Knowing ourselves needs to be our first priority.
In Buddhism, we understand that before we can make good decisions in the world, we first must know what right and wrong decisions feel like in our bodies.
I will be transparent and admit that my last relationship was not entirely based on good decisions. There was a lot of suffering because I compromised on certain things I truly wanted out of life in order to stay together.
It is true that sometimes the amazing things we get out of a relationship are worth letting go of certain ideals for, but the wants that come straight from our gut—the ones that make us boil inside when they are not met—need to be listened to. These are our fundamental desires.
Whether we know consciously yet or not what it is we truly want, when we build a relationship with someone who is not allowing us to follow our path, we are laying a foundation with the potential for great disappointment.
I am a spiritual person, and Buddhism is one way I practice being this everyday. One of the best tips I have gotten is that we are solely responsible for our own happiness. To be happy, we must first know what happiness would look like for us.
So before we commit to a relationship, and in order for it to be a good one, we need to understand what it is we want. If we do not yet comprehend this , we will end up saying yes to that which does not serve us so well.
Making the decision to understand ourselves first does not mean that we have to love every last bit of our essence (that may take our entire life or lifetimes to achieve). It means that before we partner with another, we gain the knowledge in ourselves of how to be discerning.
If we don’t know what our heart yearns for and what makes our passions ignite, then how can we expect to know it in a partner when we meet them?
Being responsible for our own happiness means that we take charge of our own lives. It means that we develop a friendliness to our own morals and that through unconditional loving-kindness, a term called maitri in Buddhism—we make choices that lessen our suffering rather than increase it.
Choosing unconditional self-kindness is the agreement that we deserve to be happy and to live in alignment with our honest desires foremost. This may seem selfish, but it actually supports everyone and enables us to stop wasting each others time.
Not knowing what we want is the truly selfish act.
Casual dating has been a great (sometimes painful) and quick way to refine what it is that I want out of life and a partner. It has taught me what a yes feels like in my body and it has also taught me how a no does too.
We understand ourselves through self-reflection—In Buddhism we call this mindfulness.
This means we take a moment, a few deep breaths, and we step back from the situation at hand. We make the decision to gain perspective by observing rather than immediately reacting.
It is important that we take time to ask ourselves if this other person is truly what we are looking for.
When we understand we must make ourselves happy first, it feels more okay to say no to another. It is important to remember that when we are happy before we enter a committed relationship, if it ends, we will more easily return to happy again.
So before all those juicy emotions and love vibes start dashing around from person to person, let’s get clear. When we are certain of what we want, even amidst intense feelings for another, we can make good decisions—ones that support our highest self rather than deplete it.
How do we know what we want? There is a Buddhist concept called right action. It is taught that we often do not know what is right until we do it—or its opposite. Right action is not something that the mind can logically decipher, it must be something that comes from an instinctual place—one in our body.
I have learned we can use the reactions of our bodies to know if something is correct for us. In Buddhism we are trying to bring the mind and body into one.
If another person does something that makes my gut feel sick, makes my body want to pull away, my heart sink or I physically freeze, I can be certain that their actions are not in line with my own authentic vision.
Practicing maitri (loving-kindness) for ourselves would then mean that this is an experience that we would not choose to be around.
Being responsible for my own happiness means that I know what makes me feel good, so I choose to be with people who allow me to feel that way too.
The path of self-growth is learning how to live well. There is no one else that can tell us how to do this, but understanding what we want and honoring it will get us there that much quicker.
Author: Sarah Norrad
Editor: Travis May