It’s Valentine’s day soon, so I thought this a good time to write about love... and washing up.
My stepdaughter and I were having one of our wonderful chats the other day - about life, love and relationships. (I love these chats. Having children has probably been one of my greatest joys in life, and it is truly fascinating to watch them grow and to listen to them as they try to work out the world around them.)
We were talking about someone we know who is desperate to find someone to love but who is struggling to find the “right” person. We concluded that it was the desperation that was the problem. It reminded me of a troubled time I went through many years ago – a time when I was desperate not to be alone. Looking back now, I am deeply grateful that I didn’t find anyone: in that state it would inevitably have been destructive for both of us. Emotional vulnerability can so easily lead us into a mutually debilitating co-dependent relationship that does nobody any good. For a relationship to benefit both, each person must be emotionally strong in themselves: able to stand on their own two feet, strong enough to be vulnerable, but without the weight of responsibility for the relationship always resting on the shoulders of one person.
As Lebanese poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran says, in The Prophet, about marriage:
Let [love] be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
So, when did I meet my wife? A few weeks after I gave up looking. And I mean, really stopped looking for love outside myself. Something suddenly clicked inside that, actually, I was happy as I was, and love was a state of mind.
One of the joys of everything being essentially impermanent and changeable is that the mind, too, is changeable. Thoughts are just thoughts: they come and go all the time; they are not real unless we act on them. As the inspirational Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes, within the mind are seeds of love, compassion, joy, patience, equanimity, impatience, fear, anger, hatred, etc. They are all there; it is up to us to decide which seeds we water and nourish and it will be those seeds which grow in the gardens of our lives.
The heart is a muscle and to be healthy (physically and emotionally) it needs exercise. Love weaves in and out of everything; it is the gravity that brings the atoms together into the tangible world of which we are a part. It is not set apart from everything, but flows through everything. We may choose to ignore it, but we cannot escape it. And that is why it is a great tragedy if love is cordoned off into certain times or dates, places or relationships. There are many ways to express love, each different according to the circumstances, but welling up from the same source: us.
One way to re-engage with the love flowing in, through and around us, I believe, is by watering those seeds, exercising the heart... and carrying out even basic chores with love and care. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable even doing the washing up becomes when done with love.