Updated: Feb 16, 2021
This week’s talk at Kadampa Meditation Center was on understanding our mind of love. The monk said the definition of the mind of love is “a virtuous mind motivated by equanimity to which its object appears as beautiful or pleasant.” He said real love can never be the cause of anger. It’s not, “I’m going to abandon you before you abandon me.” That’s attachment, not love. Love mixes with attachment when one day we decide, “Oh, you’re not the one.” And then we find another “one.” The mind of love is balanced and free from attachment, craving, or needing. It gives the object space to be a mess while still seeing the object as pleasant. It is grounded and at ease in the moment. Radically at peace. It is, in the words of the monk, “profoundly chilled out.”
The monk told a story of when he lived in Chicago. He said he used to sit on park benches and befriend retired men. He enjoyed hearing their life stories and being “their little monk friend.” He spoke of one gentleman who used to be a psychiatrist and was so glad to have the monk as his friend. Their conversations meant so much to him that one day the psychiatrist said to the monk, “People have either loved me too much or too little. You’re the first person who’s loved me in between.”
That statement reminded me of my favorite movie about love, err….attachment, Chilly Scenes of Winter. The hopelessly attached Charles asks his object Laura, "Why would you choose someone who loves you too little over someone who loves you too much?" Reflecting on my own “chilly scenes of winter,” I think about which I would rather have. I’ve had both. And really, they both feel kinda crappy. So maybe the psychiatrist and the monk are right. Why choose? Why can’t we find the Goldilocks baby bear’s bed of love? The one who loves us just right.
This picture for this post was taken on a jungle hike in Belize on the last full day of a reconnaissance trip. It was also the most sensory-overloaded day. My travel mates and I were led by a local guide who called back to birds and shared Mayan lore. He told us about Tata Duende, the three-foot-high, grandfather spirit of the forest who protects children and animals but inflicts punishment if they cause harm or throw off the balance of nature. He told us of Xtabay, a long-black-haired forest demon of incomparable beauty who lures men with sex appeal, then turns into a snake, and devours them. The guide said when you first encounter beautiful Xtabay and have this kind of love (or more aptly called attachment?), you see that person everywhere. “You see them in your coffee,” he said. I thought that was a perfectly desperate, romantic description of the all-consuming nature of love. And yet, shouldn’t we want a love that is a little less dramatic? A little… healthier, but still romantic? Isn’t there something in between?
I spent the three-hour hike trying to take in the jungle. But because there were so many layers, so many sensations, I found it easier to focus on one sense or one level of the forest at a time. I listened to the guide identify birds and furiously scribbled names in my tiny, humidity-soaked notebook. Then I stayed at eye level to the vines cascading into pink, hot lips flowers springing from the swath of green. My eyes wandered to the spongy mushrooms cantilevering out of Caribbean pine. I looked down to the forest floor and focused on the path. A line of leafcutter ants trotted along bringing sawed off bits of green to their home. An arduous trek, I was sure. Did they know how hard they were working? A wolf spider skittered along. When our guide saw a flash of a monkey in the trees I craned my head, but he was already gone. Bromeliads poked out of the tree trunks. The guide spotted a Red-capped Manakin and a Black-headed Trogon, then whistled back with pursed lips and a twinkle in his eyes. Could I hear? Yes. He pointed to a smooshed patch of grass on the forest floor where a jaguar might have sat to rest, and I looked down again. Did I see the scratched dirt and paw print nearby? I did. Did I smell the high stink of the tapir that had also run ahead of us? I did. I heard it and saw it and smelled it as sweat rolled down my face. And in the midst of this sensory overload I spotted a string of heart-shaped leaves crawling up a tree and tumbling down in front of our faces. So I started to look for only those heart leaves. They were everywhere. Above and below, crawling and tumbling. This is the world we live in. It really is a jungle out there. But in between the jungle of life and the life of the jungle there is love.
That’s where I want you to love me. Love me less than a tireless ant, but more than a swinging monkey. Love me atop the mushrooms, beneath the palms. Love me as the trogon calls and the jaguar lures us on. Love me in the midst of the high stink and relentless sweat, the playful hot lips and hopeful light through the trees. Love me as one tiny part of a balanced, complex ecosystem. Love me beyond infatuation, ahead of apathy. After we’ve won each other but before we choose to find anew. Love me profoundly chilled out. Love me like heart leaves lightly wrapped around your trunk. Love me right here. Love me in between.