Do societies idealize romantic love

Do our societies idealize romantic love at the expense of other forms of love?

Responding to a prompt offered up in a workshop I’m participating in (The Dharma of Relationships, Paramis in Action), as is my nature, this question has flipped on the switch of a huge spotlight to explore what lies behind the myths we live by, most particularly “romantic love.”

My first, on-the-surface response, is that yes, they (societies) do. Then I think I would have to narrow it down to which societies do because I’m unsure whether the Leavers, as Daniel Quinn called those who live(d) in harmony with the “wild world,” do or did. It’s definitely a myth that has morphed with the separation of man from living in harmony with nature, living in that deep respect for the interconnectedness of all that exists from the tiniest cosmic particle to the humpback whale.

I view this question to be asked in a very active tense as if it is a conscious objective of “societies,” which I don’t believe it is. Has it in fact been a conscious idealization by “societies,” or, instead, has it been a very unconscious metamorphosis that began with religion, with a “God” “out there,” and that “God giving its only son to man” so that mankind can go to that better heavenly place after death, again separate from “heaven on earth.” It began with power and greed usurping the individual’s path, most particularly through dogmatic religions, I feel, wherein grasping greed has slimed its way into all aspects of one’s life with the proposed end result being that an individual’s goal is to obtain more — more wealth, more possessions, more status, more love (as if love is an object to obtain/attain).

For some reason, I reject that societies, in the active tense, idealize romantic love. Instead, as with all the delusions humankind has wrapped itself in, from the first agreements we unconsciously make with our parents from birth, with the communities we’re raised in, we unconsciously create myths and adopt these beliefs, as part of the circle of Dependent Origination. And we suffer because of it, just as we suffer from all of our clinging and grasping, whether it be dogma, possessions, love, or life itself.

Many societies did, and some still do, have arranged marriages. Romantic love did not enter into the world of accepted myths, according to Joseph Campbell, until it began to appear in stories like Iseult and Tristan. Dennis Patrick Slattery says, “Myths are living symbols. They serve each of us individually and collectively as guides to aid us in harmonizing our interior world with the surrounding landscape we inhabit. They serve us on a personal level as ordering and organizing principles whose aim is to offer our lives a sense of coherence, not perfection. Joseph Campbell believes that myths reveal the movement of psyche, indeed ‘of the whole nature of man and his destiny.'” So romantic love is a myth that has evolved but I don’t believe it is or was actively idealizing love; just laying on another veil of delusion, unconsciously shoring up delusions without serving a higher self.

Unless we were raised in a Buddhist environment, I think adopting and creating myths we live by is something we do individually from our point of separation from our mother’s body and with the induction of agreements we received from our parents and from our communities. Again, I don’t believe society itself has done anything consciously. I don’t even think that the individuals who continue to grasp for power do it consciously. It’s an individual human dilemma encapsulated in Dependent Origination, through which the Buddha’s teachings shine a light on the path out of the mythical dream. It might have begun with the instinct of all living things on this earth to continue, to procreate, allowing the loins of humankind to lead the way in that deception in order to continue. Or it might have started when mankind separated from living in a harmonic oneness with nature, moving into me/it, mine/its, mine/yours, which process, of course, always left a burning yearning in the heart that something was missing.

Some species mate for life, some don’t. In order to continue the human race, until the last century, the human myth was that marriage of a man and a woman is the only permitted form of marriage (and some are attempting to continue that myth). But marriage is an institution that came out of survival, and now, in our day and age, we do not need to marry, nor remain in partnership to survive — physically — nor should we continue to procreate as, clearly, 8 billion people is straining the threads that bind us together.

But clearly, we need love to survive, as Harry Harlow proved with his wire-monkey experiments in the ’50s, as social scientists repeatedly affirm when trying to heal the injured people rising up through our societies around the world where parents — unconscious and injured themselves and in their quest for more possessions or just more basics for survival — can’t find, don’t make, or lose the time to love their children, their fellow humans, themselves.

Because of the cause-and-effect path of my life, I’ve never quite lived within the bounds of what society projects on the cinder-block walls it’s built to surround and separate itself. Yes, I’ve stuck my toe into romantic love several times throughout my life. It always burned me. Or maybe I didn’t follow the rules or know how to do it. But whether it was my path, whether it was the deep burns suffered, or whether I instinctively knew that romantic love was not to be idealized,  I’ve chosen to explore the myths I’ve lived by. Saying society actively did something feels like it once again removes the individual from seeking the truths behind the myths we live by.

Since I’ve found the Buddhist path, I’ve peered behind the veils slip down. I’ve discovered a deeper loving kindness to be the fertile ground that sustains all and from which all springs. Loving kindness is an ever-present moment.  Romantic love is an ever-changing delusion, and at least for me, at 73, a distant past.

