On the backseat of the bike, heat as hot as I could ever have imagined it being, air heavy and adulterated with fumes and dust alike. The dust which sticks to the skin like sand against a moist cloth, layering it with an evenly spread film of dirt. The dirt that you reproach when it first invades your innocent, soft outer layer, the dirt you learn to love as you settle into the chaos, the dirt that teaches you more about what you are and corrodes the overlay of finely painted artwork you’ve spent so long believing in, the dirt that forces honestly upon your speckled, greased-up face; and so you eventually return to hating it once again.
I wasn’t hating it then, though, as we went at low, safe speed towards Noi Bai Airport, I was bracing myself to miss it. It had been just over a week of being hot and filthy again (though as clean as one could have been under the circumstance), but I hadn’t yet had my fill, hadn’t fully grasped what it may have meant. Like I said it was hot; hot as hell, and because I wasn’t prepared to let the sun shine directly on my skin, I was covered in clothes from head to toe. Crash helmet, long sleeved shirt, jeans and Dr. Martens, 14- holed, oxblood leather, five years old, still kicking strongly through hot and cold weather alike, the most unassuming of loyalties, and it graced me.
I looked ahead, keeping my eyes partially on the road, partially upon the dirty, sweating neck in front of me and partly taking in the scenes of fields, farms, and the charming French colonial art-deco style houses which ebbed in through the front and flowed out through the back of my peripheral vision. The rumble of the engine humming underneath me was soothing my premature longing for the place I would soon have left, like a strange, manly, morning lullaby.
He touched my leg every few kilometers giving it a gentle, somewhat apathetic squeeze. I sat silently behind as the problem that swelled in my head amalgamated with my outer reality. As though one with the sky, the blistering sun, the deep green trees around me. The problem that I’d been puzzled with before, the riddle that I’d never solved, but tucked away denying it of relevance.
Here it was again, saying here I am and here I will always be. A question so fundamental, the conventional view on it so widespread, my disagreement with it so deeply rooted, unfortunate perhaps, and real.
Pictures, voices and distorted kinaesthetic notions of old lovers swam around my mind forming a mild, pastel, dilute, yet whole image of unresolvedness. Each had sought after complete solidarity, each had received its under-expected portion, a portion I had deemed fair for both parties involved at the time. I don’t know what was right and what was wrong under many of those circumstances, I only know what was natural for me to give. The problem of the ever circumstantial and undulating idea of love I held. I seem to perfect it in the days I spend alone, each fragment fine-tuned to fit the structural whole, a mechanism complete with each variable in correct place, operating fantastically, isolated to itself. I watch it disintegrate when lovers come on the scene, when it’s time to apply it to reality, a reality that obviously, always involves other people with other views and structures of their own.
To be quite frank; I’m inconsistent, and quite consistently so. I never have, or at least hope I haven’t claimed to be otherwise. There are two possibilities in my mind about the truth behind the nature of love, or perhaps both possibilities are real, perhaps both mechanisms coexist, gearing through each other and churning out the excess bit by bit, moving toward a final state. Who knows though, eh?
First let’s talk about the conventional view of love, the one they sing about in pop songs and write about in children's books. The type of love that leads toward marriage, demanding and assuming permanence through thick and thin and till death do us part. This is the love that seeks solidarity, the unconditional type, the vow to be there lovingly or at least trying to be loving at all times, under all headings. An unwritten regulation of this type is it doesn’t matter if you feel like you hate me right now, you must give me love and continue to do so, that’s what you’ve promised. And people do, gritting their teeth, denying the reality that their old romantic feelings have disintegrated. The endeavour to keep the fire lit no matter how dire the situation looks, oftentimes, becomes the main collective objective. I’m not saying that this model is right or wrong, just that it struggles to fit in with my own heart cogs. For certain, there's much to be said for comfort, certainty, security, vowed attendance and unconditional caring actions for those who seek that. Perhaps, the older we get the more we'll want it. But it denies the natural law of impermanence, a law and notion of constant motion that has become an integral part of my own spirituality and the way I view the world. Though, it’s not to say that I don’t admire the old-fashioned, stubborn hardiness that it takes to see a young relationship through to its death. What I will say though, is that it's certainly traditional, and in my experience, wherever tradition can be found, ignorance is nearly always residing there too. In other words, tradition breeds ignorance.
