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The Soul Of A Freak
Valentine's Day Meditation
Ruth Waterton

Certain Monday mornings seem to be sent for the precise reason of crushing the spirit. Today was one of those--dull sheets of rain outside, a house strewn with the sticky debris of yesterday's party...and a total lack of mail. And all this on Valentine's Day, when even the most closet romantic aches for some recognition of her unique qualities.

But here it is -- reality. No rest for the wicked. No reason to delay the tidying, scrubbing and sorting. No diversion to make the heart lighter.

This leads to the subversive thought: Why shouldn't reality lighten the heart? Subversive, because when we say the word "real", there's usually an automatically Puritan response. Reality is deadly dull. It's gray, boring and tedious. Reality is what we escape from through movies, vacations and leisure parks. Reality kicks in when we run out of options--money, days off, school sweaters for the kids.

Reality is where the red roses stop and the Married Couples Tax Allowances begin.

People who are schizoid or addicted to substances which induce an altered state of consciousness are said to be escaping reality, or perhaps, suffering from an alternative reality of their own creation. There's a general assumption that they are running away from, not running towards, Real Life. And that's fair enough, if by Real Life we mean the accepted norms of being and interacting with others.

Even those cultures which set a high value on individual integrity are corporate at heart. We don't feel comfortable with the idea that deep underneath all these social layers there lurks a person whose behavior isn't readily controlled. We expect creative people to be hell-raisers, paupers or neurotics--all romantic projections held in esteem--as long as one doesn't have to live with them.

However, there is one glorious, socially sanctioned exception to the Reality rule. It is, of course, romance itself. You only have to watch a movie which plays around with the myth of finding That Special Someone--"Sleepless in Seattle" will do fine--to realize how absurd it is. To persist in longing for it is to fly in the face of all prosaic common sense.

Intimacy Recovered by Patse Hemsley
"Intimacy Recovered"
by Patse Hemsley

But for a myth to pervade our culture to such an extent, it must tell us something that we badly want to believe. Its power lies in the fact that it addresses the universal human fear of loneliness. It's probably no coincidence that the most individualistic societies are the ones which have invested most heavily in the myth of romantic love.

So, what makes us suspend our confidence in reality where affairs of the heart are concerned? Why do we want the bunch of red roses on Valentine's Day, the walking-on-air sensation of having encountered our special person? What makes us feel that a particular relationship is precious? Scratch below the surface and you're likely to get an answer that mentions "being myself."

"I don't have to pretend with him/her. I can just be me."

We want somebody to acknowledge that beneath the layers of Sacrificing Housewife or Corporate Man, there's an integral core of reality? The "real" me? So the real me is not the social construct, after all? The clothes I shrug into on Monday morning, and gradually find more and more constricting and uncomfortable as the day wears on? Then why do we keep on calling something "reality", when the direct opposite is the case?

There are probably relatively few of us who will find our Significant Other on an enchanted evening as we gaze across a crowded room. But if we are lucky, we may bump into someone who has faced down a few inner demons of his or her own, and somehow acquired the x-ray vision to pierce through our protective layers to see the truth beneath. This is the most life-changing type of relationship, and in my view, the one that's really worth having.

The real soul mates are the people who introduce us to our selves, who are there as we walk through the fire of self-discovery, while old certainties crumble around us, who understand as we cling to them as our only fixed point and who, ultimately, long to see us thrive without them.

In the movie "Titanic", Kate Winslet survives the death of her lover and goes on to have an infinitely richer and happier life than she would have known had she not had the experience of knowing him. Her affair is not an escape from reality, but an embrace of it.

Authenticity is an awkward customer--demanding, uncompromising, impatient, with off-the-peg solutions. No wonder that we like to dress it up in hearts and flowers and dedicate an annual festival to it. It feels safer that way.

We live in a culture that tends to commoditize anything it can't control. But it's a healthy sign that "Titanic" was such a tremendous hit, because underneath the packaging of a typically romantic movie it was a powerful message for authenticity: Better to have loved and lost, than to go through life screaming inside.

Once we have been introduced to our real selves, nothing can take that knowledge away from us, and every relationship in our lives is enriched. Once we've been led into integrity and wholeness by another human being, we won't want to settle for anything less. In fact, we are likely to want the same quality of life, regardless of its cost, for anyone for whom we care deeply.

To desire genuine engagement with another person-not simply the wish to possess them--and to let them know of our desire, brings with it considerable risk. If we succeed in this endeavor, it will bring us more lasting satisfaction than any number of red roses. For, like all truly loving gifts, it enriches the life of the donor as much as the life of the one who receives.

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From Mondays to Fridays, Ruth Waterton lives in Manchester, England with her two children. At weekends, she lives in a cottage in the nearby country town of Alderley Edge, where she reads, dreams and writes. She has had pieces on space exploration, relationships and spirituality published in a variety of print and on-line magazines. She is also Executive Director of Red Planet Research Inc, a nonprofit organisation preparing humanity for the peaceful settlement of Mars.

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Artwork "Intimacy Recovered" by Patse Hemsley
See more of her work in Moondance Arts at /arts/.

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