“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” ~ Rumi
I fell in love with my husband eight years ago, and since then I have fallen seriously in love with at least a dozen other men and women. Here’s a list of them. Terrance Keenan. Jean Vanier. Patrick Lane. Linda Gregg. Byron Katie. Richard Rohr. Rumi. John Paraskevopoulos. Marshall Rosenberg.
I could go on. This list, if you haven’t already noticed, consists of men and women I’ve met through their books. They are poets and psychologists, alcoholics and priests. All of them are teachers. All of them have spoken to me about the world in a new language, one I’ve become greedy to learn. All of them have left me changed, and grateful.
I have begun to notice how deeply I fall into love with these writers as my husband starts to get annoyed with me. I quote them to him at every opportunity, and try to convince him that they have not just a few answers but all of them.
So, I do fall in love at the drop of a hat. And maybe in the early stages of this infatuation I do become a teensy bit annoying. I become this person’s biggest fan ever – a raving evangelist. I do think, though, that this falling in love offers me something unique. It allows me to snuggle right up to new teachers and imbibe their wisdom and their love. It makes me loyal to them and it encourages me to listen to the things they say that I’m not sure about. It helps me to absorb everything good I can and get it right inside me.
After I’ve read their third book, or spent several heady weeks in their company, I begin to intuit their shadow side. I find myself Googling their name to see if I can find out any scandals about them. I feel disappointed that they don’t mention something I find important, or when I feel I have found a small hole in their theory. I imagine that I can see their blind spots.This part of the process feels healthy, and I think it’s inevitable when we fall in love – we start to get annoyed that our new partner never offers to make us a cup of tea, or we discover that our beloved colleague is deeply jealous of us. It’s important for me to ‘round out’ the picture of my new loved ones in this way, as it brings us into a more realistic relationship. A similar process happened in real life with my own Buddhist teacher, as I discovered some of his limits and realised that it would be better to go elsewhere with particular struggles or koans. None of us, as far as I can tell, are Buddhas.
I have been through this disillusionment process with all of the writers I’ve fallen in love with, and very occasionally I do come out the other side with more distance between myself and them. Mostly, though, I continue to love them. I feel fond of their foibles as well as their strengths. I feel hugely grateful for the wisdom they’ve passed on to me.
Of course, I’ve also been in relationship with various Buddhas throughout my time as a Buddhist – mostly the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, through the sutras and through the teachings of his followers, and Amida Buddha, who is the heart of Pureland Buddhism. At the beginning of this year I started a new relationship with the Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru, after I bought the pictured rupa whilst I was going through a crisis. Although I received excellent support from many colleagues and friends, the Medicine Buddha and this mantra helped me with this crisis in a way that no human being had been able to.
Of course we can fall in love with objects too. New cars, gardens, a new brand of chocolate… Some things are more worthy of falling in love than others, but I like to think that becoming infatuated with something often brings us something good. It can pull us in closer to the world. It shows us things about ourselves that nothing else can. It feels good! Maybe as we wobble along our twisty spiritual paths, we find ourselves falling in love with more and more.
Namo Amida Bu. Deep bow.