Fresh Living

Cake_slice_-_original.jpgI sat with a friend last night in the park (a friend who happens to be a guy I dated a gazilion years ago), and we talked about whether relationships of the romantic variety are or should be seen as necessary parts of a happy life or mere “icing” of an evolved, complete self.

He sort of argued for the latter, saying he knows his essential self is not incomplete in any way and that by growing into his wholeness and coming from that perspective (instead of neediness), he will be a better partner some day. I don’t really disagree, but in reaction to decades of immersion in self-help books and new agey talk and yogic philosophy (not to mention half-baked, commitment-phobic yoga guys who used a version of this logic as an excuse to be lousy boyfriends), I wonder if that connection is in fact essential to happiness–baking soda, if you will–to make me a really great, happy, tasty cake. And if that’s ultimately ok.

There are so many dangers in that line of thinking, though–once we start relying on someone else for our happiness, what happens when/if they walk away? And is it really love if we need someone to behave and relate to us and treat us a certain way? Shouldn’t we just love them as a complete being we don’t need to change, just as we want to be loved? (A seemingly impossible feat if we are using their presence and attention as a first-aid kit to heal or band-aid our psychic/heart/soul wounds.)

In the Celestine Prophecy (not usually where I get my love advice, but there’s actually some good stuff in there, albeit in need of editing), James Redfield says we must be complete “O”s, plugging to God for our spiritual sustenance. And that when we’re “C”s and using someone else’s energy and admiration to feel complete we will suck each other dry, never be satisfied, and kill the relationship with our blind, bottomless need. The idea being–God is a much better bet for fulfilling fathoms-long yearning for love.

But alas, God-love and self-reliance and self-love and self-fulfillment have a really hard time competing with sweet kisses and beach walks and the words of a beautiful person gazing into your eyes while saying “I love you, sugah-lips.”

I have an article in the August issue of Yoga Journal just hitting newsstands about using the principles of love to improve your relationship. Writing the 3000-words or so piece was majorly hard with all of these conflicts swirling in me. Because the original yogis were largely celibate guys who skipped over much of this struggle (at least in their writings) in exchange for a Sarah Palin-esque “just say no” message. Or the message of “bramacharya”–which literally means “moderation” but is often applied as “celibate.” But modern yogis in the West are usually married or dating, and people my age were raised on the sweet, bitter love illusion presented in John Hughes and Cameron Crowe movies–you can hook up with the hot guy with the Porsche! Or the bad boy with the earring! Or the adorable guy with the boom box! And your whole life will become perfect or better or elevated to a spiritual level of giddy bliss just from the steady attentive gaze you finally got out of him. (The underlying message being–if there’s not a knight standing outside your window blaring Peter Gabriel your life is seriously lacking.)

So which is it? Self-sufficient detachment or enmeshed, co-dependent entanglement? Probably both are maya, or illusion. One couple I spoke to for my article, Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer, coined the term “the yoga of relationship.” The two teachers and authors (most recently of The Passionate Mind Revisited)  have been married for many decades, and this is pretty much what they think and talk about 24/7. They fight intensely the notion that relationships are icing. They would, I think, argue that honest, open, conscious intimate connection is one of the most important things we do as a species. It’s not a “bonus” of anything. We just need to learn how to balance some things–our own sense of self and boundaries with respect for the other person and the connection. Joel is particularly against faux spiritualizing of relationships–especially the notion that “unconditional love” is realistic or appropriate. In one interview he said, “With selflessness, people are always eager to tell you how to be more selfless…usually to their benefit, of course.” Adding: “Healthy relationships must value emotional openness as well as protecting boundaries when needed,” Kramer said. “Unless handled awarely, relationships usually break down around issues of control and power. It is necessary for us as a species to create viable ways of dealing with control and self-centeredness in order to connect more deeply.”

Connect more deeply. I love that his value is not “become more self-sufficient.” But “connect more deeply”–something that may ultimately be the most scary thing because we must confront our own “neediness” and neuroses and yearning, plus navigate someone else’s. No “transcending” there. Definitely not the stuff of icing, but rather baked-in ingredients of a shared life.


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