The wife of a great Zen master had died. Some days later, one of his students came across the master as he was sitting at the edge of a rice field weeping bitterly. Shyly, the disciple addressed his teacher "Master, why are you weeping? You always taught us we should not get attached to anything. You said everything changes and everything is merely an illusion." The master lifted his tear stained face and said, "Yes, you are right. Everything is an illusion. But my wife was the best illusion I ever had.
The Greek wise man Plato claimed that our ancient ancestors had the size and shape of two human beings rolled into one, like round balls with four arms and four legs:
When they broke into a run they simply stuck their legs straight out and went whirling round and round like a clown turning cartwheels. And since they had eight legs, if you count their arms as well, you can imagine that they went bowling along at a pretty good speed.
Some of these strange creatures, Plato says, were male; some were female; and others were hermaphrodites, half male and half female. But in time, they became so arrogant and overbearing that the gods felt moved to intervene. Zeus had them all chopped in half, a cruel move from the human vantage point, since every one of these poor creatures felt devastatingly, miserably alone without its other half. Plato informs us that:
When the work of bisection was complete, it left each half with a desperate yearning for the other, and they ran together and flung their arms around each others necks, and asked for nothing better than to be rolled into one. So much so, that they began to die of hunger and general inertia, for neither would do anything without the other.
Ever since, Plato says, we have all been restlessly roaming the Earth in hopes of finding our beloved lost halves, and until we find them, we are doomed to feel incomplete. But when two halves find each other after a long separation, they cling together for dear life.
Is there any truth to Plato's imagery? "Definitely, yes," young lovers would say. But talk to them a year later, and they may tell you a different story entirely: "No." To find one of Plato's four-armed, four-legged creatures we must look to committed couples like Iris and David, or like Joanne and Devin, who have shared a life and have bonded deeply in the process. In them, we see the two halves rejoined as one flesh and one blood. We see a union that becomes stronger with each passing year, a melding of two organisms into one. Such couples are like trees that grow side by side until their trunks merge, so that you can no longer chop down one without mortally wounding the other.
In fact, we are not the separate, well-defined organisms we appear to be. Energetically, if not physically, we truly do merge like tree trunks. The well-known healer Barbara Brennan describes the bonding between lovers in terms of energetic cords. In the following passage, she describes what happens to these cords when partners are separated, either by divorce or by death:
The cords usually get badly damaged in these experiences. I have seen all the chakras on the front of the body torn open, with the cords floating out in space, after such trauma. The personal experience of such a trauma is described as the feeling of being torn apart, or as if their better half is missing. Many people become disoriented and don't know what to do with themselves.... When a lot of cord damage is done in the process of forced separation, I have seen it take at least five years, sometimes seven for people to reorient.
When I read this passage to Miryam, an attractive, dark-haired woman in her early forties, she nodded. Three years after her husband's death, she can attest to the truth of Barbara Brennan's observations. Just five years ago, Miryam was dreaming of finding a husband and having a baby. Nearing the end of her childbearing years, she felt truly blessed when she met Jim. Both she and Jim believed that they had indeed found their long-lost halves. "It was a match made in heaven," Miryam told me with tears in her eyes. "I knew after our second date that I could marry him." The couple fell deeply in love, married, and spent several blissful months together, while Miryam prepared for the possibility of having the child she so yearned for.
Then, out of the blue, after only seven months of marriage, Jim was diagnosed with an unusually virulent and fast-moving form of cancer. From that moment until his death only three months later, Miryam became a full-time nurse to her husband.
Who thinks about death in the throes of a new love? Yet every marriage that does not end in divorce ends in death. To bring this awareness into our relationships is no morbid preoccupation. The awareness of death puts things in perspective, keeps us humble, reminds us not to allow unfinished business and unspoken words to pile up between us. If we live as if death could occur at any moment as it can then we live with greater passion and a more open heart. We set aside petty grievances and forgive more readily. We take more risks and don't put off expressing our love, knowing that now is the only moment we can be sure of. The future is uncertain.
Miryam's story is unusual in several respects. It is unusual to lose one's soul mate after sharing such a brief time together, and Jim's death was unusually painful. As Miryam herself put it, "My experience was not the common one. It was so condensed." One moment, she was a radiant bride, the next a young wife hoping to get pregnant, then a full-time nurse to a dying man, and finally, a grief stricken widow tottering on the brink of insanity. Like a skeleton, her story reveals the bare-bones extremes of human experience: love and loss, holiness and horror...