Sunday, October 28, 2012

Love as Exploring Vulnerability

In thinking about what I wanted to share today, I had the realization that it correlates with the contents of a number of past posts. Collectively, these previous posts comprise an anthology of insights into what it means to love another within that special type of relationship whereby on multiple levels – emotional, spiritual, physical – communion (common union) is shared.

Looking back, I see that some of these writings are my own (see, for instance, here and here). Elsewhere, it was the wisdom of others that I felt compelled to share (see, for example, here and here). Some are academic, others poetic. Some are firmly grounded in Roman Catholicism, others go deeper into humanity's shared spiritual heritage.

I've decided to assign the tag "A Gay Man's Guide to Love and Loving" to all of these posts, as I believe they all offer, in one way or another, insights, inspiration, and advice on how to build and maintain a healthy intimate relationship. Of course, such insights, inspiration, and advice are not limited to gay men. So why direct this series specifically to them?

I can offer two reasons. First, this blog focuses on my journey as a gay man, one who recognizes the value of integrating (in a balanced and healthy way) spirituality and sexuality. I attempt to live this "way" of integration, believing that it is one of many pathways to that fullness of life that Jesus invites us to embody.

Second, from my observation, many gay men have difficulty in experiencing and embodying this type of healthy integration and thus experiencing and embodying that special type of relationship described above. Why is this? Well, no matter what you may hear to the contrary from certain elements of society, including the Roman Catholic clerical caste, it's not because being a gay man predisposes one to a life of selfishness and thus failed relationships. Rather, it's because of these types of hopeless and negative messages that many gay men – especially those of a certain age – struggle to live lives of integration and wholeness. (I say "certain age" because, by and large, it's not those of the younger generations who are attracted to groups like Courage.)

Having said all of that, it would be remiss of me not to also acknowledge the negative impact of aspects of the gay male subculture on the ability of gay men to live integrated lives. I'm thinking in particular of the limiting role models presented by this subculture, one that is often fixated on superficial things. Related to this is the fact that, like so much of Western society, this subculture is unquestioning of consumerist capitalism. Accordingly, it is notoriously prone to objectifying seemingly everything – including the male body.

All the more reason, then, for the need to share insights of spiritual wisdom, and thus illuminate sorely needed guideposts along the road to love. I start – or rather continue – such sharing and illuminating with the following by Phillip Gowins, excerpted from his book Practical Sufism: A Guide to the Spiritual Path. As you'll see, the insights Gowins shares concerning the "key" of vulnerability are applicable to both the spiritual path and the road to human intimacy and love. I see this as just another helpful reminder of the sacred call to integrate spirituality and sexuality, and of the sacred love that envelops and infuses all things.

. . . Vulnerability is the key to trust. And trust is the key to love. . . . [O]ften the greatest barrier to feeling comfortable with another person, or the greatest barrier to any kind of interpersonal communication, is the unwillingness to be vulnerable.

. . . Being vulnerable is the key to spirituality. You do not progress just by knowing. You progress by surrendering all or at least a portion of your knowledge. In doing so, you create a sort of vacuum, a vulnerability that God can crown by filling you with a divinely inspired curiosity and awareness. Maybe God sees it like this: by being vulnerable, on a personal level you have created an accommodation in yourself, enabling someone else to participate in your experience. Such accommodations open us to higher levels of accommodation.

Do unto others, and eventually God does unto you.

Meditation is a state of emotional and spiritual vulnerability. In meditating, you open yourself to whatever (or whomever – the Beloved?) comes along. You accommodate yourself to the possibility of responding to God's intentions on this world's stage. (Just do not assume that that is what you are doing!) Meditation has many purposes, but the one I am talking about here is that of creating a vulnerability to the spirit of the Beloved – and, on this personal level, the approach of the Beloved is really about your own soul's coming closer.

I have not heard it for a while, but is that old soul-mate business still making the rounds? When I hear that phrase I always think, "What, only one?" As if this whole wide universe there were only one soul that resonates perfectly with yours! I believe it is not the idea of having a soul mate, but the idea of being rescued, that appeals to us. Rescued from what? For one thing, from the annoying need to be vulnerable and therefore risk the even more annoying experience of being humiliated.

Love is not about finding a soul mate. If it seems to be at the beginning, the feeling starts to dissipate the moment you and your soul mate discover how different your toothpaste habits are. Rather, love is about exploring vulnerability, about exploring degrees of acceptance of and resistance to each other. On the spiritual level, it is about continuously reaching for deeper and deeper levels of trust in God.

. . . Vulnerability can be periodic; think of being totally vulnerable as an ideal state, not one you have to be in every moment. Our psyches are delicate; regard vulnerability as a flower that opens up, then closes to collect itself for a time.

– Phillip Gowins

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Somewhere In Between
The Many Manifestations of God's Loving Embrace
"More Lovely Than the Dawn": God as Divine Lover
The Longing for Love: God's Primal Beatitude
Trusting God's Generous Invitation
Liberated to Be Together
Intrinsically Sexual
Getting It Right
Sex as Mystery, Sex as Light
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Making Love, Giving Life
Sons of the Church: A Discussion Guide
Relationship: The Crucial Factor in Sexual Morality
Human Sex: Weird and Silly, Messy and Sublime
Be Not Afraid, You Can Be Happy and Gay
Thoughts on Celibacy
Beyond Limited Ideas of "Real" Gay Sex
The Holy Pleasure of Intimacy

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