One of my students, following the end of a romantic relationship, found themselves feeling horribly about themselves as well as heartbroken.
I once had a breakup that left my self-esteem feeling tattered in a way that was unfamiliar and surprising to me, and hurtful again as I felt badly that I felt badly about myself. I was in my late 20s and longing for a committed relationship. I was told that love was work, so I worked. The man was a good man, a friend for years before and someone I cherish to this day. And yet the relationship did not endure. Looking back, I see this: some part of me felt that if the relationship had failed to last, that if I had not been loved as I hoped to be loved, that it was because I was not lovable. This is an artifact of one of the most common ways we socialize our children: by withdrawing affection when children displease us. This teaches us, when we are that child, something very important and very awful: that love is conditional, that we earn it when our behavior pleases others, that it will be taken away when we displease others. This leads to the conclusion later in life that if we are not loved, then it must be because we are not lovable.
Of course, this is not what our parents usually intend to teach us, and yet it is, alas, what we are often taught. Many parents, now, because of this, work carefully to raise their children with unconditional love and excellent boundaries, telling them they are always loved, but that their actions have consequences, and helping them learn to make better decisions. May we always learn from our errors and raise ever- wiser, ever-kinder generations.
Now, leap with me, darling:
Christian people often say that "God is love." (1 John 4:8) And the Sufis call the divine "the beloved"; Rumi’s followers to this day celebrate the anniversary of his death as his wedding night, the night he became one with his beloved. Love is belonging, acceptance, resonance; being seen and appreciated as we are.
I see this: we are part of the body of the cosmos. We cannot be separated from what-is. Today I am made of the atoms of that which I ate, drank, and breathed yesterday. Some of what used to be my flesh got breathed away, pissed away, and shat. What was once my own precious being is now something I paused to wonder if I should type about!
If I were to hug you, a bit of your perfume might linger on my body and become a part of me. What am "I"? I am not my body; these atoms do not belong to me. I am a pattern through which these atoms move. I am a pattern of life, arising and sustaining itself for a time in the body of the cosmos, then fading and returning to the body of the cosmos. I am a wave on the sea of being. I belong. I cannot be alone. I am of life. You belong. You cannot be alone. You, too, are life, living.
The yogis have many stories about how existence came to be. One is: the divine, having been itself for a very long time, decided, to entertain itself, to become the universe as we know it. It became planets and stars, water and fire, dogs and paperclips and marmalade, and you and me. This is called lila (lee-luh) the divine dance of life. Or maybe the Big Bang. But the divine, having done this, forgot itself. It got so caught up in the feel of sand under its toes and the pain in its shoulder and the delicious taste of that marmalade and whether that sweet creature would ever wish to kiss them back that it forgot it was all things, dancing as this one. This illusion, this forgetting, is the veil of maya.
It is easier for terrible things to tear the veil of illusion than beautiful ones. Sweetness and pleasure tend not to make me question existence as I know it. When someone I love dies, though, or when I suffer in some great way, I remember impermanence, I see for a moment that my form is fleeting, that I am just a pattern that knows itself for a time, that I will again become part of the all -- and I have the possibility of remembering that I am, actually, REALLY, REALLY, I am the cosmos, the entire glorious universe, just being a human being who calls herself Kristie today. And you, darling, you are the universe, you are the cosmos, life itself, being you for a while. You cannot be separate from the rest of what-is. You ARE all-that-is. This is yoga: union, belonging. Remembering that we belong undercuts the story that consciousness likes to tell us that because I can know myself, I am separate. Yoga, (and the Buddha, having learned it from yogis), says that the illusion of separation is the source of all suffering.
But we cannot be separate. There is only this: the cosmos, life itself, dancing, as you, as me. We belong. We are love. The universe just is, is love, is this thing, being.
And when we know that, always, unshakably? That is enlightenment.