Simi (which was not his real name) was a big guy. Certainly more than six feet tall, quite broad, with a shaved head and tanned skin. But there was also a playful curve in his lips, and a certain boyishness - something soft that you could almost begin to see in his eyes, before he would quickly do something to divert your attention. A teddybear in disguise, if you ask me. But the disguise was convincing.
“I don’t love,” he told me one day. This was Megiddo Penitentiary, in northern Israel, and we were in between sittings at one of our Monday night meditation meetings. I was there to teach. He was probably there because the NCO of Education pressured him to go. That often seems to be the case. And this was one of the few times he ever showed up.
I don’t remember if I ever knew what he was in for. Generally, I wasn’t meant to know. It was often drugs, theft, or assault of some kind. But Simi, to me, was mostly a mystery.
The first time he came to a session, he seemed very impressed. He sat in a misty-eyed trance as the inmates were leaving, and said straight at me, “Please make sure I always come here.”
I told him I would love to.
“No, I mean it. I usually avoid stuff like this. But you have to make me come.”
After that, I would try to “chase him down” in the yard every week, insomuch as one can do that in a jail. He would usually sneak behind a building, and that would be the end of it. It became a running joke between us, with me stepping outside so the inmates could see that I had arrived, and I would call out, “Simi, I can see you,” while he did his usual disappearing act.
But once or twice, he did show up. And one of those times, he gave me this manifesto.
“I don’t love. I don’t love anybody,” he said.
“Why not?” I asked him.
“Because when you don’t love,” he answered, “then you have no fear.”
That made me stop. Here I was, living in the free world, and an inmate at the local prison hit the nail on the head for me. Because when he said it, I thought of it the other way around: If you do not let yourself fear, then you cannot really love.
I have always been fascinated by the story of Pandora, who comes into the world as the first woman in Greek mythology. In the story, she brings with her a box (or a vase, by earlier accounts) in which are bound up all the evils of the world. Unable to control her curiosity, she opens the box - and leaves mankind to suffer from “countless plagues” for the rest of eternity. But I prefer to view it in a different light: I contest that “Man”, if we can call it that, was a shallow being before love came along. And that is what Pandora really brought with her - not so much a body, but the possibility for love. And it was in this love’s nature to open up a human’s soul - like a box. To dive deep, to explore the next level of evolution, of being, of life. And it is love’s job to open up our hearts - and let the woes out. Love releases emotions. It brings out the things we always thought we could get away with, the things we try to hide from our friends and from ourselves. The deeper I have gone into any relationship, the more I discovered about my own inner workings, and the things that still had to be released. Love caused me to first realize that I was so busy trying to look cool as a kid, that I was out of touch with my own emotions. Love brought me face to face with my own arrogance, too. And love brought up my haunted memories of childhood molestation. It really is like opening Pandora’s box.
And the more I open, the more I let the ghosts out - but no, they are not supposed to come out and then fly around my room forever. They come out, and they are healed. This is also a process, but I have felt it so many times. Love is a healer.
But it throws you open. And if you face it, and not run away from your ghosts, then they can heal.
And if you try to avoid these woes, these “plagues”, these fears - then you will never experience the beauty of a truly open heart, that loves without boundaries. I am always reminded of Kahlil Gibran’s poem:
“…All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.”
I wish everyone a lovely spring :)
Quote from Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet. “On Love”
Painting by John William Waterhouse