Saturday, June 07, 2008

On the practice of not being jaded (with some Thich Nhat Hanh thrown in for good measure)

I was thinking about someone who passed through my life not too long ago and a conversation we'd once (or twice) had about unconditional love. He'd indicated that anyone who gave it any sort of consideration in terms of its feasibility was certainly trying to compensate for some sort of lack in childhood with which they hadn't managed to come to terms in their adult lives. He brought up single women who adopt babies as an example of people seeking an instant fix to their own similar childhood lacks by taking in a human who'd more or less be forced to love them, by virtue of his or her helplessness and complete reliance on the woman / adoptive mother in question. It struck me at the time that he seemed to have no understanding of the concept of the reciprocity of love, or of the possibility that people might actually seek to love in and of itself, and not necessarily merely desperately seek to set themselves up to be its recipients.

It's along the same lines as people who enjoy giving for the sake of giving versus those who restrict their giving to reward-like affirmations (verbal, physical, et al.) to modify others' behaviour. There are some who dole out "love" as if it's just another component of some sort of reward-based system -- a controlling sort of habit that's ultimately, especially when done consciously, just another variation of emotional blackmail. So I come back to wondering about unconditional love and its place, if any, in human relationships. In the end, does it really all just boil down to baggage and strings? So this got me thinking about
Thich Nhat Hanh (1926- ), and a passage of his I'd read and remembered about a more general way to approach those milling about in the world:

When we come into contact with the other person, our thoughts and actions should express our mind of compassion, even if that person says and does things that are not easy to accept. We practice in this way until we see clearly that our love is not contingent upon the other person being lovable.

I guess in a sense, it's about love being more of an approach or mindset when engaging anybody in our lives than it is a tool to define and frame our contexts and relationships. In this sense, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, we need to learn to offer it unconditionally. It's "not contingent upon the other person being lovable". In a sense, love shouldn't be conditional upon someone's loving us back, or someone's being able to give us exactly whatever it is that we want. Maybe it's naive (or side-stepping into the murk) to think of it as such, or to strive to adopt that understanding of it into one's own life and one-on-one relationships, and particularly with romantic interests (at least not without a good therapist watching your back -- heheh). Maybe the term (in the English language, anyway) just covers too wide a range of emotions and interactions for it to make any sort of sense to try to examine it in one single blog post.

2 comments:

Jennifer said...

This is a very good post M. I really wish I could put my thoughts into words better. I know people who take many extreme approaches to love or at least something that looks like it. That quote really makes me think.

M said...

Thich Nhat Hanh is incredible. I haven't delved into Zen in years, but recently picked up his book _Peace Is Every Step_ and can't get through more than a couple of paragraphs without spending a couple of hours thinking about what he's written and trying to figure out ways to incorporate some of it into my own life.