Thursday, June 25, 2015

Giving Until It Hurts

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a word of caution: beware the temptation to give until it hurts.

We are taught, in our culture, that many things worth having require sacrifice, and that is true. There's little that can be accomplished if we do not learn the value of delayed gratification, and even the most harmonious of relationships cannot endure without some degree of compromise. Then too, circumstances sometimes offer us the opportunity to improve the world at some significant personal cost.

But the necessity of sacrifice does not in any way make sacrifice good in and of itself. To deny our own needs and desires, to give something up, to suffer harm to our body, mind, or soul -- these things may result in goodness, but they themselves are never a positive good.

It's critical to remember this as we make life's hard choices.

Real goodness lies in the amount of happiness we bring to the world, the amount of healing we can work upon its wounds, the amount of damage we can forestall or prevent. If we can do more good through a particular sacrifice than we could without it, then the choice to do more good is worthy and noble. But the sacrifice itself is only a tool, not an accomplishment.

All too often, we accept harm to ourselves under the mistaken notion that sacrifice is good. But in harming ourselves now, we can easily reduce the energy and capacity we have to do good later. So if a sacrifice brings about less good than we might have done with that energy elsewhere, then the choice to deny ourselves actually becomes a net loss for the world, in addition to being detrimental to us as individuals. 

We should, therefore, never look for ways to sacrifice. We should only look for the way to do the most good, and be prepared to make sacrifices when they become necessary -- when we can weigh them against what they accomplish and know that we are truly making the most beneficial choice.

A martyr whose self-sacrifice brings little or no improvement to the world has only cheated us of a source of beauty and generosity.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the will to do right ... and the wisdom to do right by ourselves in the process.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Good Days

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a wish that this day will be good for you, and a thought on how to nurture that outcome. It is simply this:

A good day begins with the understanding that you deserve one. 

Thank you, goddess of love, for the ability to value ourselves and be receptive to happiness.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Saturday, June 06, 2015

True Love

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with one grandiose idea and another more pragmatic one. Here they are:

The nature of True Love is this: to know that this person exists, and have the fact of his or her existence free you from having to be sad, anymore, ever.

Anything less is mere human love, and requires a ton of work to maintain.

A followup thought occurs to me now that I've spelled those out:

Only one of the two can ever be prepared for.

Thank you, goddess of love, for glimpses into your perfection and the strength to build and steady our bright-hearted imitations of it.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Sunday, May 31, 2015

What We Can Be for Each Other

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a suggestion to encourage the linking of hearts.

Many failed relationships, I think, fail out of unmet expectations. 

We human beings, all of us, are annoying or aggravating or boring at times. We all have our flaws, and with prolonged exposure, flaws can so easily magnify themselves in the eyes of others. So as we move through the cycles of a relationship, it’s easy for the negatives we possess and the negatives of our partner to grow more obvious and less tolerable. 

And we all have our unique hungers, the needs and wants that help make us who we are, that drive us in the directions our lives are destined to go. Unless romantic fate is exceedingly kind to us, no partner will ever fulfill all of those needs. So again, over time, we often find greater and greater frustration in the portions of ourselves that our partners are unable to satisfy.

In combination, these two trends can easily turn a pinnacle of affection and attraction into a downward slope of irritation, resentment, and anger – until we find ourselves standing before a hungry void, the void of our neglected wants.

Once there, even a small unpleasantness can topple us over the edge.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can take our awareness of this phenomenon and make a few simple adjustments to avert that tumbling decline.

First, we must be honest with ourselves and know the importance of each yearning that drives us. How important is hand-holding, religion, political conversation, travel, sex, or bowling? There are things that we like but can do without, and there are things we must have to remain the people we are. Only by knowing which is which can we judge the real success of our partner in supporting our needs.

Next, we must communicate with one another. Our partner must be made aware of just how important any given need is to us, how critical its fulfillment is to our happiness. Without that awareness, she can’t be expected to read the cause of our discontent; he can’t be expected to make his greatest effort to satisfy our wants.

With that shared knowledge, two partners can know the limits of the bond they share – and can compromise around those limits. Most importantly, they can discard the misery of unmet expectations, because they will have openly agreed on what can and can’t be expected.

Having eliminated from our relationships the dead weight of pointless wanting, we can then focus on all the things we gain from the person we love, instead of all the ways we think they have failed us. In place of voids and holes, we can see strengths and supports. In place of resentment, we can feel appreciation.

By removing the power of hopeless expectations, we free ourselves to do what we can do for one another, to be what we can be for each other.

