“Toma, I’ve been a negative person all my life. I am trying to change that. [...] I’ve been to a therapist and a marriage counsellor with my spouse. What do you do though when your depression, bad feelings and thoughts come from not feeling loved by your spouse? I don’t feel connected emotionally, physically or spiritually anymore. I don’t think I’m being selfish.” – Jim
A few years ago I read a story, and it has stuck with me ever since:
On the outskirts of Beijing there was a couple who had been married for thirty years. Initially they were madly in love and seemed destined to a life of happiness, but over time they grew apart, and were finally nearing separation. They hadn’t been emotionally intimate in years, and it was rare that they spoke to one-another with warmth, or compassion.
The wife, saddened by the coldness that had grown within her, one day found herself looking through some old belongings. Among them, in a small, faded brown box, she found photos of her husband in his youth, and a love letter he had written to her upon their engagement.
Within the letter was her husband’s declaration of his eternal love for her, and his promise of a long and happy life together. He described a joyful future in which all that mattered was each other. He imagined them in old age, holding hands, always enjoying each other’s company.
The wife, recognising the emotions that once filled her heart, broke down in tears. Crying on her bedroom floor, she immediately longed for the promise that once was. In that moment, the years of suffering were forgotten, and her heart returned to her through her husbands loving words.
With tears in her eyes, and a need to once again love and be loved, she fought through her husband’s reluctance, and convinced him to share the memories together. He too awoke, and staring into one-another’s now child-like eyes, they were in love again.
What is love?
Love is the perfect spiritual balancing of man’s own centre-periphery. We are instinctively self-centred, but when in love our partner becomes our centre, and we become their’s, permitting both of us to joyfully fade into the greater periphery. Love and God are the few times we happily forgo our own centre (ego), and they alone can lead us to perfect spiritual balance, and in-turn perfect happiness. It is for this reason that it is famously said, “God is love.”
The problem with love is not love itself, but our constant return to self-centredness. Initially we concern ourselves with our partner’s well-being, but that concern eventually gets turned inwards as we prioritise our own desires. Having tasted the fruits of love, we enter spiritual withdrawal, and we each try to fill the void in our own way – some more destructively than others. No longer seeing the other person as Centre, we become two individuals struggling with our own spirit, blindly forgetting that our struggles can be easily resolved together, as One.
When the couple from our story awoke to this fact, there was no material change in their life, yet they found profound happiness. This is to say that happiness and unhappiness are only ever within us; their source is never material, and never external. Happiness is about returning to the Other as Centre. No past. No future. Just now, and You.
Jim’s story illustrates the potential healing power of love. If they both give in and love selflessly; if they support each other through life’s hardships; if they make the other their all-important Centre, then they will get better. The balance will not always be perfect, and they will often give more than seems fair, but their selflessness will make them as strong as it will happy. We must love each other with the love that we desire for ourselves.
All true happiness is about spiritual balance, and selfless love is its ultimate realisation.