Commusings: Climbing Love’s Ladder by Jeff KrasnoOct 14, 2022
Hello Commune Community,
On April 1, I officiated my brother’s and his wife’s wedding. Getting married on April Fool’s Day will provide a lifetime of gags and needed cover if an anniversary slips one’s mind, as it is apt to do in pre-senescence.
I am accustomed to public speaking, but, candidly, this “gig” made me exceptionally nervous. In the weeks leading up to the momentous occasion, I took many long rambles in the woods in search of inspiration and wisdom on the nature of love. I listened to Rumi poems, the reflections of Erich Fromm and the marvelous musings of Alan Watts (to whom I owe a great debt). Today’s essay is a distillation of these hikes in which I sought to untangle the ball of yarn known as love.
Here at [email protected] and waxing in equal proportions pathetic and poetic on IG @jeffkrasno.
In love, include me,
• • •
Climbing Love’s Ladder
A few months ago, my brother, Eric, and his fiancé, Lauren, asked me to officiate their nuptials. Of course, I obliged. There is little I would deny my brother. To be clear, I am not certified by any institution – neither governmental nor ecumenical – to officially perform such a duty, but a quick swing by City Hall would formalize the proceedings to appease our distant uncle, Sam.
While I was humbled to be asked, I did wonder what qualified me for such an honor. I admit my affordability was an attribute. I suppose by mere dint of my thirty-five years of unadulterated bliss with my betrothed, Schuyler, that I must have some purchase on the nature of love and commitment.
That long-bearded rascal, Lao Tzu, wrote in his seminal Taoist work the Tao Te Ching, “Those who know do not say and those who say do not know.” This notion puts any officiant in a precarious bind. Despite his cautionary quip, old Laozi went ahead and authored a book describing the cosmic intelligence of the universe. I figured this provided ample permission to share whatever scant wisdom I have accrued on the topics of love and marriage.
When I met with Eric and Lauren, they asked me how Schuyler and I have managed to weather more than three decades together. Well, I divulge the great secret to relational longevity here:
Schuyler and I make love almost every day.
Almost on Monday. Almost on Tuesday. Almost …
Of course, by this time, Eric and Lauren are living the reality behind the punchline of this rather stale dad joke. They are already the parents of one Lewis, among the cutest creatures carousing the planet. Early parenthood is a form of imposed monasticism. Love moves quite suddenly from the aesthetic to the ascetic when there’s a stinky diaper wedged between knackered parents. At best, sex becomes an almost.
Love warrants a bit of jocularity because, on one level, it is completely non-sensical. In fact, it’s akin to laughter in that we don’t know why we do it. A joke loses its hilarity the moment we try to explain it. In the same way, love is sucked of its passion when we ascribe it to mere bio-chemical reactions in the brain due to our adaptive proclivity to procreate.
It is said that you fall in love. Well, you never fall on purpose – not from grace or out of favor, nor apart at the seams or asleep at the wheel. You certainly don’t choose to fall to the wayside or on hard times. Similarly, love is not a choice. It wells up surreptitiously from below the crust of consciousness and crashes over you like a wave – pinning you to the seafloor and leaving you breathless. It can cause you to panic and do the most unimaginable things.
For a time, my task as master of ceremonies seemed hopelessly unmanageable. How do we describe a sensation with words and concepts? (I pity the poets who spend their lives trying to solve this insoluble problem. Perhaps this is why they are such a miserable lot and prone to self-harm. On the best days, they give us a glimpse of the mystical – that which can only be felt and not said.) As April 1 approached, I was hoping for such a day. In preparation, I took many long, ponderous hikes.
There is a concept in the Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism, called the emanations. In attempting to understand love, we reassemble the “shattered mind of God.” It’s as if Platonic capital “L” love is a pristine crystalline vase hovering somewhere high above the clouds. As it tumbles down through the atmosphere, it refracts and reflects love’s light and finally it smacks into earth’s hard clay and splinters into a million shards. We earth creatures are left to pick up the pieces. As part of the examined life and our inexorable search for meaning, we reconstitute God’s shattered mind.
This project is echoed by the art form in Japanese aesthetics known as kintsugi. Shattered ceramics are reconstituted with the use of molten gold to produce the most marvelous creations. You can pick up a bowl or tea caddy and trace your finger delicately across the gilded veins that pull the object back together. In kintsugi, these golden contours are known as precious scars.
The musicians know this song. Consider that the “symphony” is the ideal perfect cosmic form. When the orchestra receives the cue sheets, the song is fragmented. There are parts for the strings, the wind instruments, the horns, the percussion and on. It’s all chopped up. It’s dismembered. And, with epiphanous co-expression, the musicians re-member the song. They put it back together. This is why moments of great satori, nirvana and unity consciousness are so often referred to as the memory of God.
Indeed, our own battered lives are chopped up and lined with scars. In becoming whole, we re-member ourselves from our dismembered parts. We become worthy of our suffering. The salve comes through the wound.
Love is not a single note. In its simplest form, it’s a dyad. On happy days, it’s a “G” and a “B.” On melancholic days, a “G” and a “B flat.” Love requires both a lover and a beloved, like a deal requires a seller and a buyer. You can’t have back without front or up without down or left without right. The flower is mutually interdependent with the bee. Electricity is the attraction and repulsion of positive and negative charges. And humans and plants barter oxygen for carbon dioxide.
Life inherently exists as a “coincidentia oppositorum” – a mutual arising of opposites. And, when unimpeded, nature’s course, the Tao, pulls counterparts into coherence, into asymmetrical balance, into … love. It’s a sensitive type of order, but in this manner, love is the foundational intelligence of the universe. It is the force that brings all things together into harmony.
