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Let Go: The key to being blissful
I sat down today to write this blog post and thought: am I repeating myself? For your sake, I hope that I’m not yet I feel like I am.
I keep encouraging singles to first embrace themselves and their lives before getting out there to find a partner with whom to create a great relationship. Yet I know so many people who are still stuck. Still overly obsessed with finding partnership and running around in circles, chasing their own tails, trying to achieve their dreams but just not getting anywhere.
Yes it’s true that our desire to love and be loved is a powerful – and neccessary – goal. But I’ve seen so many people to fall into a hopeful wishful obsessive trap where they yearn for a partner so fervently that everything else falls to the wayside.
I’ve seen a lot of emotional suffering and pain arise from this attachment to this desire, yearning, and goal. I see so many singles cling to the myth that relationships are the cause of happiness, as in: “I’ll be happy when I have a romantic partner.”
Too many singles think happiness is contingent upon external circumstances and situations, rather than upon their own inner attitude toward themselves, or toward life in general.
They become attached to outcomes.
When I was in high school, I used to fall into this trap a lot. I remember hoping and praying that the universe would bring me a special, uber-person who would see me as the divine creature that I am. I will never forget that burning feeling in my heart as I longed for a relationship that would “complete me”.
And what did all that praying get me? Desperation and mania and countless relationship mistakes.
Again – don’t get me wrong. Wanting to love and be loved is one of the greatest things we can do and experience.
The trouble comes when we get driven about our dreams and goals – grasping after them, insisting that they continue, craving and clinging, taking it personally when there’s a hitch, or getting pushy.
The art is to pursue our goals and dreams with enthusiasm, discipline, and skill without getting all hot and bothered about them – and to enjoy life’s pleasures without getting attached to them.
The truth about over-attachment to our desires
Attachment to outcomes or to a goal is based on fear and insecurity. As mentioned previously, you begin to believe that you need something outside of yourself to make you happy. It’s easy to think, “I’ll feel good when I have more money in the bank, lose 15 pounds, find my soul mate, pay off my bills, etc.”.
This obsessive attachment reflects our mind’s struggle in response to challenge – in this case, the challenge is being single and looking.
Yet none of us want to struggle. Most of us want an easier time of being single and an easier time of dating.
Ironically, letting go, particularly regarding outcomes, is key to being peaceful. You set your intentions and take whatever action is needed, and then relinquish your attachment to the outcome. When we get so caught up in our yearnings, such as the idea that we must be in a partnership to be happy, we can’t see the trap we’re setting.
I recently read a poem by the 5th Century Tao poet Chaing Tsu that summarizes the Catch-22 we often set for ourselves:
The Need to Win
When an archer shoots for nothing he has all his skill.
When he shoots for a brass buckle he is already nervous.
When he shoots for a prize of gold
He goes blind, or sees two targets.
His skill has not changed, but the prize divides him.
He thinks more of winning than of shooting,
And the need to win drains him of power.
So think about it – the more attached we become to the outcome (finding a perfect partner), the more we over-react emotionally and the more we hinder ourselves. In fact, using this poem as an example, we hinder ourselves in two ways:
Emotionality: If the archer needs to win, the prospect of failure is threatening and produces an emotional reaction – nervousness – which undermines the steady hand required of the task.
Distraction: The archer will perform best when his attention is focused on shooting to the complete exclusion of everything else. To the extent the archer thinks of winning rather than shooting, the prize divides him and the need to win drains him of power.
Benefits of non-attachment
When you understand the true meaning of non-attachment:
- Expectations no longer rule your life.
- Emotions arise, but you have perspective.
- You have a clarity of mind so you’re able to see through to the truth of things.
- The problems of this world evoke compassion rather than anger.
- You don’t chase after happiness. You just enjoy it when it’s present, and release it when it dissolves.
- You’re able to allow life to unfold without needing to control everything.
- You don’t stop loving. You love even more.
- Your heart only grows bigger and bigger and bigger, when you see all the unnecessary suffering in this world.
The Let-go How-to:
So here are some tips on how to let go of attachments while pursuing your goal of finding a partner:
Hold lightly. The best principle I’ve found for navigating the tension between wanting a goal to manifest and being peaceful is to be intentional, but hold it lightly.
In other words, have a goal, but don’t be so bound by it that you miss out on the opportunity to learn. Take a stand, and be open to surprises and new learning.
If you practice this basic principle over and over again, you eventually develop an instinct for how to assess risk and navigate uncertainty. If you move without clarity about your intentions, or if you hold on to those intentions too tightly, you will likely fail. If you hold onto your intentions too tightly, you miss out on the learning.
Practice letting things be. That doesn’t mean you can’t actively work to create a different tomorrow. It just means you make peace with the moment as it is, without worrying that something’s wrong with you or your life. Learn to operate from a place of acceptance.
Question your attachment. If you’re attached to a specific outcome—a dream job, the perfect relationship—you may be indulging an illusion about some day when everything will be lined up for happiness. No moment will ever be worthier of your joy than now because that’s all there ever is.
Notice. One of my favorite psychologists, Dr. Rick Hanson, talks about being aware of wanting inside your mind. Try to notice the ways in which desiring feels subtly tense or uncomfortable. Notice the emotional pain of not getting what you want, including disappointment, frustration, discouragement-perhaps even hopelessness or despair. Notice the discrepancy between the rewards you expected to get from a want, and what it actually feels like to fulfill it. Similarly, notice that the anticipated pain from the things you want to avoid – especially things that would really be good for you to go after – is usually worse than the discomfort you actually feel.
In the end, the key to being an empowered single, whose experiences are blissful and easy breezy, is to set sail and chart a course of action yet still allow the tides to carry you along.