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Lions Roar : May 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MAy 2011 24 KaRMa, equanIMITY, anD LoVe I am a jungian analyst, a psychologist, and a couple therapist who’s written books about couples. also, I’m a long- time practitioner of Buddhism and a meditation teacher. carl jung said that psychological karma is unconscious emotional patterning that is passed along the generations in families. With or without words, our emotional com- munications unintentionally transmit both our most painful wounds and our unlived lives to our children. We long for our children to heal us and we of- ten push them to carry out the dreams we didn’t fulfill for ourselves. as a result, there is an intergenerational transmis- sion of relational pain in every family. From a Buddhist perspective, though, karma is the way our intentional ac- tions—including our speech and some of our thoughts—create consequences in our lives. as the Buddha taught, often we cannot clearly see these consequences because they are complex and entangled. The emotional history of Muriel and Kent, as seen from the outside, reveals how their actions are linked to fixated unconscious mental formations, some- thing jung called “unconscious com- plexes.” In Sanskrit, the word for such a fixated tendency is sanskara, which metaphorically means a deep mark or cut in a stone. These rigid motivational patterns constrain our perceptions and feelings in ways that lead to repetitive actions and ideas. From a Buddhist per- spective, such patterns may carry over not just from early conditioning in this lifetime, but from a previous lifetime we do not remember. an intimate relationship offers innu- merable opportunities to discover how an unconscious complex has captured our mind. To do so requires some funda- mental skills and a vow, a setting of our intention. To truly love someone whom we have promised to love, we must vow to remain interested in them. even in times of acute emotional pain, we promise to remain open to seeing, hearing, feeling, and knowing what is being expressed by our beloved. although we cannot fulfill this promise perfectly, we set our inten- tions to be an attuned witness, accepting and forgiving him or her just as he or she is. We all want a partner who witnesses us accurately and inquires into our experi- ence, is a companion in our daily activi- ties, and joins our life story with a desire to know and understand us. This is what I call human love, and it rises far above our instincts for sex and survival or our de- sires to procreate. True love requires that we become mindful and accepting of our beloved, opening the door to doing the same for ourselves. Mindfulness practice provides the foun- dation for love to become a true spiritual path. The ability to concentrate allows us to focus our minds even in times of emo- tional stress, and equanimity refines our ability to remain a friendly audience to any and all experiences. equanimity can itself be known as love because it is the matter- of-fact, gentle acceptance of things just as they are. I often teach that relational love equals equanimity plus knowledge of the beloved. equanimity allows us to relax and keep open, and concentration refines our ability to pay attention to our beloved’s words, needs, feelings, and gestures, and to remember them. Together, equanimity and concentration are the necessary sup- ports for any communication or listening skills we attempt to bring to conflict reso- lution; without mindfulness, our skills fall apart when we are triggered into habitual reactive patterns. as Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein has suggested, the spiritual path of love could be nominated to be the ninth of the eightfold paths. Becoming a mindful and attuned witness to our beloved—keeping open even during emotional pain and a desire to withdraw—is a worthy test of our spiritual practice. ♦ True love means accepting our beloved as they are, and doing the same for ourselves.