A crucial final element in this equation is what to do when one partner has a need that can’t be compromised and the other has a true inability to fulfill it. If love is to survive, it’s the obligation of both partners to make sure that need is being met outside of the relationship.

We should not expect our loved ones to suffer in hunger just because we do not have the particular food they need.

If one partner burns to share the great outdoors while the other is an agoraphobe ...

If one must dance and the other hates crowds and music ...

If one needs passionate arguments of the mind but the other can’t stand intellectualizing ...

Then it is our duty not just to offer but to insist on giving our partner the freedom to exercise their wants, their needs, their dreams. If it can’t happen within the bounds of the relationship, we must encourage it beyond ... and we must be happy to see our partner enjoy that freedom when they take it, knowing that our insistence on their liberty is the best means we have of giving them joy.

Real love is not a binding that restricts. It is the devotion to bestowing delight. It is the desire to free one's beloved from want. And it is the appreciation of all that one's beloved is, including all of his or her needs, both those we can meet and even – or especially – those we cannot.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the opportunity to be what we can, and the generosity to let go where we must.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Saturday, August 03, 2013


Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with an appreciation of how unlike me you are.

In all probability, we have some number of things in common. Clearly, we're both fluent in English and both denizens of the Internet. You seem to have some curiosity about matters of religion and/or tolerance for unusual religious viewpoints, or I would have expected you to click away after reading the banner of this blog and the opening lines of the post. We're thoughtful, I believe, you and I. By this point in my musings, all the non-contemplative types have almost certainly gone elsewhere. And if this is not your first visit to my blog, then we probably share some common attitudes and wishes for what the world could be like.

But we're different, too, and if we were to converse our way through a few dozen topics, we would undoubtedly find many points of disagreement and perhaps even conflict.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

I recently encountered, for the first time in many years, a classmate of mine from high school. There was a time (possibly almost the entire time I knew her) when I thought this person was the most beautiful girl in the school -- maybe even in the world, at least for a moment or two. She was very sharp, a keen and clever mind with a rich, intelligent smile and the kind of happy laugh that made you feel very accomplished if you managed to evoke it. But we were on a different wavelength, this girl and I. We were both honors students, both writers, both middle-class suburban children at the outer edges of popular culture and some social norms. Both intellectuals. The same age. In most of the same classes. Yet she didn't understand my writing at all. She once told me something along the lines of, "You're a really good writer. I just wish you would write something serious."

Meanwhile, I dismissed her as a stuffy, narrow-visioned aesthete who looked down on entertainment and was only interested in rarefied, cerebral, self-indulgent explorations of form or technique and dreary, reality-centered themes on human existence.

As the years after high school passed and I widened the scope of my acquaintances, developed a greater appreciation for people whose interest diverged from mine, I often thought of this girl. What if, instead of shrugging her off as my diametric creative opposite, I had been willing to engage her on the basis of our kindred talents, had perhaps explored what it was that so interested her in higher literature, had attempted to make her understand the value I found in fantasy and satire? Might we both have been enlarged? Become fast friends? Dated?

Over time, I grew convinced that I should have connected with her, not just passed through the same halls and classes. That we should have been more to each other than we were. That perhaps our lives should have remained deeply interwoven through all the years since we last saw one another.

And then a few months ago, I ran across her online. She is a regular contributor to a website where she reviews films, and I read a number of her articles, and discovered ... we're still just as different as we were in high school. She likes movies, I like movies, but our responses to them are very far apart. Her reviews are dismissive of films I found entertaining, or, if she gives a thumbs-up to a movie I liked, she singles out for criticism things that I thought were the best parts of the show.

All of which is actually terrific.

It turns out I was wrong about the possibility of us connecting more strongly in high school. I simply wasn't prepared, at that point in my life, to engage someone with an interpretive framework so contrary to mine. Perhaps she was more mature and might have been willing to engage me, but clearly, neither of us would have changed the other's mind in any significant way. It would have required me to be a different person than I was at that time.

In contrast, today I could easily be friends with someone whose aesthetic sensibilities conflict with mine. I enjoy comparative discussions involving disparate viewpoints, so long as they are respectful and good-humored. I got a kick out of reading her reviews and remembering fondly this likable person who happened to disagree with me on some subjects I considered central to my identity.

That we were different then annoyed me. That we are different today cheers me, both because it reminds me that I was actually a pretty good judge of people as a teenager (though not necessarily as good a judge of myself), and also because I now value variety, which tells me how much I have grown.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the crossing of paths unlike our own, and for what it tells us about ourselves and about the world.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Friday, July 26, 2013


Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a story.

