Mindfulness Causes Lovelessness
Mindfulness has today become sacrosanct. This newfound dogma of mindfulness has become an axiomatic self-evident truth. It is neither self-evident nor an absolute truth. When it comes to falling in love, mindfulness is the problem, not the solution. Mindfulness is antithetical to love.
Sigmund Freud had a patient who after years of psychoanalysis handed Sigmund a sheath of papers delineating the pros and cons of marrying a certain woman. Sigmund tore the papers and threw it to the ground saying: “There are two decisions in life that no conscious reason should determine the choice because that decision will invariably not end well. Choice of spouse and choice of career. In both, if you consciously know why, it will never be satisfying. In both, if it does not satisfy your subconscious needs, it never will be satisfying. Marriage must be the mutual satisfaction of each other’s subconscious needs.”
The Jewish parallel is in Pirkei Avot 5:6. 5. 1[i]… “All love that depends on a something, [when the] thing ceases, [the] love ceases; and [all love] that does not depend on anything, will never cease.”
Mindfulness causing lovelessness is such a radical counter-intuitive notion that in order to prove it, we have to trace what happens in the brain and body when people fall in love.
NEURO-ENDOCHRONOLOGY OF LOVE
Biologically there are differences between falling in love and being in love. This is what happens when you fall in love. Certain neurotransmitters increase and some drop. For both men and women, your cortisol level, the stress hormone, increases causing you to feel nervous, and dopamine goes up which makes you feel excited – while afraid. For a woman, oxytocin level increases causing her to feel more trusting while her testosterone goes up causing her to be more aggressive and amorous. For a man, instead of oxytocin, his vasopressin goes up so that his heart goes out to her. When he commits, his testosterone drops causing him to be more passive and tempers his desires to prevent the relationship from degenerating into a fleeting romance. And in both, serotonin level drops causing both to be obsessed with each other. These neurotransmitters and hormones turn off certain areas of the brain. This is what makes you blind to faults and deliriously stupid. So, love is mixed and contradictory emotions: a combination of stress, fear, excitement, heart throb for the man and blind trust in the woman, obsession, and mutual attraction. And stupidity.
When you fall in love PARTS OF YOUR BRAIN ARE DEACTIVATED
Falling in love causes large portions of thinking parts of the brain, including the frontal, parietal and middle temporal cortexes, to be deactivated. Vast sections of the thinking part of your brain stop functioning and you are love-struck (or rather dumbstruck). Not only that, but the parts of your brain needed for critical judgment are also gone. When you started dating, your ventromedial prefrontal cortex (your Judge) and your amygdala were highly active. They were busy evaluating the potential and sounding the alarm if necessary. But once you fall in love, you lose all objectivity. You can no longer see any of your beloved’s faults. When you’re looking at each other, you see nothing but a magnificent being. The phrase ‘love is blind’ is a valid notion because we tend to idealize and see only things that we want to see in early stages of the relationship. You can no longer distinguish your dreams and desires from your beloved’s. It’s as if you both want the same exact things from life. When your Judge is off-line, you feel less like separate people and more connected. It’s as if you and your beloved become one. You both feel this reflected in each other. You also feel amazing, relieved of the burden of negativity because some of these deactivated areas—the cortical zone, along with the parietal cortex and parts of the temporal lobe—are commonly involved in negative emotions. You see the world differently. Those old negative voices that told you you’re not good enough are quieted.
THIS MINDLESS INSANITY HELPS YOU GET CLOSE
All these factors—the loss of critical judgment, the silencing of your alarm system, high cortisol keeping you close, oxytocin causing you to want to cuddle, OCD-like obsession from the loss of serotonin and the addictive endorphins—come together in a perfectly orchestrated aim: to decrease your resistance to love. For a brief moment, it can almost feel as if you’re infinite. That feeling of boundless harmony happens when this amazing synergy makes you feel as if you have become one.
WHEN THE HONEYMOON IS OVER
Where early love showed deactivation of the amygdala and the Judge, long-term love not only showed reactivation, it showed significant activation. This means that when these two structures come back online, they may start trying to make up for lost time. You go from being peaceful and quietly nonjudgmental to being super analytical and critical. In addition, those huge chunks of your neocortex that were deactivated when you fell in love are back. That is the parts of your brain that separated your dreams and goals from your beloved. This area is now alive and active. This means that all those dreams you were sure you two shared as you were sitting up all night talking about the future begin to show some separation. Slowly, you both might realize that you really are two separate people. The soul-mate image of two people sharing one heart begins to wither.
