How to Fall in Love in the City of Love

by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, Feb 26, 2008

Dharma-Inspired Movie Review:

True love does not centre around you, for it has no boundaries. - stonepeace

Singapore -- The last story in the film "Paris, je t'aime" (Paris, I Love You), which is an anthology of 21 love stories, is the unlikeliest but perhaps the best in the collection - "14th Arrondissement" by Alexander Payne.

Not a lovey-dovey romance, it might seem "mystical", but it is about a very real and basic aspect of love. Carole is a middle-aged woman (played by Margo Martindale), who strolls Paris on a solo tour, as her thoughts are narrated to the audience - "... They say it (Paris) is where people go and find something new in their life. They say it is where you can find love... Didn't expect to find. But I am not a sad person. On the contrary, I'm a happy person with many friends and two wonderful dogs. It's just that sometimes, I wish I had someone to share things with. For example, when I see all of Paris from a skyscraper, I wanted to say to someone - 'Isn't that beautiful?' But there was nobody there...

Then I found a lovely little park. I sat down in the park and ate a sandwich that I bought. It tasted very good. Then something happened. Something difficult to describe. (She looks around at the happy adults and kids having their park activities.) Sitting there alone in a foreign country far from my job and everyone I know, a feeling came to me. It was like remembering something I had never known before or had always been waiting for, without knowing what it was. Maybe it was something I've been missing all my life. All I can say is that I felt, at the same time, joy and sadness. But not much sadness because I felt alive. Yes, alive. That was when I fell in love with Paris. And I felt Paris fell in love with me."

Most, despite being loving in nature, feel the desire to be personally loved, to have someone always there for them. This subtle sense of aloneness arises from a sense of existential alienation or disconnectedness from the world and others. This "need" to connect is however an illusion, as there is essentially no other fixed self to attach to, just as there is no self with which we attach to another. All is already "one" in change. Maybe what she discovered was newfound awareness of her situation, coupled with full acceptance of it, without wanting anything else in the moment. She was taking a break after touring a relatively unspectacular part of Paris. With expectations at rest, what arose was an overwhelming sense of contentment, that could not be named because it was unconditional, not based on anything.

Carole embraced her emotions as they were without rejection - the "ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows". Mindful embracing is always more joyous than sad. In fact, she embraced everything before her as they were, including the underlying sadness that comes from basic existential dissatisfaction (Dukkha) in life. That was why she felt that she had fallen in (unconditional) love with wherever she was. Even though it might have lasted only for a while, it was enough to inspire her for life. With this loving-kindness enveloping her and overflowing from her, she naturally felt the world being loving to her. You can have such an experience too - by practising Metta (loving-kindness) meditation. True peace and understanding arise not from the world, but from personal cultivation of calmness and insight, which can be nurtured via the practice of Samatha and Vipassana meditation respectively. 

Carole had made peace with herself, thus readily making peace with the world too. Peace in Buddhism requires the factor of equanimity, the balanced state of mind beyond polaristic attachment and aversion to anything, including joy and sadness. True love must be equanimous (the fourth of the four sublime states of mind), while encompassing loving-kindness, compassion and appreciative joy (the other three states). A deep experience of this would be similar to the experience of this world as a Pure Land. It is possible even for usually non-spiritual people to have such purified "glimpses" once in a while. The problem is not knowing what they mean, how they arise, and how to sustain or rekindle them. They might be labelled the grace of a greater power, but are in reality one's own graciousness at work - one's Buddha-nature!

Love is not to be found just in Paris. It is to first be found in your mind, wherever you are. The environment you are in can urge you to be find it though. This is why people go on pilgrimages, for the taking of a physical journey can aid the spiritual journey of nurturing compassion and wisdom within. Paris is probably dubbed "the city of love" because most who live there, and those who are attracted there are of a similar state of mind - of being romantic, of wanting to feel romance. Love birds of a karmic feather flock together! If Carole was a bitter person, she would not had found the extraordinary love she did - not by herself or with anyone else, for love is realised only by being loving, whether anyone loves you or not. However, as Stonepeace put it in terms of karmic attraction, "To find true love, be truly loving."

Carole did not find something new; what found was a vision of something fundamental - her true nature. As she did not crave a lot for love, greed fell away while a great sense of gratitude arose, as she simply basked in the moment, appreciating it as it was. These too, are aspects of equanimity. Previously, she had thought she was already a relatively happy person, though she had a quiet yearning. What she discovered was a greater happiness - a state of blissfulness without this yearning, which probably arose from her ability to rejoice in the happiness of those around her with no jealousy, thus ending her subtle unhappiness, while increasing her happiness.

Taking a retreat from the known, we retreat into ourselves and discover the unknown. Immersing in the unfamiliar can help us reconnect with what is essentially the most intimate yet continually missed part of ourselves - our pure Buddha-nature. This explains why her experience was paradoxically refreshing yet familiar, why it resonates with the audience in an indefinable way, just as it did for her. Our fundamental ignorance is not recognising our fundamental nature, which is always available to us, even if we seldom make ourselves available to it. Deep down, we all know we can awaken, which is why we might catch ourselves waiting for what we know is better, yet not knowing it yet. Carole felt truly alive because it is as if she had given herself a new lease of life by her radical change of mind. Though not fully enlightened, it was the beginning of more genuine living and loving. Have you truly fallen in love yet?

Nothing is more romantic than expanding the love of one to love of all. – stonepeace