The Art of Love
In our pursuit of the perfect romance and an idealised partner with whom we can live in eternal bliss, we turn to all manner of sources for inspiration, guidance and relationship advice. Glossy magazines, TV talk shows, self-help books, celebrities and self-proclaimed relationship experts all generate significant interest and revenue by providing promises of more effective dating techniques, sure-fire ways for people to please their partners, and secrets to everlasting love.
But all of these originate from outside the individual. Perhaps this act of looking to external sources for relationship advice could be the greatest act of self-sabotage one can commit. If you yourself do not know how best to conduct your love life, what chance is there that someone else with little or no prior knowledge of your personality or your relationship history will know any better? Could it be that by relying on your own innate intuition that you can experience better relationships without spending a penny? For those who choose this path, the spiritual art of Zen can aid you in becoming your own relationship guide and love guru.
What is Zen?
Zen began as an offshoot of Buddhism, originating in India around the 6th century AD, and quickly spreading into China and Japan. Originally known as Chan in the Chinese language, the modern word Zen derives from the Japanese translation of this. Zen Buddhism shunned adherence to rigid spiritual doctrines, instead focusing on the role of meditation and inner reflection to achieve enlightenment.
But Zen is not a simply a spiritual practice or a concept, or even a state of mind. It simply is. Zen is notoriously difficult to describe, but could perhaps be illustrated by the phrase whatever is, is. It seeks not to change the actions of the individual or the state of the world, nor to understand it. Zen is the acceptance of everything exactly as it is - the sky, the trees, the individual and the realisation that everything is one. Practitioners of Zen in its many forms seek to attain this state through regular sitting meditation, known as Zazen. But this is a means to an end (as far as Zen might be described as having an end) rather than the thing itself. For those seeking to introduce Zen into their lives without many years of arduous and committed practice, it can also be incorporated into daily living in a far more casual yet deliberate way.
How can Zen be Applied to Relationships?
In searching for and maintaining romantic relationships we often seek to exert a certain amount of control, consciously or not, over our own desires, the behaviour of our partners and the eventual outcome of the relationship. To take a Zen approach to relationships is to relinquish this control and to go with the flow. Zen is not about having expectations that must be met or to chase a particular outcome. It is not about desperately clinging on to love to ensure it stays. It is instead the act of letting love into your life wherever it may appear, and then letting it go if it eventually drifts away.
Accept Yourself and Others
To accept yourself for who you are is to love yourself, and this can be the most profound and deepest love of all. With self acceptance comes the realisation that you are perfect just as you are, and that while you might not be a suitable partner for everyone, for some you may be a perfect match. The renewed confidence of this self-belief and acceptance is also particularly attractive to prospective romantic partners and friends alike.
With the realisation that you are perfect in your own way comes with it the parallel realisation that so too are other people. Zen teaches us that we are all perfect examples of ourselves and nothing more, and that we are all different threads in the rich tapestry of life. As in a tapestry, some threads will fit well together, while others will clash and be incompatible. And just as the artist would not attempt to change the colour of a thread to make it fit with another, it is perhaps unwise to try to change a person we desire because they dont quite fit our perfect picture. In such a situation, Zen teaches us that we can either accept the differences as they are, or we can cast the thread aside and continue our search.
Let Love Be
Once we have found love, we often try to mould it as we see fit, and to trap it so that it cant leave. In a long-term relationship, love often changes over time, and what was once viewed as an idyllic love straight out of a Hollywood romance might be regarded as stagnant or worn out. But is it our attempts to catch and preserve what we think love should be that thwarts us in our elusive quest for true love?