How to Mindfully Approach Romantic Relationships – “It’s All Just A Story We Tell Ourselves.”
In the previous installment in this series on “How To Mindfully Approach Romantic Relationships” – “Love As a Bandage” – we talked about how our concept of LOVE is developed at a very young age through positive and negative reinforcement and ultimately becomes conditional. Applied to romantic endeavors later in life, love is reduced to “emotional bartering.” It’s in learning there are rules to this “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” most relationships become breeding grounds for the emergence of fear and insecurity that are the unresolved by-product of traumatic events experienced in our early, pre-teen childhood. This underlying fear we carry, which may be entirely unacknowledged by us until triggered by something that threatens our sense of security, serves as the underpinnings of every choice we make in our relationships.
Simply put, AUTHENTIC LOVE is appreciation and has nothing to do with our physical attraction to another person or the physical exchanges we have with our lover. LOVE and SEX have nothing to do with each other, though lust is usually the impetus for any romantic pursuit and is generally at the heart of what holds most romantic relationships together. And therein lies the problem. In a culture that conflates love and sex, for most of us, our pursuit of love is driven entirely by biochemistry and compulsion – not love itself – to stave off our fear of being alone or feeling irrelevant. It’s not truly an expression of AUTHENTIC LOVE (which seeks nothing from another) but rather becomes a means of importing self-acceptance from others. As you can imagine, carrying these unexplored and misguided concepts of LOVE into our pre-teen, teen-age, and post-teen age years as young adults, the impact of these beliefs only becomes more and more pronounced as our fledgling self-image sheepishly limps into adulthood and our ego and all of its dysfunctional yearning for approval starts to emerge. This is the foundation upon which most marriages are entered into, with the promise of a lifelong commitment; is it any wonder why half of marriages end in divorce within 7 years?
For most, these paradigms are left unexamined. As a result, these uncontested beliefs we hold about love and marriage, means we enter into these contractual agreements with someone, unaware of the fact that the very commitment we demand from our lover is the anti-thesis of LOVE, and is based entirely in fear, though the celebratory guise of a wedding would dictate otherwise. Because we have been conditioned to see a life long commitment as the quintessential expression of love, most would dismiss that statement as heresy, as it’s very unpopular to expose what most people have been taught love is, for what it is . . . nothing less than self-serving. AUTHENTIC LOVE requires no such commitment, because AUTHENTIC LOVE only wants for the other what they want for themselves, whether it includes us or not. What most call LOVE is in fact an entirely selfish enterprise, designed to “fill the void” we feel within us.
As adults, our concept of LOVE becomes an extension of what we learned as a child by modeling the behavior of others. Entering adulthood, deep rooted, well-learned patterns of behavior, expectations, emotional bartering, and codependency learned through positive and negative reinforcement, have become so automatic that they are now completely unconscious and compulsory behaviors. We are driven by these compulsory impulses that have been programmed into us. These drives have created predictable and reflexive patterns of behavior within us and now govern most of our choices. But here’s the hitch. They’re entirely sub-conscious behaviors devoid of any conscious choice we’re making. Though it feels like our decisions are largely conscious decisions, I can assure you, they’re NOT.
It’s important to understand that whatever we are deprived of as a child, becomes our highest aspiration in life as adults. Deprived of money, wealth becomes our highest aspiration. Deprived of security, creating a stable living space becomes our highest aspiration. Deprived of love as a child, feeling loved as adults becomes our highest aspiration. We will endure anything, overcome any obstacle, travel any distance, just to believe we are precious in the eyes of another person.
If unconditional LOVE and acceptance is not displayed or demonstrated to us as a child, which allows us to develop a sense of emotional security, then one of the most persistent drives in us as adults is our need to be needed, validated, accepted, and to feel relevant to another person. In short, we become very codependent.
So How Did We Become So Neurotic and Needy?
For most of us, everything we know as adults is the product of a process of indoctrination into a system, designed to create a task-oriented workforce of relatively docile, passive, and obedient worker bees. This is why our indoctrination begins at such a young age, before we can apply any cognitive rationale to it. Initiated by well-intentioned parents and other adults, simply teaching us, not only the way they were taught, but what they were taught, which is, how to be “competitive” and how to become “essential,” our initiation into a system of pathological thinking begins.
