Is it possible to love more than one person? What does it mean to love openly? Can love blossom in a single moment? Everything in me resoundingly thunders: YES!
But first, we must un-hinge the bear trap.
Pulse racing, my heart catches in my throat for a moment as waves of attraction speedily spread their way across my body. I watch as the surf crashes on my internally sandy shore, perking me up so that I’m vividly awake, translucently alert. With this first glimpse, heat unfurls through my chest, and though I’m not exactly falling in love this time, I know that I could, given the opportunity.
My mind spirals away to a someday fantasy, and I’m vividly imagining the first caress and the eventual kiss, the shock of eyes meeting and minds converging for the first time. A whole world has just popped into existence in a single moment. Only this time, I’m aware of it.
This is where I used to get trapped. Caught in the vice-grip of desire, I was like a bear struggling to twist away from the painful claws of a trap hidden beneath bracken and ferns. It wasn’t until my first month-long meditation retreat that I began to witness the whole process clearly. First: spark of connection, second: shocking, secret kiss, third: grasping attachment and the struggle to define our embryonic connection. Through meditation practice, I learned to cultivate my mind. I began to see that I was the bear trap myself – grasping and squeezing with sharp talons of desire, crushing my prey between my ruddy paws till I had drunk all the juice out of the ripened plum of my lover. Left bereft at the end of desire, but another pursuit accomplished, I began to notice the void within me. I began to recognize the piece, and peace, that was missing.
Let’s call it space, that missing piece. Space to be okay as I am, worthy of being loved, free to love, able to let go of the need to fulfill desire, and finally, capable of loving without grasping, without needing anything in return.
You know what it’s like to see a tree in all its spring glory, buds burgeoning for the first time, green shoots curling towards the sun, a promise of summer’s fruit and autumn’s harvest. And you know the difference between beholding the beauty, and finally devouring the ripe summer fruit. After gorging, you toss away the core to rot beneath the soil, pining only for the next one you will get to eat. In the first instance, there’s a sense of space and witnessing, of distance but connection, appreciation and levity. There is, in fact, joy. Whereas in the second moment, there’s grasping and attachment, a tightening in the throat, a constricting in the heart, a tensing in the belly that says: “I want it. If I don’t have it, I will die!”
Okay, maybe you’ve never felt that way about an apple or a plum before, but what about a woman or a man walking down the street? I would surmise that we all know that painful moment when our heart constricts, watching as the object of our desire turns to walk the other way. We all know that distillation of time and space that happens when we meet someone who melts everything in us, and the resulting pain that comes with their departure. There’s that void when we think: I will never see him or her ever again, probably not even in my dreams.
For the last twelve years I have been undeniably fortunate in love between myself and a beautiful man. Four years we have been married and our love continuously evolves and matures. There is incredible space in our love for one another. We have, since the beginning, allowed each other space to explore and grow into ourselves, knowing that the richer our personal experience is, the richer our life together becomes. This is true. Our love story is a bit of a fairy tale. But there are some strange twists and turns that you won’t find in Cinderella or Goldilocks or even Rumpelstiltsken. The great zigzag of our story is that we both love to fall in love. We enjoy passion and pleasure and sharing it with others.
Admittedly, when I was younger, I had many lovers, many one night stands, with both men and women. And usually the satisfaction (for that is what’s craved in such pursuits, is it not?) came more from the conquering of the moment than the sex itself which was often clumsy or hurried, and almost always quite awkward. I began to see the hunter-like mentality in these pursuits (I was the hunter; recall the bear trap…) and for awhile, I gloried in it. But this began to go stale, and so I gave up that game.
In the space that opened up within me through the profound practice of meditation, I could see myself more wholly for who I was. I discovered that my greatest satisfaction was to simply awaken to myself in the moment, again and again finding peace and delight in my surroundings and encounters with others.
The moment I met my true love, it felt as if time stopped. Somehow we truly knew one another, even though I couldn’t have told you his name. Out of absolutely nowhere and everywhere at once, this extraordinary love came welling into each of us. At our wedding, we sang a song that illustrated our love entwining like the bramble and the rose: weaving round and through each other, deeper into the soil, higher into the blue, blue sky, ultimately blossoming in the garden for all who surround us.
Along the way, the tendrils of our love have lifted to dance for a time with different vines. Opening to love, we have not shied away from falling in love with others. At first perhaps, the encounters were purely pursuits of pleasure and distraction, but in more recent years, it begins to taste like a dance of loving. We discovered that the more we love, the more we love. Recognizing that the equation of love feeds itself like a flame, we learn to open fearlessly. Our connections benefit our relationship. Branches twining ever more genuinely in union, the wider our hearts open in our lives, the more we have to give each other.
I won’t lie, life isn’t always a fairy tale – we have difficult moments in which we feel jealousy and sadness, and still get attached to how we want things to be. We’re human, after all! But because of deep mutual commitment to the path of meditation, in which we find the ground of confidence and basic okay-ness, we have learned how to lean in and live with those challenging emotions. Out of vast space, whole-hearted confidence has arisen between us, and the strength of our trust and willingness to engage with one another and with the world around us has opened us even more fully. Surprisingly, we keep falling in love with each other all over again!
Meeting the world with this open, naked heart means I am no longer either the bear caught in the trap of desire, or the trap itself catching unwary lovers. Rather, I am the vine that feeds the flowers which blossom into berries. I am the rose that blooms. Willing to dance with the seasons of love as they come and go, open and close, incessantly always shifting, my heart remains young, and my love, unhindered, grows.
You could name what my husband and I share an open marriage, but it’s open at the root – we are committed to loving each other in a way that allows us each to meet our life and world with openness. And when we come back home, it is to each other, and to an even deeper level of consideration and appreciation for having tasted the freedom to be exactly who we are. Our garden is open, and you will find no bear traps there.