At Home in the Abbey (at least for now)
Lately a lot of people have been asking me if I want children. I don’t know why, but the question keeps coming up for no discernible reason. Maybe these lovely folks are trying to figure out why someone in her thirties is living in the boonies all by her lonesome, but whatever the reason, I only have one answer: I don’t know. Having kids is something I take pretty seriously, considering the divorce rate and the fact that the world population is more bloated than my worst premenstrual moment. Also, it’s a bit hard to imagine making a person since I haven’t yet stumbled upon a man I want to make one with.
I’m always completely fascinated by the way two people come together, drawn by the force of mutual attraction. It really is an amazing thing, if you think about how many billions of people there are in this world. While it’s definitely possible to feel attracted to all sorts of folks on a regular basis, I think that thing only comes along once in a blue moon. You know what I mean, right? The thing that makes you say, “Um, I have no idea who you are, but I’d like to hang out with you for the rest of my life.” Past experience has shown me that this particular feeling isn’t always a good indicator of a successful relationship, but still... it’s truly wild when it happens.
Throughout my life, I’ve had a few long-term relationships, interspersed with periods of intense aloneness. It’s been interesting, to say the least. Currently, I’m in one of those “alone” periods, which means I frequently have to come up with good responses when people ask me why I haven’t met someone. These exchanges are quite possibly my least favorite in the whole wide world. Though I know the kind-hearted questioners mean well when they ask why I’m not shacked up with a man—or at least dating one, two, or three—the look on their faces makes it obvious that they feel a wee bit sorry for me.
“I’m taking some space to find my center again,” I tell them.
“Totally,” they nod. “But isn’t it about time?” At this point, I usually put my hair up or take it down to distract the listener, but that rarely works.
“Honestly, I don’t think these things can be forced,” I say. “And for the last few years I’ve been channeling most of my energy into creative projects. When I’m ready, I’m sure the right person will come along.”
Sometimes when I say this sort of thing, the lovely human looks deep into my eyes and sends a ray of compassion into my lonely little soul. The thing is, I’m not lonely—at least not all the time. I enjoy my own company and, if there’s any prerequisite for a good relationship, I think it’s knowing how to be with oneself. That doesn’t mean I don’t wish things were different sometimes—of course I do—but enough life experience has shown me that things change. In other words, my life won’t look this way forever. I’m trying to appreciate the beauty of the way things are now.
I’ve never understood the taboo against being single. When you’re single, sometimes people act like you’re missing something huge. But there are lots of benefits to flying solo, as my partnered friends often remind me. For instance, I can sing as loud as I want in the middle of the night or sprawl out in my bed without harming anyone. It’s nice. Plus, I’ve learned a lot from being on my own—like how to use a power drill (sort of), make a killer fire in my wood stove (after a few tries), and eat a pan of brownies all by myself (I’m really good at that).
At the same time, I have to admit that every so often—when I’m feeling kind of down or insecure—I start to believe that life would be way better if I had a partner. You know, someone to bake muffins for or share the depths of my soul with on a very regular basis—like, every five to ten minutes. This sweet pipe dream comes up really strongly sometimes, but it never lasts very long. Sooner or later, life reminds me that, relationship or not, true happiness ultimately has to come from within. Dang it! Must I always be reminded of that spiritual truth? “Yes, darling,” life says, “genuine, lasting contentment can’t be found in people or things.” That doesn’t mean I need to stay in a nunnery for the rest of my life, of course, but it is a good reality check.
To be honest, I’ve found that being alone from time to time serves me in very meaningful ways. For one, it helps me see where I feel empty or somehow insufficient, and gives me a chance to love those parts of myself, instead of cover them up with another person. It’s quite easy to use a friend or lover to avoid uncomfortable feelings, but that only goes so far. At the end of the day, we still have to face ourselves. I love what one of my professors in graduate school, a wonderful dharma teacher named Reggie Ray, said about this: “As long as we look at others as potential escape routes for our own loneliness, intimacy is not possible.” How true is that?
More and more, I feel that healthy relationships create space for two people to look at their habitual patterns with love. But how can we do this sacred work with each other if we can’t do it with ourselves? Obviously this isn’t the easiest thing on earth, but it is possible, and we don’t have to wait until we hit the sack with someone for that process to begin. As cliché as it is, we do need to love and accept ourselves—at least a little—before we can expect to genuinely love someone else. And let’s face it, if we don’t feel worthy of love, anyone who tries to love us won’t get very far.
My spiritual teacher, Amma, often says that worldly love is like two beggars begging from each other. Neither person has anything to offer, but each is trying to get something from the other. I love that image because it’s so absurd and, sadly, so common. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve looked to other people to confirm, appreciate, and value me, when I haven’t been able to do that for myself. It drives me crazy, but after years of noticing that oh-so-human tendency, I feel a bit more relaxed when it happens. After all, what’s wrong with wanting love? We all want love, even if we use different methods to get it. There’s something kind of innocent about running after someone and screaming, “Love me!” at the top of our lungs (well, when no one’s around). Though it may feel a bit pathetic, it’s a natural desire. If we could only turn that longing in on itself and run towards our own heart with those very same words, we might discover that—whoa!—we are love; we don’t need to get it from anyone.
These are the kinds of things I think about when I don’t have a man to elbow in the middle of the night. Actually, these are the kinds of things I think about even when I do have a man to elbow. But something about the groundless space of singledom makes the inquiry a bit more intense. That’s probably because when we’re not in a relationship, we don’t have anyone to project our stuff onto—good or bad. We don’t have anyone to blame for our problems, or anyone to grab onto for a sense of worth and approval. Sure, we can still get that from friends, family, food, pets, and a plethora of other things, but it’s not quite the same.
This is one of the reasons I consider the time between relationships to be so very sacred. If we really use the time—whether nine months or 19 years— to become full from the inside, we have a much better chance of attracting a truly resonant partner. I’m convinced that this kind of resonance can’t be maneuvered or manipulated; it can only arise out of openness and authenticity. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making crazy long checklists documenting all the things we desire in a significant other, I’m not sure how helpful that is, ultimately. Don’t we all desire a magical, nonsensical connection with someone? Whatever that connection is, God knows it can’t be explained—not in a checklist or anywhere else—so why not just relax and surrender to the mystery? This is what I tell myself anyway, especially when it seems like the only calls I get are from the convent.
There’s a spiritual teacher whom I like quite a bit these days named Mooji. He said something so perfect about intimate relationship in a satsang I watched recently. He said, plain and simple, “Don’t go into a relationship in a disadvantaged position. Don’t go desperate; nobody wants anybody desperate. It’s such a turnoff!” And, man, is that true. I won’t lie—sometimes I do feel desperate—but what I’m really desperate for is my own wholeness, my own light. It’s a little funny to feel desperate for something that I already am, but that seems to be the paradox of the human journey: We’re all seeking something that we already are.
Fortunately, we each have the opportunity to discover this truth, partnered or not. And this is really what I’m learning—that there’s no need to wait for external circumstances to change before opening in love. Whether we are in the arms of our lover or of life itself, the sky inside is endless. I’m ever grateful for that.