Outside of parents that home school and typically question the rather orthodox, structured, and authoritarian approach to imbuing our children with knowledge, most parents generally believe they are empowering their children by sending them off to school. They are completely unaware of how much the schooling process is arresting their child’s development and their child’s attempts to develop confidence in their own sense of autonomy. School is where most children’s confidence begins to erode.
As children we’re taught how things “are,” or at least “should be,” how to “properly” do things, and how to prepare for our entry into the workplace environment. We’re given a religion, a nationality, a racial and political identification, and gender roles.
We as parents build our child’s entire mental construct of life for them instead of letting them explore LIFE for themselves, come to their own conclusions, and allow them to be whatever they want to be, think whatever they want, and express themselves however they want to. I see this imposed brainwashing every time I see parents dragging their children into churches, a particular social event, or see parents telling a little boy not to wear little girls clothes to fit into a prefabricated gender identification, and cringe at the thought of how the child’s essence is soon going to be strip from them.
Since there’s safety in numbers, children (and even adults) mistake consensus for wisdom, and tend to believe what the majority of people around them believe. Slowly, the light of their beautiful uniqueness fades and is lost as peer pressure and the urge to be accepted leads to conformity. In adopting the beliefs of the majority we no longer have the confidence to “go against the grain” of conventional thinking or “think outside of the box.” Afraid to be ostracized, children lose confidence and fear expressing themselves, their thoughts, and feelings, especially if it’s incongruent with what the majority of people around them think. They become afraid to try new things, or do things in their own unique way, feeling everything has to be done a certain pre-ordained and accepted way. As a result, they become risk adverse and lose confidence in themselves, their instincts, and their own creative potential. Seeking the path of least resistance; we conform. I cannot tell you how many individuals I have counseled in their 30s and 40s, who have shared with me that they got married in their 20s because that’s what all their friends were doing and it just seemed like the next logical step in life. Again, this is compulsory behavior and role playing that only leads to our eventual sense of entanglement with another person.
LIFE IS JUST A STORY WE TELL OURSELVES . . .
Surviving childhood and adolescence and coming out on the other side with a self-image that’s intact, and the ability to truly love and honor ourselves is a daunting endeavor to say the least and one of life’s greatest challenges. Unfortunately, most of us don’t fair too well. This is why we develop the mask of our ego to conceal our pain, fear, and insecurity from others.
As our ego begins to emerge in our teen-age years our self-image begins to erode further because of constantly comparing ourselves to others. This societal neurosis and pathological thinking is largely bolstered by marketing, which is designed to do one thing – sell products.
Living in a society driven by consumerism and endless consumption, the marketplace has but one goal . . . to make us “want” things. “Wanting” is always based in comparison, by comparing what we have with what we want and could have. It’s predicated on the idea that we lack something, therefore happiness is always going to be connected to something external.
The very nature of wanting is to “externalize” our happiness, joy, well-being, and sense of self, as defined by social media, magazine covers, and Hollywood celebrities. We compulsively shop to define our self-worth through the acquisition of material possessions. But “wanting” always creates suffering, and there is nothing we “want” more than to feel loved and accepted by others.
Being “accepted” by others means we feel “adequate.” But where this becomes detrimental to our well-being is when we tether ourselves to and develop a dependency on things external to us – like people and products – to bolster our sense of self-worth and self-acceptance. Without constant validation from others we cannot seem to hold back the self-deprecating thoughts that taunt us, the insecurities that plague us, and the incessant feelings of being inadequate.
Compounded by advertising that purposely brings attention to and magnifies our insecurities by making us believe we are lacking something, we enter adulthood with few of us believing we are likable, lovable, or “good enough.”
So, developed as a coping mechanism to protect our impressionable and vulnerable inner child, our clever ego takes shape. The more our ego develops, layers upon layers of karma (our conditioning) is accumulating in us. Slaves to a persona we’ve created to “blend in,” this persona develops as an extension of our ego. As it develops, the love and self-acceptance we once had for ourselves dwindles. We become further and further removed from the essence of who we are and knowing ourselves. We wear this mask so often that we barely recognize or remember the essence of the person hiding behind it.
El Astuto Ermitaño – Cuadernos del Yogui
Living in the world that has been reduced down to a marketplace, survival involves more than simply making money. Spiritually, emotionally, and psychological we are challenged by this rigorous journey we call “LIFE,” and navigating through it and managing to keep our head above water is challenging.
