Video still:Erin Silversmith
How to find love
Relating honestly and consistently to another person is an advanced form of yoga – it’s called being an adult. In many ways it’s far more challenging than practicing alone.
Some people are truly content with a life as a single person. Many of us, however, are driven to find someone to spend our lives with, even if past experiences with romance have proven painful, disappointing, or downright disastrous! One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is how to find a spouse or life partner.
You know my three favorite words: it’s always you. In order to find a relationship, the most important thing to figure out is why you aren’t in one already. If you think that’s because what you want doesn’t exist, think again.
3 Reasons you haven’t met “the one”
First, it’s far more likely that you don’t know what you want than it is that it doesn’t exist. Second, it’s way more likely that you don’t think you deserve what you want, than it is that it doesn’t exist. And third, it’s far more likely that you don’t know how to get what you want than that it doesn’t exist. Once you’ve exhausted all three of these areas of investment and development, I might concede you have a solitary fate. Maybe.
As we’ve explored what we want in the Four Word practice, finding love and sustaining it is a process of deciding what you want and choosing it repeatedly over other options. In yoga this is called dharana. Instead of getting tight trying to concentrate, you just let go of everything that isn’t what you’ve already chosen. As other things occur, you don’t call them something they’re not. You don’t suppress, or ignore, or tangle up with them. Things are what they are, and many things in essence, are not what you are after or about. Therefore, you don’t give your energy to these other things.
Love: how to find the real thing
Relating consistently to another person is like an advanced version of the Four Word practice. In the same way that Four Word practice may quickly demonstrate to you how little or how much clarity you have about what you want, people you choose to be with will sooner or later push every button imaginable as you come to grips with commitment. The funny thing is, it’s not commitment to our partners that trips us up, it’s commitment to ourselves.
“The Michelangelo phenomenon describes the means by which the self is shaped by a close partner’s perceptions and behavior,” writes Johns Hopkins professor Steve Drigotas. He describes the Michelangelo Phenomenon as a kind of sculpting. “When a close romantic partner views you and behaves toward you in a manner that is congruent with your ideal self, you experience movement toward your ideal self.”
You should notice that Dragotas’s definition is predicated on your sense of your ideal self, not your sense of an ideal other. The most successful relationships, Dragotas says, are fundamentally based on an experience we have of ourselves and, I would clarify, a very specific kind of self acceptance, that is, accepting what we truly deeply want.
Like an anti-pygmalion, instead of shaping a lover from clay and bringing him or her to life, each of us chooses a lover who will free us from our own clay feet so we can become the self we know is real.
Do all your relationships feel familiar?
Dragotas goes on to describe two scenarios: one in which the person you’re with ultimately doesn’t resonate with your own sense of your ideal self. In this situation, things don’t last very long or they don’t go very well.
You have to wonder why you chose to be with someone who had such an incompatible sense of you, one your real self cannot tolerate. (Hint: It’s not very likely that this is about the other person.)
In yoga, of course, we’re going to examine how well we are able to tolerate who we really are, and how well we are able to tolerate knowing what we really want. If there’s no tolerance for yourself, you’ll easily be seduced by someone else’s idea of you, and the way you imagine you will, as a result, be able to be someone “new.” It’s a shaky foundation at best for a long term relationship, and likely to end in recrimination and declining self confidence.
The you you’ve always known you are
The other scenario is that you meet someone you are really attracted to and over time the good they see in you, the real you they are attracted to, makes this ideal aspect more apparent to everyone around you. Everyone around you interacts with you a little differently and through this consistent relating, you become more and more the ideal self you have always felt yourself to be. That, as they say, is the magic of love. It frees us from being distracted by what we are not, from being imprisoned by self deception. It can be a surprising, even difficult process, to let go of our illusions about ourselves, but it is, as Carlos Casteneda says, “a path with heart,” a path of true power.
My advice is simple. Be honest with yourself. Don’t say “it doesn’t matter what I want” when what you mean is “I don’t really know what I want,” or “it feels greedy / selfish/ bad to want what I want.” The most significant step you can take toward self fulfillment is to clearly identify the actual challenge with which you’re working, not a hypothetical one.
You are worth every bit of reflection, exploration and intelligence you can muster. You have to ask yourself useful questions, and trust yourself, because you do know what the right questions are. Yoga will help you locate that clarity in yourself, so that you trust yourself in a real way instead of blindly.
Love is intelligence
Tenzin Wangyal reminds us the teachings are not just interesting ideas to be collected, the teachings are an actual experience, a way of living our everyday lives. “We can cultivate love and joy, creativity and stability,” he assures us. “The important thing is to understand yourself.
“Bring your intelligence to bear on the questions of your own life and apply your insights to improving the quality of your life. You can change even very ingrained habitual tendencies, but you must apply your understanding and effort, and you must do so intelligently.”
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.