I began a version of this poem in August of this year, in the midst of astronomical shifts around science, culture, identity, justice, and heartache. I was sitting alone in a reggae bar, drinking a beer, writing on the back of my receipt. I started making doodles of space-time curvature, and I noticed that illustrating space-time gave what I can only describe as a subtly thunderous orgasm through my body and intellect. Yep. Sitting there for a while, I was wishing I were calculating complex mathematical formulae, theorizing the form and function of the universe. I wanted this because physics takes me away from my fears and disappointments. It feels like coming home.
This is where I think my understanding of and desire for love really comes from. Life, death, destruction, creation, etc. – they all depend on each other. So I know I can’t get down so much when parts of my life appear to be falling apart. The fundamental nature of the universe is entropy, chance – indifference even. It’s often beyond conventional reason. Everything definitely doesn’t happen for a reason. My life is just one of a theoretically infinite number of possible consciousnesses the universe has to express and experience itself. I am only one reflection, one inquirer. And everything is interconnected and interdependent. So when I have “my shit” going on, I am reminded that it’s not only “mine” – it’s a web of interrelations that is this shit going on, and well beyond it. And when my heart is so shattered, this gaping shell and gushing well – to my relief – reveals the overwhelming capacity for more loving-kindness, jouissance, and possibility that embraces all those who have burst it, and pours and envelopes the greater whole of this world.
I spoke to my grandmother just recently about this. Overcome, I asked her why life has to hurt so much when these disruptive and painful experiences are an inescapable reality virtually all of us are bound to face at some point – why can we not respond to them as unaffectedly as we would the coming and going of the tides? Why this longing since childhood to “go home,” as if I couldn’t possibly be made for this absurd world? I’d rather be a tree, perhaps. Or a nebula. But my grandmother told me, “Think of it biologically, like the earth. It goes through deaths and rebirths all the time, catastrophe and beauty. So yes, you do belong to this planet and fit this world quite well.” The complex range of experiences available to billions of different creatures must in turn merit just as complex a range of possible responses, it would seem – our human emotions and biochemical shifts being just a few. Her words really stuck with me, because my comfort is in knowing that what I go through in my intrapersonal and interpersonal life is a reflection of what the planet goes through time and again over billions of years of evolution. And look how raging beautiful she is.
When I was younger, my grandmother also taught me that love is above all else a commitment (romantic or otherwise) to treating other beings in a particular way, in a way that empowers, liberates, and honors. When you love someone or something, your commitment is in one sense not to that individual at all, but rather to a value system and world view that devotes you to truth and compassion. I’m not particularly a “fan” of religion, but I think this understanding has helped me to better appreciate how religious people pursue, for example, a god-centered (or whatever metaphor or religious figure representative of a value system) marriage. It’s meant to remove ego and place one’s focus where it ought to be in order to create some higher good (e.g. mālama ʻāina, raising a responsible child, serving your community, creating a resilient support system/partnership, etc.). The relationship is the vehicle you decide together to use to navigate all whatever-which-ways toward this shared higher vision – if you’re down to ride with “me” (person/plant/animal/place you love) to discover (a) path(s) toward the beautiful thing we’re intending, let’s be down.
For me to articulate my own basic human desire for a partner in life is to express this deeply and radically engrained longing I have to experience the full dimensions of life possibilities. At the root of it, I suppose I desire a partner who craves / yearns / hopes / loves / commits / honors / protects / respects / affirms / seeks / devotes / invokes (him/herself to) this eternal, primordial effort to understand and revel and fear and release and be held in ecstatic joy and sorrow and clarity and futility and (non-) knowing of the meaning of life and belonging, of how and why we do, think, believe, and value the things we do. To strive for truth and meaning with the utmost intention. To strive to embody the magnificent humility of our nature, and know just as well how to keep it simple goddammit it. I think, for all my intergenerational and personal traumas, there is also this desire to be sacred to someone, and loved as such. This all goes well beyond the way in which one person shows up for another person; this is about how they show up for their community, for their land, for justice, and for themselves. This is about real-life practices and integrity. A person who knows how to mālama the sacredness of the ʻāina knows how to mālama that in others beings.
I ask myself if this is ultimately a solitary endeavor, this longing for what kinda sounds like some seriously hippy bullshit about cosmic union. This is after all the kind of thing that people take vows of celibacy and austerity to pursue in one form or another, or go alone into the mountains seeking, or commit themselves to years of almost maniacal research and philosophizing. Sustainable romantic relationships and transcendental pursuits are often made to seem mutually exclusive. At one point after years of psychological and sexual abuse, I actually began working my way toward joining a Buddhist convent to escape the tremendous internal storm (think: shark-nado + lightning + black hole + flash flood) that threatened to destroy my brain and rip out my soul if I couldn’t find a way to bury it. Yet this cosmic bullshit feels like coming home. It feels like the same intense drive to study the cosmos and the earth through math, observation, imagination, and culture. They are so fundamentally inter-related that this is what I understand my love to be about. At least I think I want to bring these core desires into my emotional / sexual / political / cultural / social body. I think I should be able to grow and evolve happily in this way with someone. If friendship is indeed the greatest virtue, as Aristotle and I believe it is, and if we take Thich Nhat Hanh seriously when he says that true friendship cannot honestly demand that the other person stay exactly the same forever, then this is why your life partner ought to also be your best friend. It’s human nature that we don’t want to grieve the inevitable losses that come as we evolve, so what level of devotion, flexibility, and integrity is necessary for a partnership like this to thrive? (Hint: it’s friendship.)
The strongest friendships I have give me that exciting, regenerative sense of possibility and depth of experiences (from dickin’ around the house, to offering oli on the top of a mountain). Our togetherness is ultimately about hope. That is to say, those relationships are created out of the common struggles around our mortality. I’ve never done research on the psychology of “hope,” but it strikes me as one of our basic survival mechanisms that allows us to persist in reaching our goals, from physical survival to our higher aspirations for freedom, connection, selflessness, belonging, and joy. The well-grounded passion created through friendship is altogether sexual and non-sexual, physical and non-physical in its expression. They can leave your life for years and when they return it’s as if no time at all has passed. True friends are committed to the cause and vision you share together, committed to your mutual growth, and hard-core riders in good and bad times. Falling in love is really only the (oh so very nice) icing on this “cosmic union” cake.