Zen & the Art of Falling in Love by Brenda Shoshanna | Omega

Zen practice turns much of what we think we know on its head, including our ideas about love. Psychologist Brenda Shoshanna explains what we can learn from Zen about falling (and staying) in love.

Being in love is our natural state. The real question we should be asking is: Why aren’t we in love all the time? What is it that keeps this most precious inheritance away? How can we reclaim it for our own and return to the intrinsic wisdom and spontaneity we had as children when each moment was fresh and exciting and filled with adventure?

Contrary to popular opinion, real love never hurts or wounds. It is only our confused expectations that can undermine our lives and lead us to negative consequences. There is a Buddhist saying, “Give up poisonous food wherever it is offered to you.” But most of us have little idea what is poison and what is nourishing in our relationships.

Once we know the difference between real and counterfeit love, once we learn the laws of love and how to practice them, we will be able to live a life of love and build relationships that cannot fail. As we learn in Zen, we live in prisons of our own making. The fact of the matter is that we can turn our lives around at any time.

Zen is the Practice of Falling in Love

In Zen, one learns to sit, to breathe, to focus, to let go, to walk with attention, to cook, to clean, to receive blows, and to meet the master. Zen and love are incredibly compatible, and the wonderful, ancient practice of Zen is actually the practice of falling in love. Offering a paradigm shift, the steps of the Zen student can offer many teachings to those on the quest for love.

Although Zen practice is simple, it is not always easy. [We practice] to suspend judgment and disbelief, to be willing to become a child once again—to explore, play, hug, cry, and feel that the world is filled with endless possibilities—which it is, once you are willing to see it that way. Zen also requires the ability to say "no" to all the people, beliefs, habits, and desires which can take your faith and love away. Falling in love doesn’t mean being blind, or entering into fantasy. It means waking up out of darkened dreams to finally see the beauty which surrounds us.

A little endurance is required, along with the willingness to face the shadows that will dispel as soon as we invite in the light.

Conflicting Messages and High Expectations

We all want love. Then when we get it, we become afraid and start to run in the opposite direction. On the one hand, we are searching for love, searching for some lasting relationship. On the other hand, we are relieved when the person goes away.

It always seems as if relationships are difficult—difficult to find, to keep, and to enjoy. Yet the fundamental truth is that there is no inherent problem with relationships at all. There is never a scarcity of relationships; there is never a scarcity of love.

Love is our natural condition. Why aren’t we in it all the time? What is it that keeps us from this love we are so hungry for? The usual answer to this question is that there are no good men or women around. No matter who we meet, something is wrong. No matter what kind of relationship we develop, something starts to go awry.

In the beginning we may feel we have finally found the perfect person. Then before we know it, often out of the blue, conflict develops, irritation grows. Joy, pleasure, and excitement, the feeling of being loved and valued, fade imperceptibly. Most people have no idea why this happens.

We have been programmed to believe that if we get what we want, we are a success. We want excitement, change, pleasure, stimulation, good friends, praise, and happy conversation. We want to go home feeling that we have done beautifully, that others respect and appreciate that. This is also what we want from relationships. As we undergo training, we learn how to turn self-centered, negative desires around. In fact, one of the first things we have to learn, after we take off our shoes, is how to deal with not getting what we want at all.

When we search for someone “out there” to love, when we make our success dependent upon who we find, we place ourselves in a ready-made trap. Sometimes this search yields someone exciting, but inevitably, both the person and the feelings we have for them change; they have to. This change is then interpreted as failure. There is no such thing as failure in real love. Real love knows the nature of that which changes and the nature of that which remains forever.

The Link Between Patience and Love

It takes many years to realize what both love and Zen practice are, and how to become a beginning student. This process requires patience. Without patience we have nothing. Developing patience is at the very heart of our ability to love.

Love without patience is like soup without liquid—impossible to drink. It can even be said that patience is love itself. Patience is greatly needed for the flower of love to bloom. It takes time for a person to feel at home in a relationship and reveal who they are. It takes patience to wait for another, to develop true caring and trust.

Zen practice is based upon contradiction and paradox. Life and love happen in a second, and yet it takes preparation to be ready to receive them.

Excerpted from Zen and the Art of Falling in Love by Brenda Shoshanna. © Brenda Shoshanna. Used with permission.

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