As Valentine’s Day arrives and newbies to love and friendship are celebrating the joy and beauty in those gifts, many of us who have been here living and loving for longer than them move on to a different part of the journey - the more challenging part, where that love is no longer blind, but awake to the imperfections in the beloved. Once we move from the early struggles of finding love, from the fear of losing the object of our affection, a trickier obstacle stands before us – that of making room for what we do not like about the other.
Love and Like, two similar but different emotions, live side by side, clamoring for attention, acknowledgement and integration into the human experience.
Love is an exhilarating, uplifting emotion that connects us to the other and dissolves the feeling of separateness. Newlyweds in India flash the sign “V2R1,” joyfully celebrating the oneness between them, thinking, believing, they will remain that way for the rest of their lives. This feeling is not only confined to romantic love. I have felt the same intense, uniting love with friends, teachers, and students with whom I found a powerful resonance. Love belongs to the heavens and remains undefeated until our earthly self catches up and alas, the next chapter sets in.
At the ground level a new reality emerges. Although our hearts are tied together as one, here on earth we are two individuals with separate bodies, conditionings, and histories! Sooner or later as we land back on the material plane, the honeymoon blindness must and does end. Habits, preferences, and beliefs that seemed insignificant, even invisible before, loom large with a life of their own. Unable to unsee them now, we notice them even more as we discover we do not like things about the one we love so dearly. Our dislikes persist even as we resist and we realize they are here to stay.
While one might dismiss these differences as minor aberrations in the short run, in the long term, these are situations that one can neither live with nor ignore, in relationships that one can neither hold on to nor let go of.
So many conversations of struggles come to mind as I write this: spouses who are wonderful but unemotional, friends who are kind-hearted but shallow, partners who are so loving as to leave no space in the relationship, mothers who are helpful but controlling. The list could go on and on. Then there are a whole lot of wonderful human beings whose political or religious views are completely opposite from ours.
Come Valentine’s Day then our challenge is what to do about Love when it no longer feels clear and unconflicted as it did in the past? Which emotion is real and which is not? Which do we act on and what do we ignore? What happens to the things in the other that cannot be changed but are not so bad as to end a relationship? Is ignoring something denial and is asking for change an attempt to lock in another’s free will?
Pema Chodron, the great mindfulness teacher refers to such situations as “the big squeeze” wherein we feel we are caught in a bind between a rock and a hard place. Wisdom teachings tell us that the places in our life where we feel the “big squeeze” need to be embraced, not avoided, because they are fertile with growth possibilities. Deep transformation can occur within us only when we arrive in such places and, trusting the journey, choose to pause and wait, rather than to escape and shut down.
Once we surrender to life, Time, the great healer, works in mysterious ways to enable growth in us. It does not change who we are but shifts the way we relate to our beliefs and opinions. The hardened walls in our heart that had protected us from our fears, begin to thaw leaving us with a vessel capable of much greater love than before. Faced with the changing circumstances of life and our own vulnerability, we become softer, kinder, and return to love in acceptance of our differences rather than a defense in judgment and fear.
This is true both in personal relationships that seem to have arrived at an impasse or in the larger context of a collective consciousness that appears to be divided by an impossible schism.
As we stay the course and surrender to the journey with no agenda but reunion, the Big Squeeze moves us slowly and gently over time from a true love that is also very real. Valentine’s Day then is not only a day to receive roses and gifts, but also a day to celebrate the Big Squeeze that challenges us to stretch our hearts and expand the circle of love.