Our entire perception of the world that surrounds us is the product of what has been marketed to us, and in my previous article I mentioned that society programs the individual out of the individual, only to create “isotypes.” This is because the way we see ourselves and the world is nothing more than a product of exposure. Who we associate with, what we watch, what we listen to, and what we read, leaves impressions upon us that create the lens we see the ourselves and the world through. This is Karma!!!
With the advent of “social media,” EVERYONE, with the exception of those who have largely disconnected from it, are living in their own “virtually reality,” completely fabricated by the beliefs they hold.
Our entire perceptual experience of the world around us is nothing more than an amalgamation of beliefs and assumptions that we project onto the canvass of our mind as we try to make sense of the world, others, and our feelings about all of it. What we see in the world depends largely upon what we look for. We don’t objectively see things as “THEY” ARE; we only see them as “WE” ARE, meaning, a reality that is filtered through the lens of our beliefs, assumptions, opinions, and perspectives that are largely the product of marketing and propaganda, and observing the behaviors of others. Our perception of the world has been prescribed to us.
Even our concepts of love and relationships are the result of marketing and modeling the behaviors of others who have had their entire concept of love modeled and marketed to them. As a result, we’re all role-playing, expressing romantic love/lust in all the creative ways we’ve had it modeled for us. This is truly a case of the blind leading the blind, as we struggle to figure out why we all trip over our feet in relationships. Simply put, we’re all approaching love and relationships in the same dysfunctional way, with no real foundation to build upon.
In virtually every aspect of our lives – in society, business, and in commerce, we’re taught to get as much value from what we’re investing in, with as little cost and investment of our time, as possible in any given transaction.
Unfortunately, this mindset spills over into the way we handle relationships, especially romantic relationships. We “emotionally barter” with others, by “investing” time, money, gifts, and emotions into the person we are romantically involved with, extending ourselves to them with the hope, and honestly, the expectation, that the relationship we’re cultivating will indefinitely yield the experiences and the feelings we dream about having with another person. In other words, love isn’t a free gift, it’s completely transactional, expects reciprocity, and a return on our investment. We do this because in a very insidious way, society has primed us to import our self-worth from everything external to us. We lose ourselves to the relationship, by attaching our self-worth to another person’s approval of us, their choices, and their behavior, never realizing that we and we alone are responsible for the way we feel. No one else!!!
It bares repeating, the ONLY relationship we are ever having is the relationship we are having with ourselves, within ourselves. Every external relationship only draws to the surface the beliefs we hold about ourselves. This is important to understand.
It’s unfortunate, but whether we realize it or not, most of us tend to place people in our lives in the way that is most self-serving for us and meets our own self-interests. Real “LOVE,” has nothing to do with another person, but is instead only a reflection of the relationship we are having with ourselves. Again, LOVE SEEKS NOTHING from another, but instead is only a giving, a sharing of, the love, appreciation, gratitude, honor, and joy we have in knowing ourselves and participating in this thing called “LIFE.”
Today, loneliness is an epidemic. So many, so lonely who are looking love, but looking in all the wrong places. Looking “out” is “EGO.” Looking “within” we find the “essence” of who and what we are – complete, whole, sufficient.
Endlessly searching, the lonely join dating websites and seek out “dating coaches” and “relationship experts.” What most so called “relationship experts” are prescribing to those who seek their input, is not a roadmap to enlightenment and the true bliss of loving and honoring ourselves that accompanies such an awakening, but rather the dimly lit and perilous path that only leads the masses deeper and deeper into the darkness of our ego and our emotional ineptitude, as the blind lead the blind, promoting love as an offering that demands reciprocity.
Writings on the subject of love and relationships of course, appeal to our delicate egos and our conditioned understanding of society’s underdeveloped concept of love and relationships, but ultimately steer us further and further from even the hope of ever experiencing truly unconditional AUTHENTIC LOVE.
Though well intentioned, many, arguably most “experts,” don’t know the first thing about relationships, because they’re pushing a worn-out narrative, we’ve all known forever. “You’ll eventually find The One, and then you’ll be happy.”
They unknowingly perpetuate this outbound pursuit of happiness by taking a “formulaic approach” to relationships. “Do A, B, and C, and you’ll cultivate these feelings in your lover, which they will then reciprocate and reflect back to you.” It all about how to modify YOUR behavior to create a fairly predictable behavior in your lover.