Tradition stops the mind from thinking freely, it is the opposite of creative freedom, strict, religious, inflexible.
For me as an individual, this is a clear-cut problem, no two ways about it. But for an all-inclusive collective it might be a necessary evil. Imagine a world where every single being had their own revolutionary creative thoughts and ideas, and no traditions whatsoever ever stuck. It would be chaos, no doubt about it, chaos. So, I lay my hands down and acknowledge that my criticisms of this first model are merely arbitrary and like everything else, probably also consistently changing.
The second model, the one I suppose (though not so certainly suppose) that I would vouch for more heavily, begins with the ideology that we love nothing more than ourselves, if anything at all but ourselves. It adds upon the notion that all we really know about the world and the people in our lives are the images we attach to them. You and I, let’s say, we both know Tom, we have both known Tom for years. We can both say his hair is red, but the shade of red you see may not match the colour I see. And the more we compare details about the physical and metaphysical space in which he occupies, the more inconsistencies we are bound to find between the two images. What this would say, is that Tom is not just Tom, Tom takes the form of many different Tom’s, forms which change from eye to eye. We both like Tom, Tom has never done us wrong, or at least not wrong enough to make us throw him away, but if he were to wake one day as a sadist, devoting his life to achieve our misery, our image of him would change, and it is likely our love for him would change too. Perhaps those old feelings would turn into fear, adversity or even pity.
Of course, this is an extreme example, but it illustrates the law of impermanence, the idea of unfixed love, 'love' being based on how we love ourselves that I am trying to convey. Such examples, whether extreme or mild are not unknown to us in the real world.
If he were to be the bane of my existence, I would love myself over him enough to take myself out of harm’s way, selfishly, sure, and why not.
For me, loving people in this way is not entirely different from loving a place, a particular kind of food or drink or tobacco. I like to love it when it shines upon me to do so. I like to enjoy it while it’s really fresh, really appreciate the beauty and flavour in the most open-hearted of manners. For me, it is only by realizing its evanescence that I can really appreciate it for what it is to me, at that time, in that space.
But as with a place, a food, a drink or kind of smoke, when comes a point that its harm upon me seems less than worth the battle, is exactly when the seed of separation is inevitably planted. With places, substances and people alike, there is a certain level of addiction involved, withdrawal is always more real than you anticipate, but the worse the withdrawal is to be, the more necessary it is to split. For me a bad relationship is comparable to my life-long struggle with cigarettes, I love it, but I hate it more, and hate that it makes me go on loving it, loving to hate it and hating to love it. It’s the perfect unwholesome example.
In Vipassana it’s taught, that until you realize that you love nobody but yourself, you can never truly act with compassion. In the very understanding itself, is the act of purification. When you can see that you don't love chocolate cake, you love how it makes you feel, you don't love sex, but the sensation of pleasure the act gives you, you may not love your lover, but you love what they give you, you can begin acting with honesty. This is Buddhism. Realizing that you have inadvertently always lived to serve yourself and that you are the master of your own state, enables one to truly act with selflessness. Giving, without wanting anything in return, in the true sense, without expecting the return of praise or material goods. It's important to recognize the difference between the two different kinds of action.
Personally, this is what I believe to be true thus far, if I am to have a counterpart at all, it should be at least understood by them. And accepted without being tainted by darkness, that I don't think love is everlasting and I don't think my love for them can ever possibly be greater than my love for myself. Nor do I believe that they can love me greater than they love themselves, nor will I ever believe should they say it.
Experience seems to be no more than the reaction that happens when mind and matter come in to contact. Mostly, we are just reacting to sensations, I like this sensation, give me more of that or I don't like that sensation get it away. Usually, it seems, people’s lives revolve around these pleasant and unpleasant sensations respectively. Cause, reaction, cause, reaction. I wonder, where is the free will in that? That is, if there is any at all.
I don't think it has to be like that, through Vipassana, and through other techniques too, I'm sure, you can come out of the constant cycle of reaction. It's an important part of my life just pointing and aiming my shots in that direction. Especially in regard to substances, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, sugar, whatever. I think that it's important to at the very least, occasionally get into touch with the person that you really are, underneath the substances. Though, it may be difficult, and we may not always be pleasantly taken by what we find, who are we without knowing our true essence? These are just some things I hold onto, a vision of a life full of substance, and without the need for substances. I suppose when you embark on a 'relationship' with somebody, it's important to know where each other want to go. It's especially important to deeply understand these things if one or both parties are operating according to the second model. Because the influence given, can either prologue it, or cut its time short. That is to say, if one party is striving for clean living, as a measure of loving themselves to a greater extent, and we have already seen that in the second model, we always put ourselves first, then we can see that the other parties’ negative influence would inevitably cause that person to leave. Someone who wants to be clean, won't stay in the dirt, someone who wants to be happy, won't stay around anger.
Of course, though, with Buddhism, it is not so simple as that, that they will just run from angry people to preserve their joy, a person who acts in such a way wouldn't be operating in pure Dharma. A real person of Dharma, given that they are happy, at least to a greater extent than their counterpart, will always try to offer a solution. They will always say, if I am happy and you are sad, I would like to show you how I am happy, so that you can be happy too. But if a person teaches you to swim, though you never get in the water and move, never truly learn how to swim, they have only done what they could have done to help, and they can't do anymore. So, a person of Dharma accepts, I have tried to help, I have done my part, now you must do yours, I cannot walk the path of happiness for you, nobody can, you must do that for yourself. There is no staying to pry and pry, especially if they are accepting none of it, if the happiness isn't spreading to them, then it is likely that their anger is only spreading to you.
That is the extended philosophy of the second model that I have given. A sort of compassionate selfishness, some intertwining of the polarized two.
When thinking about the two models, I wonder if both are in fact fine, just as they are and whether it's necessary for both parties to be operating according to the same model together, or if it can ever work with the two models coexisting. First, I think it's important to define what it means for something of this nature to work. I don't think it necessarily should mean, that the relationship or companionship need be permanent, that would deny the law of impermanence, but perhaps a better definition of something working, is just that it doesn't turn sour. So even if they split, they do so lovingly, and if they stay together, they do so lovingly, without any resentment or adversity at all.
I think of Socrates' response when being accused of 'corrupting the youth' which was some along the lines on 'Why would I want to corrupt the world in which I have to live'. A morality based on honest selfishness. Of course, I don't agree with everything that I have read or heard of Socrates (and it's certainly difficult to find arguments against his idea of a democracy, wherein only intelligent people are permitted to vote), but the idea of acting well toward the world around you to keep it acting well as a whole, and so wellness finds its way back toward you, seems honest, though I can see the goody goodies, the thieves of virtue, squirming in their seats about it.
I suppose the answer is, that I really don't know. In feeling that I have said a lot, I feel that due to my ability to be certain and fixed about very few things, I may just as well have said nothing at all. Perhaps, who knows.
Only in retrospect can I pull out the meaning and details of the thoughts that were obscuring over me on my ride back to Noi Bai, at the time the warm wind was just hitting like an unwanted hug, changing in intensity, temperature. My feelings toward it also changed between discomfort, neutrality and premature longing, at intervals so short that it was maddening. Not eight days before, on the back of the same bike, but on the other side of the road, coming from the airport toward the city, literally jumping up and down and yelling ' Weeeee!' with joy and excite. I had been so expanded with enthusiasm and now my novelty seemed somewhat flattened. This too is impermanent, quite possible that the love would come back into my heart, though perhaps it would have changed in nature and perhaps my mind about the whole thing might also change, just like everything is always changing.