On Love & Pain
I love you so much it hurts.
This sentiment has crossed lips for as long as humans have been “falling” in love. Poets, spiritual teachers, lyricists—all who write on the human condition—have spoken to the pain of love. Let’s consider the term falling: giving into a gravity we have no control of, a loss of our day-to-day sense of how to be (or at least appear) zipped-up and contained. Falling is messy. It drags us off of the director’s seat of our lives. And in the plummeting sensation it makes in our stomachs, we feel a nearly physical anguish in the overwhelming power of that love-feeling. We can get scientific about it, sure: dopamine’s responsible for that feeling of euphoria; adrenals trigger catecholamines which activate our fight-or-flight. But we don’t “experience” the science. We experience the life-or-death sensation.
Both of my daughters were born at home; and during their arrival I passed back and forth between that thin veil that separates euphoria and agony a thousand times. And the moment I held them in my arms, there both feelings were at once: more love than I had ever experienced, accompanied by an unspeakable near-anguish. The feeling was a coin—one side a fierce and infinite love, the other the torment of an attachment I had never known. My desire to protect them was nothing short of savage. It made my bones ache. And that ache of protection and attachment has not diminished as I’ve watched them become their own people, as I sit and witness them in all their teenager-ness.
One of the first limbs of yoga suggests we lessen or empty out our attachments. This is an easy enough practice when it comes to all that extra stuff in our closets, cupboards, and files; but when it comes to the objects of our love… well, that’s a very different story. We feel our internal (and sometimes external) grips grow tighter even with the thought of losing this love.
What is the pain within the love?
Is it possible have the love without the pain?
We humans try to avoid pain at all costs; yet pain is directly connected to our experience of love—which we all crave. In our desire to avoid the pain-part, we spend our time managing the love rather than living it, in the false believe that in doing so, we won’t experience its loss or ending. But as we all probably know through experience, this becomes the near-strangling of love. Because like everything else in this life that comes and goes, there’s no “managing” it.
In this life we are guaranteed one thing: impermanence. Yet we suffer (dukkha) because we want the thing we love to stay as it was when we first loved it: our children, our romances, that first bite of cupcake, cheering for "my team" that feeling of euphoria on our last vacation. Whatever it is, it’s either already over or its time is short. Because that is simply and unequivocally the way of life.
The answer? Well, both the poets and the practice speak of shifting the focus of our love from the ever-changing to the never-changing, the love of divine life. Of cultivating a place so rich with love it never runs out. Yes, this can be a side-effect of a real, full yoga practice. In practice, I focus on keeping as open as possible to the ever-changing nature of love, of myself, of the mysteries of life and death. I turn my love to the place from which my children came, and to the place to which they, and I, will eventually return. Palms open and soft as love intensifies, wanes, settles, agitates. To keep it alive is to hold it lightly, and to allow those powerful moments of anguish in, tenderly.
The funeral pyre
Where I have laid my living body.
All the false notions of myself
That once caused fear, pain,
Have turned to ash
As I neared God.
What has risen
From the tangled web of thought and sinew
Now shines with jubilation
Through the eyes of angels
And screams from the guts of
Love is the funeral pyre
Where the heart must lay
― Hafiz, The Gift