happen and Love can flow. But what happens in so many cases, so many, is that even if one finds such a mate – he may be a really gentle, sensitive guy who sincerely loves the girl – one is still deeply afraid of being vulnerable. So the fear generates doubt: maybe he really isn't safe. Sometimes this results in the woman "testing" him (and this can work the other way too of course, with the man being the tester), "acting up" in worse and worse ways until the guy finally explodes, lashes out, and/or walks away. Then the woman may feel that her fears were vindicated – "There, you see! He's just like all the rest." But of course, the deep yearning for Love is still there, so once some "safe" distance is created the desire to get back together may immediately follow…until next time. In more extreme cases a person may find a mate so sweet that their barriers, their defenses, begin spontaneously to dissolve with true love – resulting in a sudden panic fear of being defenseless, triggering an abrupt termination of a beautiful new relationship, and leaving the other person standing there with his or her mouth open. Messes like this, caused by deep craving and fear, happen all the time, possibly even in places like Burma.
     Long ago an American monk friend lent me his copy of Games People Play by Eric Berne, one of the first best-sellers in the "self-help" genre way back in the 1960's. According to Dr. Berne, most people are simply incapable psychologically of intense, sustained intimacy, romantic or otherwise, with another person. I assume that for many this is because of fear, conscious or subconscious, of being vulnerable and hurt, as already mentioned; but that many others are incapable of deep intimacy because they've been surrounded by Pink Floyd's Wall for so long that they are oblivious of any other way of being. Alienation is all they know; and telling them not to surround themselves with an invisible wall is about as pointless as telling a fish not to be wet. Anyway, getting back to Dr. Berne, he says that, because most people are incapable of real intimacy, they play games as a way of satisfying their needs for human interaction without it getting too close and scary. In romantic and family relationships a common "game" is fighting. One variation of the fighting game is what I call "Break Up…Get Back Together…Break Up…Get Back Together." I had a girlfriend in college who favored it. We'd get along fine and everything would be beautiful for three months or so, and then I would do or say something that would have her outraged and wanting to break up with me. Deep down, both of us knew that she didn't really want to break up. What was expected is that I would romantically apologize and honey her back into a good mood, after which would come the big emotional payoff of the passionate kiss-and-make-up love scene. Those love scenes very much helped to make the process seem worthwhile. 
     Anyway, getting all the way back to Bohm now, the day after reading that passage from his book, I read it again, and tried to come up with another good example of the A/B dilemma. Again, within just a few moments one came up:

        A=enlightenment, Nirvana, freedom
        B=abandoning all attachment, all reliance, and thus all security

     Most Buddhists, somewhat like the rascal scoring heavy with the babes, avoid the dilemma entirely by not wanting enlightenment. Burmese laypeople are very candid about this; they freely admit that they're not ready for enlightenment, and are content to enjoy their modest pleasures and hopefully to try hard enough to score rebirth in Heaven, or at least as a rich, beautiful human on this world next time around. (This helps to explain why they so devoutly honor monks, whom they believe, usually naively, to be trying for Nirvana.) Western Buddhists appear more inclined to camouflage their lack of desire for enlightenment and not to acknowledge it to themselves or anyone else. Either way, the number of Buddhists, lay or monastic, who really yearn for the A of enlightenment, even half-heartedly, even with fear of the implied B, are relatively very few. 
     This is not so difficult to understand. If knocking down Pink Floyd's Wall just in one place, just for one person, just enough to make a doorway, can be so terrifying, then what can we say about knocking down the whole fortress and being completely vulnerable, with no boundaries at all, no "self"? It seems the hardest thing in the world. Really, it's the easiest thing in the world, but most of us are clueless and the rest of us are afraid.
     The most ancient Buddhist texts explain that a person who is intent on enlightenment in this very life should wander around homeless, not relying upon anything at all, completely at the mercy of the Universe; yet most monks nowadays are unwilling even to stop relying upon the security of using money, even though the rules of monastic discipline strictly forbid monks (and nuns) to use it. The situation is similar to the woman insisting upon feeling safe before daring to open her heart. In fact the two sets of A and B listed above are clearly very similar. Both "true love" and the Divine Love of Enlightenment imply loss of security. Security is something to rely on, to protect our "self," and something to rely on is something to cling to – and clinging is non-freedom and the cause of all suffering.
     What seems to be required in this case is what the Tao Te Ching calls "the strength of the woman," the strength of water, the realization that yielding is stronger than rigid, wall-like resistance. Stone is harder than water, but the ceaseless movement of the supple waves breaks down entire cliff sides and grinds them into sandy beaches. If a sword is thrust into water, it penetrates easily, yet as soon as it is withdrawn the opening closes up, the ripples fade away, and the water is just as perfect as it was before – on the other hand, if the sword is dropped into the water and left there, it eventually rusts away. Paradoxically, the perfection of vulnerability is infinite strength. One does not ward off a beating with armor and fortifications; one accepts the beating and forgives the one who is giving it; and, miraculously, the beatings become fewer and fewer, and one goes fearlessly wherever one likes.
     So, whether you yearn for true love or Nirvana (again, not so different), if you insist on security before opening your heart and really "going for it," then it will never happen. This world is not safe, and it probably never will be. It's not meant to be safe. Even so, true love is worth a broken heart; it's worth taking a beating for. And full Enlightenment is well worth a thousand times a thousand beatings. So don't wait for some guarantee, and don't be afraid. Go ahead and take the plunge. Even if you are afraid, maybe you should take the plunge anyway. If you don't, you are practically assured of failure.
     Thus endeth this commentary on "Structure-Process and the Ego."