It’s an odd place, this land of in-between-relationships.
I know that being in a relationship is also in-between-singledom, but it’s never felt that way to me. Maybe society has succeeded in hammering the importance of a significant other into me, or maybe it’s something more primal.
It’s not an arid place. It’s rich with people, books, salsa, cats, writing, drawing, birdsong, girly chats, therapy, earl grey tea, studying and a bit more salsa. I could live here quite happily forever. Really, I could.
It also feels safe in some ways. I can understand why people would settle down into bachelorhood. As I edge towards possible relationships with possible others, my feelings seem to increase in proportion to how much I allow myself to open to the idea of being with another.
I wasn’t sure what to do with these feelings at first, but I go back to buddhist thinking, as I often do, which is to swim in them, to neither pull away nor cling. To taste them. Ah – this is a powerful feeling of powerlessness. How interesting. Ah, here is some more insecurity. And some excitement. And some love.
Accept them all. Invite them all in. These roiling, destabilising seas have much to teach us.
We bump up against the fact of change and impermanence as soon as we acknowledge our feelings or needs for others. Basically, we all tend to go in one of two directions as a strategy for coping with that vulnerability. We either go in the direction of control or of autonomy. If we go for control, we may be saying: “If only I can get the other person or my friends or family to treat me the way I want, then I’ll be able to feel safe and secure. If only I had a guarantee that they’ll give me what I need, then I wouldn’t have to face uncertainty.” With this strategy, we get invested in the control and manipulation of others and in trying to use people as antidotes to our own anxiety.
With the strategy (or curative fantasy) of autonomy, we go in the opposite direction and try to imagine that we don’t need anyone. But that strategy inevitably entails repression or dissociation, a denial of feeling. We may imagine that through spiritual practice we will get to a place where we won’t feel need, sexuality, anger, or dependency. Then, we imagine, we won’t be so tied into the vicissitudes of relationships. We try to squelch our feelings in order not to be vulnerable anymore, and we rationalize that dissociation under the lofty and spiritual-sounding word “detachment,” which ends up carrying a great deal of unacknowledged emotional baggage alongside its original, simpler meaning as the acceptance of impermanence.
We have to get to know and be honest about our particular strategies for dealing with vulnerability, and learn to use our practice to allow ourselves to experience more of that vulnerability rather than less of it. To open yourself up to need, longing, dependency, and reliance on others means opening yourself to the truth that none of us can do this on our own.
We really do need each other, just as we need parents and teachers. We need all those people in our lives who make us feel so uncertain. Our practice is not about finally getting to a place where we are going to escape all that but about creating a container that allows us to be more and more human, to feel more and more.
- Barry Magid, “No Gain,” Tricycle Summer 2008
Click here to read the complete article and thank you to Daily Dharma for all the stuff I nick from your emails. Probably bad karma. Follow on Twitter and I’ll feel a bit less guilty.
Off to a salsa party in Henley tonight. Yay. My friend has bought special sparkly salsa shoes with cuban heels. I am VERY jealous.