“Excuse me, would any of you fine ladies care to dance?”
Before Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment at age 35 he was a
confused twenty and thirty-something looking to learn how to live a
spiritual life. He had an overbearing dad, expectations for what he was
supposed to do
with his life, drinks were flowing, lutes were playing, and the
women were all about him. Some called him L.L. Cool S. I imagine
close friends just referred to him as Sid.
Many people look to Siddhartha as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. But here we look at a younger Sid
as a confused guy struggling with his daily life. What would he do as a
young person trying to find love, cheap drinks, and fun in a city like
New York? We all make mistakes on our spiritual journey; here is where
Each week I’ll take on a new question and
give some advice based on what I think Sid, a confused guy working on
his spiritual life in a world of major distraction, would do. Because
let’s face it, you and I are Sid.
Have a question for this weekly column? E-mail it here and I’ll probably get to it!
—————————————————————————————————————————————Q: Q: I have been dating this girl for about six months and everything was great. Then
we had a big argument about her going out to clubs with her friends,
which is about three days a week, and I broke up with her. I told her
that going out so much gave me flash backs about my ex that had went
out and cheated on me and that she made me feel insecure.
On a deeper
level I feel like there is something wrong with me because I always
seem to find a reason to break up with my girlfriends. My question
to you is there anything that I can do to make my self a better person
in a relationship because all I get is more confused with each one. – Lost in Translation
This sounds somewhat familiar to me. In fact, I bet this sounds somewhat familiar to anyone who has ever felt insecure in a relationship. Which, at last count, seems to be just about everyone who has ever been in a relationship.
Let me paint a picture: your girlfriend steps out for the night with some friends. You try to reach her but keep getting her voicemail. Sure, logic dictates that she’s probably at some underground club or left her phone in her bag but something in you starts to stir. You begin to get a bit anxious: Where is she? What is she doing? Why is she ignoring me? Maybe you’re more the jealous type: Are guys hitting on her? Is she letting them buy her drinks? What if she gets really drunk and one of them tries to kiss her? Or maybe you’re more arrogant than that: Who is she to ignore me? What, she thinks she can cheat on me? ME?
Before you know it you’ve forgotten everything you wanted to do that night and are writing some slanderous text to her all about how she treats you so badly. You’re so angry and caught up in this situation that you can’t do anything but lie in bed. You’re paralyzed by your emotions to the extent that even if you wanted to you couldn’t count to schfifty five. Does this sort of emotional flare up sound familiar to anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
Many Tibetan Buddhist teachers have noted that as a culture we in the West don’t
have a lot of faith in our innate wisdom and goodness. We tend to
loathe ourselves and not trust in simple things like the fact that we
deserve to be loved and respected. We doubt ourselves and, in my opinion, we doubt our own self-worth.
As a result when we find
our relationship in iffy territory we spin out of control instead of
reminding ourselves to come back to the knowledge that we are worth being loved. We forget that maybe the storyline we’ve created is not directly related
to reality. That storyline is not often rooted in our basic sanity. It’s rooted in our own confusion. And it might just be someone’s cell phone battery dying.
The thing is, there was a point where you didn’t have to spin out and be at whim to your imagination. There’s this nifty tool that Sid was working with called meditation. Through great discipline he would notice these thoughts of “I wonder what my wifey is doing right now” come up, he would acknowledge what that stirred in him, and come back to the present moment.
This isn’t easy. Sid only got to Carnegie Hall (ie became a buddha) through practice, practice, practice. It’s easy to get hooked in our emotional traps of doubt. The key point here is that when we feel this anxiety, jealousy, and so on come up we don’t have to buy into the storyline. We can acknowledge that it brings up some doubt or fear for us and come back to our breath or whatever we happen to be doing. In other words, don’t jump to conclusions, jump into your present experience.
The more we confront our fears and insecurities the more we learn how we get hooked and the easier it gets to see through them. Relationships are such good practice for learning about ourselves. The other person simultaneously acts as a mirror, reflecting our neurosis back at us, and as a loofah, rubbing against us in so many ways that we naturally have to confront our habitual patterns and watch them wear down.
In other words, I hope you find a way to work it out with your lady. If she is good to you then trust will build over time even while you’re being confronted with these opportunities to explore and not get hooked by your emotions.
I can’t imagine Sid saying that you need to become a “better person.” You’re innately a terrific person. You just keep getting hooked by strong emotions. In my experience, and in Sid’s experience, getting to know how we get hooked is invaluable to our spiritual path. I think Sid would just wish you luck and say “I’ll see you at Carnegie Hall.”