Love, Part I

So we’re going to talk about love, but I apologize, because first I have to go on a little bit more about suffering. I wrote about this once, in the Shambhala Sun, about how, the first time I meditated, I was shocked to discover that the last place I wanted to be was here, now. You’re supposed to put about twenty-five percent of your attention on your breath when you do this kind of meditation, and then, when you notice you’re thinking, you’re supposed to say “Thinking” to yourself, and then come back to the breath. But I didn’t want to come back to my breath; I wanted to think. I wanted to think about the book I was reading (Was it Harlot’s Ghost?), or the show I was watching (I think it was “Thirty Something”), or the implications around the fact that a five-year-year-old boy was actually in love with my five-year-old daughter. I wanted to have fantasies about having an affair, or quitting my job, or killing my boss, or taking a trip. I found all this so enjoyable.

Being here, with my breath, I discovered was actually something that was so painful for me that I wanted to get away from it, by thinking and reading and watching TV and fighting and drinking wine and constantly fantasizing and making mental lists and/or having elaborate conversations in my head with people who were bugging me and/or I liked. The weird thing (apart from the revelation that right here was that painful) was that I had thought, up until that moment, that those things in my head—those thoughts—were actually my life. That is, I didn’t know that they were just thoughts and fantasies, and that, on some level, I was avoiding my actual life—that is, what was actually happening right then and there—at all costs.

So back to the here and now: it hurt. I mean, what the fuck? I said this to the man who was leading the weekend meditation retreat at the yoga center I went to every day, and he smiled at me and told me that he thought I might be interested in checking out Buddhism. Buddhism’s first noble truth, he said, is the truth of suffering.

Anyway, I’m not going to talk about Buddhism and love, don’t worry. But I still would like to talk about loss a little more. I’d like to just say that I learned something amazingly new two weeks ago, from Scout’s death. I had always thought that my feelings basically were in my head, or in my metaphorical heart. But what I realized from Scout was that my feelings are entirely—entirely—physical.

The way I realized this was that, when I left the vet’s office, I started to cry, and I didn’t stop for days. It wasn’t a boo-hooing kind of thing (I mean, it was sometimes)—it was just that tears poured out of my eyes and down my cheeks without end, while I cooked and did the laundry and vacuumed and made the bed and worked. I even had to go into Starbucks and Salamander’s with red eyes and a runny nose—you need coffee and soup and big salt, one way or the other.

Crying, I soon realized, was like the escape valve on my stovetop coffeemaker; without it, the thing would explode. So my endless crying was my body’s reaction to all the physical pain I was feeling: it was like someone was stabbing me in the heart. It was like my heart was being squeezed. It was like I had the flu: I wanted to vomit, I was sweaty, I was hot, cold, shaky, weak, my stomach hurt, my back hurt, I had butterflies, my muscles ached, my teeth hurt, a constant anxiety rushed like hot lava, like mice, like bugs, up and down my body. It still does. The thoughts—the thought of Scout suffering, playing, sleeping, dying—they were something else: they had an effect on the pain in my body, but they were not the pain itself. If I told you, “I miss my dog,” what I meant was, “The pain in my body is so unbearable that I might need to claw my eyes out.” No wonder people become alcoholics and drug addicts and sex addicts and exercise addicts. No wonder people eat so much they become obese. No wonder people kill themselves. Fuckin’ ouch.

That’s my start on love. I’ll be back. First I have to go do some work, though.

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