Compassion in Companions

The Dalai Lama believes the purpose of life is to seek happiness; meaning, the liberation from suffering. What’s the polar opposite of suffering? Pleasure. However, people get confused between pleasure [external events creating gratification] and happiness [internal peace of mind creating contentment]

Some context: [1] was in Jacksonville/Savannah this past week. [2] was reading The Art of Happiness (A Handbook for Living) by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler (please note: all quotes in this post are references from this book).

Coincidentally enough, while sitting on the deck of his two bedroom apartment in Savannah, my friend AJ took a puff of his cigarette and made a statement about smoking, “I like it, even though I don’t like that I do it. I mean, it’s like how we don’t like getting shitfaced drunk, but we like it at the time, right?”

In my head, I thought: I don’t like all the weight my body has, yet, I just ate a double fudge chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream. Sure, I liked eating it, but then evidently suffered from the gluttonous guilt afterwards. So sure, pleasure in the moment, but had it alleviated anything after the fact?

… what we are seeking in life is happiness… if we approach our choices in life keeping that in mind, it is easier to give up the things that are ultimately harmful to us, even if those things bring us momentary pleasure. The reason why it is usually so difficult to ‘Just say no!’ is found the word ‘no’; that approach is associated with a sense of rejecting something, of giving up, of denying ourselves…. But there is a better approach: framing any decisions we face by asking ourselves: “Will it bring me happiness?” (P. 24)

Dating was a topic that found its way into conversation multiple times. Here we were, two single people talking about our ‘status’ and how easy, or actually, how hard it seems to be. As intellectual animals, it’s been conditioned that intimacy plays a vital part to our happiness; and scientifically, it supposedly plays a vital part to our survival as well.

Our need for other people is paradoxical. At the same time that our culture is caught up in celebration of fierce independence, we also yearn for intimacy and connection with a special loved one. We focus all our energy on finding the one person who we hope will heal our loneliness, yet prop up our illusion that we are still independent. (P. 58)

Although I can’t speak for him, I don’t think either of us have a particular sense of loneliness or deep lacking of intimacy, as we are both pretty independent individuals; but it’s not to say being single in general doesn’t bring out those moments of desire. We did establish that our characteristics in itself are pretty partner-in-crime orientated; that we like being with someone rather than single. However, we both know not to settle based on that either (had a discussion about ‘being picky’).

The Western concept that intimacy can only be fulfilled by one specific romantic relationship (otherwise you’re doomed with misery) gets challenged by the Dalai Lama who indicates that our intimacy can be fulfilled by our community.

… if what we seek in life is happiness, and intimacy is an important ingredient of our happier life, then it clearly makes sense o conduct our lives on a model of intimacy that includes as many forms of connection with others as possible… based on a willingness to open ourselves to many others, to family, to friends, and even strangers, forming genuine and deep bonds based on our common humanity. (P. 65)

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There’s definitely a lot of love in my life; I won’t deny that with my wonderful family and great friends. It’s funny how co-dependent we all really are, regardless of how on our own we feel. But, let’s note that I am not the type who constantly wants to be around others either. So, in terms of isolation and introverts, it reminded me of the hedgehog dilemma; Schopenhauer and Freud’s metaphor on the challenge human intimacy. I like the way Elizabeth Gilbert said it:

In love and in relationship, whether that be with our families, our spouses, our friends. We are all like porcupines out on a winter’s night, they get cold. And they need to huddle together for warmth, they crave connection, they crave warmth. So they come together, and then they prick each other. Because they have these horrible spines, and it’s painful. So in order to avoid the pain, they retreat. And then they get cold, and so they come together, and then they get spined. So they retreat. And then they get cold, and they come together.

This dance of intimacy is what defines our relationship with everybody we encounter. There is this need to be close, that’s followed by this need to be separated, in order to protect ourselves from the inevitable hurt that happens when you get too close.

No remedy, it’s human nature, but suggested that those who had learned to generate their own warmth were able to keep the safest distance from the other porcupines; which didn’t necessarily mean living a life of isolation, it just meant not impaling yourself on other people, so that you could have that critical little space, in which to be a little bit self-contained, to create your own warmth, your own sense of your own humanity. So you could be close without being stabbed.

The simulation suggests that despite our good human nature, intimacy can’t occur without considerable mutual harm to each other, which results into cautious behaviors that create weak relationships. So, the goal is to maintain moderation for the sake of yourself as well as others.

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In adult relationships… levels of intimacy change, with periods of greater intimacy alternating with periods of great distance. This is also part of the normal cycle of growth and development. To reach our full potential as human beings, we need to be able to balance our needs for closeness and union with times when we must turn inward, with a sense of autonomy, to grow an develop as individuals. (P. 140)

The lack of intimacy at times does not mean the end of courtship. However, it’s not to say that every relationship problem relates to this ebb and flow either. Many relationships may have deeper issues to address. So where am I getting at with this? We’re all messed up. We’ve all had our share of experiences. What’s your point Daisy?

In Savannah, I met AJ’s boss along with his boss’ 32-week pregnant wife. From there, we hung out with an engaged couple staying at the AirBnB next door. Both couples did a wonderful job of resonating what true love was. Sure, there was romance, flirtation, attraction, as well as bickering, nitpicking, and annoyance. But what really came across was compassion; the genuine care for each others well-being. The way that they spoke not just of each other, but to each other, followed by their action was admirable.

If happiness is the notion of being liberated from misery, then what better way to love your significant other than by compassion [defined as a feeling of distress for the suffering or misfortune of another, often including the desire to alleviate it]. To truly, and deeply love someone, is to try your best to alleviate suffering (physical, emotional, and mental). Now THAT is how intimacy plays a vital role in happiness.

However, since I don’t currently have that specific situation, it was nice to witness and know that it exists. I, myself, based on recent events causing anxiety, have been quite bitter about intimacy lately; always mentioning the black hole in my dark soul from small heartaches that chip away at my spirit; morbidly semi-joking, of course, as I’m truly a romantic inside (if this blog post doesn’t prove enough).

So, on the plane ride back from Atlanta, with my spirit soaked in the intimacy of others and my mind fresh with words from the Dalai Lama, life felt simple. No feeling of FOMO, no what if’s, no real desire to slow down or speed up. We are all good people and with compassion towards each other, comes intimacy shared, comes happiness we seek. What more?

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Sometimes, when I meet old friends, it reminds me how quickly time passes. And it makes me wonder if we’ve utilized our time properly or not. Proper utilization of time is so important. While we have this body, and especially amazing human brain. I think every minute is something precious. Our day-to-day existence is very much alive with hope, although there is no guarantee of our future. There is no guarantee that tomorrow at this time, we will be here. But still, we are working for that purely on the basis of hope. So, we need to make the best use of our time. I believe that the proper utilization of time is this: if you can, serve other people, other sentient beings. If not, at least refrain from harming them….. (P. 47)

We read. We travel. We write.

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