12 February 2006

YUAN FEN



DON’T TELL MY MOM I SAID THIS, but someone once told me — in the strictest of confidence — that my mother “fell in love every month” until she met and married my Dad. Having waited until I was “mature enough” to get married — only to get divorced a few years later — I guess I can understand how even my Mom could have enjoyed years of fickle feelings before having her heart set ablaze by my Dad. It seems like human nature, especially in the context of relationships in the 21st century.

Of course, once Mom made a decision, that was that. There would be no looking back. Sixty years later, Mom and Dad, both in their 80s, remain true to their vows. . .and very much in love.

Many of our Moms and Dads — members of “the greatest generation” — have enjoyed similar longevity in matrimony. Today, however, with marriages lasting between 6-7 years on average, one must ask if the “Me Generation” is truly unable to keep a commitment. . .about anything.

This uneasy, chronic dissatisfaction is all around us. I was having dinner with a very successful, affluent, female medical doctor a few years ago when the conversation shifted to relationships. “What is it with men, “she rightly asked, “and why is it that you are all unwilling to get married?” She outlined her case against men very firmly, beginning with, “Men don’t want companionship, they want control,” before adding that “men won’t marry a powerful woman with a great career…especially if they make less money than a woman.”

“Is it REALLY that, Doctor,” I recall asking. “Is it that men are afraid of powerful women? Perhaps so. Or is it that we live in this ‘Me’ centered universe, devoid of loyalty and unconditional love? Could it be that we live in an age where few have the patience, the tolerance, or capacity to forgive — like children forgive their parents on a weekly basis — and that we are living our lives as if life is always greener on the other side of the mountain?”

She seemed perplexed, and we went on like that for hours. Maybe something resonated with her, as six months later she reported back that she had indeed found her man, and was engaged to be married.

Thus, is there anything more beautiful — or maddening — than love? We see it portrayed in movies, television, books and magazines all of the time, of course, but while they do justice to the word in an imaginary, Hollywood-kind-of-a-way, do we really know what the reality of love is?

I wonder.

Yeah, I have cried at the line (“You had me at ‘Hello’,” from the movie Jerry Maguire) EVERY SINGLE TIME I’ve heard it spoken. I think it touches a raw nerve of unfulfilled love within me, and allows a deep and abiding sadness to surface. Is it ONLY because of ‘Hollywood magic’ that this takes place. . .am I being manipulated by the cold orchestrated efforts of the media machine to go see the next Cameron Crowe movie? Again, perhaps.

Yet when this sadness occurs, it highlights that those feelings within me, no matter how glorified or artificial they may appear in Hollywood, do indeed exist. Is it because Renee Zellweger’s character is so willing to accept Jerry Maguire, a man full of vanity and failures and flaws, at his lowest ebb?

If we are looking for love at all, THAT is what keeps most of us believing that there is one perfect woman/man out there in the Universe. It is the unconditional, the solid-as-a-rock notion that “I will stand beside you always…even when you are broken…” that keeps us coming back for more.

The Chinese have a concept called “Yuan Fen,” for which no direct translation exists in the English language. It is a visual, contextual combination of destiny, tried-and-true effort and, well, luck. Yuan Fen, like so many things Chinese, is a karmic phrase meant to illustrate the importance of fate and diligence in our lives. For a relationship to work, one needs both “yuan,” the fateful, pre-destined meeting of a man and a woman that creates the possibility of lasting love — and the “fen,” or the action of sharing and WORKING toward fulfilling that destiny together.

It is a lovely concept, at least to me. Since yuan fen acknowledges the deeper meaning of events in our daily lives, it also highlights the need for shared energy and commitment to make “the dream come true.”

The can be no “fen” without “yuan.” Without hard work and a little luck, there can also be no yuan fen. THIS is the part of the equation which alienates those of us in Western culture. . .because let’s face it, if things get tough in relationships, most of us cut-and-run.

Our lack of commitment — our unwillingness to stand shoulder to shoulder during difficult times — is probably the simplest reflection of life in the material age, and a society built on instant gratification.

IT IS NOW NEARLY 12 YEARS since my first-and-only wife divorced. We definitely did not experience ‘yuan fen,’ but I love and admire her just the same.

Nonetheless, as another Valentine’s Day approaches, I still believe the idea that fate and destiny and hard-work are delivering my yuan fen to me as we speak. It is the “eternal optimist” in me. Some of you may think that my beliefs make me a naïve idiot. Whatever. I still believe that love will complete the circle.

My prayer is that you find your “yuan fen” as well. . .and that you will be willing to work for your blessings, like so many in “the greatest generation” did before us.

