How to Make Love
This is not an instruction manual for how to become the greatest lover the world has ever known or how to satisfy your partner's every erotic desire. This is not the place where you will learn how to pleasure your partner until sparks shoot from her toes or master the more esoteric arts of Tantric sex.
And though these might be worthwhile skills to pursue (they inhabit an important though limited niche in human behavior) the kind of love-making I'm talking about is the emotional alchemy that can transform anything into love.
The kind of love-making I'm talking about is radically opening yourself to someone else's experience, really seeing that person and empathizing with them in a way that goes beyond mere "understanding" or any other rational, mind-based model of approximating or measuring the emotional state of another person.
Think of how a dog will be compelled to lick the tears from her crying master's face. The dog doesn't understand what her human is going through; she can't calculate the long-term consequences of what her human is experiencing; she can't help her human brainstorm options for solving whatever's ailing her. But what she can do is stay by her human's side, offering comfort and companionship and unconditional love.
Bearing witness to someone else's experience, really seeing someone -- with an almost childlike openness, without judgement, without reacting, without the expectation or promise of anything in return, without allowing it to trigger our own feelings (which we then have to spend energy managing, thus diminishing our availability to the one who's really suffering) -- is a gift that you can give anyone, an act of love that can have profound consequences. Defenses dissolve, facades drop, trust blooms, connections grow spontaneously.
Love is created, over and over again.
What prevents us, then, from always leading with love? What gets in the way? Why do we instead often default, unconsciously, to one of our many destructive emotional loops that make a heart-connection impossible?
Why do we find it so hard to trust where love will lead us?
Maybe we're afraid of being hurt or taken advantage of.
Or maybe we're afraid of being perceived as soft or weak.
Perhaps we resist the call to love out of selfishness ("I really don't have time for this") or score-keeping ("he doesn't deserve my love/attention/presence").
Or maybe it's because our minds have tricked us and we don't realize that this heart-centered option is a possibility.
It's complicated, of course, and different people have their own stories.
My story is that I was bullied as a kid. Nothing too extreme, just your run-of-the-mill abuse at the hands of older kids in the neighborhood or in the halls of my middle school.
I tell you this not for sympathy or to use as an excuse, but rather in an attempt to make sense of the development of my personality over the next several decades.
I remember, very distinctly, believing that I could maybe protect myself -- my soft, sensitive core -- by developing a hard, forbidding exterior. Aka muscles.
So I started lifting weights. If I looked tough enough people would be less likely to fuck with me. When I got older a shaved head and often-aggressive facial hair completed the costume and broadcast "unapproachable."
And a pretty successful costume it was. People gave me a wide berth. But there were a couple problems with "unapproachable." People weren't inclined to approach me. And not just those that might have meant me harm. Couple my unapproachable exterior with a coolly rational philosophical bent and the possibility of a heart-connection diminished significantly.
But this costume didn't suit my personality. I was sensitive, a child who felt things intensely. And my eyes, if you looked close enough, gave up the lie; there was a sensitive, vulnerable soul hiding inside the body of a 240 pound brute.
Growing up I assimilated a very Hobbesian view of life -- nasty, brutish and short -- and came to believe that looking hard could protect me from the nasty and the brutish. What I didn't reckon was that it could also make me prone to nasty and brutish, especially in times of stress or fear.
Now, with the wisdom of a middle-aged man, I wonder how different my life would have been had I not encased myself in this emotional armor, if I had embraced love and openness instead, despite the risks.
I also wonder, as I move through the world, how many other people are hiding inside a facade constructed for self-protection, cut off from their hearts and the hearts of others.
I'm not a child anymore, nor am I afraid. Or maybe I've just learned, finally, how to recalculate the cost/benefit of heart-centeredness to arrive at the conclusion that the benefits of love -- connection, presence, kindness, community -- far outweigh the feared but often unrealized costs.
What about you? Are you willing to take that risk?
Do you want to make love?