Love & Detachment: Relationship Lessons from Buddhism.
Love is intimacy. Intimacy in a relationship is attachment. Attachment is suffering according to Buddhism. Is it possible to be deeply in love yet truly detached?
"I love him/her so much, it hurts."
"You've changed! How could you?"
"I have stopped getting attached to people. The more I do, the more I get hurt."
Sounds familiar? You must have heard these being host to a wailing friend crying about his/her relationship or must have yourself expressed these in frustration to your patient & caring confidant. Well, I've been there too, with a host of other wailings, aggrandized over a beer and smoke, my friends will know! So what's the solution to this problem with attachment? I wished there was one magical answer that would solve it and help me view these shortcomings in a better light? I only found my answers later in Buddhism. The tenets of Buddhism talk about letting go of attachments. Attachment is suffering. So it's ideal to be detached to avoid suffering.
But what's an intimate relationship without attachment? It’s loneliness & lack of intimacy. How can these opposing line of thoughts be harmonized? In today's article, I'll be writing about this Buddhist philosophy, challenging some preconceived notions on love that I grew into, how detachment can lead to healthier relationships and some other lessons on love that Buddhism talks about.
Disclaimer: If you're coming to this article, to find answers to love, intimacy, tips, love gyan, how to win her/him back, you're at the wrong place son. I have myself not found out my answers yet. Why not read my other article on AdWars: Quarantine Edition instead! This one is purely philosophical and may get into serious soul talk after a point.
My journey with Buddhist Teachings.
It's not engraved in stone that you need to be a Buddhist to understand and try some of its ideas. Buddhism is a religion and like every other religion, it's a set of ideologies. I've been personally acceptable to these beliefs during the past one year. Which takes me back to my CAT preparation days. I had this bust of Buddha in my room, in deep consciousness. He was calm and enlightened. I was juggling an 8 am-8 pm job and CAT preparation alongside. To make matters worse, mentally I was dealing with heavy feelings that a past relationship had left. All in all, a perfect recipe for anxiety to throw my CAT prep in the gutters.
To me, the meditating Buddha was the inspiration for enlightenment and detachment - to be detached from the material short-lived happiness of after-office get-togethers, weekend boozing and frequent travel vacations. Daily meditation kept my anxiety at bay and kept me focused on the long term goal and happiness of the coveted CAT score. My introduction to Buddhist Meditation fueled my curiosity to learn more about it and see if it could help me in dealing with the relationship aspect of it. That's when I was stuck at the idea of attachment and love.
According to popular neuroscience, the major task of our brain isn't thinking or decision making. What the brain is primarily responsible is for balancing the body fluids, hormones and energy inside our body. So to stand up and grab that drink, your brain will balance your blood pressure so that you don't faint when you get up. It constantly predicts and analyzes what's going on and balances those energies accordingly. Like when your body is low on salt, you'll crave salty foods!
Now it happens that your brain becomes overworked from time to time handling all these energies and when it does, your fuse blows off. You need to rest that rat running a race. When two people are in love and they are living together, it so much happens that they influence this function of each other brains. Their energies are in sync. You take care of your partner, do things for them to uplift their mood (by say bringing home a tub of ice cream or a reassuring hug after a long day at work) and that is fine too as our brains require a little bit of external help from time to time. Well, who doesn't mind a helping hand? It’s companionship that counts.
When my folks reflected on their love on their 25th Anniversary this April, their reply astounded me. My dad said,
"Son, until the first 25 years of marriage, love has fueled our drive. As we are getting older now (both have crossed 50 now), it's moreover the companionship that will steer our ship to a happy and long marital life."
Like any other 20 something, my idea of love was inspired by the movies and novels. To me love was being with that one person all the time, it was those constant staying in touch-calls/whatsapp/snaps/instagram posts, completing each other sentences and being sad when they're sad. I thought this girl had all my answers and I was so deeply engrossed in that one person that she became the centrepiece of my life. Everything else didn’t matter. Her choices became mine, her taste in music/food became mine and her opinion/ideas became mine. Sounds deeply romantic but when the times got tough it was a deluge of toxic emotions. Since she was the center of my life, as she went down, so did I and the relationship tagged along to the graves. The problem here as I reflected was attachment.
Attachment is not love.
Now, you’ll say that attachment is intimacy, that’s what love is right? If you’re are NOT attached to your partner, how can you say that you love them? That isn’t love altogether. You are least interested in them. You must be happy being single then!
Well, the younger me would agree with you too! My ideology of love was also the same. But when I read about the Buddhist principles of detachment and pondered deep on it in one of my meditation session, I realised that attachment is not love.
I had misunderstood attachment for love. Attachment leads to insecurities which lead to suffering. I’ll explain it through an example,
Imagine two co-joined twins, attached to each other by the head. They will do all their chores together- eating together, sleeping together, watching the movies together, studying together, going to the loo together and at the same time also being responsible for the other twin because their existence depended on them! Fancy, right? Is this attachment healthy? Won’t they be suffocated? Even if they do fight, where can they go?