How Practical is Imagination?

The word “practical” has several definitions which I “imagine” must be taken into consideration in answering this: likely to be effective in real circumstances or feasible; suitable for a particular purpose; realistic in approach, et cetera. Imagination is the faculty or action of forming ideas or images in the mind; or the ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful.

Keeping that in mind I absolutely know that at times my imagination is ridiculous, though I feel in those circumstances its purpose is to amuse me, or if I share it with others and if they listen, my hope is it triggers them to join in the crazy journey for the fun of it or to create something “out of this world,” maybe like Neil Gaiman does in his novels.

Imagination is an absolute necessity, and hence practical, in multiple practices, particularly in self-discovery, personal growth or mental health. For me, and others who engage in such practices, imagination is key to Gestalt therapy, shamanic journey work, and hypnosis. How many times have I descended that dark staircase, come to a door, and opened that door to discover what’s behind it — or what’s in my consciousness or unconscious.

My imagination has brought me misery in the form of worry — will my addicted children survive their addictions; why won’t my romantic partner answer his phone; will we survive the existential threat of climate change?  — but worry serves no useful purpose (though it can be an impetus to seek a solution), and I’ve learned to let worries hover in the background and get off the ride pretty quickly these days.

But imagination can have more practical value than just regurgitating concrete facts, which perpetuate a certain reality that is not serving anyone. John Lennon’s Imagine is the perfect example of instilling in every human’s mind that there really could be a world without countries, no religion, no war, no possessions, no greed, no hunger. With that seed planted, people might start actually contemplating that their clinging and regurgitating “my country, my religion, my whiteness, my possessions, my, my my” is in fact causing all the problems in the world and they might start contemplating a different world, and within that contemplation they see that the world really could BE AS ONE. Imagine living with less. Imagine sharing all we have, knowing there will always be more than enough for everyone if everyone shared. Without that seed planted, that shift in thinking, no changes will be made by me or anyone, so, yes, my imagination in that regard is very practical for the survival of humanity.

Imagination is absolutely necessary in order to read a novel, or even to listen to  classical music, but even modern music engages imagination. Though your imagination didn’t create these things, without an imagination you cannot take an author’s words and walk with them through the scenes and emotions depicted. Whether images are formed in listening to music or whether it’s simply emotions that have been stirred, the catalyst for either, I think, comes from imagination. The journey never starts without imagination. I know people who claim they just cannot read a novel, and they don’t. I know them well enough to see they dwell in a very concrete world, focused only on what they can see and touch, and they lack the ability necessary to be able to transport themselves into a world of imagination.

I believe imagination is the fuel to sexual excitement, with or without your lover, in just about every instance. So its practical purpose there is to ensure the continuation of the human race.

But of course, imagination is the key to the creative process. Imagination is the creative process. It is, for me, an idea or thought that frees itself from the conditioning that attaches itself to the thoughts that chatter in circles through my mind, plowing the same old, now infertile, ground. Imagination is creation in both its initial thought and in what it produces. It is both the seed and the chicken as it’s both a process and its end product. It’s the seed that brings a novel or film alive and takes us all on the journey in the non-concrete world, like Leo DiCaprio’s movie Inception.

It’s the inquisitive, imaginative mind that questioned beliefs: is the earth flat; does the sun revolve around the earth; will taking a bath cause disease; how do ants form such straight lines; how do bees find flowers or make honey; or what was the reason life split between plants and animals; or can mankind fly light years away to another galaxy? It’s the imaginative mind that thought up safety pins, paper clips, hairbrushes, paper, printing presses, photovoltaic cells, and, yes, nuclear bombs. It’s the imaginative mind that finds solutions to problems; it can conceive of a better way of doing things, leading scientists to new theories or discoveries that can serve (or destroy) mankind as those ideas are brought into the concrete world.

I don’t expect everyone or even a few to follow my fanciful flights of imagination, i.e., I am a Spoon, but I find imagination practical in regards to my life. Without an imagination I would not have benefited from my shamanic practice, hypnosis, therapy, or any other paths I’ve walked in search of undoing old myths that protected me when young but hindered me as I grew older. Without an imagination my creative writing would be nonexistent, nor would I have benefited from the fanciful thoughts of so many writers. Without an imagination, I would not have dared step off the ledge into the full slipstream of life, sailed the ocean, had adventures.  Without an imagination, I honestly don’t believe I would have found the peace and happiness I have in my life today because I would have believed the unhappy world in which I was born and raised was the only reality permitted; without my imagination, I would not have striven to let go, to surrender old, unskillful thoughts and imagine a more perfect world.

Just imagine.