Thoughts on If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path / "Know yourself, your motives, and prepare to merge with another"

Thoughts on If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path / "Know yourself, your motives, and prepare to merge with another"
by Starshine (Intern, The Liberator Magazine)

I’ll be honest -- I believe that Buddhists are secretly gluttons for punishment. Buddhism teaches that life is suffering, and suffering is rooted in attachment to desires. The cessation of suffering is attainable, but the journey toward ending that suffering is, in fact, suffering itself. Huh? As if to add insult to injury, the Yoga tradition emphasizes that the 5 kleshas (ego, attachment, aversion, ignorance, and clinging to life) are the origins of pain. But don’t despair -- after all, with regular, dedicated practice of truth and detachment, you, too, can bring an end to the suffering embedded in the narrow kleshas and arrive at the limitless, open mind... or something.

The salient point here is that in Buddhism, less attachment equals less suffering. Clearly, the Buddha didn’t date. Because if he did, he would undoubtedly have found himself sharing a rickety boat with me about six months ago, rocking back and forth, right smack dab in the middle of a stormy sea of suffering. I entered those turbulent waters following a Saturday evening with a curiously fascinating yet mute germaphobe who brought satin gloves to the movie theater. Don’t judge me too harshly, y’all -- he was cute; weird -- and not in an endearing way -- but cute, nonetheless. This experience came on the heels of a Friday lunch date with a loquacious self-proclaimed Senegalese prince. He was smart, but he seemed unfazed by my unnaturally high interest in playing peek-a-boo with the adorable tyke squirming in the neighboring booth. In the Buddhist tradition of turning poison into medicine, I must acknowledge that these two dates provided ample fodder for my unwritten but sure to be bestselling memoirs. Nevertheless, I was suffering. I was sinking into a lethargic non-yogic trance -- and in the absence of that organic Charlie Sheen “tiger blood” -- I found solace in the frozen embrace of my pint-size pals, Ben and Jerry. Elizabeth, my younger sister, also came in quite handy. In her divinely soothing manner, she suggested, during the climactic height of a tearful pity-party, that I read Charlotte Kasl’s If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path. I begrudgingly cancelled my scheduled visit to the nearby Our Lady of Vilna convent (shout outs to the surprisingly fashionable habit-clad nuns there) and spent a weekend introspectively thumbing through the first few chapters of the relatively small, friendly-looking text. I haven’t put it down since.

Kasl’s book is widely referred to as a dating manual, which is actually a bit misleading because it minimizes the fact that the sentiments expressed are meant to help you, the reader, better know yourself and your motives for dating, and therefore, better prepare you to merge with another. Kasl argues that dating is about sparking a healthy human connection. The journey to finding that connection, she notes, commences with a commitment to exploring your authentic self. Dating in “loving kindness” allows you to be honest about your faults and mistakes, to accept your humanness, and to build intimacy from a place of compassion. Kasl doesn’t guarantee that you will meet your ideal match while operating on a timetable of your design. In fact, she offers meaningful advice for letting go, particularly of those encounters that you recognize to be temporary and fleeting: “When you say good-bye to someone or decide not to see them again, remember you are a moment in their story. Make it a story that doesn’t leave a scar.” If that’s not a convincing endorsement, then you should be swayed by Kasl’s voice, which is lighthearted and funny. Goddammit, when you’re dating grown ass men with peculiar phobias and interpersonal skills that are less finessed than those of a toddler, you need to laugh -- a lot -- at them, at the ridiculousness of the mating dance, and at yourself.

Much of what Kasl says in her book circles back to our Chris Brown dialogue, and the notion that your untreated emotional and psychological wounds will cause you to harm those you seek to love and be loved by. Her thoughts are also linked to the prematurely doused conversation based on a certain libmag guest contributor’s essay. In a related interview with Alissa Kriteman of Personal Life Media (audio and excerpt of text below) Kasl normalizes the deep longing for intimate relationships, and champions the use of the mind, heart, body, and spirit in the selection of a partner. She also explains that making peace with both of your parents is critical to having healthy intimate relationships. (Are you listening, Bryan Wilhite?)

