relationships

Dealing with the pain of change

leaves changing

The other day one of my meditation students wrote, asking for some advice. She was having to downsize and move into a smaller apartment. And this meant that she couldn’t hold on to some of her family heirlooms, like her mother’s wedding china. It also meant that her teenage son wouldn’t be able to continue living with her. That last part was particularly painful.

So I wrote the following in response:

Dear X.

It is hard to let go of things, and to have relationships change, so I can appreciate why you’re suffering.

The changes you’re going through are unique to you, even if others have been through similar experiences, so I offer the following only as things you might take as a starting point for your own reflections.

Is there anything you’re looking forward to about the move? It might be that you can focus on things like creating more of a sense of simplicity in your life, or creating a new space around you that supports aspirations you may have. If there are things you can look forward to, then focusing on those might help shift your perspective about the move.

Ironically, I find myself with too much “stuff” at the moment. When Teresa and I moved in together, we ended up with duplicate furniture. Some we got rid of, but we ended up with two dining tables and no room for either of them, and so they’re in storage in our basement. I look in the basement and see all of this clutter, and I sometimes think that if it all disappeared one day I probably wouldn’t notice for weeks, since I hardly ever have a reason to go down there, and that if I did happen to walk into an empty basement I’d feel free! So really we should get rid of all that stuff, but unless we were moving again there’s really no motivation to do so.

Anyway, I do like to think of the freedom and lightness that comes from not being burdened by things I have but don’t use. I don’t know if that’s something that you could also embrace.

I sometimes also think about the fact that one day I’m going to die, and that, as they say, you can’t take it with you. Who would have your mother’s wedding china once you’ve passed away? If there’s no one obvious who would take it, then you might think about what the difference is between giving it away now and it being given away once you’re dead. Advantages to passing it on now (even to strangers) would be that you’d know someone else was enjoying it, that you’d given them this gift, and that you’d be in control of where it goes. Once you die, none of those things would be possible.

With regard to your son, I wonder if you could think of sending him out into the world as a man? Is there some way you could build up to ritually or ceremonially marking and celebrating this transition in his life? I can imagine, for example, that it would be lovely to create a book of wisdom teachings (maybe accompanied by photographs of the two of you) that could guide him as he goes into the world and remain as a tangible record of his transition. Something like that might give you a positive focus that mitigates the suffering of the change.

As I said, I’m just throwing some ideas out there. I’d be really fascinated to hear what you come up with yourself.

What has helped you get through painful periods of change? Why not share in the comments below.

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Seven ways meditation can help you be a better lover

Although Buddhist meditation was originally practiced mostly by celibate monks and nuns, who were not only forbidden from having sex but even from having physical contact with the opposite sex, mindfulness practice can significantly enhance your love life. And by “love life” I don’t mean just sex, but your entire life with someone you’re emotionally and physically intimate with. But sex too!

Mindfulness Helps You Be Present for Your Partner

First, being mindful helps us to be present for our partner. So much of the time when we’re with another person, we’re not really there. Nowadays it’s common to see couples sitting together in a cafe, but focused on their phones. A modern prayer for couples might be along the lines of, “Lord, let my partner look at me with the same intensity they look at their phone.”

Simply being present and available for each other is essential for any kind of true intimacy to take place.

Mindfulness Helps You to Really Listen

And then there’s actually listening to each other. You know how you spend a lot of time in a conversation not paying attention to the other person because you’re busy thinking about what you’re going to say? Mindfulness can help us to recognize that we’re getting distracted and to come back to the present moment. When we do this, we’re able to communicate from a place of greater depth and authenticity.

Mindfulness Helps You to Avoid Judging

It’s very easy for us to put labels on our partner. We slip into the habit of labelling them “stubborn,” or “over-sensitive,” or “selfish.” These labels become mental traps for us, becoming triggers for our own reactions and preventing us from really connecting. Mindfulness helps us to see that our labels are unhelpful stories, and so rather than reacting to our own labelling (“There he/she goes again!”) we can stay in the moment and connect more authentically.

Mindfulness Puts You in Touch With Your Feelings

Mindfulness helps us to stay in touch with our bodies, and since our feelings are physical sensations taking place in the body, being mindful means that we’re more in touch with how we feel. One study showed that meditators were more in touch with physical sensations in the body than professional dancers.

