At the beginning of the novel Still Life With Woodpecker, the narrator discusses how the fundamental question for human beings is, “Who knows how to make love stay?” When I read this, I was in the very beginning stages of a relationship with my wife. I was under the spell of the initial stages of falling in love. What a magical feeling it was. I was experiencing an openness, a joy and a connection that I am not sure I had experienced before. When I read that sentence, I became a bit frightened. I remember thinking, “This has to last.” I put the thought of loves potential end out of my mind as quickly as possible.
For the vast majority of people love does not last. It gradually diminishes into something else. That initial high feeling of expansiveness, complete acceptance, closeness, exhilaration (like you have finally found exactly what you were needing) and gratitude- this is what the narrator at the beginning of the novel was speaking about. “Who knows how to make love stay?”
Over time we seem to grow less grateful. We become more agitated and critical, more frustrated and annoyed. The things that the other person does (or I should say the things that we project onto the other person) to frustrate, hurt or bother us add up over the years. We contract, close down and often end up either pushing the other person away or make them as resentful of us as we are of them. It is surprising how often we seem to unknowingly repeat the relational habits of our parents.
“Who knows how to make love stay?” I thought about this a lot over the years.
Depending upon our conditioning, our relationship with our parents as children and other early experiences, is often what determines how we tend to behave in our adult intimate relationships. If we were not taught how to love it will be difficult to maintain love beyond the initial rapturous high. Remaining open, non-critical, accepting, fully supportive, caring, close and generous (which is really what love is) will be difficult for those whose conditioned reaction is to become angry, upset, defensive, irritated, critical and closed down when the other person does something we do not like. We might still be loyal to our partners but it is often very easy to not notice how love has left the room and loyalty, agitation and resentment is what has taken its place.
“Who knows how to make love stay?”
Without awareness there is no doubt that my marriage would not be as loving as it still is today. In fact I know it would be a mess. In Still Life With Woodpecker the narrator says, “We are our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.” Leave me with the most loving relationship in the world and within a matter of months, without awareness, I will make it unhappy. All of my early conditioning is still there. I have a tendency to get upset when someone does something that I do not like. I can be critical and difficult, never fully satisfied with what is. Leave me alone in the most beautiful room for ten seconds and I will find a problem. This is what my mind does and without the ability to be aware of when my mind is doing these things- I would be its unhappy slave.
Mindfulness is a practice of rescuing ourselves from ourselves. Just like an air conditioning system generates cold air, mindfulness techniques generate awareness and insight. Through mindfulness practice we are able to cultivate the skill of being able to look in at ourselves and make real choices about whether or not we want to let our inner dragons continually blow our own houses down.
When we engage in a practice (on a regular basis) that generates awareness and insight we are continually able to see the negative, conditioned habits of our mind. Once we are willing to be aware of what we are thinking and feeling, we are then able to make a choice. Do I really want to act upon these thoughts? Do I really want to react to the emotions in my body? OR would it be best for my health and the health of those that I love if I do not act upon every thought and feeling that comes into my mind?
What mindfulness teaches me everyday is that every thought and feeling does come and go. They are impermanent. If I can just stand back (stay with the breath), not react and just let the more unpleasant thoughts and feelings go their way- then I know I will be much more effective at making love last. But if I am unable to be aware, if I become identified with every critical thought and feeling that comes across my inner radar, the one thing I value more than anything else in this world (my marriage) is at risk of suffering the same unhappy fate of so many of the loyal marriages I grew up around.
“Who knows how to make love stay?”