relationships

What Buddha Taught Us About Relationships

I was reading an interesting article today, with the heading "8 January branded divorce day, with a surge of married couples seeking to split". According to the article, the three main killers of any relationship are financial pressure, family tensions and cheating.

I think we can learn a lot from Buddha when it comes to our relationships and with 42% of marriages ending in divorce, perhaps it's time for us to look at them in a different way. 

I remember something that Lama Yeshe once shared with us at a Buddhist teaching I attended a couple of years ago. When asked about how to be happy, he said "I don't understand you people. When someone tells you they no longer want you, your whole world falls apart. Why?" And that in itself was surprising coming from an old man in yellow robes, but the next bit made us all laugh "if they no longer want you, open the door and show them the way out. Then go find a new one, a better one and if you can't, go on holiday!" 

It really is that simple, except in reality it's not that easy. After all, we are complex creatures with so many emotions, that ending any relationship can be one of the most difficult times in our lives.

Buddha taught us that suffering is nearly always self-inflicted. We cause our own suffering because we won't let things go. We try to make others like or love us when clearly they are not capable or even right for us. We cling to a story of how we want things to be even if they no longer work. 

These three Buddhist teachings have helped me understand whenever I struggle within my relationships, I often remind myself of their importance.

Non-Attachment

In my limited understanding, non-attachment means to be open and flowing in your relationships. To be in the moment, to not have so many expectations and to not have a pre-planned outcome. As soon as we start to build a story around where we want our relationship to go, we lose the point, we are no longer just being we are now striving to get somewhere. and this will often lead to disappointment.

And in order to have a non-attached relationship, you must not rest your entire happiness on it.  You have to keep your own identity and continue to create your life the way you want it to be. Of course, there are compromises to make when being with someone else but be careful to what extent you allow this to develop. People lose themselves in their relationships, then when they end they fall apart and I speak from experience.

Inner peace begins the moment you choose to not allow another person or event to control your emotions - Pema Chodron

Impermanence

We are like children building a sand castle. We embellish it with beautiful shells, bits of driftwood, and pieces of colored glass. The castle is ours, off limits to others. We’re willing to attack if others threaten to hurt it. Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.
— Pema Chodron

A fundamental Buddhist teaching is the understanding that nothing stays the same, that things are always changing. Buddha taught us that our constant resistance to change is what causes us to suffer. And this applies to events as much as it does to people in our lives, we change, they change and so it is fruitless trying to stop that from happening.  

As a parent, we see the changing relationship between us and our children. They are totally dependent on us, then they start to become independent. As teenagers, they begin to push every boundary to exert their own personality. Then they grow into mature adults, we can become friends if we have that kind of bond and eventually they may even become our carers.

This is the constant evolution of our relationships, we change, they change and we have to be able to let that change happen.

 

Compassion

Compassion is the most life-shifting teaching that Buddha shared. When we come from a compassionate angle, we stop being so harsh on ourselves and those around us. When we see in others things we do not like we learn to let it got. We can work on ourselves but it's not our job to change others, they have their own path to follow. 

And self-compassion is where we begin to fully understand and accept ourselves as we are. We do this with a kind and soft approach, just like we do with a child. We see ourselves as we are, we accept it and then we can change if we need to. 

Searching for happiness through others will cause our relationships to break because we can only ever be happy when we are happy with ourselves. We become resentful when others can not fulfil our needs, even though we have done nothing to help ourselves attain our full potential. 

In the practice of Mindfulness we try to see what is going on inside, to see our habitual patterns and try to take some control over reactions to these thoughts. We come to accept that just like we are imperfect, so is everyone else. 

We begin to accept the perfection of our imperfections.

How to make this Christmas more meaningful

This quote from the Dalai Lama is especially appropriate for this time of the year. Christmas, whether you are religious or not is meant to be a time for family and friends. It's supposed to be the one time of the year that we get to just be with those we love and care about. Yet statistics show that many of us find the festive season a struggle. I certainly feel stressed trying to think of something original to buy my family and friends.

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THE PARADOX OF OUR AGE

We have bigger houses, but smaller families; more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge but less judgements; more experts, but more problems; more medicines, but less healthiness.

We've been all the way to the moon and back but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbour.

We build more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever but less communication.

We have become long on quantity, but short on quality.

These are times of fast foods but slow digestion;

Tall man but short character;

Steep profits but shallow relationships.

It is a time when there is much in the window but nothing in the room

Remember what it used to be like

I know it's not very mindful to focus on the past but in this instance, it could be helpful to remember what Christmas used to be like. Remembering what it was like before we allowed technology take over. Before the constant distraction of our mobile phones and repeated beeping of social media notifications. 

What would happen if we just spent a few hours or a whole day with our mobile phones on silent? What if we stopped looking down at the screen and looked up at our loved ones? What would we notice if we actually paid attention?

Mindfulness is a love affair with life. You see the beauty in everybody and in everything - Jon Kabat-Zinn

Staying in the Moment

We spend so much time in preparation for the "big day" that we are future focusing, missing the moments in between. We are stressed about the Christmas meal, the presents, the plans for the day and then when the day comes we are too exhausted to enjoy it. 

If the traditions and rituals of Christmas do not mean anything to you, there is still the opportunity to make this time of the year meaningful. This is still an opportunity to really just let go of the craziness of everyday life and take time out to be, to stop doing and just be present.

Remembering to enjoy the little things like wrapping up presents, putting up decorations or maybe just having the time to reflect on life.

Managing Our Expectations

I guess the biggest challenge is how to manage our expectations. We build up a picture of how we want our Christmas to be and what we would love to give or receive from our loved one's, often this very anticipation creates a sense of "let down" or disappointment. And after so much planning, how do we cope with the come down after it's all over?