THIS IS NOT LOVE, NOR IS IT LOVING!!!
This is calculating and is only a way of protecting the emotional investment we’ve made in another person, that we’ve now reduced down to “our drug of choice” that makes us feel oh so good about ourselves. In other words, without even thinking about it we import our sense of self-worth and well-being from others. This is why most relationships have tragic endings that upon ending cause us to return to the baseline appraisal we have of ourselves, when someone is no longer bolstering our self-image.
Living in a society that has reduced LIFE itself down to a commodity and a competitive money sport, constantly catering to our ego, this competitive spirit bleeds over into our relationships, which is why most lovers enter into relationships that demand “commitment” from one another. Why? Because, “If I’m going to emotionally invest in you, you’re required to emotionally invest yourself in me.” Again, at the level of our emotions, love becomes completely transactional and conditional.
We’ve romanticized the idea of commitment because we believe it will provide our lives with predictability, continuity, and security. People don’t commit to one another out of love, they commit to one another out of fear. If two people love one another, commitment is unnecessary, because to truly love someone is to want for them what they want for themselves whether it continues to include us or not.
The fact is, when most people say, “I love you,” they’re really saying “I love the way you make me feel,” never once realizing that no one can make us feel anything. Only we possess that ability.
When we stop getting from our lover what we want, and so desperately need, which is constant validation, our love turns to hurt and more often than not, turns to hate.
Applying even most superficial introspection to this visceral response, we find our insanity is now exposed. We never “loved” our lover, we, just as we had modeled for us, were unknowingly exploiting them to make our life work for us. Our love is and always has been a transactional, quid pro quo, exchange of emotions.
Again, this is because most relationships aren’t predicated on love but rather a culturally biased version of what we call love, which isn’t love at all – but rather codependency. It’s something based entirely on alleviating our fear of being alone by “winning the heart” of another person. Think about that for just a moment!
When we convince someone to marry us, we’ve won!!! This is why we celebrate weddings! “MY” lover, is now “MY” wife, “MY” spouse, “MY” better half, “MY” security blanket, “MY” prize. Every other suitor faltered and fell short of the goal line, but we, yes we, the fun loving, charismatic, loyal, patient, understanding, compassionate, thoughtful, romantic, and let’s not forget, “emotional-available” and just attractive enough suitor, have convinced our lover we will make them blissfully happy for a lifetime, so, it’s time to “put a ring on it.”
And this is what coaches, many of which don’t even have a healthy relationship with themselves, cater to – selling a product that capitalizes on traditional role playing in relationships.
Love and relationships have become big business. They’ve been commoditized as a product to help you find “THE ONE,” who’s out there, and is a remedy for one’s loneliness. This is why the desperately lonely masses seek out those who will dispense advice on how to find your soul mate, “make anyone love you,” find the counterpoint to your soul’s essence, and meet the fulfillment of one’s quota of yearning. In other words, they promote love as an acquisition, an external pursuit, and something that is found with another.
This is why in our culture, happiness, self-worth, self-respect, self-love, peace of mind, confidence, and joy are all concepts that tend to remain circumstantial and transient experiences at best, or worse, remain entirely foreign, elusive, and well beyond one’s ability to grasp. If you want to fall in love, begin by spending time with yourself and learning to love yourself.
The key to knowing love, experiencing self-acceptance, and having peace of mind, is knowing that the only thing that threatens our well-being is that we have allowed our thoughts and emotions to take instruction from outside rather than inside. That is very dangerous in a world where, as Sadhguru, an eastern mystic once stated, “our minds are like a garbage heap. Everyone that passes by it throws something into it.”
And so it goes . . . until we develop self-awareness and truly learn to live “mindfully present” – and stop ruminating on past memories or projecting ourselves into an imagined future – both of which are non-realities, we will forever be lost to the whims and the capricious nature of our thoughts that we weave together into an internal narrative we’re having with ourselves. These narratives we spin subsequently creates ALL of our feelings. No one else!!!
If one pays attention, they’ll observe that for most of us, our self-image isn’t based on what we think of ourselves at all. It’s based on what “we think” others think of us. It’s all merely a story WE tell ourselves, and unfortunately, the internally narrative we create is always going to be the one that is the most commensurate (validating) with the beliefs we hold about our self. Sadly, ALL WE SEE IS OUR BELIEFS!!!
