At 35 years old, I found myself in a deeply loving relationship, and I realized I had no idea how the hell to be there.
I had no idea what I was doing.
I knew I wanted to be in the relationship and that I was madly in love with this man. But I also knew every previous relationship in my life until that moment had been a miserable catastrophic failure—usually my fault. I was a notorious quitter. A runner. A “my way or the highway” type partner.
Because I felt that I didn’t need anyone anyway, if they didn’t act as I saw fit, I peaced out. Or, I peaced them out. I ghosted. I moved across the country. I ended the relationship in my mind and then treated the other person in it as though they were invisible until they got the point and left me.
You get the gist, right? I’m not proud of the way I conducted myself for much of my adult life, but I’m not mad at myself for it anymore either. It’s what I was capable of at the time; it’s what I knew. Now, I know better so I can do better.
I found myself in this partnership some time after I got sober from alcohol and drugs. I had intensely been studying and practicing Vinyasa and Kriya Yoga, meditation, and the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism. I was hungry for insight into the mind (mine) which had been sabotaging me throughout my life. The mind which created stories, beliefs, walls and fears all in order to keep me separated from truly connecting with other people. I was tired of being alone and disconnected.
So I studied, read and practiced. Thich Nhât Hańh, or Thay as we lovingly call him, reached me through a friend, via his book, Living Buddha, Living Christ. His books came into my life 15 years ago, as I stumbled blindly back into society from yet another rehab in my early 20s. I recall his teachings coming up at various points back then, in books and from friends. But I wasn’t ready to hear them. I hadn’t suffered enough to be ready to hear the wisdom or take responsibility for my life.
Two years ago his books came to me again. Only now I was ready for the wisdom. I was frantic for the knowledge of one who knows peace in a world torn apart by ugliness. I was frantic for freedom from my monkey-mind. I devoured his books and started incorporating his practice into my life. Mindfulness, compassion, love, acceptance and loving-kindness. Soon I found myself in a peaceful, content and joyfully loving existence with myself and those around me. I was amazed. There I was, someone who spent 34 years of her life in a self-created prison of judgement, hate, sarcasm, bitterness and loathing for all things human, now living this peaceful and loving existence with the world.
I found out it was because what I see in the world is but a reflection of what I see in myself. I had reached a place of self-love, so I found a world of love outside as well.
So there I was in this relationship and all of a sudden, months into it, I found myself being tested. I realized I was regressing into past behavior patterns of expectations and judgements, instead of love and compassion. My partner and I have a mindful, loving, mature and open-communication relationship. We are committed to one another and to our growth—individually and as a couple. We both believe when couples stop growing together it sets them up for failure. They grow apart. We both want someone who challenges us to be the best version of ourselves on any given day.
These are the words of Thich Nhât Hańh which help govern my behaviors in my partnership:
“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”
It seems self-explanatory, but I recall for much of life, I had no idea what real love was. I only knew immature, demanding and selfish love which revolved around my demands and needs. This is not freedom.
“Every moment, every glance, every thought and every word can be infused with love.”
It’s often our dearest ones who get the brunt of our negative emotions and moods if we are not mindful. This reminds me even when I have to voice something that is an issue, I can do it with love.
“Real love begins where nothing is expected in return.”
When we love with expectation, this is selfish and immature; it’s as if we expect payment for our love. We can begin to delve into this when we check our motive for doing things for our dear ones, asking, “What do I expect in return for this? Why am I doing it?” If there is expectation, it is not coming from a place of divine love. This takes deep self-honesty.
“When you love someone the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love someone if you are not there?”
I was raised in a household where my Dad worked hard and was often absent. This was his way of demonstrating love. I didn’t know this as a child, and it affected me for years until I reworked my beliefs and started forgiving. He didn’t know how to be present; he knew how to provide. I currently know how to be present and I understand the importance, so there is no excuse for being absent to those I love.
“At any moment you have a choice, that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it.”
This includes my actions! Everything is impermanent, it is always changing; nothing stays still, especially us. So, the choice is mine—do I want my treatment of another human being, the one I love most, to take me closer to or further away from my best version of me? For me it’s a simple answer. I already lived an ugly, hateful existence and I choose to grow towards love.
This is not to say everyday is perfect and that I am a saint or akin to a Buddhist monk all the time. I have days where I am a Zen ninja of love and compassion, and then there are days where my best has me reverting to immature arms folded, silent treatment fueled glares because my feelings are hurt, as well as everything in between. The thing is now, I see when I am doing this. I see when my behavior is childish and inappropriate, and because of the open and mindful commitment we have to one another, we work through it in very short amounts of time.
It’s amazing what happens when we remember our loved ones are not our enemy, even when our feelings get hurt. It’s amazing when we learn to stop letting the ego dominate us and we no longer need to be right about everything.
And the most amazing? Experiencing true love and vulnerability with another person.
I would love to hear your comments on how you practice communication and mindful love in your relationships!
Author: Lindsay Carricarte
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Beth Solano/Unsplash