Chances are you’ve been head over heals in love. Or perhaps you’ve had an enduring relationship where the initial fire died down, but the embers glowed brightly.
Then change descends. Maybe with lightening-like speed. Or, just a gradual crumbling.
How could a sparkling love morph into indifference, discomfort, aversion, resentment, or even hatred? How could a remarkable connection so mysteriously transform into disconnection?
What is true love, anyway? When a relationship ends, must the love die too?
Like a porcupine shooting out its sharp spikes or a crab retreating into its shell, shutting down or striking out seem like uncontrollable responses to a split. A whole range of feelings are likely to occur in its wake: shock, hurt, pain, anger, rejection, indifference, and still others.
These strong emotions will emerge and reappear persistently as you process through the five stages of grief. Processing loss takes time. It’s normal for these various emotions to arise. Suppressing them would be unhealthy so it pays to learn to work with them skillfully.
One key to working with this sense of being emotionally hijacked is expanding your perspective on love.
Love or attachment?
For most of us, love is intermixed with our own needs, fears, desires and attachments. As the Dalai Lama explains:
“…in marriage, the love between husband and wife – particularly at the beginning, when each partner still may not know the other’s deeper character very well – depends more on attachment than genuine love. Our desire can be so strong that the person to whom we are attached appears to be good, when in fact he or she is very negative. In addition, we have a tendency to exaggerate small positive qualities. Thus when one partner’s attitude changes, the other partner is often disappointed and his or her attitude changes too. This is an indication that love has been motivated more by personal need than by genuine care for the other individual.”
So what is genuine love then? And how do you disconnect it from attachment?
Love is viewed differently from a spiritual perspective. For example, in Buddhism it has nothing to do with intense attraction, which is a form of desire or attachment. Attachment or desire is considered one of the Three Poisons or three principal destructive or disturbing emotions. These are emotions that disturb the mind and cause it to lose its sense of peace. Alternatively,
“The definition of love is the wish that all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.” – Patrul Rinpoche, Words of My Perfect Teacher
This isn’t an exclusively Eastern view.
St. Thomas Aquinas described love as “to will the good of another.”
The German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz believed love is “to be delighted by the happiness of another.”
This sense of good heart lies within all of us. Empathy is a fundamental human capacity. But it has to be actively cultivated to grow into genuine, unconditional love. Often, it’s obscured by our subtle ongoing love affair with our self. If we take a look at our own mind on any given day, chances are we are thinking mostly about our own self – our own needs, emotions, and priorities.
Is it possible to cultivate unconditional love in the midst of a separation? Realistically, it may be extremely challenging, especially at first. But having the aspiration and taking whatever steps you can in the direction of love, acceptance, and understanding will transform your own life and the experience of separation for the better.
It begins with changing our perspective on true love.
The end of meeting is separation
Our belief in living “happily ever after” is a false notion to begin with. Everything in life is impermanent. Our suffering actually stems from our belief in permanence and then attempting to cling onto what is actually slipping through our fingers.
“Although we are together now, we have no power to stay together forever. We are like people mingling in a dream. The end of meeting is separation.” – Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
At some point in your life, you will have to face separation from your partner. It’s the natural order of the Universe. Separation is inescapable.
This might sound harsh, but embracing impermanence actually spurs us to appreciate every precious moment. It can bring a greater sense of presence, enjoyment, curiosity, and freedom into your experience of life. And, it can be an important impetus to getting your priorities straight too.
Self-love is the first step
A separation can trigger self-blame and fuel low self-esteem. A dose of self-love may be in order before you are able to cultivate genuine love for an estranged partner. Loving yourself is not the same as being Ego-centered. It’s a healthy and positive sense of self-esteem.
I’ve explained how to cultivate self-love in my two-part series that begins with: “Are You Serious About Loving Yourself?” A separation can actually be an opportunity to kick-start a long-needed sense of self-love and appreciation. We are all equally deserving of love, including you.
A simple way to cultivate love
A simple way to cultivate love is by meditating on the thought of how wonderful it would be if each and every being could have all the happiness and comfort they wish. That includes all the basics like shelter, clothing, food, a good income, a warm sunny day, a good cup of tea as well the ultimate happiness of spiritual realization.
You can practice this by imaging an individual and making that wish for them. Start with yourself. You may need to focus on self-love for an extended period before you can move on to the other stages. Then progressively move on – over a period of time – to a benefactor (someone who has been especially kind to you), a friend, a neutral person, an enemy, and lastly all beings.
As you feel more rooted in love, you can experiment with sending love to your former partner. If it stirs you up too much, just go back to sending love to yourself or a close friend. With practice, in time you will be ready to send love even to your ex. But there’s no need or benefit in pushing yourself too fast.
Try starting with short sessions of 5 minutes and then gradually increase the amount of time you spend on the meditation. You can also make this wish and send a beam of love to anyone your encounter during the day.
The main point of these two exercises is learning that love really already exists within you. You can spark it on your own. And then fan the flame.
While it’s wonderful to receive love from others, you don’t need to be dependent on anyone else for love, nor subject to the vagaries of another person’s emotional state. You can learn to “be love”.
This type of love is based on equanimity, which means seeing everyone as equally deserving of our love. True love is unconditional.
You see, the idea of permanent friends and enemies is another artificial construct of the mind. Friends and enemies are as impermanent and as changing as the wind. Someone who is a friend today may have been an enemy in the past or may become one in the future. Likewise with an enemy. Our ordinary idea of friend and enemy is subject to change. It depends on circumstances and is highly changeable unless we subvert it with unconditional love for everyone.
Everyone wants happiness and no one wants to suffer. When you can see everyone else as just another “you” – with the same joys and sorrows – your heart softens and it is easier to see that everyone is actually deserving of your love. Negative behaviors are simply a confused way of trying to find happiness.
“True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason. Therefore, a truly compassionate attitude towards others does not change even if they behave negatively.” – Dalai Lama
Genuine love then is unconditional and free from attachment. As Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche points out:
“Genuine love is not painful. We know there is attachment mixed in when there pain in our ‘love.’”
For most of us, it’s a tall order to cultivate genuine love during a separation or when we perceive someone’s behavior as harmful to us even in small ways. Usually, we reserve our love for those we deem “close” to us. But if we can set our heart in the direction of true love, it will help us to navigate the inevitable changes that will occur in our relationships with more grace and ease.
Understandably, it’s very difficult to fully eradicate attachment. But, we can start by becoming aware of the attachments we have and loosening them up a bit. It doesn’t necessarily mean dropping your connections or becoming irresponsible. It’s a shift in perspective. As we diminish attachment, we will find more happiness and joy in its place.
What are your thoughts about love and attachment?
Author: Sandra Pawula
Sandra Pawula is a freelance editor, writer, and inner explorer. She shares simple wisdom for a happy life at Always Well Within.