It was a sunny Friday in Victoria today and I had a spicy, coconut infused lunch with a friend at a favourite Sri Lankan restaurant. We roamed happily over many meadows of conversation until we settled on the one that interests her a lot these days, a fairly new love interest. They are both delightful people, but very different, one an introvert and Dharma practitioner, the other an outgoing, gregarious, grab life by the tail, spend a bunch of cash, kind of extrovert. (their identities have been disguised with moustaches and dark glasses to protect the not so innocent, namely me!)
I know that they love each other deeply but the bumpy ground that stands between each of their wants and needs, likes and dislikes is a vast rock strewn tundra. "One of us is very stubborn ," she says. "Only one of you?" I ask teasingly. She has a good sense of humour. I can say this to her. But I hear in her voice that she wants him to change, to do things differently. Her requests seem reasonable to me. She wants him to spend less cash, go out for dinner less. She doesn't want to watch a couple of hours of TV in the evenings when he's at her place, she would rather go off with a book. These are a few of their points of contention. I remind her that in Buddhist practice the only one we get to change is ourself. She doesn't bite on that one but goes on to talk about the possibility of "seeing someone" to help them with their differences.
I tell her about a great piece I read by Norman Fischer in the March issue 0f Shambhala Sun called "Applied Dharma". In the piece Fischer talks about mediation and says the problem is never about what it appears to be, like the toothpaste lid, or the toilet seat or the TV watching. (I wrote about this in a previous blog post) but it seemed so relevant to what my friend was talking about. I don't know what their real issues are, but undoubtedly they are deeper. Are they about," you always insist on having your own way, I feel unconsidered?" Are they about,"you're not listening to me, you don't even know what's important to me?" And as Fischer points out, until we deal with the deeper issues, the problem will continue to exist. I have found in my own life, if I don't deal with a problem in one form, it just pops up somewhere else, maybe in a bigger uglier form. It's kind of like that old carney game of "wack a mole", it's just keeps jumping up all over the place until you put it to rest or your quarter runs out.
Relationships are our biggest opportunity and often the most difficult place to practice. Many people find this intense point of practice with a partner, some with parents or children. My mother is my great teacher. And if we are honest with ourselves there is always work with partners and children. I remember reading about a man who was trying to decide whether to take on a new love relationship and the wise Dharma counsel to him was, "yes go ahead, as long as you don't expect the relationship to make you happy." So there it is, loving someone is not about having them make you happy. This expectation is what creates some of the biggest disappointments and dissatisfaction in relationships. It is not why you love someone and not what the relationship is about. It's the same as looking for gratification in a piece of cheesecake (but perhaps a little more complicated) "Dear, could I trade you for that mango and kiwi cheesecake over there?" Satisfaction, happiness, joy, is never out there. It always comes from deep inside. And a relationship is a complicated thing that sometimes makes you coo with joy and sometimes makes you want to relocate to a far away country. In our beloved we are sensing the divine, the eternal in our human of choice. We are often drawn in ways that are beyond our rational understanding. Love is a strange cocktail in a tall glass of magic and mystery, stirred (not shaken) with a swirl of the pragmatic.
I could hear in my friend's voice, how she wanted her man to change to suit her imagined desires, how it would all be perfect then. They could live happily ever after. We left the restaurant filled with spicy treats and delicious conversation. We wandered down the sunny shopping street, me stopping to buy 4 stalks of pussy willows, us browsing in a gourmet food shop and the used bookstore. We were having fun, recharging our solar batteries. No moles in sight.