I asked Lauren how she fell for Eric, who is a wildly successful and virtuosic guitarist. “There he was on stage ripping blues licks like weeds out of a garden,” she declares with zeal. “He was so hot!” And, indeed this is where it starts – somewhere deep in the loins, bubbling up under the crust of consciousness.
And, if we’re lucky, it snakes up the spine to the head. “I could talk to her for days,” Eric rejoins (re: “she’s got such a great personality” ;-).
We climb love’s ladder.
There is conditional love: I love you … if you fulfill this increasing litany of requirements.
And transactional love: I love you … Now you get the dry cleaning. I’ll chauffeur the kids to the dance recital. You fetch the groceries. I’ll attend the dreaded parent-teacher conference.
In love, it is pitifully easy to thrust the requirements of our ego onto our partners. We even write scripts for each other. Like martyrs, we stumble into the house after a long, hard day as if we were a chimneysweep out of a Dickens’ novel. We see our mate … and ACTION! (We wait for him / her to deliver their lines).
[Act 2, Scene 5]
“Oh, great love, I can’t fathom how you’ve toiled and slain great dragons to bring home the ingots. What would we do without you? We’d be lost!”
But, of course, our partners haven’t gotten their sides. The reality resembles a significant deviation from script. It’s more like…
“Where have you been? I’ve been juggling zoom calls and wranging the kids all day. Your turn! I’m going to spin class.”
Over time, however, through the carrying of water and the chopping of wood, commitment births a small miracle. We don’t fix each other. However, steadfast dedication creates the conditions that allow us to fix ourselves. We slowly, sometimes against our will, become whole. We fulfill our own needs… mostly. And, in the absence of need, love transmutes from something taken to something given. It becomes selfless. We become invested in each other’s growth and success.
“You complete me,” stammers Jerry Maguire to Dorothy. No, not really. We help each other complete ourselves. We enable the process of each other’s healing, the journey toward wholeness.
Commitment is too often framed within the parentheses of sacrifice – of what we give up. Nothing is further from the truth. In fact, unconditional devotion grants our partner the opportunity to pursue wild dreams and take madcap risks knowing that in inevitable failures there is love’s soft pillow to cushion the fall. In this manner, love is not sacrifice – it is liberation.
Is love an emotion?
Perhaps you are familiar with Rumi’s wonderful poem, The Guest House.
This being human is a guest house.Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Emotions – jealousy, envy, excitement, pride, awe, resentment, anger – are guests. Some invited, others not. They arrive on their own schedule. Joy, being overcommitted, is quick to come and go. Anxiety pilfers a bread roll, sips some scotch and slips furtively out the back. Gloominess is known to overstay its welcome and ask for seconds. But you are the house. Sadness and disgust are clouds. You are the sky. Fear, shame and regret are automobiles, bicyclists and pedestrians. You are the road. Emotions are phenomena, like sounds and smells, arising and subsiding in consciousness moment to moment.
But what if Love is not an emotion? What if it doesn’t visit you? What if you visit it? What if Love is a state of being? Like the state of Colorado or Vermont, except you don’t need to board an airplane to get to it. It’s inside of you – underneath the ego’s shell.
Love, as a state of being, has a certain signature. There is a concept in Buddhism and Hinduism known as Brahmavihara. In Sanskrit, the Brahman is the ultimate reality, the supreme source from which we are modifications. Vihara means “abodes.” When we are in this heightened state, we inhabit the Brahman. Brahmavihara is associated with samadhi, a sensation of integrated consciousness in which there is no delineation between the experience of what it is like to be you and the experience of the world. All dualistic notions of subject and object melt away. The state of Love is redolent with the four qualities of Brahmavihara’s perfume.
Metta is the conveyance of good will and lovingkindness to all people, including yourself, without condition.
Karuna is often translated as compassion. More precisely, it can be understood as the identification of another’s suffering as your own; and the bringing forth of lovingkindness to the presence of suffering in a conscious attempt to alleviate it.
Mudita is empathetic happiness, the feeling of joy simply and only for someone else’s joy.
And, lastly, there is uppehka, often translated as equanimity. Initially this seems to be a curious characteristic of love. Equanimity may suggest passivity. I might argue that, given the belligerent state of the world, a more passive approach to living might be more loving. But comprehending uppehka as “dispassionate” is a misunderstanding. On the contrary, it implies bringing your fervent and full self to the present task without attachment to result, to love without condition. Equanimity is a recognition that we are only here now, that the only thing that ever was and ever will be is the eternal now. And, given the endless competition for our attention that results in incessant distraction, the most precious gift we can gift each other is our utter and undivided presence.
When you feel the sensations of metta, karuna, mudita and uppehka, you realize you are “in” love.
The day finally arrived. Two hundred beautiful souls gathered in a garden. Ceremony, the bearing of witness, provides a vessel to hold the formless. No groomsmen. No maids of honor. No pomp. No circumstance. Just me standing idly at a wedding altar with no notes, waiting for the music to begin. Eric strolled confidently down the aisle first and took his place stage left. As Lauren, resplendent in every manner, glided slowly down the nave, my mind went white blank and a moment of panic shot through me like lightning.
When Lauren reached the altar and settled, I bent over and put my lips to her ear. I whispered, “Do you still want to go through with it?”
Her eyes lit up, her chin dipped slightly and she gave me the widest smile, relaxed, yet still ear-to-ear. In that look, uncontrived, spontaneous, present, were all the words that I have just written.
In that look was love.
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