My favorite piece of classical music is Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. I have loved it since long before I knew what it meant, since its passionate Eastern melodies seeped into my consciousness from a phonograph record played by my parents when I was a child. As with many beautiful things, the music all but overwhelms me physically.

It grabs at something inside my chest, sends tides of energy surging through my nerves or my veins, and pulls tears from my eyes every time I listen to it.

Not least among the many wonderful aspects of this composition is its subject matter: the story of Scheherazade, perhaps the most gifted storyteller ever to be written of or imagined.

Scheherazade's tale forms the narrative frame for 1001 Arabian Nights. As the legend goes, the Sultan of Persia (having been betrayed by his unfaithful wife) took a new virgin to be his conquest every night, and then had her beheaded the next day. When this tradition had gone on for some time, Scheherazade, a brilliant and finely educated girl just entering womanhood, came forward and volunteered to be the Sultan's next consort. But she was able to postpone her execution by telling the misogynistic ruler a story that kept him spellbound through the night, and which she left unfinished at the break of dawn, so that he allowed her to live to finish it the next evening.

For each of 1001 nights, Scheherazade repeated this feat, until at last she told the Sultan she had no more stories remaining. Having fallen in love with her, he set aside his vengeful obsession and made her his queen.

Like all of the best stories, this one presents us with a marvelous, idealized hero and asks something of us by way of her example. To know exactly what it asks of us, we must consider two crucial parts of the narrative.

First, Scheherazade is not chosen by the Sultan as a consort – she volunteers. She sees something terrible happening, forms a plan, and steps forward at the risk of her own life to stop a ghastly chain of suffering.

She makes the choice to care for others first, to try to save them even if it means her destruction.

She loves her fellow women, and in loving, finds that she must act.

The second thing we must consider is a question: Does this story end happily for Scheherazade?

She winds up as the queen of all Persia, with a devoted husband who adores her. She has saved the lives of countless other women through her bravery and intelligence and talent. She will for the rest of her life have wealth and servants and luxury beyond asking. There is no denying that the story ends triumphantly for Scheherazade … but will she be happy?

She is, after all, married to a man who was a monster. Perhaps if we shrug and say, "That's just how kings were, back in the day," or "Well, it's just a fable," we can conclude that it doesn't really matter that the Sultan chose, in his rage, to use the faithlessness of one woman as justification for a life of perpetual serial rape and murder. But Scheherazade does not say, "That's just how sultans are," nor does she know that she is living in a fable.

This woman chooses a course that, in its best possible outcome, will bind the remainder of her life to a man who, when he might have said, "Women are treacherous, so I now abandon all contact with them," instead decided to sate himself nightly and order habitual butchery for his innocent victims.

Can she be happy, knowing what he has done?

Here, the story forces us to ask another question. When Scheherazade conceived her plan, did she only set out to save her fellow women?

Or did she set out to save the Sultan as well?

If her goal was merely to prevent further carnage, then she ends the story in victory and affluence, but facing what will probably be a long life of melancholy or even revulsion at her continued intimate submission to a beast, albeit a reformed one.

But if she said to herself, "I can draw this man back from the depths into which he has descended. I can make him whole and good again," then the story ends not just in triumph but in joy.

Scheherazade asks us to put others before ourselves. What we must decide is whether it also asks us to believe wholeheartedly in the possibility of redemption.

No one can make that decision for us – the decision to attempt to tame evil and then forgive it.

But it bears minding that the only way the story ends happily is if Scheherazade believed that she could do just that.

Only in risking her life at least in part for the sake of a madman does she earn the truest possible reward.

Thank you, goddess of love, for challenges, for heroism, and for the absolute, pure wonder of real beauty.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Monday, July 22, 2013

Embrace Love

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a suggestion: do not wish for love or yearn for love. Instead, look around you and welcome it.

For me, at least, there is no other way to believe in a world moving forward. If I wait for the good, I simply will not notice when it comes, because the wide profile of the bad will obscure it. Too long I have scraped by and turned inward, nursed a variety of alienations, resented the obvious need for acts of giving. At every turn, I have let ugliness get the better of me, let it turn me away from relationships, society, the world.

I cannot force extroversion upon myself, but I can and must acknowledge that I need others, and that needing them necessitates loving them, and giving of myself to them without expectation of a return. This giving will never be fully reciprocated by 100% of its beneficiaries, but love is about appreciation, not expectation, and if you do not give, as a natural response to appreciating someone, how can you really be said to appreciate them at all?

The only reasonable expectation of others is that they should be beautiful. And there is beauty in all of us if only we look.

Find it.

Appreciate it.

Love it.

And shrug your way through the rest.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the love that can spring from me, if I simply make the effort to allow it.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee