Monday, January 29, 2007

John Welwood on Holy Longing

I found this passage spot on when I came across it last night:
We may have learned at an early age that our need for love subjected us to danger. Children of parents who are emotionally distant must often shut down or deny their longing for love because it is too painful to keep subjecting themselves to so much frustration and unfulfilled desire. And children of parents who are overly intrusive or controlling often have to cut off their need for connection so that they can more easily forge a separate life of their own.

As a result of these early conflicts, most of us grow up judging or denying our need for love. We may become ashamed or afraid of our desire, which we associate with intense vulnerability, sorrow, or deprivation. ... So even though our wish for love is undeniable, it often feels too threatening to let ourselves fully acknowledge it. Even though we can't help wanting, we don't want to want.

In this way, our relation to desire becomes troubled and we experience it as something that diminishes us. And since we are not on good terms with our wanting, we have a hard time expressing it cleanly and unapologetically. We often pretend to ourselves or others that we don't really want what we want.

We cannot receive love, however, if we are not open to the raw and tender experience of wanting it. Suppressing or denying desire shuts down our openness to receiving nourishment, and thus only intensifies our hunger.

Perhaps if we could make friends with it, we might find that our wanting itself is holy. We want love, after all, because we intuitively know that it can free us from the prison of the isolated self, allowing us to feel connected and at one with all of life. What is so bad about wanting that?

~ John Welwood, Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships
For most of my life I have struggled with admitting the desire for love. It made it so much more challenging when I found myself in relationships to still be fighting the desire to be that vulnerable. More than anything, I have feared being vulnerable in whatever form it comes, but especially emotionally, in relationships.

In this passage, Welwood really pins down the problem for a lot of us. It's a classic approach/avoidance conflict. We are drawn to it, but we fear the vulnerability that makes it possible. Without being vulnerable, it remains just out of reach.

A friend asked me the other night if I ever saw myself falling in love again. I do see that happening, as much as I have fought it and tried to convince myself that I don't need a relationship. The truth is that there are realms of experience only available through being vulnerable and open with another human being. I don't want to cut myself off from that.

More to the point, I want to know that openness and vulnerability more intensely than I have so far in my life.

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