Saturday, August 18, 2012

How to be in love. Really, truly in love.

In love without attachment. How can I be really truly in love without being attached? 

Full of peace, no drama, no crisis, just being.
Ive been wandering around this question for years, reluctant to let go of the idea of “being in love” for the more noble goal of developing Bodhicitta. I felt often at war with these concepts, unwilling to let go of my desire to be in a loving relationship, to feel and to be loved, while developing compassion for all sentient beings.

I don’t think that these things are mutually exclusive. I think that you can love and be loved, while being free from attachment to the person you love and to the concept of love itself. 

And once you are there, the act of loving and being loved is pure, free from wanting and taking. I think in order to get there, you have to examine closely what it means to be loved, to give love. What love is and why it is necessary. 

One of the major tenants of Buddhist Philosophy is that we become free from attachment. Attachment to things, people, emotions. If we are trying to achieve emptiness (which is a desirable state, a place of equanimity, not a place of abandonment as many western minds would initially think), we must look at what causes feelings of attachment.

Our ego is the source of pride, of wounds, of attachment, of bliss, of elation. Identifying our ego not as the thing that defines us, (our ego is not our personality) but as the thing that emotionally reacts according to our programing. We were programed emotionally to respond by those who raised us, by society in general around us. So our programming, our automatic responses are not thoughtful and mindful, but are just that, reactions.

Our ego is a bottomless pit that desires to be attached, to be fed. We feel temporary sensations of elation and bliss when our ego is appeased. Often the price of appeasing your ego, or indulging it is equally painful as the bliss was wonderful. Being led by your ego into decisions you make on how you relate to others, decisions in business, decisions in general is being led blindly. It is decision making in life through base, un filtered emotion. It is also how most of us make most of our decisions, without even realizing it. 

We check with our internal desires: “Do I really want this?” might be a question we ask. “Is this healthy for me?” might be another. But what is the filter through which you receive your answer from yourself? Years of conditioning, fueled by want, probably. Even for those of us that have learned to find our internal compass, it becomes important to know what tuned or informed that compass.

A gift given freely. I feel love in my heart for you and so here is a kiss. Its yours, something to recieve.
The compass will get clearer as you begin to identify areas where your ego is asking you to respond one way, and you listen to it without first creating space between yourself and your emotional response to a situation. 

So first, in order to practice identifying ego, and removing it from decision making; practice observing your emotional reactions with curiosity. Observation and curiosity are two powerful tools that create space between you and your emotions, and your action following those emotions.

This is not to suggest that having emotions is wrong or bad. I think our minds easily go to a place where we might think, this is me being asked not to feel, or to deny my feelings. Not at all. To feel is to be human. To experience emotion is to live the human experience. 

The question is can you be a more evolved human? Can you experience your emotions with some detachment to their directive? Without being owned by them? Do you have choice in an emotional place. Can you feel pain and sorrow and observe it as it goes through your body, noting its depth, and its quality, without wishing you were not experiencing it? Can you let the emotion that you are experiencing be your teacher? Can you be grateful for the lesson without cultivating anger towards the person who you would like to blame for making you feel this way? Can you own your part in whatever mad you feel this way? Can you allow grace and compassion for yourself while you observe yourself going through the process of grief, knowing that it is perfect and necessary. 

Obviously we learn how to handle our emotions to some extent through social norms. Lets say we are walking down the street, and there is a person who is eating an ice cream. Our internal desire lights up. Ice cream tastes good, we may experience desire to taste that ice cream. We know better than to walk up to that person and just lick their ice cream cone. 

We know that that ice cream belongs to them, and even though we have the desire to taste it, we decide not to follow through. If we observe our emotional reaction with curiosity, we may have the added benefit of being able to take that sensation of desire and turn it over in our mind. This is the quality of desire, this is what it feels like, this is how my mouth reacts to the idea of ice cream, this is how attached I am to the concept of needing to fulfill my desire. 

Ultimately it may be a more rewarding experience to meditate on your emotional reaction without being an unwilling victim of it. You can choose to go buy your own ice cream, and experience the sensation of eating it mindfully, or you can continue walking.

Here is where the question of love and attachment comes in. 

Blissful emotions are easy to become attached to. Experiencing them is amazing. We all desire bliss. They say that the state of enlightenment is blissful, entering a Nhirvannic state is the ultimate. (Bodhisaatvas continually deny this pleasure, refusing to attain their final state of Buddahood and enlightenment until all sentient beings are free from suffering. They “flee Nirvanna like it is a burning iron house”).
Am I holding on to you, or are you holding on to me? Or are we touching each other to transmit loving kindness, freely? A gift passing back and forth between us, each time giving with no expectation for reciprocation, each time received with gratitude.

