Is your life’s narrative love or pain?

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 28, 2013 – 12:00am

Illustration by REY RIVERA

In Sydney, we know a family who loves dogs so much that they adopted one from an animal shelter. Linda and Greg, two friends from a suburb on the Northwest side of Sydney, adopted a dog years ago which survived extreme cruelty from its former owners. The dog was regularly beaten and not cared for in any decent way. The former owners must have looked at this otherwise beautiful Golden Retriever with much anger and disgust since they would harm it, often brutally.

Our friends actually had two Golden Retrievers. One was nurtured since it was a puppy and had grown up with them, while the other was the dog from the shelter. The two dogs could not have been more different. When I saw the two dogs for the first time during a barbecue party, I immediately sensed the contrasts between them.

The one that was raised by the couple from puppy till adulthood was friendly, sharp, active and seemed to know his comfortable place in the home and among the family that nurtured him. He always wagged his tail. He liked being touched. When he was called to eat, he devoured the food with gusto nearby.

When the dog from the shelter was called to eat, I noticed that he approached the area hesitantly, ran away, approached it again with a wariness, and took the food and ate it somewhere else. He also almost never wagged his tail and would run away when you tried to pet him. Furthermore, there was a sadness, a deep pain that was obvious when you saw him. He always stayed quite a distance away from humans even if in his eyes, you saw a longing for human warmth and companionship. It was quite sad to see the dog like that.

The shelter dog had been with them for about two years when we first saw him. After about a year and a half, we had a get-together again and the dog still showed aloofness although our host said that there was already an improvement. He stayed around closer to the people more often though still not regularly.

I think of some people I know who act in a similar manner. They show mistrust when acts of kindness are thrown their way. They are suspicious of people and though it is obvious that they seek love deep down inside, when it is showered upon them, they can’t seem to handle too much of it. After an initial euphoria, they begin to feel uncomfortable and an aversion develops. This is probably because they realize and anticipate that pain they are sure would follow. In the end, they turn away from it for reasons they can’t completely explain.

They see love and affection not for what these are but always as part of the sad narrative of pain that defines their lives. And when pain does happen, they feel that their negativity, their distrust of kindness and love were warranted all along. To them, every love relationship MUST end in pain. And with every failed relationship, their view of life and especially of themselves become more and more reinforced. And what they believe to be true of themselves is this: that they are not worthy of love.

We all want love. This I know is true. And as humans, I believe we were born instinctively to give it and want it. But in the process of experiencing any great love is the corresponding experience of great fear. Love is an endeavor that brings a lot of promise but also the feeling of a naked risk, a great vulnerability that could hurt us in a big way depending on how invested we are emotionally.

A mother will feel the great feeling of love as she holds her new-born, but also grapple with the dreadful fear of the possibility of her baby getting sick or dying in some unknown future due to unknown circumstances. Love is contiguous to fear. Both are each other’s yin and yang. As long as we are alive, we will experience the sweetness of love in different ways, but we will also risk and occasionally experience anxiety, rejection and pain. That is just how it is.

If a person gives enough attention to his interior world, sometime in his life, he will probably ponder the meaning of love and life and ask himself whether he has ever really loved deeply. I am not talking here of great feelings of infatuation like the experience of being swept off one’s feet, or having an adrenalin rush or blushing. I am talking of real love, not the Disney version of it where one may seem like he is risking something when in truth, everything has been guaranteed to be safe and pleasant. And when you begin to examine yourself, this is where life asks you what meaning you want to give it.

You must come to terms with love, not just its ecstatic highs and dramas but also its baffling themes like sacrifice, extending oneself to the other, selflessness, surrender, and a lot of ego taming. In short, one must also look at the not-so-pleasant meanings of a life shared in love. Admittedly these are not the easy components one readily embraces.

There are those, after constant examination, who will always recommit to a life of loving no matter how imperfectly they live it, and there will be some who will give up on it. I know people who have grappled with love all their lives, who claim to have given their all without ever realizing that they have lived a pattern of rejecting everyone who ever gave them love. Subconsciously, they have undermined their soul’s true longing by being blind to, or fearful of what love really is. It is as if they can’t handle love when it is real and so reject the things that really nurture them most.

In place of what is true and real, they settle for fame, power, wealth, various addictions and cling to the approval of other people who have become hollow like themselves. They avoid depth by hiding behind seemingly rational explanations and grandiosity. A deep cynicism freezes their hearts and they become unable to respond with any honesty to anything.

Like the dog from the shelter, they have been traumatized and may or may not recover from it.

But many believe that the cure for this monumental denial is ironically, more love (maybe the tough kind), acceptance and more honest feedback from those who care, until eventually, one can awaken to the reality that we were born to love, by beginning to accept oneself more honestly and unconditionally.

It is a long process, but the important things in life are worth the effort. As I mentioned earlier, love is an endeavor. And I don’t know of a better way to say it but love must be done with great love.

Only then can love overcome pain, and perhaps begin to become the true narrative of one’s life.