It’s February, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and my website has the word “love” in the title. So I’m *checks, nods* yep, contractually obligated to write about love.
Over the years I’ve assembled quite the library of books, and read a whole heap more. I’ve listened to talks, logged on to webinars, diligently followed courses, and fallen down countless rabbit-holes on Google.
I’m possibly slightly the wiser for it? At the very least, I’m considerably more well-informed.
But through all my travails, one little bit of advice has kept me going.
One little bit of perspective that’s settled my nervous system when it’s all shook-up like a can of fizzy pop. It’s stuck on my wall, scribbled onto a dog-eared once-blue post-it note.
The wisdom this scrap of paper contains has been shared over the years with every friend or acquaintance who’s ever expressed difficulty with love or relationship. It’s given me solace on countless occasions, too.
So with no more ado I present its contents;
1. Relationships are uncomfortable, and that’s OK
2. Thinking that they SHOULD be comfortable is what makes them uncomfortable
3. Meeting the discomfort together IS love
4. There is a way to work with it all
Disarmingly simple, huh?
(Just the compassion and acceptance held first line alone, “relationships are uncomfortable, and that’s OK” has helped me SO MUCH.)
I jotted these four lines down several years ago when American meditation teacher Susan Piver gave her first online workshop on what she’d discovered as the “four noble truths of love”; a way of applying Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths – the truth of suffering, its cause, its cessation and the path to no suffering – to the challenge of relationships.
Since then she’s published The Four Noble Truths of Love: Buddhist Wisdom for Modern Relationships which, I’m not going to lie, is a favourite in my aforementioned library.
Why? Well, two things stand out for me.
The first is having such an accessible, pragmatic and yet spiritually-grounded how-to guide for the messy, oft-ignored BEING in relationship (as opposed to FINDING, of which the self-help bookshelves already groan with bounty).
She writes from the perspective of someone who’s been married for over 20 years and has the scars to prove it; the “after the honeymoon and OH CRAP I thought our life together was going to happen seamlessly and IT ISN’T” bit.
I love the practical way she’s brought the Eight-Fold path into being in relationship, how simple practises can create a “strong container”, and the simple shift in perspective the four noble truths offer.
As a big fan of the Enneagram I’m also delighted by how she’s included it here to reveal how people can have such a different focus of attention depending on their type, their instinctual biases, and the psychological bias of responding to threat by moving towards it, against it or away.
(You’ll understand the importance of the latter if you’ve ever argued with someone.)
Whether you’re a Buddhist or not, it’s an illuminating perspective on how to engage with others generally – and with a long-term partner specifically.
The second thing that stands out is Susan herself. In the manner of my other favourite teachers and authors, Brené Brown and Tara Brach, she is unstinting in her honesty about how she shares what she herself needs to learn. Because let me tell you; I wasn’t joking about the scars bit earlier. Why did she apply her decades of Buddhist practice to her marriage? Because it was too painful NOT to.
It’s like a chat with a warm, wise, and witty friend – the one who, just like you, struggles with balancing breathing space with being close, with loving and not-loving, and with the pain and delight of illusion falling away. Suddenly, you’re not alone.
To quote Zen poet John Tarrant, as Susan does in the book; “Attention is the most basic form of love. Through it we bless and are blessed.”
And who doesn’t want to bless their relationships with some deftly applied love?