But attachment is attachment. How do we experience bliss while not being attached to it? The same way we experience anger without being attached to it. Emotion is like the water in the stream. You wade out into it, and watch it swirl around you. You experience, in much more depth, the quality of each emotion when you are able to dispassionately and with curiosity observe its characteristics and qualities.

Attachment means thinking that you need this emotion in order to feel fulfilled. Experiencing your emotion fully means making space between you and that feeling, so you may observe with curiosity each aspect of the human experience, whether blissful or sorrowful, but ultimately without having your equanimity disturbed by either one of these emotions. 

Like a willow tree in the wind, imagine your capacity for feeling to be as expansive as the universe, imagine each branch capable of moving with the wind, whether its a gentle, warm breeze, or a cold gale force wind. 

Your ability to stand in the midst of all of these kinds of emotions, to see them, feel them, examine them, experience them without having them dictate your behavior allows you to have a greater depth of human experience. 

Now imagine that you are in love. There is one person in your life that you have formed a loving bond with. This is a good thing, and it doesn’t have to mean that you are “attached”. Think of attached meaning your sense of self or self worth being dependent upon unregulated input by someone else. In other words “they act loving towards me, therefore I feel my worth” that is a direct attachment. 

“I feel love from this person and experience its gift, I look at and examine the feelings of love not dispassionately but from a perspective of curiosity.” This allows you to actually experience the person, the feeling, to cultivate gratitude, to practice loving kindness, to remove your ego, to really experience love without contamination. 

If we are looking at an overall goal being that of achieving emptiness, ending suffering, that of yourself, and that of others, the road map would look like this, the end point being on top. (So read the list from the bottom)

Finally, Emptiness, void of attachment and suffering of any kind. Bodhicitta.
Resultant Equanimity, at peace with the fluctuations of our emotions, not owned by them, able to see clearly and have choice in the midst of bliss or chaos.
Compassion and loving kindness for all sentient beings
Cultivating Loving Kindness and Compassion for our enemies
Further exploration of and detachment from our Ego
Cultivation of Compassion for those we have no connection to 
Cultivation of Compassion for those we care for, like family or friends
Cultivation of loving kindness to those you care for
Cultivation of Loving Kindness to yourself
Each branch catches the wind, feeling its power, whether gentle or fierce. At its center, the tree experiences all of this, but in the end, is not defined by it. 

Loving kindness leads to compassion. When practicing loving kindness, we learn gratitude, we learn to give from a peaceful place. The process of learning not to be attached begins with attachment. 

Skipping to the end, trying “not to care” or “be attached” to others without first practicing cultivating loving kindness and compassion simply leads to a denial of emotion and an in-emotive state. You become conditioned to “not feeling”, rather than feeling all of it, but having a beautiful space of objectivity through which you can observe your emotions and reaction. 

Who do you feel attached to? Your friends, your family, your lover? Practicing gratitude for those people cultivates compassion for them. Practicing loving kindness towards them helps you learn to grow the capacity of your heart. 

In the next step, when you practice expanding your loving kindness to those you feel ambivalent about, you deepen your ability to not be attached while feeling love, or compassion. 

This is a good place to recognize your ego. If you can cultivate compassion for those you have no attachment to or affection for, you may find yourself wanting praise or accolades or recognition for these acts. 

This is a beautiful opportunity for a lesson. See the egoic piece that needs recognition, and then ask yourself if you can give your love as a gift, needing nothing in return. Because you are also compassionate to yourself, and have cultivated loving kindness to yourself, when it is time to give to someone who is not your friend or family, give willingly and without need for return. Give from your overflowing cup. 

If your cup is not overflowing yet, practice loving kindness and compassion toward your own self first. 

This is not selfish behavior, this is you practicing understanding what love and compassion are before you try to give them to someone else. If ultimately, your love is grounded in need, when you do give it to someone, you give it conditionally, with strings attached. 

“I will love you if you act this way.”

Practicing being enough for you makes you whole and healthy enough to give your love without toxic attachment, and at the same time, allows you to receive the gift of someone else's’ love without needing to take it from them. 

So how do we deal with wants and needs in a relationship? Giving your love without stating your needs can feel like laying down and letting someone walk all over you.
Its integrity intact, the tree bows to the force applied, acceptance. Over time, the tree will stand as the weight is lifted. 

