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Letting Go in Relationships: A Buddhist’s View of Attachment.

How a senior Buddhist leader helped me to understand the value of non-attachment and letting go in relationships.

It was around 10 years ago when, overwhelmed by a love lost and found, I sought guidance from a senior Buddhist leader.

I needed clarity as boundaries between an ex and me were unclear and rendering me senseless.

Several painful and agonizing months had passed since our original split, and my confidence had finally re-established itself. My self-respect had returned and, with it, spontaneity and joy of life.

See also: Why Non-Attachment is the Key to Healthy Relationships

It was at this point that I bumped into Debbie who had split up with the guy that had followed in my tracks. We began meeting up and spending time together and the monkey madness had started to play tricks with me.

My 1st Lesson from a Buddhist Teacher in Non-Attachment

The guidance I received was simple and direct. Not wanting to crush my ego but wishing to put me straight, the Buddhist leader said, “try not to take this personally but it’s not you she’s attracted to, it’s not you she wants to spend time with: it’s your Buddha nature. You should chant for her happiness, whatever the outcome.”

I could accept Buddhahood being an appealing character feature, but to chant whatever the outcome? Hmmm…this didn’t come so easy. What was I going to get out of it?

See also: Not-Attached to Non Attachment; Suffering is Bliss.

I actioned his advice and chanted several hours for her happiness, at first begrudgingly, as initially it was I who had been rejected. Anyhow, as I progressed, this begrudging nature simply became an act that was irksome; I could do it as long as I didn’t have to feel it. However, after a few days something changed: her happiness had become something very important to me. Suddenly she became more important, but that didn’t matter.

The truth of this came on my birthday, which fell at the end of the week. Unannounced, Debbie rang my doorbell saying she had a surprise for me. Her declaration of having fallen in love with another Captain Amazing simply filled me with joy this time round. I can honestly say I had no care for my own agenda and that I was truly glad she had found such happiness. If to love someone you have to set them free, then this must be that moment, I thought. She later split up with Captain Amazing, who in turn became a very good friend, but that’s another story.

The Only Constant is Change: Accepting this Makes the Ups and Downs Easier

Attachment is a very human condition. Meaningful relationships become so because they are intricately interwoven.

However, another Buddhist precept is the concept of change. It is the one thing, and perhaps only thing, we can truly rely on. When change arises, we are either able to adapt to it or we decay with it. When we only have ourselves to reconcile with in life, this is less of a challenge. In a relationship, it is 10 times harder to deal with change as identities have become linked with another. As hard as this is to accommodate, it is working through these changes that develops us as human beings.

Don’t Expect Perfect Love

Unless you’re lost in fairytales, the path of true love can never be easy, but I do believe it can be exhilarating, progressive and worthwhile.

My current partner and I have split up for short periods on several occasions as a result of change or growth.

However, from my previous experience, I’ve learned the beauty that comes from letting go. It takes from the one hand but gives so much with the other. To truly want an ex-lover’s happiness must surely be one of the most altruistic acts. To give or give away is to get. When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got everything to gain, but when you’ve given what you believe to be your everything, then the universe gives you something that cannot be taken away, and that remains with you.

A friend of mine once said you could never go back. I refute this now. If you’ve grown from and during the process of departure, and re-discover time and again an eternal flame, then nothing is lost: you’ve just unlocked a door to some hidden treasure. That, in itself, is something worth keeping.

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Assistant Editor: Tifany Lee/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo:  Steve Davies

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Shaun Feb 26, 2016 5:12pm

I love this read. Its helped shift my way of thinking. After losing my wife 3 years ago I was afraid to love again. I met someone special and became attached in a selfish way. I’m realizing I was fearful from yesterday and tomorrow and not enjoying today. I realized i was expecting to pick up where i left off and that is very unrealistic. Its not love at all. I can now say that I wish her all the happiness in the world whatever journey she chooses to venture. Loving freely takes away all the fear of losing. Thanks for the article.

Pete Rothera Dec 14, 2015 4:59am

The “letting go and freeing” someone you love, I am aware is part of buddhist philosophy.

I cannot agree with this always.

Because times were tough (I have to care for a schizophrenic son and a senile mother) my partner left me so she could have more freedom and to be able to travel.

So now I find myself alone in a very difficult situation and often unable to cope.

My partner says that if I love her then I should let her be free.

I say that if she loves me then she will help me through a difficult situation.

I am losing confidence in Buddhism, I think now that it just makes excuses for difficult situations and it is only self-centered people with no responsibilities towards others that can follow it’s philosophy. As far as I can see it is no better than any other religion.

Disillusioned Pete

Natasha Oct 29, 2015 2:22pm

Wow! This article resonates with me. So sensible, loving and giving. This read is a graceful way to let go and to be at peace. 🙂

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Steve Davies

Steve Davies is a photographer and blogger. He has a passion for interpreting life and development through pictures and words. As a practicing Buddhist, he strives to seek unity through diversity and is an advocate for keeping things real. Find more about him at his website.