Zen in the Art of Relationship Reading
Valentine’s Day is a time when we attempt to renew hope in romantic relationships. Our hope is that romantic relationships will work. When I say work, I mean that they will fix our problems and we will finally be content. We secretly hope that the roses, chocolates, and sensual pleasure will spice things up, generate a spark or maybe calm the rough waves in our relationships. And then we will float happily down the river of life in our love boat. It may sound silly, but there is an element of fantasy in Valentine’s day whether we like to admit it or not.
Now I’m not saying that relationships cannot be a source of joy, or that we should not cultivate them. Forming relationships is a natural for most people and they can bring joy to our lives. But we must understand that relationships are ultimately not about fulfilling our fantasies of what “I” want. Relationships will bring suffering as well as joy and no secret method or amount of chocolate will fix that. At times, relationships are hard work. But we don’t want to hear this.
There are tons of books written on how we can improve our relationships and how then we will finally be happy (ever after). And there are entire genres centered on the idea that successful romantic love is the key to a happy, perfect life. These books can be useful and entertaining, but if we hold onto ideas of what our relationships should be like or can do for us, we run into problems. Relationships are always changing and they rarely conform to any Platonic ideal or theory. But we impose these limits all the time whether we are in a committed relationship or looking for a partner.
But if you really pay attention to the people in your life you will notice how beautiful they are just as they are. It isn’t complicated. Our attention and awareness is what makes them "special". Without this attention what do we see? We see a label or a concept. We don’t see the person. We see a nagging wife, or a jealous husband. We do not see an intricate person with needs, a history, emotions, perceptions, and so on. Nor do we really see our own reactions, needs, and emotions. How can we act skillfully when we cannot see our situation clearly?
But do not confuse paying attention with meaning that now it will always be perfect and you with be showered with the gifts you deserve. It may mean ending a relationship, or it may mean going on a vacation, but regardless of the form your action the important realization is that the decision needs to be based on clarity and understanding, not ignorance and confusion. Did I mention that it is hard work? For more on this, I highly recommend the book Teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Hahn. Happy Valentine's Day.