One thing in particular is helpful here; many of the most important feelings associated with love are carried by the vagus nerve, which runs right past the heart. That’s why you experience heartache when your sweetie is away, and why you experience warm feelings of tenderness in the heart when you’re gazing into their eyes. Our ability to notice these feelings increases through practicing mindfulness. Also, the vagus nerve becomes more active (develops more “vagal tone”) when we practice lovingkindness or compassion meditation, and so the strength of those feelings actually increases.

Mindfulness Puts You More In Touch With Your Partner’s Feelings

Being mindful and paying attention to your partner, rather than to what you’re thinking about, helps you be more attentive. You are then better able to notice tiny “micro-expressions” that flit across the face in a fraction of a second. These micro-expressions are involuntary, and so they show what we’re really feeling, as opposed to what we want others to think we’re feeling.

In the context of a loving relationship the ability to pick up on underlying emotions allows you to be more empathetic.  Say you’re planning a trip and your partner says, “Sure, that would be lovely.” But you notice a flash of doubts or hesitation. When you pick up on those, you can ask “Are you sure you’re OK with this? You look like you might have reservations.” This gives your partner the opportunity to express their feelings more fully, and the empathy you’re expressing can help bring you together.

Mindfulness Makes You More Loving

Lovingkindness, or as I prefer to call it, simply “kindness,” sees that other people, just like us, want to be happy and don’t want to suffer. When we’re kind, we recognize that others’ feelings are as real and important to them as ours are to us. This means that we are more likely to to act in ways that respect their feelings.

Sadly, we often forget to be kind in our intimate relationships, and engage in unkind and disrespectful behaviors such as belittling, sarcasm, and criticism. Lovingkindness practice helps us to see such ways of acting as inappropriate and harmful, and helps us to relate instead in ways that help our partner to feel loved, supported, and appreciated.

Mindfulness Makes Sex Hotter

Lastly, the sum total of everything I’ve said so far, including our being more in the moment, more attentive, more aware of the body, more in touch with our own and our partner’s feelings, and kinder and more empathetic, helps us to have much better sex.

One study showed that women who were taught mindfulness became significantly more aware of their own physiological sexual responses and experienced them as more arousing than women in a control group.

It’s a long way off, but if you’ve found this interesting you might want to register for our October online course, The Path of Mindful Relationships: Exploring Romantic Love as a Spiritual Practice.

In short, if you want to have a better relationship, meditate!

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Meditation brought us back together, say couple who traded in corporate lives to meditate

Sarah Catherall, Stuff: They gave the impression of having it all but Sally Lewis and Greg Hopkinson were stressed and cynical. When they broke up, they felt as though something was missing, both in their lives and in their relationship.

Today, they radiate happiness, frequently breaking into laughter. Lewis reaches over and touches her partner’s arm lovingly as her face beams.

Sitting in a Wellington cafe, they attribute one thing to their joyous connection. “Meditation saved our relationship,” smiles 57-year-old Lewis.

A decade ago, Hopkinson was a stressed out businessman who ran the Animates pet store …

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The Conscious Couple, Day 1: The Dharma of Intimate Relationships

0e3ac93e-68da-481a-bb36-b481fcd5af21by Shelly Chatterelli and Bodhipaksa

Our intimate relationships are a vital area for practice. Each day, each moment, they offer us fresh opportunities to practice kindness, love, and compassion. They give us practice in forgiving and asking for forgiveness. They allow us to cultivate honesty and to become more skillful in our communication. They provide us with opportunities to give and to receive and to learn about ourselves and our partner.

Intimate relationships challenge us. They unerringly find our emotional weak spots, highlighting our insecurities and failings in ways that can cause great discomfort. Yet this too is spiritually beneficial; how else can we change, but by bringing into conscious awareness that which needs transformation?

Our intimate relationships can also be a source of aspiration and inspiration. The desire to live in love and harmony with another person, to know them deeply and to let ourselves be known, can give us a positive motivation to change and to become better partners, better lovers, better people.

Many people are aware that the Buddha described intimate relationships, and the desire for them, as one of the main distractions in the spiritual life! Fewer know that at the same time he often applauded lay practitioners for the depth of spiritual practice they manifested.

