Lesley Garner
Lesley Garner
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Life Lessons
Everything I've ever done
that Worked
Everything I've ever
Learned about Love
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The Times of Our Lives

Everything I've Ever Learned About Love

Trailing Clouds of Glory

Love is mystery, and so the state of wonder is the first face of
love. It is a face of wide-eyed, open-mouthed, breath-held, heart-stopped
innocence. It is a wordless state, a pause before language forms. It is the
state that occupies the boundlessness of love. It is the egoless state. When
it hits you, the armies of little fears and vanities, plans and memories that
make up the ego retreat, and the heart is left exposed and open to what
is before it. The heart sees. In adult life, with another human being before
our eyes, this might be the hit of love at first sight. In a child, it is the state
that marks a new meeting with the world. It can be triggered by a butterfly,
a leaf or a trick of the light. Some people never lose the right of entry into
the state of wonder, and their lives are blessed.

The writer Gwen Raverat, in her memoir Period Piece, describes
it perfectly when she writes about her childhood visits to Down, the
country home of her grandfather, Charles Darwin. She describes the seapebbles
embedded in the garden path:

‘‘I adored those pebbles. I mean literally, adored; worshipped. This passion
made me feel quite sick sometimes. And it was adoration that I felt
for the foxgloves at Down, and for the stiff red clay out of the Sandwalkclay pit; and for the beautiful white paint on the nursery floor. This kind
of feeling hits you in the stomach and in the ends of your fingers, and it
is probably the most important thing in life. Long after I have forgotten
all my human loves, I shall still remember the smell of a gooseberry leaf
or the feel of the wet grass on my bare feet; or the pebbles in the path. In
the long run it is this feeling that makes life worth living, this which is
the driving force behind the artist’s urge to create.”

When I think about the state of wondering in-loveness I was in
as a child, I immediately find myself back in my own grandfather’s garden
in south Wales. I see myself down among the cabbages, absorbed by a
raindrop caught on a leathery blue-green leaf. I can feel the softness of
the thick daisy-strewn grass under the lilac tree. I remember the intense
sense of mystery and loss of scale as I gazed into the dark, moss-lined
subterranean world revealed by the removal of a large stone in the
vegetable patch.

The loving act of looking, which I began by gazing into my
mother’s face, was transferred to the whole new world. I loved the grain
of wood on my grandmother’s old oak dresser. I loved the green pressed-glass bowls which she used to serve rhubarb and custard. The oak dresser
now stands in my own kitchen, and I cried when it arrived because it
brought my grandmother’s essence with it. I still can’t resist green pressed

I loved going to the nearby beaches and exploring on the rocks,
hanging my head over the clear water of the rock pools to see the magic
world inside, pushing my finger into the red velvet mouths of sea
anemones to feel their adhesive little tentacles cling to my fingertip. Love
absorbed me. Absorption is a sign of love throughout life. Where you see
a human being happily absorbed in an activity, a view, a piece of music,
another human being, you are looking at a manifestation of love.
When does the wonder, the absorption, the magical connection
with the world vanish? It does vanish slowly for everyone who doesn’t
consciously cultivate it in adulthood. When does the spell break?

I think it breaks with growing self-consciousness. We literally
get in our own way. Somebody might laugh at us for being dreamy and
that is the end of our dreaming. Tasks and targets and duties and desires block our innocent connection with the world around us. In the words of
William Wordsworth, who knew: “shades of the prison house begin to
close about the growing boy.”We individualise. The question “Who am I?”
begins to be more important than “What is that?” It replaces the primal
ecstatic state that simply receives and asks no questions at all.

The danger is of falling out of love with the world. The danger
is of leaving the state of wonder for the fallen state of separation.
The feeling of separation is so terrifying that we scan the faces around us
to see who will rescue us. Our hormones and the sexual drive focus all
our energies on finding our union with life through the narrow gateway
of one other person, the One.

The good news is that the lost paradise is always there waiting
for us. One way to re-enter it is simply to pay extreme attention to what
is around us. Another way to rediscover it is to travel somewhere new.
The dust of blinding familiarity hasn’t settled on a strange landscape.
Our mind doesn’t gloss over it, unseeing, saying, “Been there, know
that”. Strangeness will wake us up again because, for our very survival,
we have to pay close attention to it.

I travelled to Ethiopia once for a two-week holiday trip. Two
years later I found myself actually living there, but my senses were so
open to its strangeness in that first trip that I never over-rode my first
powerful impressions: the white-robed horsemen riding scarletcaparisoned
mules on the edge of great mountain gorges, the white lilies
growing in the field under a stormy sky, the evening smoke rising
through the thatch of the village huts, the great lammergeyers riding the
thermals. First I saw with the eyes of a child and I wondered. Later, when
I was living there, I thought I knew what I was looking at, and that
stopped me seeing. This deadening process of familiarity happens in
relationships too.

It is much harder to capture the first magic of a relationship
because so much habit and emotion have got in the way, but the pebbles
in the path and the raindrop on the cabbage leaf are always waiting for
us to take the time to see them. Many of the struggles and continual
dissatisfied yearning of adult life arise partly because nothing can
permanently fill the gap left by our loss of connection with life itself. It is
very unreasonable of us to expect one human being to stand in for the whole universe. Hard as it is, it is important to stop whenever and
wherever we can and try to see through the eyes of a child.

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