What is love and what is attachment?
Many times, people misunderstand love. They think that holding on to someone is love. Jealousy, neediness and possession are often seen and accepted as proof of love. They think that fighting for love is love. They think that falling love is love. But these forms of love often have more to do with attachment than love.
We are love; it is our natural state. However, normally we are too distracted by the ego to experience that.
In Buddhist philosophy there are four elements − the four immeasurable thoughts:
- Loving-kindness (Pāli: mettā) − the wish that all sentient beings, without any exception, be happy.
- Compassion (Pāli: karuṇā) − the wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering.
- Empathetic joy (Pāli: mudita) − the wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of all sentient beings.
- Equanimity (Pāli: upekkhā) − learning to accept loss and gain, good-repute and ill-repute, praise and censure, sorrow and happiness − all with detachment, equally, for oneself and for others. Equanimity means not to distinguish between friend, enemy or stranger, but regard every sentient being as equal. It is a clear-minded tranquil state of mind − not being overpowered by delusions, mental dullness or agitation.
These characteristics are not unique to Buddhism and you certainly do not need to be a Buddhist to practice them.
True love is like a lighthouse that leads the way. It is a way to achieve real peace. It is our natural state. A lot of times we think that love is just for those we like and those close to us. But that is not love. Love is universal. Love is giving respect to all life. Love is constant; not only in happy times but also in those more difficult or uncomfortable moments.
True love is strength. True love is never selfish; it is giving and kind.
This is the love which we should aim for. It is beneficial for all and recognises that we all are connected, the same; all deserving of love, compassion and kindness. When we perceive the world in this way, when we strive to live out our lives in this love, then our perceptions and actions are less likely to be harmful as we work for the good of all.
What is certain is that unless we know how to take care of ourselves and our relationships then all will be in vain.
Falling in love and attachment:
As a culture we are obsessed with romantic love. So much music, television, theatre and cinema is dedicated to stories and the consequences of romantic love. Finding “the one”, your true love, has become somewhat of an obsession, especially when we are biologically most fertile (from adolescence on.)
We tend to focus on romantic love or falling in love instead of loving. We often finish fairy tales with the phrase… “and they lived happily ever after”. The focus is on the romantic aspect and not on how they lived afterwards – the most important thing. What is the difference? Falling in love is something that happens to you, whilst loving is an activity you undertake that creates more love. There is no doubt that falling in love feels wonderful. The massive release of hormones and other chemicals in your body including adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin, makes it a total body experience.
Falling in love is an evolutionary device to ensure that we procreate, which in turn ensures the survival of our species. So, falling in love or being in love is a sort of wonderful, delicious, divine sickness − rather like being drugged. We feel everything is wonderful. We become obsessed with the object of our love. We experience a sense of connection rather than separation.
This state, whilst divine, is not the best basis for finding a life partner. In modern society we interpret the stories of “Tristram and Isolde”, “Romeo and Juliet” or “Lancelot and Guinevere” as stories which promote romantic love. The message of these stories was originally a warning of the danger, even stupidity, of romantic love.
Every relationship we have teaches us something. When we have learnt the lesson contained in that relationship, then perhaps that relationship has come to its natural end as do most romantic relationships. Being stuck in an unhealthy relationship usually means that you haven’t learnt the lesson.
For love to be healthy it must include self-love. A relationship in which one or both people do not possess self-love or self-acceptance, is likely to be filled with drama as the person(s) who not feel worthy of love have to constantly put it to the test. If a relationship is working, the good bits are too good to waste time on dramas.
Love should never mean abandoning your needs simply to keep the relationship going. If we accept and take care of ourselves, then we will know if our relationship is healthy because we will have a clear idea of who we are and what our needs are. When we take care of ourselves then we are better able to share and give of ourselves in a positive more altruistic way. We are more able to accept the person as they are without trying to change them.
Remember love means being vulnerable. When we share so much with another then we expose the most tender and sensitive parts of ourselves. Those closest to us experience both the best and the worse of us.
Love should never be angry. Love should be considerate. It is never demanding or hurtful. When we love, we accept and we forgive. But a lot of times, attachment causes us to be angry. We expect people we love to act a certain way towards us. When they fail to meet this expectation, we get hurt and become resentful and angry.
So, what about loving? “To love” is a verb. This means it is an activity − something you do, not something that happens to you. A man once said to me that after so many years of being married, he was no longer in love with his wife. I asked him why he didn’t try and his response was, “It’s not in me; I just can’t”. He was waiting for the relationship to change without his participation.
Rhea, my wife and I have been married for 30 years. Our marriage has got better as the years have gone by. This is no coincidence as we both work at making our marriage successful, happy and nurturing. So, what are the things that we have learnt about loving:
A general and vitally important rule: The couple that constantly grows together stays together.
- It takes two to make it work. If you are going through a hard time in your relationship it will only be solved if both are prepared to make a commitment, stick with it and do the work. Don’t try to do the work on your own.
- Take responsibility for your feelings, emotions and behaviour. Blaming never works.
- Learn to mindfully listen. Listening means understanding the other person’s point of view before making yourself understood.
- Be right or be happy. Decide what is most important to you and act accordingly.
- After some years together a relationship can become stale as you stop really seeing each other. Instead, you see and respond to your ideas about each other. Become skilful with mindfulness so that you can constantly renew your perception and relationship.
- Remember that you can always choose your reaction. Hence the importance of mindfulness.
- Practice gratitude. Make a mental list of the wonderful characteristics of your partner for which you feel grateful. This is also a great antidote to anger.
- Be considerate and respectful; treat each other with dignity. (One of the Buddha’s few comments on marriage.)
- Empathetic happiness. Their happiness should make you happy.
- Give the other space as required.
- A relationship should present a united front; allowing in-laws to interfere will make everyone unhappy.
- Think of ways to make your partner happy – without expecting anything in return.
- Don’t try to change your partner; it will drive you both crazy.
- Be forgiving.
- Be playful. Keep a sense of humor, especially about yourself. Laugh.
These are the words of Kahlil Gibran:
Then Almitra spoke again and said, And what of Marriage, master?
And he answered saying:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of your be alone,
Even as the strings of the lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.