The Buddha praised married couples who practiced and lived harmoniously together, saying that they were living a divine life. We’re told, in fact, that many, many householders attained various degrees of awakening, showing that family life is hardly an insurmountable obstacle to spiritual progress.

There is no contradiction between the Buddha’s emphasis on relationships both as a hindrance and as a practice. The spiritual community had a monastic wing, which practiced simplicity of lifestyle (no work, no kids, no marriage) in order to focus intensely on meditation, study, and teaching. Monastics were therefore required to regard romantic and sexual entanglements as distractions. But there was also a householder wing of the community, consisting of people who worked for a living, who married, and who brought up children — and whose members could, as we’ve seen, be practicing deeply.

The purpose of this 28-day online course is to help us explore the ways in which our intimate and romantic relationships provide opportunities for us to deepen our practice, and how our practice can in turn help us deepen the intimacy we experience with our partners.

There are many different approaches we could have taken to structure this course. We could have had no structure, and just sent you a number of reflections! But we’ve settled on the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, since it’s one of the most important frameworks for exploring how to bring practice into daily life. In each post you’ll see a “map” of the Eightfold Path, with the current phase highlighted.

In the next email we’ll start with the cultivation of Right View, which involves looking at the ideas, opinions, assumptions, and models we use in regard to our relationships. In fact we’ve already begun with this exploration, since we’ve been discussing views about the relationship between married life and the spiritual life.

Cultivating right view means bringing our views into line with the Dharma. But this doesn’t mean blind conformity! It simply means that sometimes we have views that hinder the development of love, intimacy, and honesty. We may not be conscious of those views, or it may be that we don’t see the harmful effects they have. (We humans have a perplexing ability to keep doing things we are sure will make our lives better, when actually they cause harm.) Our views have to be brought into consciousness if we’re to avoid causing suffering to ourselves and to our partner. And we need to nurture views that lead to a deeper and more harmonious connection with ourselves and with the person most dear to us. We need views that allow us to be part of a conscious, thriving couple.

With love,
Shelly and Bodhipaksa

Homework: For the next 24 hours, just notice your interactions with your partner (or in other relationships), without trying to fix anything. Notice in particular times that you interact in a way that you perceive as kind or loving, and times that those qualities are absent. As best you can, make these observations without judgement: that is, don’t engage in self-criticism or ruminate about your interactions. Feel free to make notes, and to discuss your observations in the online community we’ve created to accompany this course.

Guided meditation: This brief guided mindfulness meditation can be done with a partner, or on your own.

Register: This article is taken from the first email of our 28-day online event, The Conscious Couple, led by teachers Shelly Chatterelli and Bodhipaksa. While both partners in a couple are welcome to participate, and it’s fine if you want to join on your own, or even if you aren’t currently involved in a relationship. To register, click here.

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Mindful eating with the “Sati Tala” — so sane it seems crazy

sati tala

The other day I got an email from a couple in Israel who are launching a new mindfulness product. It’s one of those things that is possibly just crazy enough (or sane enough — I can’t tell) to really take off.

Basically, it’s a tool for mindful eating. What’s the tool? Well, you are, along with one other person, the Sati Tala eating surface, and two simple seats. What this means is that you and your eating partner become part of the table as you sit on the seats and rest the surface of the Sati Tala on the laps. (Sati Tala is Pali for “mindfulness surface.”)

What this means is that you’re physically connected as you eat, which seems rather lovely and even romantic. It’s also more difficult to jump up and start doing something else, since doing so requires the cooperation of both people. And so you’re more likely to stay put and just focus on your meal.

On the other hand, if you do have to get up (to answer the door or a call of nature) dinner’s pretty much over until you return, and I can imagine that if you have a fidgety partner things could get ugly.

Still, this is the kind of thing I can imagine becoming a crazy amongst Hollywood celebrities!

Tany and Sagie, who came up with the idea, are launching a Kickstarter fundraiser, which you can read about on their website.

There’s also a video where you can see the Sati Tala in action:

P.S. I haven’t tried this product, have no connection with the company, and don’t benefit in any way by bringing it to your attention!

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Kill the Soulmate

Cheryl Fraser, Mindful.org: Our brains can’t help but compare the imperfect human snoring beside us to the ideal hunk in our heads. But around the corner there isn’t someone better—only someone different.

