Monday, April 14, 2008

Zen and the Art of Relationships

It’s often been said that death and taxes are the only things in life of which we can be certain; however, I’m willing to bet that relationship woes could be added to the list with little objection from anyone. I won’t pretend to solve this age-old conundrum in a blog post, but you asked, so I weigh in.

O.G. Recent Reader Query: Can you talk about the concept of [Buddhist] non-attachment as it relates to relationships? I have trouble with that.

Hmmm. Where do I begin? It’s as though you’ve asked me simultaneously to recite the alphabet, with which I feel very comfortable, and the contents of the entire periodic table in reverse alphabetical order, in Mandarin Chinese, while balancing in headstand, on a raft in the Pacific, which would require a lot of time and additional tutoring, not to mention a raft.

Let’s start with the truth- which tends to be the best place- everyone has trouble with their level of attachment in relationships. Some can’t quite surrender themselves enough to be fully committed, while others swan-dive in with abandon, and, typically, the thing that is abandoned is themselves.

We’ve all watched this happen from the outside. Your girlfriend who meets a guy at a bar and plans their inevitable honeymoon during the cab ride home (again). Or, your pal who finds fault with his female companions before they’ve had a chance to open up and be real people (you know, as opposed to the I-have-no-problems-graceful-laid-back-gals-who-don’t-snore-or-argue-with-their-families-and-always-make-brownies-on-Sundays variety, which can survive for up to the first six months of a dating). From our rational and removed posts as friends, we see it all happening as if in slow motion. We understand combing through banal emails for any sign of hidden meaning and the terror of being a real person, who snores and is ornery at times, in front of another real person, who snores and is ornery at times, and so, therefore, remains guarded and vapid, seeking other people who are guarded and vapid. We don’t fault these friends. We love them. We talk them through their obsessions; we advise but not too much; we reassure. We know the outcome of the game, but we encourage them to suit up anyway. Because we recognize that, eventually, they’ll figure it out, and the time on the field will be well spent. Every loss, a lesson. Every fumble, an opportunity to find more finesse.

Yet, when we’re the ones in love (or lust, or like), we lose it. Some heartless bastard bulldozes the lofty perch of logic afforded to us by the friend perspective. We feel ourselves becoming obsessed and deranged, ambivalent and self-absorbed, and we wonder . . . “WTF?”

So, here it is . . . my one, accessible, insightful piece of advice on this topic, as best I can figure it: Be a better friend to yourself.

The Buddhist principle of non-attachment does not mean that we keep people at arm’s length in order to avoid possible suffering. It means we objectively watch ourselves in our interactions with others. We look after ourselves just as we would a good friend. We’re clear-thinking and kind, forthright and forgiving. We enjoy relationships for what they are, in a given moment, rather than where we think they might go in the future, as a result of our previous hopes or hurts.

To put this into practice, consider how you might treat yourself if you were your own trusted confidante. Would you advise against the “drunk dialing?” To what level would you tolerate wallowing? At what point does one, gently, say, “Move on, honey?” How would you look upon yourself? Probably with much more compassion and clarity- which is exactly the idea.

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