It is very important to be detached from your partner to be in a healthy relationship.
If we’re attached to our partner, we don’t allow them to grow individually. They might feel suffocated now or later on. Give them the time and space they need to grow. And only when you both grow strong individually can you sail the relation(SHIP) through the toughest winds. When you’re attached to your partner, their mood swings will affect yours. Remember saying,
“Your happiness is my happiness. If you’re sad, then I’m sad.”
Worse off if you have a demanding partner and they exclaim, “ I’m going through so much pain. Don’t you feel it too? Why aren’t you sad? You don’t even love me! ”
That’s toxic! Their negativity would affect your mental well being too. Remember about the partners balancing each other energies that I talked of at the beginning of this article? Now you might be so much instigated by love, that you keep on filling their cup to only end up being empty yourself.
Now you will remark that detachment means being selfish for yourself and not caring for your other half and let them mend their wounds while you stay away.
That’s isolation, not detachment.
Don’t confuse the two.
I hope you see each other as two different individuals with two separate identities, likes, dislikes, habits, opinions, ways of expression & love, and choosing to love each other every other fleeting minute. It’s always an unconscious choice. You slip into each other as easy as breathing. If you take a relationship as building a home, you’re building three homes. The first home you build for yourself – your career, your own body, hobbies and that little space you can curl up into when tired and likewise the second home your partner will build for themselves. The third home you build is both of yours - the relationship which you’ll call home. The one where you’ll cook breakfast together, blast Spotify together all day in the shower, dining hall, where you’ll dance, sob altogether and cuddle under the sheets in the night. It’s important to give yourself the time & space to build all these three houses. If you both are building just one house (say any of the two (yours or his/hers) with a major contribution from the other half), then it’s selfishness. If your house gets withered due to the rain & thunder, they can help you to mend yours and you can reciprocate the same for theirs. Even if the middle relationship house collapses (as so many relationships break these days ) atleast you have your own house to keep you home & you don’t run around creating homes in people’s houses.
Only when you’re completely detached, can you unconditionally love your partner. Only then can you be so strong yourself to say that
“I love you so I want you to be happy” instead of “I love you so make me happy”
There’s strength in detachment to say,
“Even if you don’t love me back, it doesn’t affect me personally or my well being. I’ll still be here and choose to love you unconditionally for who you are.”
Serious stuff, eh? Well, you may have your reservations too, please put them all in the comments section at the end of this article so that we may address them together.
Some other relationship lessons from Buddhism.
Continuing on this journey forward, the tenets of Buddhism also teach about change, of being in the present and the idea of the self.
We must have heard/said this line all too often,
“You’ve changed. How could you?”
Pinches to hear it, right? Did to me too. We fail to understand that change is the only constant. As taught in Buddhism, when you see a tulip in your garden, you see it as it is at that very moment – sanguine, bright and beautiful. When you come back each day to observe the tulip, you don’t see the same tulip again. You see it transform from a bud to a flower and as it wilts. In the same manner, we as humans change too! What remains constant is our core values just like the tulip remains a tulip and doesn’t change into a rose. We change according to the circumstances and storms we go through as a part of life and that is natural. What is not right is to not accept these changes, to keep on provoking and blaming ourselves for it.
“How could I change?”
Of being in the Present.
More often than not, we are so much dug up in the past that we cannot get out of it. I’m guilty of it myself too! How can we help ourselves out of the nights when we’re thinking of the all the good old days in the past and the tragedies of a younger youth? I found my answer by practising the art of Mindful Meditation. It’s the skill of being in the present and being mindful of the things happening right here, right now. So rather than brooding over the fights of the past and the scars that they left, be mindful of the present. Invest time in understanding yourself and your partner of the present, rather than wishing for the older version of them. It’s a beautiful realisation to know how with age and time, your partner grows and how their moods, tastes, likes, dislikes and outlook towards life changes and appreciating them for that.
The idea of self.
Well, who hasn’t gone on & on describing their partner in hackneyed metaphors, poems and cliched dialogues from our favourite romcoms likewise. Very romantic, very passionate & sappy in my opinion! I do it all the time. Hopeless romantic, you see. Too much of sugar gives you diabetes right?
Turns out that we so much idolize and reify our partner that we stop seeing them for who they are in the present. We become blinded by the idea of them that we have created in our mind that we ignore who they are in the present. We do not see the starting signs of breaking when they leave because we have so much elevated them to standards as high as our egos and what we are left saying is
“Yaar meri wali alag hai”
What’s needed is not to reify your partner but to see them as they are right now. You put them to so high standards that sometimes they are themselves not able to meet them. Who goes about whining then? You. The answer again is to see them as they are. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s not about shooting to the moon, it’s about going into the depths of love, understanding the other person and loving them for that.
Much time & investment? Yes.
Will it work? It did for me!
Can you do it? If you try.
Do come back and let me know if these teachings helped even in the slightest regard.
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Much Love. Au Revoir.