Shaun Cassidy, teen singing idol and one of TV’s sexy Hardy Boys, was my soulmate. There I was clad in the kilt and knee socks of a private school girl, lusting over this blue-eyed heartthrob and completely convinced we would fall in love. He …

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Attachment in intimate relationships

Unhappy woman sitting while her husband working with laptop

For as long as I’ve been practicing Buddhism, people have been talking about attachment in intimate relationships in a particular way; they’ve talked about the problem as being attachment to the other person.

To be sure, attachment to another person can be a source of pain. When you’re first in love with someone you may find that you make yourself miserable wanting to be with the other person. When they’re unavailable or you’re not sure they’re attracted to you, then this can be agonizing.

In an established relationship, when there’s insecurity along with your attachment you might be jealous of them spending time with others, or fearful that they don’t love you as much as you love them. Those things are painful as well.

Attachment to another person can be such that we fear them changing, because we sense that they’re turning into a different person, and that’s perceived as a threat to our relationship.

And you might just miss the other person when they’re away, although I think most couples appreciate having some time apart.

Those forms of attachment to another person are talked about often, and for many years that limited the way I looked at attachment in intimate relationships. Recently, though, I’ve come to think that a far more important problem with attachment is that which we have to our own habits. Self-clinging is the principal problem we face.

For example, if you’re constantly criticizing a partner because they don’t do things the way you want them to be done, what’s really going on is that you’re attached to having certain things happen in a certain way — and you’re attached to criticism as a communication style. If that’s ongoing and outweighs the positive aspects of the relationship, then you’re going to cause suffering. So the question comes up, are you prepared to be flexible in your own habits? It’s not just a question of putting up with socks on the bedroom floor, or hairs in the shower drain, but of learning new ways of communicating about such things. Can you learn to be more playful, for example, or to use praise and affection as a way of encouraging your partner to change — or are you attached to using criticism?

Wanting to be right all the time is another form of attachment. When this happens we’re attached to a particular kind of “status” (being “the one who is right”), assuming that it’ll bring us happiness. The trouble is that if you’re attached to being right all the time, you’re going to be rigid and unempathetic, and be in an unhappy relationship. Humility and empathy are qualities that are much more likely to lead to a harmonious relationship. So can you let go of your attachment to winning arguments and being right? Can you embrace the need to admit your faults? Can you embrace vulnerability? Vulnerability is an open space in which growth can take place.

Avoiding conflict is another deadly problem in relationships that we can be attached to. We assume that if we ignore a problem it’ll go away. Well, any one particular problem might go away, but it’ll be replaced by a dozen more. Courage requires letting go of the habit of conflict-avoidance.

Grudges are another thing we can get attached to. We get attached to being the victim. This kind of attachment has been described as like grasping a red-hot coal with the intention of throwing it at the other person. Who gets hurt most in that scenario? Forgiveness is a form of letting go of this particular attachment.

These are just a few examples of how being attached to habits can cause suffering in relationships. But any relationship problem I can think of involves attachment of this nature: being attached to drama, being dishonest, ignoring your partner because you’re focused on work or recreation, letting your sexual desire (or the lack of it) conflict with your partner’s wellbeing—and thus the wellbeing of your relationship. These all involve self-clinging.

The measure of how deep our self-clinging can be is how painful and how difficult it is to become aware of, never mind change, our habits. It’s painful to admit when we’re at fault, to communicate honestly and courageously, and to forgive. We can put a lot of energy into resisting doing these things, and when we do face up to our habits we can feel raw, exposed, and humiliated.

While attachment to our partners can be a very real thing, it’s attachment to ourselves and our habits that I see as the most destructive force in intimate relationships.

If you’re interested in this post, you may also be interested in our online event, The Conscious Couple: Bringing the Dharma into Intimate Relationships, which runs from Sep 1–28. Click here for more details.

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How meditation helped this guy ditch dating apps — and get more dates

Jordi Lippe-McGraw, Yahoo Health: Last year, Andy Glickman decided he’d had enough. The now-24-year-old realized that his love life essentially consisted of a string of people just looking for superficial or physical relations, with no interest in connecting on an emotional level. He was meeting people online and through apps, and would frequently receive unsolicited nude pictures from people more than twice his age. And he was tired of it.

