On the end of an affair
Well, there it is; for the last fourteen months I was very much involved with someone, and now I’m not. It’s interesting to examine the feelings one has at times like this. Of course I grieve for the loss of love—and it was love, mutually—but at the same time I am aware that I am once again a free agent, faced, again, with the same choices. So how will I choose?
Buddha taught that all suffering is caused by attachment, and that is of course true; it is axiomatic. Love is all about attachment, and there can be no question that it can cause enormous pain and suffering; in fact it can cause the greatest of suffering that we know. There is no cure for the pain at the death of a parent, and even less, the horror of the loss of a child.
Losing a love, someone whose life and heart had been open to you, is not as bad as that by any means. At least my love is still alive, still, once she, like me, gets over the initial pain and shock, laughing with her friends and family, making plans for her future. Yet still the pain is severe, for both of us.
But would we, in all honesty, do as Buddha says, and give up all attachment in order to end all suffering? Is it not a fair bargain? The joy of discovery, of love, the touch of soft lips and flesh, the mutual understanding, the complicity—don’t these things balance the hurt of loss, the sad memories, the ache that will not pass, the sudden choking at the sight of an old picture or a familiar place, the imagined hearing of her voice in a crowd of strangers?
How could we not love our children, unless we be monsters? Or love our own parents, unless they were monstrous towards us? It’s against nature; to love, to form attachments, is innately part of what it is to be human, to be one of the crew of the Living Spaceship. We don’t have option to switch off our genetic programming in such a way that we could simply stop loving; otherwise we must be less than human.
We find the same teaching in the New Testament, of course, where Jesus calls on his followers to abandon everything and instead, follow him. There is no doubt that the mythology that informed the story of Gautama Buddha was woven into the story of Jesus; whether or not Jesus actually ever lived, he was not as he is described in the bible. The biblical Jesus is but a conflation or syncretisation of many other god-man-hero myths. And their message is always the same: deny love here and now for reward after death. It is trite, dehumanising, and a celebration—if it may be called so—of an extreme selfishness that puts one’s own happiness, or at least, lack of suffering, before anyone else’s.
In any case, could we ever really accept this exhortation? To be forever without attachment, without love? I couldn’t. The teachings ascribed to both Buddha and Jesus encourage their followers to drop everything—wives, families, careers, possessions, responsibilities—in order to follow the path of the religious ascetic. It is a horrible abrogation of our humanity itself and should be challenged.
We live to love. What else is there? The purpose of our selfish genes is served the instant we produce children, and successfully raise them till they can be independent. We as humans love our children deeply, but the genes don’t care; they only seek their own replication in the blind continuum of the chemical process called life.
Yet those genes, in shaping us, provide us with the capacity to love, to form attachments, and ultimately this means, to suffer. It is unavoidable, and ultimately, what makes us. To live is both to laugh and to cry.
So the grief of loss, while deep, painful and often very long-lasting, is a part of the joy of loving. Everything has balance; we experience joy in a lover’s arms or in holding a child, but this will always be tempered by the inevitable pain of loss; for that lover will change under the weight of years, and that child will soon no longer be one—and that is in the happiest of scenarios, the one we would all wish for. Life, essentially, is a bitter-sweet passage where happiness and sadness are inextricably linked, like the yin-yang symbol.
So would I forego love to avoid this pain? Never. No. The glass is half-full, not half-empty. I defy such counsels of defeat; I defy the nonsensical ideas of Buddhas and Christs that would have us renounce the one true life we have, here on Earth, in the one short time we have, in favour of a promise of ‘something better’ after death, when it’s too damn late to complain. The joy of love trumps everything; to deny love, to deny attachment, is to deny life itself.
Life is Here and it is Now and it only happens once, so it is our absolute duty to live up to the challenge it sets us—to live, to love and to lose, to the fullest of our abilities, for that is our lot. Enjoy it and stop making a fuss.