Ultimately, Kasl succeeds in highlighting interdependence as a thread that weaves through dating, relationships, love, and life, in an existential sense. Thich Nhat Hanh navigates similar terrain in Teachings on Love, where he offers a poignant and aspirational vow: “Through my love for you, I want to express my love for the whole cosmos, the whole of humanity, and all beings. By living with you, I want to learn to love everyone and all species. If I succeed in loving you, I will be able to love everyone and all species on Earth... This is the real message of love.” And this is a meditation that I can chant “Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō” to, Zenfully.

I still have many an un-dharmic moment. In fact, just the other day, I caught myself indulging in a wistful daydream about a pair of one-size-too-small Céline clog boots that were on sale at Nordstrom Rack on State street. Across the table from me sat a potential paramour, munching loudly on grilled shrimp, or something, and droning on and on -- blah, blah, blah -- about... something. He was cute, smart and had dimples to die for. But I’m learning that my search for a missing mate is inextricably linked to my search for my own missing puzzle piece. To find that is to find my other. In the meantime, I’m learning how to detach -- from emotional and mental baggage personified as quirky hunky nerds, and from expectations, which a friend calls “premeditated resentments.” I’m learning how to sit still with the solitude and the restless dear-God-I-want-to-crawl-out-of-my-skin energy that are an inherent part of the dating spiritual path. I’m learning how to use patience as an antidote when fear and frustration bite and manifest in unhealthy behaviors and aggressions towards self and others. I’m learning. I’m studying. I’m growing. And I’m choosing to believe that my beloved is doing the same, and that the Universe is cradling us both in Her warm bosom. If we fail the tests ahead, then I will abandon my Buddhist prayer beads in favor of a rosary, and appear, along with a habit-filled suitcase, at the entrance to Our Lady of Vilna convent. After all, I’ve always fancied the name ‘Mary-Magdalene.’

"If the Buddha Dated: Finding Love on a Spiritual Path" An interview with counselor, teacher and acclaimed author, Charlotte Kasl
(SOURCE: Personal Life Media)



Alissa Kriteman: So let’s start out with this longing for an intimate relationship. You know, you really nailed it in the book. Why do we long so much to be in a relationship?

Charlotte Kasl: Well, we want to be connected. I think the deepest longing we have is to feel connection, to feel safe and secure, attached in a good way to other people so that we know we can be understood, we can be seen. That someone—as they say, gets us. It’s incredible thing to be understood. If someone looks you in the eyes and no matter what you do, even if you really goof up, they’re going to be there for you because they love you. They feel it and you feel it. It’s an amazing sense of safety internally when you feel loved.

AK: So do you think that is a desire that’s more hard-wired into women because we’re the connectors and nurturers and for men, it’s different?

CK: I think it’s very strong for both. It looks different in that women want relationship, but actually men suffer more without it. If you look at the data after a divorce, women generally do better than men because women can connect with other women, have their feelings validated, have a circle of support, cry on somebody’s shoulder. So in terms of surviving without them, women do really much better without that primary intimate relationship. But it’s different, but I’ve seen men just as deeply in love with a woman, but with women, certainly their role has been to connect and talk and women do more that generally.

AK: Right. OK, so looking at getting into an intimate relationship, do you think we, as a whole, really understand what intimate relationships are all about and the design of them?

CK: Well, that’s a wonderful question, and that’s where I think that Buddhism comes in because a wonderful relationship really has to be that we feel secure inside ourselves and can open ourselves to another person. It’s not someone to give a status to fill our security needs. At the same time, those things can happen and that’s not bad. So I think very often that we want someone because we feel desperate or we feel, “I’ve got to be married. I don’t like being alone.”

On the other hand, to be pair bonded is the deepest kind of human natural longing we have. I remember in high school, you’d list what you want in a person and “They’re cool dancer” and all these things. It was like that kind of an image, but what we really want to long for is connection and to know who we are because we can do a lot to know who we are individually but we really learn about who we are in our relationship.

AK: Right. OK.

CK: I think it’s the essence of deep connection. We have deep connection with people because we go deep ourselves. Now, I think when people can’t go deep inside themselves and can’t feel a connection that goes deep then they want many connections and a lot of change. But the people I interviewed who have very deep connections, they’re so happy being with this one person, they’re content, it feels rich and full to them, and of course, people vary a lot.