So Glickman, who also happens to be a sought-after yoga instructor and meditation coach in Philadelphia, decided to apply his expertise in meditation to his love life.

How? Meditation …

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The Four Noble Truths of intimate relationships

Because the Buddha was a celibate monk, there can be a tendency for us to see intimate relationships as a distraction or hindrance to the spiritual life. But the Buddha himself described marriage as potentially a source of great happiness.

Both husband and wife are endowed with faith, charitable and self-controlled, living their lives ethically, addressing each other with pleasant words. Then many benefits accrue to them and they dwell at ease.
He went as far as to claim that a happy marriage was divine or angelic in nature when he said that a couple can be like two devas (angels, gods) living together.

Moving in the direction of having this kind of fulfilling relationship involves recognizing what I call “The Four Noble Truths of Relationships.”

1. Suffering is a part of all intimate relationships. Some of this is inevitable, but most of it is unnecessary.

Our task here is to recognize this suffering in the first place, and to understand that we create most of it ourselves, taking responsibility for our own actions.

2. Relationships are unnecessarily hard when we cling to unhelpful conditioned beliefs and patterns of action. We often act in ways that cause us, and our partners, pain. This includes blaming, wanting to be “right,” keeping score, thinking that the other person “makes” you feel things, seeing your partner as the source of your happiness, using passive-aggressive “hinting” instead of direct communication, withdrawing affection as a means of punishing our partner, and using sex as a substitute for emotional intimacy.

Our task here is to let go of these unhelpful patterns, so that we can make room for more creative, kind, and helpful ways of being.

3. Relationships can be a source of joy, fulfillment, and of personal growth. This statement comes with a caveat: it doesn’t mean that every relationship has this potential. If one partner is abusive and unwilling to change, then joy and fulfillment likely lie elsewhere. But assuming that both partners are open to change and growth, and genuinely want a fulfilling relationship, then this is possible.

Our task now is to learn to accept any current difficulties without seeing them as defining the relationship. This involves having the faith that the relationship can blossom, perhaps in unexpected ways, should we commit to mindfulness, honesty, courage, and kindness.

4. There is a path that consists of developing mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom, which leads to the realization of this potential. This is the “eightfold path of relationships.”

This eightfold path starts with i) exploring our views about relationships, discarding those that hinder our growth and adopting those that facilitate it. It continues with ii) clarifying our intentions, expectations, and core values. It involves iii) cultivating truthful yet compassionate speech and iv) action, as well as v) balancing work and family life. It includes vi) making an effort to grow in every aspect of our lives, and to vii) develop greater mindfulness. And it involves viii) taking time out in order to meditate, reflect, and transform ourselves.

Our task is to walk that path.

Being in a relationship involves the direct realization of interconnectedness, where we recognize that our own personal happiness is inextricable interwoven with that of another person. Instead of focusing narrowly on our own happiness, we have instead to consider our mutual wellbeing as partners. Intimate relationships thus present us with an opportunity for self-transcendence.

To do all this isn’t easy. An intimate relationship requires constant attention and constant “work.” It requires us to courageously accept uncomfortable truths about our own unhelpful views and habits. It requires us to let go, again and again, of those unskillful tendencies. It involves the humility of accepting that we don’t have all the answers, and that we maybe don’t even know what the important questions are. It involves taking risks, and exposing our own vulnerability. But it’s from these challenges that joy and fulfillment come.

Bodhipaksa and Shelly Chatterelli will be co-leading an online event, The Conscious Couple, from Sep 1–28, 2016. Click here to learn more about this event.

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Meditation = better attitudes, healthier bodies and hotter sex

Melissa Escaro, Huffington Post: Mindfulness seems to be all the rage now, and it is a pleasant surprise how mainstream meditation is becoming. More and more people are tuning into meditation, from Anderson Cooper’s television experience with a mindfulness retreat to groups like Operation Warrior Wellness, which focus on bringing stress-reducing techniques to veterans and their families with PTSD. It’s encouraging to see these traditional practices gaining traction in today’s modern world.

Many people know the benefits that meditation can create, from less stress to more clear thoughts. But there …

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