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3. Living Down a Level

Once I had a conversation with a woman who had been a driver for Trungpa Rinpoche. I said, “Did you ask him questions?”

She replied, “Not much, I was shy.”

“Did he speak to you?”


“What did he say?”

He would pat my shoulder and say, “Enjoy yourself.”

You have always done things for clear reasons and suddenly you find yourself doing things that are not comprehensible to you. You are drawn toward or away from things in ways that completely ignore your to-do and not-to-do lists, and the new direction seems both right and unavoidable.

Some aspects of living are best when they happen easily and involuntarily, such as dancing, where thinking about it gets in the way and causes you to tread on your partner’s shoes. The involuntary is a gift—outside of the things we intend and manufacture. When things come into being involuntarily, everything shakes; the universe appears, expanding rapidly, poems arrive out of nowhere, coincidences occur, and the mind is rearranged. In love you do things that don’t make rational sense. Like enlightenment, love teaches you how to live down a level, to follow instructions that come from deep inside.

Here is an example: A friend fell in love while sending a package at Pak Mail. His eyes locked with hers and the glance was naked and unintended. They unhooked their eyes from each other and pottered around copying and filling out forms but, like iron filings drawn to magnets, they found themselves in line for the register together. She gave an eloquent shrug; they both minded being in line and didn’t mind. They noticed their shared response. Then she drove away in her SUV and disappeared from his life like a coin that falls into the harbor.

A couple of days later they bumped into each other and after that she left her complicated and difficult husband and, full of delight, they married.

Usually we don’t trust how things appear. In love at first sight, though, things come up from the depths and there is no arguing with them. The creature in the black lagoon turns out to be your friend and knows more about what will make you happy than you do. Falling in love with someone we don’t really know unifies the surfaces of things with the depth of things, and that is exciting.

4. Something Disturbing

As with any practice, with love it is possible to try too hard. At Stanford, a man fell in love with a woman who was Northern Californian nobility. She had an English accent and lived in a castle in the hills with a swimming pool made of stone. He was a lowly grad student from the Midwest. She said, “I don’t think so. I just don’t feel that way about you.” He said, “I’ll win you over.” He mounted a total assault with boxes of chocolates and deliveries of flowers. He played guitar in the moonlight under her window. This was a happy time; he enjoyed difficult projects.

Finally, as in a fairy tale, she said, “Okay, I’ll marry you.” So they got married and had a couple of kids and then, as you might have predicted, she left and he went crazy for a while. Love is a whole thing—the wooing, the doubts, the attempt to overcome the doubts, the breakup, the going crazy. You don’t get only the nice bits and you don’t actually want to get only the nice bits.

Obstacles are intrinsic to love and enlightenment; without obstacles the transformation inside the lover can’t find its form or come into being. The important thing is not the outcome of the relationship. It is the taste of your life, strong and rich, and how that becomes part of you. When I was a teenager I walked into a party with people from a different world than mine. A slightly older guy was sitting outside on the hood of his Jag, weeping. He had black curly hair like a figure in a Renaissance painting. Inside, his girl emerged from one of the bedrooms with a TV producer, a man who seemed varnished and unhappy. Muted sounds had indicated that sex was going on. The man sitting outside was just weeping; he wasn’t reaching for the sort of things people reach for at such times, things that don’t help anyway. This was a surprise to me. It expanded the range of what responses I could have. I talked a bit to him and liked him. I could see how love encompassed a totality, how you can’t protect yourself from it when it goes bad. And it was strangely appealing to be able to live a life where you feel things and don’t bother to hide it.

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