What is Love? Baby, Don't Hurt Me
You can’t think and feel at the same time.
One of my yoga teachers, Nico Luce, said this in a class the other day, and it’s one of the sweetest, simplest, and most poignant sentences I’ve heard in a while. Yoga is important to me for a lot of reasons, but one of the main reasons I fell in love with it in the first place is that it lets me feel; it gives me a sweet respite from the constant churning of my mind.
If you’re like me (saturated by social media, analytical, human), you think a lot. We exist in the intellectual mind so much of the time—we plan, we worry, we sort out, we solve, we write, we communicate.
But when I get on my mat (sometimes even when I’m teaching), I get into this other world, where time stops existing, everything is possible, I am inside my right foot, I am externally rotating my thigh, I can feel my chest slipping open as I turn upside down, and I’m feeling. It’s like being in a dream, but one I get to make up as I go.
If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, you’ve probably heard somebody say, at some point, the words “open your heart.” They make it sound so easy—just listen to your heart, follow your bliss, feel, be honest with yourself, and everything will be okay.
Yikes. If you’re like me (a human) your heart is probably a big unruly mess. It loves, it desires, it wants, it feels. It lives in that dream place where time and space mean nothing, and “consequence” is not in its vocabulary.
I think our hearts are not the most intelligent organs in our bodies. Our brains are very useful in many situations, and the gut should be consulted a lot more often than it usually is, because it has been left with the job of digesting everything that your brain, heart, and mouth take in.
But the heart must beat.
If you’ve ever tried not to feel something that you feel, you’ve probably failed. Or, if you are particularly unlucky, you’ve succeeded.
In the chakra system, the heart is the center of the body. It’s where spirituality, individuality, and community meet. It’s where we feel, where we care, and if we cut it off, we lose our center—we can no longer understand the world with empathy; we are alone.
But we’ve all got our reasons for trying not to feel things. Heartbreak really sucks, and the brain will try anything to get it out of the way, to make it stop, to solve it. Have you ever noticed that people who are really deeply heartbroken often act completely nuts? The brain is in fifth gear trying to override the hurt in the heart, and mixes its signals until you find yourself yelling into your ex’s answering machine that they share with four roommates. Whoops.
Whenever I’ve looked into yogic or religious philosophy to help me with matters of the heart, they’ve often said something about how true love has a lot more to do with the divine that with human beings. Organized religion has had a somewhat fraught relationship with sex (to put it lightly). The problem of sexual desire and attachment has been dealt with in religions from Christianity to Tantrism through everything from complete abstinence to ritually doin’ it with or without consent. I haven’t encountered many spiritual treatises that deal with care, desire, lust, attraction, dependence, longing, loss, grief, kissing, sex, and other small addendums to grand “Love” in a way that is positive and helpful. I still think, though, that those addendums, the crappy, messy parts of whatever we decide “love” means, must be a part of it. If love was as easy and complete as praying to God, it would be boring. What would be the point of religious treatises? Or pop songs?
But if you ask certain lovers of God—poets like Mirabai, Rumi, and Hafiz, saints like St. Augustine (“Lord, grant me chastity and continence…but not yet”), Jesus [who, according to some, sure got around], and probably many others who’ve had experiences of human and divine love and their many intersections—the story becomes a little different. A little more quotidian, and maybe a little sexier.
Mirabai, for example, was absolutely on fire for her lover, God, and wrote this:
Keep Doing That
Love, you have wrecked my body.
Keep doing that...
I am more well with this deep ache
than content with the
you can pacify
Rumi was a poet from the 13th century who loved deeply, on the human and the divine level, and saw that through imperfect human love, possibility seeds toward the divine:
When the captain sees the girl,
he immediately falls in love with her
like the Caliph.
Don’t laugh at this.
His loving is also part of infinite love,
without which the world does not evolve.
Forms move from inorganic to vegetation
to selves indowed with spirit
through the urgency of every love
that wants to come to perfection.
Inside a lover’s heart
there is another world,
and yet another.
I think Rumi and Mira would have been really happy to learn that this year, Del Martin (age 83) and Phyllis Lyon (age 79) became the first legally married lesbians in San Francisco. That was a real win for good ol’ human love, and I bet Del and Phyllis have dealt with their fair share of messy quotidian love crap over their 50-year courtship. And that doesn’t make it any less a win for love on a global scale.
Love—the suffering of it, the pain of it, the messiness of it—helps you to transform, to become bigger. The painful heart must beat.
So even though I wouldn’t take its advice all the time, I’m letting my heart beat. I’ve got to believe that loving is something that can’t be all wrong. My imperfect love for imperfect humans is a part of what gets me closer to the divine, whatever it is, because it connects me to those humans, and perhaps more importantly to myself: however awful it might be, I can love: I can feel.
And for me, for now, that’s enough.
Dreams, by JC Peters
My dreams sometimes tell me stories
that I don’t understand.
I find myself on playgrounds, running or
dancing with a tire swing,
slow and elegant like we were
lovers in another life.
I backbend down, feet hooked onto rubber,
press my palms into the sand in pure,
Crowds of people join me in
these dreams, they watch me playing,
chase me across these night frames,
point me out to sold-out audiences
who turn in their red velvet seats to look,
smile, applaud politely
as I plan my escape.
They discover holes in my skin,
all along my arms, old, ugly scars
I had never noticed and on panicking to cover them they say
the holes are God’s messages, in your
disfigurement you are a chosen one,
loved by God, written on with a strange language and a
and as I swoon in the beauty of my own
given body, lifting up with one hand
my body a length like a scarf swimming from
chains, elephant headed gods call me
to come down they
remind me of my
marriage bed, my commitments on another plane,
admonish me for my
Now when I sleep I sleep
carefully, now, buried in
blankets, holding pillows close,
but while I’m dreaming my
whole limbs reach out away from my
sleeping heartbeat I wake up in
twisted sheets, pillows thrown over as
after a battle, parts of myself
fighting to get away while they thought they had
In waking life I don’t have scars running strange rivers of
words on my skin,
I do not want to be married to elephant headed gods,
I want to dance but not alone, to be
here, awake, not running away, I want nothing more
than to be here with you,
naked on a beach somewhere, dreaming together,
awake or asleep
asleep or awake.