Over the weekend, I was painting a room in my house when Guy Clark’s “Stuff that Works” came on Spotify:
I got a woman I love
She’s crazy and paints like God
She’s got a playground sense of justice
She won’t take odds
I got a tattoo with her name
Right through my soul
I think everything she touches
Turns to gold
Those words hit me like an NFL linebacker. Every single one is the love I used to feel for an ex-girlfriend—“the one that got away,” as they say.
We long ago agreed to be just friends, which has been great. But sometimes I still feel romantic love for her—when I see a beautiful painting, when the sunlight looks a certain way, when I bite into a perfectly cooked steak.
As I mindlessly painted, I decided to watch what emotions were coming up.
First came desire—I missed and wanted her. Then sadness. What if I never find someone like her again? I thought. Then regret and self-blame—Why couldn’t I have gotten my shit together sooner? Then compassion—we were young and still figuring things out, of course we fucked up.
But that’s when I struck gold. Next came love. Overwhelmingly love. For my ex, yes—but also in a much wider, ubiquitous way. My chest went tender with a little sadness but a ton of warmth. In the words of the poet Mary Oliver, I couldn’t help but be in awe of “this one precious life.”
Here’s what I realized: That love is mine. It was inside of me from the start. I just needed someone else to help me feel it. But what if I can access it myself? What if love is available at any time, yet I just overlook it?
Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön writes about this in one of my favorite books ever, “Start Where You Are,” but about the flip side of the coin, about negative emotions, like anger.
“If you have rage and righteously act it out and blame it all on others, it’s really you who suffers. The other people and the environment suffer also, but you suffer more because you’re being eaten up inside with rage, causing you to hate yourself more and more.”
That makes me think of politics, of hating Trump and white supremacy and capitalist greed. I recently saw an Instagram video of white counter-protesters yelling hateful things at Black Lives Matter activists. As I watched, it was me who felt the hate. The counter-protestors were probably already home relaxing and watching TV. I felt like shit, like I was burning up inside.
What I’m saying is, we have to live with our emotions, good and bad. Might as well get to know them a little bit. And in getting to know them, we might stumble upon the fact that love is already inside of us. That it’s not out there. That it’s not something to acquire. That it’s not as hidden as we assume.
“We already have everything we need,” writes Chödrön. “We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.”
I’m a writer, meditation teacher, and host of the Meditation for the 99% podcast. If you’d like to work with me on your meditation practice or being more mindful in your life, reach out. Get my writing straight to your email inbox here.