When I saw that Vince Horn was interviewing Insight meditation teacher Christopher Titmuss on Buddhist Geeks on the issues of sexuality and love in the practice of Dharma (episodes 176 & 177) , I heard myself exclaiming, “At last!” As lay practitioners we deal with these issues everyday yet few Buddhist teachers in their Dharma talks explore the ways of being a sexual being and a Dharma practitioner. Probably because there is not much said about it in the traditions or because these questions are not often asked? A the same time, I cannot help but notice that many people around me, including those practising Buddhism, have been going through separations and divorces and often see those relationships ending as a failure.
Here I could not agree more with Christopher when he points out that in our modern world defining a successful relationship as long-lasting, monogamous, heterosexual, etc is not helpful to us. I find that by putting a label on the relationship (many of which are simply too narrow for our modern lives) or deciding what it is supposed to be like we put an additional pressure on it which can lead to its premature ending, at least in its current form. I realise it is not the label per se that puts pressure on us but the expectations we associate with it and the static, Polaroid-like image in our head of what it should be like. It is then even more important to bring attention and exploration into these areas and observe the whole dynamics as the relationship unfolds.
The questions I ask myself about anything when I feel stuck, including all areas of the heart are
What is the most important thing for me in this area?
What does it ask from me on a daily basis?
If the answer to the first question is authenticity, then it asks from me to bring attention to being as authentic as I can with myself and my partner, be it a friend or a lover. Quite often it means dropping my expectations of myself and my partner and whole-heartedly dealing with what we have at hand. It can be manifested in allowing the form of the relationship shift and assisting the transformation rather than resisting it. My boyfriend and I have been exploring this in our relationship. We discovered that fear of loss could boost expectations and push the person into putting pressure on the partner which in turn could lead to that partner to want to withdraw: who likes to be suffocating in a loving relationship? When we came to the realisation that no matter what happens we still care for each other and have the capacity in our hearts to stay friends in the deepest meaning of the word, the form our relationship took was no longer as important and we could relax the grip on it. I experience our relationship as something very alive and fluid and my two questions are of help to me in situations when I get reactive.
This is why I especially appreciated that Christopher spoke on the importance of handling the relationship at all its stages, even when it comes to an end; how we can meet that transition from intimacy to friendship in a skillful way and keep “a real kindness ongoing, no matter what happens”. I would like to hear more on it from other teachers and will certainly be taking the question with me to the yearly retreat with Reb Anderson starting tomorrow.