THE RETURN: GATEWAY TO A HIGHER LOVE
When your Judge starts making negative verdicts about you or your beloved, it can trigger your amygdala. This increasing anxiety can cause you to start having doubts. Slowly, your conviction and trust, which were so strong not that long ago, begin to erode. Now that you have full functioning of your brain back, you have two choices. You can end the relationship or you can move into real love. If you choose to move into real love, the neural activity will begin to shift. When you fell in love, the majority of your brain activity was in your reward center, the part of your brain concerned with what feels good. This type of system is more selfish, focusing on the more immediate and the individual versus the bigger, longer-term picture.
If you choose to continue, everything changes. The orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in decision making is activated. Here love now turns from a crazy emotion that hijacked your brain to a choice that you get to make. When you choose love, it is a different kind of love, similar to other giving types of love, such as parental and unconditional love. These types of love give without expectation of reciprocation. Real love becomes less concerned with me and more concerned with we. This makes real love a more empathetic and compassionate type of love. It’s not a crazy, obsessed feeling, but now it’s a grand decision that you make. When you choose love, you move past your selfish desires, you tap into a higher love, a love that shares neural connections with morals, empathy, and unconditional love. Instead of flying high in an incomparably pleasurable euphoria, you learn to give and enjoy giving.
PLAGUED BY LOVELESSNESS
Lovelessness is now mainstream, the norm rather than the exception.
The rational mind may be logically correct in positing that giving more than you are getting is inequitable, unfair and self-defeating, and in plain English makes you a sucker or in Hebrew a פרייר. The rational mind may even be justified in resenting the recipient of your gifts, labeling them as controlling, inappropriate and even abusive. The rational mind, quoting adaptation theory, focuses on self-preservation, always looking out for Number One. It is irrational to make the other Number One. Raised in a competitive society where a person’s worth is measured by accomplishment, where self-actualization is idealized, and where any compromise of autonomy only makes sense within the bounds of social contract theory, the rational mind cannot wrap its mind around Chesed, giving without any expectation of personal benefit. Altruism is reduced to selfishness, that I give today in order to get when I may be in need tomorrow.
The gentile mindset that no longer calls it marriage, but partnership has degraded a loving relationship to a functional, profitable entity to jointly accomplish common goals, a business arrangement as easily dissolved as formed. While study after study consistently finds that the only thing that correlates with happiness is marriage, America has secretly waged war on marriage. Mainstream American mores and unrecognized axiomatic beliefs render many incapable of love. In addition, because of a culturally induced fear of intimacy, fear of commitment, or fear of losing highly valued independence, many are terrified of vulnerability or of sacrificing their independence. Marriages, at best, are marriages of convenience: Parallel lives never the twain to meet. You certainly can, and many do, marry because it makes sense. You can choose a perfectly logical marriage of convenience but this falls far short of the mark. The gentile model of love and marriage, promulgated by the secular media from epic romance novels to love story movies and theater, does not work for gentiles. Why would you think it works for Jews? Nothing worse than a loveless marriage. Better off dead.
WHAT’S A JEW TO DO?
Why does he want to get married? The Bavli, a Tosefta, Medrash Rabbah and Medrash Tanchumah all give the same answer: “Just as our faces are all different, so are their ideas (i.e. ways of thinking) never the same.”[i] Everyone has a different reason for getting married. The time and place for mindfullness is from the time you get a shidduch suggestion and begin dating. There are numerous cognitive distortions and biases to overcome to narrow down the possibilities to one that is a fit. But this selection process does not buy you love. Stuck in endless incessant judgmental interrogation to be vigilant for red flags, you never connect. Overly dismissive so that you never even meet for the first time, one little detail may prevent you from meeting your bashert, even once. Coming to a date with hyper-critical negativism rather than with an open mind, dooms a possible relationship.
You can’t force it but you do have to be open to it. To let it happen, don’t just use your head, use your heart. Have fun. Playfully connect. Make a best friend and then build from there to true love. Focus on the relationship. When you are open to it, love will find you. Welcome the terrifying vulnerability, the mindless insanity. As the Yerushalmi[ii] says “Man cannot live without woman and woman cannot live without man…” Jews don’t marry who they love but passionately love who they marry. When you’re in a loving relationship, you’re happier and healthier. Not only is this a love that can last a lifetime, it also makes your life last longer and is the true key to happiness.
Fall madly and deliriously in love and give it your all so it lasts a lifetime. It’s as good as it gets.
[ii] see Sanhedrin 38a; Berachos 58a; Tosefta to Berachos 58a, Bamidbar Rabbah 21:2 and Medrash Tanchumah, Pinchas #10.
[iii] Berachos 62b “אי אפשר לאיש בלא אשה ואי אפשר לאשה בלא איש אי אפשר לשניהן בלא שכינה”.