We have to learn how to manage the emotions that arise after Christmas. It's no coincidence that depression, divorce and stress spike in January. 

If you don't get what you want for Christmas, if you couldn't buy your children the biggest and best present possible, if the food wasn't as fantastic as you dreamed it would be, if your partner buys you a present that you don't like, can you let it go or will you carry it forward? 

Can we just accept a gift without judgement? Can we give a gift without expectation? 

Mindfulness Tips for the festive season:

  • Pay attention to your thoughts and catch them before you react
  • Every morning sit for a few moments and ask yourself this questions "What is the meaning of Christmas to me?" - see what comes up and how you feel. This will help you to remember what is important to you rather than getting lost in all the busyness and craziness.
  • Notice what triggers your negative feelings and thoughts. When you begin to notice, you can do something about it before you get lost in them.
  • Remember to be grateful for the things and people in your life. Gratitude is a powerful attitude.
  • Plan family and friend activities, things you can do together. And maybe dare to go technology free for a while.
  • And make sure you get fresh air, get out even if it's just for a while. A little freshair can make all the difference.
Don't sweat the small stuff - it's all small stuff! - Richard Carlson

Remember that having time to be with our family and friends is enough. We don't get meaning from things, so perhaps this year have the courage to do it a little differently. 

 

What is the true meaning of love?

If we really understood the true meaning of love, it would save us from a lot of needless suffering. Perhaps if we knew what real love is we would stop chasing after it? Love can’t be found, it’s always present, always inside us, there is no need to look for it, there is no lacking of love.

Of course, this may not be how we grew up thinking about love. We have these fantastical notions about love and this one special person that will give us the love we need. If we think about it then maybe we will finally see that love is a feeling, an emotion, it is not static.

Love should not cause us pain, it should not be hard work and it should not keep us trapped. Love is supposed to be quite the opposite, yet look around you and see how we all suffer from love. What causes our pain is not love itself, it’s forcing love and clinging to it like if we let go, we will lose something that belongs to us.

What true love isn’t

When I think of love I bring to mind my children and grandchildren because the love I have for them is unconditional. Over time I’ve learned that for me to be the mother my children need, I must give them the space to grow and be who they need to be. I cannot stop them evolving, experimenting, making mistakes and even doing what I think is wrong. It is not my life to live. Just because I gave them life does not mean it’s my life or that they belong to me.

That doesn’t mean as a parent we can't give advice, offer our experience and more importantly model the behaviour we would like our children to take on. But ultimately, they are free to live as they wish, we have no real control. So we must be there to offer love unconditionally, giving our children complete freedom to live their lives. Not to live for us, to please us or to fill the voids we should be filling ourselves. 

Romantic or Intimate Love?

This love thing becomes a bit sticky when it’s between two people who share a “romantic” love or an “intimate” love. Actually, the two are not the same in any way. One can have intimate love without the need for a romantic relationship. This is something that many of us become totally confused about. Intimacy in our society is constantly portrayed in a negative way, in a dirty way, leading to so much confusion. Dare we even mention the word “sex” without sniggers, blushing, turning away and total misunderstanding?

These lyrics from Alicia Keys song War really highlights just how messed up we are:

If war is holy and sex is obscene
We've got it twisted in this lucid dream
Baptized in boundaries, schooled in sin
Divided by difference, sexuality and skin

Such poignant words. We easily send our armies to kill but dare not speak the truth about “love”

"Immature people falling in love destroy each other’s freedom, create a bondage, make a prison" 

Osho was a highly influential spiritual teacher who had many followers and was published by over 200 publishers worldwide, in over 60 languages. His teachings have had a huge impact in the West. He believed that traditional belief systems, religious traditions, and socialisation have caused us to suppress our awareness, our ability to truly love and our creativity, courage and humour.

He spoke in detail about real love, his teachings challenging us to review our perception of love and relationships, not to say they are both exclusively related.  

Love can exist outside of a relationship and relationships exist with an absence of real love

In one teaching, Osho talks about “immature people falling in love, destroying each other’s freedom” He goes on to say that mature people in love help each other to be free, they help each other to destroy all sorts of bondages. And when mature people are in love, their love flows with freedom. He goes on to say that

when love flows with dependence there is ugliness.

A mature person does not fall in love, he or she rises in love. Only immature people fall; they stumble and fall down in love. They do not have a back bone, the spine; they don’t have the integrity to stand alone.

 A mature person has the integrity to stand alone.

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And when a mature person gives love, he or she gives without any strings attached to it. When two mature persons are in love, one of the great paradoxes of life happens, one of the most beautiful phenomena: they are together and yet tremendously alone. They are together so much that they are almost one. Two mature persons in love help each other to become more free. There is no politics involved, no diplomacy, no effort to dominate. Only freedom and love.

Mature Love in the West

Inspite of all our education, wealth and supposed progress, we have forgotten how to truly love, in favour of ownership and selfishness. We want our needs fulfilled, we need to fit into society and so must be just like the rest. We must have our “special” relationship otherwise we are misfits. We fear all the negativity that comes with being solo, the being seen as lonely or perhaps not even good enough to have a full-time partner. One that we can show to our friends, "look at me I'm good enough to catch a man (or woman)!" 

Do people that choose to live a solo life make others feel uncomfortable? What if people understood that some of us choose freedom, total freedom to do as we wish, when we wish without having to ask for permission? That it is not lonely to stand alone, or to give without any strings attached.

People go about their lives with a desire for freedom, yet their actions go completely against creating this freedom in their lives. They work hard at a job, chase after people to bring meaning into their life whilst becoming more and more trapped. And believe me I speak from experience, not from judgment. 

What would happen if we could stop clinging, learn to let go and open up to the unfolding of our lives? For me, this is mindful living, a total trust in life unfolding whilst living in the moment.