Attachments, Connections and Love

I've been in four long-term relationships in the last 40 years since I was 20 years old. As I look back on them I can clearly see that the same patterns of attachment – expecting my partner to be the source of my happiness and, even worse, expecting myself to be the source of their happiness – have played out in every one of them. Initial bliss was followed by unhealthy merging, followed by dissatisfaction, followed by misery, followed by mutual blame and finally dissolution.

My current relationship is quite a bit different. At the beginning Estelle and I made a commitment to each other that we would pursue a fully conscious relationship.  A conscious relationship is one in which we help each other on our paths to awakening and recognize each other as autonomous beings in all respects. To achieve this we embrace a principle I call "unattached connection". The core of the principle is that the love connection we share operates at a deeper level than the personality: the personality with all its neuroses, fixations, projections, filters and programs acts as a veil to obscure the connection that we share at the level of essence.

From this perspective, attachment is a manifestation of our personality that tends to produce suffering, while connection is a manifestation of our essential being that tends to produce love.

As Estelle and I support each other in our "inner work" and our awakening, and to let us live our love, we honour two commitments: to show up and to stay in the room.

"Showing up" means being committed to staying awake together. That means I am prepared to answer reflectively and truthfully when she asks, "Is that your ego speaking?" or "Are you triggered?" - even if there is a part of me that would much rather dodge the question. It also means I am prepared to ask those questions both of myself and her, even though asking them can be as uncomfortable as answering them.

"Staying in the room" means being prepared to sort through or process the emotional triggers that arise between us, without withdrawing physically or emotionally even when the dialogue becomes difficult or painful. Of course, our mutual agreement is that we will do this in full presence to ourselves, each other and the event in question so that it doesn't degenerate into an ego-driven (or id-driven or superego-driven) exchange of attacking, blaming or defending.

As an example, one of the triggers we just processed was about my tendency to put up self-protective guards whenever I feel resentful that we aren't emotionally or spiritually merged enough for my needs. The outcome of the dialogue was that I recognized that this need to merge was part of my personality's attachment fixation, and that we were still connected despite the little tantrum my id was throwing.

It's hard work, it takes a lot of practice, and the tools required are not taught by marriage counselors. Especially near the beginning of our relationship the failures outnumbered the successes, and a lot of compassion and trust was needed to bridge the moments of fear that arose as a result.

Fortunately, every time we work through another piece of our three-cornered me/you/us puzzle the resulting sense of connection, growth, liberation and love is so transcendent that the failures pale into insignificance. In fact, they are shown for what they are: not signs that we have fallen short, but signs that we are human beings learning to love. I actually look forward to the next time my ego says, "Oh shit, here we go again!"


October 19, 2009

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