Happy Valentine’s Day. . .and peace to you all.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being brought up in a Chinese family but Western in schooling, I did not really understand Yuan Fen in my youth. I have met and dated many women, almost got married several times, but somehow, it just never worked out. Now I better understand that with those women I almost married, there was Yuan, but no Fen. I understand now that they may be something to the Yuan Fen concept. As I embark on meeting other women, I wonder with which one I will finally find Yuan Fen. In my latest previous relationship, both she and I had thought that God put us together, but we separated--it was a tumultuous relationship, and I psycho-analyzed it to great length--maybe she had Borderline Personality Disorder, what I did wrong, what she did wrong, maybe we were just incompatible, lack of commitment, etc. I really tried to understand that relationship from all angles, seeking rational explanations. But perhaps it was just simply the lack of Fen.

6:27 PM EST  
Blogger kevinmiller said...

ni hao....thank you for sharing your personal story..and best of luck in finding your yuan fen!' peace...KPM

8:16 PM EST  
Anonymous Margo Ross said...

I thought further on your idea of "Our lack of commitment — our unwillingness to stand shoulder to shoulder during difficult times — is probably the simplest reflection of life in the material age, and a society built on instant gratification." I admit to falling err to this clumsy dance myself. While I agree that instant gratification is a cause for some people, I also see at least 2 other predominant reasons for it. One, one person's definition of "instant" is another person's "forever." Defintions of time passage are subjective. Two,many people give easily due to personal worthiness issues (lack of self-esteem). This can be related to society's modern influences (TV commercial and movie stereotypes alone can do that, according to research) but it is a common thread of life experience for most anyway...to learn one's own autonomous sense of value substantiation from others' actions or reactions. Yet another reason that parent/child relations are critical to healthy development. Author, James Redfield of "The Celestine Prophesy" (first book), discusses his 4 patterns of energy exchange used to obtain connective/social energy from parents and, later, from other adults. They apply pretty accurately! The "aloof" and the "poor-me" styles both rely on a passive stance which are easily done by withdrawing at crucial moments in an exchange (aloof pulls back significantly; a poor-me pulls back completely). My thought...until EVERYONE realizes and lives in a belief system based on "we are One" then this dance for relationships (male/female or any other combination) frustratingly will continue at times. BTW: they only other consistent solution I've seen is telepathics! Is the world ready for that? Namaste, Kevin.

2:31 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anna said...

I am a Chinese born and raised in China but working in US. It is refreshing to know a westerner's point of view on Yuan Fen. Certainly your understanding is westernized. Its Chinese meaning is actually more passive, thus quite comforting sometimes. Yuan Fen is like a gust of wind, passing by without any trace, nor can one grasp it with one's hand. Therefore there is no need to hold on to it. Just let it flow as it is supposed to be.

12:19 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this information. I recently lived in China for sometime and stumbled upon a necklace in a little shop in Xikou. I immediately fell in love with the symbol not knowing what it meant. I know some mandarin but not enough to recognize this specific symbol. I wore that necklace everyday afterwards and asked my native friend what it meant. She gave me a rough translation saying it was a sort of destiny. She continued on by saying that people meet each other for a reason and we become friends with others for a purpose higher than our own. Still I was curious about this concept of yuan fen. Once I read this blog I was finally to apply it to my life on a grander scale. Like those comments before me, I have had certain "adventures" in which women were very involved. I have come to realize that I have touched those women and have been hurt (or helped) by those women for a reason and that, whether it be a good relationship or a bad one, I am glad for every single person I've ever had the pleasure to meet as it has made me who I am today. Thank you for the enlightenment.

2:55 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you considered the fact that this might work another way? I am wondering if anyone else has come across something
similar in the past? Let me know your thoughts...

6:51 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The promise that was made that we would meet again, in another life, another time, another world. Searching, in the sea of humanity, for the one individual we once knew so intimately. The instant rapport, the mutual recognition of two souls who knew they had finally found each other. That is yuanfen.

12:25 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please can anyone explain the YUANFEN
I'm trying to understand it but a need a actual explanation or the meaning please I'm meeting this beautiful Asian lady and i want her to know that i went out of my way to learn this work thank you

6:26 PM EST  
Blogger karmicblessing said...

Just stumbled upon this site. "yuan fen" is consisted of two characters, and it traces back to it's Buddhist root. Chinese use the word "yuan", indicating a karmic causal phenomenon. It applies to couples, as well as other relationships. One old saying suggests that even sharing a ferry is a "yuan" among all passengers. It is not a small need to be at the same place, at the same time, sharing the same experience. A "yuan" can be a brief encounter, or a life long experience ( or multiple lives commitment, which are often depicted in folk stories). I agree with your interpretation of "fen": it is a commitment, a responsibility, a bond that shared by two parties. Sometimes one would lament a lost love that "we had yuan, but no 'fen'"; somehow the complicated external and internal causes prevent them from being together.
Yuanfen is also commonly used to describe relationship between family members (parents and children, siblings) and friends. All relationship in this life, according to Buddhism, is the result of the deeds accumulated in previous lives. The lesson i was taught, though i was not brought up Buddhist, is to cherish the "yuan" I have received and always be mindful to maintain the "fen" when possible.

11:13 PM EST  

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