If we believe we’re not likeable, lovable, or good enough, we’ll constantly look for evidence to support our beliefs.
“Most people do not see their beliefs. Instead, their beliefs tell them what to see. This is the difference between clarity and confusion.” – Matt Kahn
What I invite the reader to begin is an inward journey . . . to actually sit, become silent and meditative, and simply become an observer of the pain you’ve been ignoring.
Get comfortable. Create a gap between your thoughts and you as the “observer” of your thoughts. Picture yourself in the movie theatre of your mind where you, as the observer, sit in the audience and simply observe the thoughts that appear on the screen, while suspending all judgement. Don’t label them as “good” or “bad” but rather, just see them as an experience you’re having. They cannot hurt you unless you give energy and meaning to them. Avoid the urgency to create a story around them. Just allow the thoughts to be whatever they are realizing your thoughts are yours but they’re NOT YOU, nor do they define you.
Observe the feeling that come up inside of you but do not resist them. What we resist, persists. The very act of resisting our thoughts or telling ourselves that we shouldn’t be thinking these thoughts, or we “just need to get over it,” is resisting. By not resisting our thoughts, we process them, which dissipates the energy associated with painful thoughts, and allows the pain to evaporate away.
Thoughts happen automatically as they bubble up from the sub-conscious mind, so simply let them. Again, just observe them while suspending all judgement. What you’re peering into is all the activity that is going on beneath the level of your “conscious” mind. It’s what’s running in the background.
Pay attention to what you tell yourself as you observe these spontaneous thoughts that are being generated. Examine the beliefs you hold about yourself, listen to the internal dialogue you are having with yourself and the messages you send to yourself. This can be a very uncomfortable exercise. It involves having the courage to take an initial step into the darkness, where trapped emotions from childhood traumas, and the emotional wounds incurred in our youth, are kept hidden from the world. After all, this is the aspect of our being that no one gets to see, while we wear our “brave face” out into the world, with the hopes of appearing to be put together. But if one has the courage to step into that place, we can begin addressing and changing those beliefs and messages that no longer serve us.
In a society that only breeds “isotopes,” it’s easy to turn to self-loathing and self-hatred. You’ve spent your entire life hating and beating yourself up. How has that worked for you? What would your life look like if you could actually learn to truly love and honor yourself?
It’s very disheartening, but very few people will live having ever truly experienced truly unconditional LOVE, because ALL LOVE begins with learning to LOVE and honor ourselves. Until we do that love will remain an external pursuit and usually involves feasting on scraps from the table, because others can only validate us so much.
Those that have come to truly know love, TRUE, AUTHENTIC, “UNCONDITIONAL” LOVE for themselves and others, are those who become meditative, who have turned inward and become so silent, so still, so peaceful and contemplative, that by going within and becoming acquainted with their inner essence, they realize they ARE LOVE and they are never alone. They are everything and nothing at the same time. They feel connected to everything and attached to nothing. What they see is that love is no longer a relationship with another but only a “relating” to others. Wherever you are, with whomever you move, you are simply LOVING because LOVE SEEKS NOTHING!!!
LOVE is something we ARE, not something we find. LOVE is authentic. Relationships are role playing. LOVE is sincere. Relationships are games. LOVE is boundless. Relationships have well defined boundaries. LOVE is FREE. Relationships demand reciprocity. LOVE never destroys our or another person’s freedom. Relationships are a commitment to limiting our freedoms, and the freedoms of our lover. LOVE has no rules. Relationships are wrought with Rules of Engagement, quid pro quo, commitments, and expectations. LOVE is presence and lives only in the “NOWness” of each moment. Relationships are always future-oriented, with a destination, a mile marker, a pinnacle to arrive at. LOVE is unconditional. Relationships are conditional. Love is un-attachment. Relationship is attachment.
LOVE is a dance, not a tethering!!!
Maturity is when we have the ability to make a bond of love, not a bondage.
FREEDOM IS OUR NATURAL STATE. Whether we realize it or not, the human spirit is in endless transition and is ever changing. It seeks constant expansion and experiences that lend themselves to the evolution of the soul’s consciousness.
Careful what you wish for, for the walls of security you build with another today, become the walls of your imprisonment tomorrow.
Love and Light to you on your continued Journey of Self-Discovery.