However, laying down and letting someone walk all over you shows that you do not have compassion or loving kindness for yourself. It is not a compassionate choice to be in a relationship with someone who is not practicing gratitude for the love the are receiving. And at the same time, we do not give our love conditionally.

Here is where it can get tricky, and I think a good step to remember is that in order for you to give your love to someone else, whether it is a stranger or your committed partner, you need first to shine that light on yourself. Fill your vessel to overflowing, and from that place, give. 

If you practice making the compassionate choice for yourself, when your relationship boundaries are bumped, you can say clearly, that was the boundary of how I like to be treated. If you want to be with me, I need for you to respect that boundary. As we cultivate gratitude for the person we are with, and compassion for them, it becomes second nature to see our partners boundaries, and honor them well, without feeling like doing so takes from us. 

If we are practicing cultivating loving kindness towards first ourselves and then to those we love, and then to those we are ambivalent towards, and then towards those who cause us harm or feel like our enemies, we become powerful in our equanimity. We can stand in the center of bliss and loving kindness with those we care for just as easily as we can stand in the anger and ferocity of our enemies. 

Being able to stand and bend and see with objectivity both the positive and the negative allows us insight into the situation, enabling us to cultivate a strong middle path. 

This does not mean not to feel or love dive into the hearts of those we love. By all means, dive in. Love with ferocity. But allowing yourself to be owned by that love, attached to that sensation, dependent on it like food, as opposed to cultivating it and then having gratitude that in this moment, that emotion is present, you miss the point.

When you chase the bliss of love and attachment, you let the essence of its depth slip through your fingers. Compassion for the person you love means and includes loving them not in spite of, but inclusive of their faults as you see them. It means standing next to them with equanimity when they struggle. It means loving them the same whether they are on top of the world or being beaten up by it. When you are attached, or mistaking attachment for love, your partners ability to give love to you may define your experience of the relationship. 

If your partner loves to go hunting, lets say. And you are a vegetarian. You have nothing in common with this part of who they are. But it makes them happy and fulfilled. It is a healthy pass time, they get into nature with their buddies and get all muddy and bloody and come home feeling like they have accomplished something. They experienced time in the woods with their friends, cultivating gratitude and increasing loving kindness towards their friends. Lets say its not a trip you’d want to go on, or even better, not a trip you were invited along on.

Living in love without attachment means that when an opportunity for your partner arrises to do something that is meaningful to them, a wonderful way to cultivate loving kindness for them (which leads to compassion, which leads to equanimity), is to find a place in your heart where you WOULD be ego attached. 

This is the place that says, “Why doesn't he want to stay home with me? Why am I not invited? Why does he need these guy friends? Why is the trip a month long? Why do I have to stay home with the kids?” 

And hearing those little hurts and milking them, that’s your ego. That’s attachment.

Hearing those little hurts and recognizing them as your teacher, and then looking for a place to be able to say with truth, “I recognize that this is something that makes him happy. If I love him, I want him to be happy. Part of my job as a person who is in a loving relationship is to help my partner experience his world with love and joy. Therefore I am so excited for how happy he will be when he goes on this trip!”

Look for the emotion that he will get to experience. Let his potential to go without guilt, to feel freedom and support and compassion from you also fill you. Find the gift of yes, truly unattached to the outcome, not expecting tit for tat (If you go on this trip I get to go on this other one). Live your love free from worry or want or fear, let them go with your blessing. When you are willing to make that choice, and really practice it, you are living a depth of love that is that much more fulfilling for both of you.

Now this, of course, is about you experiencing love and commitment to a partner while practicing not having attachment. It is difficult if one person is practicing this way, and the other person is not, and therefore just takes.
Wrapped in each other, neither one owning the other, giving freely, experiencing the gift of human emotion without being defined by it.

You must evaluate whether you are making a compassionate choice to yourself to be with a person who is very ego attached and can not practice compassion towards you. If you stay in this situation, eventually, you will be depleted. 

However, practicing compassion for the fact that this is a path that takes people lifetimes to walk down, cultivating patience and grace for their practice is also important. This is a long journey, you yourself will need plenty of grace along the way. 


Jongira said...

What a beautiful and complex post! The awareness of ego (love as need) vs. selfless (love as gift) caught my attention, for I'm involved in that quandry (from both sides) myself just now, and your thoughtful meditation on these complexities (and contradiction) was (is, will be) truly edif... say awakening. Thanks (as ever) for sharing your spiritual journey. Cheers!

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