Feeling an ache, a longing, a desire. A few days ago, I couldn’t name what it was.
Deep penetration of my heart and soul. I want someone to dive deeply into me. Touching and feeling those parts that are so deep, so hidden, I can’t feel them, name them, put them into words.
It’s like that spot in the middle of my back that I just cannot reach, no matter how hard I try. I need someone to help me scratch it.
And that frightens me. I like to think that I can do everything on my own; that I’m independent, that I don’t need other people in order to experience myself and the world. What an arrogant, misinformed, lonely way to live life.
Truth is, I’m massively dependent on people; we all are! Without other people, I’d have no food to eat, clothes to wear, water to drink. We’re woven together in an intricate web of interconnectedness and interdependence. We don’t exist outside of or prior to relationship; we define ourselves through relationship. Relationship to the computer I’m typing this on, the table I’m sitting at, the person sitting next to me, the person I’m going to enjoy lunch with.
We’re like molecules. By themselves, they do nothing. Add something to them, put them in relationship to something else – heat, cold, other molecules – and the ensuing reaction exhibits the qualities and characteristics that make Oxygen, Oxygen, and not Hydrogen or Helium. We only know the properties of Oxygen in relationship to something else.
The inquiry that follows from this, at least for me, is this: What comes first? The individual molecules? Or, the relationship? Is a relationship what arises out of the interaction between two distinct entities? Or, is it through relating that distinct entities arise?
Diane Musho Hamilton, Zen teacher extraordinaire, often tells a story about Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan. A young Helen, with no language or communication, was fused with her environment. Nothing was distinct, she was trapped in a gray, fuzzy, lonely world. I imagine it felt something like sitting in television static.
Fusion is not the same as the “oneness” that we talk about in Buddhism. Nothing is separate. You know that joke, “What did the buddhist monk say to the hot dog vendor? – Make me one with everything.”? To be one with everything, first you have to intimately know separation, distinction.
Back to Helen Keller. The story goes like this. Miss Sullivan grabs Helen’s hand and puts it in water. Then she signs “water” into Helen’s other hand. With that one distinction, says Musho, every other distinction comes into being; the world comes into being.
The world comes into being.
Anne Sullivan was God saying, “let there be light!” bringing all of creation into existence for Helen. What a gift.
With that vignette in mind, it becomes clear that we absolutely require distinction, polarity, opposites to make sense of the world. How can you know sweet if you don’t know sour? Cold without hot? Light without dark? Expansion without contraction? Communion without agency? Oneness without separation?
These polarities, these opposites are integrally, intimately related; two sides of the same coin, unknowable without the other.
And, it doesn’t answer my inquiry: which comes first? Relationship or individual? Can we unravel the universe and ourselves to trace this particular polarity – or any polarity – to it’s beginning?
To do so would perhaps illuminate the mysteries of the universe. Or, maybe, simple awareness of this inquiry, and a willingness to search within, exploring the dialectic between this polarity and any other is enough.
The journey, not the destination…
Sitting across from a man I’d barely spent any time with, barely made eye contact with prior to that morning, he says, “I think you’ve been avoiding me.”
We’d been in one another’s presence on several occasions in groups, and he was right, I’d avoided him. My reasons weren’t informed by dislike, or revulsion, but fear. I was afraid that he would be able to see so deeply into me that I wouldn’t be able to hide. Which, of course, is exactly what I crave. Of course. But that much vulnerability in a group of people felt like too much. I didn’t want his attention in that setting.
And so, my attraction to him showed up as repulsion; like the sides of magnets that push each other away rather than pulling together. Naming that, sharing it with him, softened and opened me to connection. It flipped the magnet around and we made contact. Attraction and repulsion, not so different after all.
I was right. He can see me so clearly that I cannot hide. There’s the deep penetration I’ve been lusting after. The reaction arising out of the contact between our unique selves inspires me to devotionally surrender – not to him – to the unfolding of the reaction itself. It’s immensely pleasurable.
And, at the same time, immensely painful. This reaction, this experience is only possible in relationship. I can’t get there, can’t feel it, can’t create it on my own. It is dependent on this man, filling it with uncertainty.
Of course, if there were no pain, no fear, no uncertainty, there would be no pleasure.
In the past, the fear, pain, and uncertainty –
“It’s going to end!”
“It’s going to hurt!”
“I can’t foresee what will happen!”
would have stopped me dead in my tracks.
Lately they matter less. They’re still present; I think I’m actually more aware of them than I was before. With that awareness comes freedom, choice, and opportunity.
So I choose to devotionally surrender. I lay down my vulnerability on the altar of this moment.
And now this moment.
And now this one.