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Lions Roar : March 2010
44 SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2010 nature and which glorifies death. setting-sun vision fixates on mis- ery and ignores human dignity; it feeds on tragedy and snubs ordi- nary heart. the shambhala tradition points out that the setting-sun approach is an unnecessary and inappropriate focus for human life. it undercuts our basic intelligence and wholesomeness and deprives us of living our lives fully. Romantic love is the epitome of setting- sun vision in our culture. so, what choice do we have? We realize how unhappy romantic love is, but what else is there? all of us have experienced the way the bubble pops in romantic relationships, and the ensuing disap- pointment and disillusionment. We say we have fallen out of love. We begin to feel the pointlessness of the fantasy and we see the lover as a stranger or even an enemy. We feel so lonely and hurt. But disappointment is simply the flip side of romantic love. in both cases we are so totally wrapped up with our own fantasy that we never really see the other person. We don’t see the person we’re in love with; we don’t see the person we’re breaking up with. Both situations are impersonal. marge piercy describes it this way in her poem “simple-song”: When we are going toward someone we say you are just like me your thoughts are my brothers word matches word how easy to be together. When we are leaving someone we say how strange you are we cannot communicate we can never agree how hard, hard and weary to be together. We are not different or alike but each strange in his leather body sealed in skin and reaching out clumsy hands and loving is an act that cannot outlive the open hand the open eye the door in the chest standing open. Disappointment is the more fruitful side of the coin because it occurs when our am- bition and fantasy about the relationship become bankrupt. Disappointment could be the beginning of a true relationship. there is a kind of loss of innocence in disappoint- ment, which can lead to the appreciation of the lover for who he is—beyond fantasy. staying with disappointment requires a certain amount of bravery, for we find our- selves alone. often it has been our fear of What are the qualities of romantic relationships? First of all, ro- mantic love thrives on separation. the unattainable love is the most attractive one—someone who is married to someone else, living in a distant city, or in a nexus of the forbidden. the girl or boy next door is not a good candidate for romantic fantasy, and neither is one’s spouse. separation makes the heart grow fonder and more passionate, because with separation the fantasy of the lover can be kept alive. the reality of the person cannot threaten the fantasy. For this reason, many newlyweds become quickly disillusioned over the mundane realities of married life. the courtship was so exciting, but marriage is too real, too ordinary. Because romance thrives on separation, it is sexy but never sexually fulfilled. if one were truly satiated sexually, then the ro- mance would be threatened. often, the lover chooses the mysti- cal option of desire, giving up the living, breathing sexual part- ner for the fantasy of the unattainable lover. illicit love affairs are hot, but are rarely resolved in marriage. secondly, romantic love is frightfully impersonal. We are look- ing for our “type”—an intellectual, a jock, an ethereal blonde. our typing can become very subtle, including our lover’s taste in clothes or way of walking. But we are in love with a fantasy; the person of the lover is absent. it actually helps not to have the per- son around too much, because they might destroy the fantasy. We have a terror that love may become too real. making the lover into a god, we foster a sense of poverty in our- selves. this is a lack of completion, which manifests as insatiable desire. We feel inadequate and helpless without a lover. When we have made the lover into a god, we can never join our lover. We are stuck in a situation of desperate longing, of neediness and insecurity. this is why de Rougemont called ro- mantic love a christian heresy; passion means suffer- ing, and we have misplaced our devotion onto a fan- tasy, which has trapped us forever in unhappiness. there is a death wish at the heart of romantic love. in classical myths and literature, one possesses the lover completely only in death—and we see this played out in newspaper accounts of domestic dis- putes daily. the desire for union with the lover is desire for oblivion, and anything more pedestrian interferes with the fantasy. this is the most difficult trait to acknowledge: romantic love glorifies unhappiness. the pain of ro- mantic passion is something we find delicious. this is clear in our entertainments—films, novels, television, ballet, opera, and plays. We entertain ourselves with the scrumptious pain of a romantic story, and that pain makes us feel so alive, so real, and so convinced of the meaningfulness of romantic love. When we examine this carefully, we sense the un- healthiness of a cult, which glorifies unhappiness. the shambhala tradition speaks of setting-sun vision, which elevates the most degraded aspects of human JudItH SImmEr-BrOWN leads workshops across North America on how meditation can help us create more fulfilling and lasting intimate relationships. She has been a core faculty member in religious studies at Naropa university since 1978 and she is the author of Dakini’s Warm Breath: the Feminine principle in tibetan Buddhism. pHotoByaliciaBRoWn