But you know, I was around in ‘60s and ‘70s, and there were of course a lot of drugs going on, and with all that, multiple sexual partners and so forth. But I think there’s almost a merger of energies that happens in a monogamous relationship. I think it’s such an intimacy, it’s almost like our neurons are interacting and we create an alchemy and a chemistry between us that is very wonderful and rich, that kind of feeling you’re just happy to see that person walk in the house and that never goes away when people have these deep attachments and connections.

AK: Let’s go deeper into what you just said about intimacy. In your book, you talk a lot about that and you talk about knowing the difference between if you’re fusing with someone or not because that can have a tendency to allow us to lose ourselves. So here we are, we’re in an intimate relationship, how do we not lose ourselves? What is this fusion?

CK: Fusion. Fusion comes from fear. Fusion is “I need you to like me. My self-esteem is based on your liking me, so I’m going to act charming and I’m going to tell you what I think you want to hear, I’m going to dress the way you want to see me, and I’ll lose myself.” That’s where we’re going off the spiritual path. The term differentiation is often misunderstood to me in that it’s a kind of rouged individual thing, but it’s not that. It’s that I can look at another person and know they’re just doing what they’re conditioned to do. Whatever they say or do is about them and I don’t interpret it. I may like it or not like it, but let’s say if someone’s late, do I say they don’t care about me? No, I don’t interpret it. I just say they’re late and I ask them, “What does that mean?” But when we’re fused, we attribute lots of meaning into what people do. We interpret it like “You’re controlling me, that means you don’t care or if you love me, you would bring me flowers today.”

The truth is, we don’t know what other people would do. If love they love us, they may have different ways of expressing it, but what we can look at is, “how does this feel to me?” You know, when this person doesn’t show up or he’s late, do we say they don’t care and try to pressure them to be on time? No. We can say, “You know, I don’t find it comfortable when you’re late or when you don’t call.” Then, if they keep doing it, well, that’s what it is and we have to accept that’s the way that person is. Now, can I really accept that in good faith and relax around it or is it something I don’t want to be with?

It kind of like we’re gathering information when we date someone, instead of jumping in to try to change them. So many times people get together with hopes that change the person or because they have potential. It’s not a good basis for a relationship. The dating, when people meet someone that’s a real match for them, it’s very much drenched in sunlight; it’s usually a wonderful experience. When I’ve interviewed people later on, it’s so good, and there weren’t a lot of dark shadows around it or worries or that stomach ache or inability to sleep; and generally, people felt quite happy.

AK: So it’s almost as though we can really check in with our body to find out is this really something I can trust versus going through our mind?

CK: Well, partly. We need our mind, too, because when we fall in love, we’re so hard wired to bond that we get amphetamine high from all the chemicals we secrete, that set in love feeling and we can mistake that for love. So we need our mind, too, especially if we’ve had a string of difficult relationships.

For instance, some people will make a bottom-line list and say, “OK, I’m not going to get involved with someone who is an addict. I’m not going to get involved with someone who has himself with childhood abuse, because I’ve been there and it hasn’t worked, I don’t want to do that again.” So we use our mind and our body because the other thing we need is real attraction, and it’s attraction to the whole person and it’s also sexual.

AK: So talk to me a little bit about differentiation. When understanding intimacy, there is fusing, fear-based, putting a lot of meaning, but then there’s a flip side to that. Tell me about that, the more healthy way to approach intimacy.

CK: OK, it’s like I see that other person and they’re doing what they do, and I check in with my feelings. How do I feel about that? What am I like around them? Is there a fit and a flow?” That’s what you really want to check for. It’s not a trophy partner, it’s this feeling of a flow and it’s easy and it’s fun. Then maybe things to talk about, but there’s a joy that goes on.

So again, differentiation is something we can really see that other person is just who they are and we like that person the way they are. You see people making a lot of rationalizations because they so desperately want a partner. It’s like, “Well, you can’t have everything. They’re pretty good, at least they don’t hit me. It’s better than the last one.” But the people who have these vibrant long term relationships really enjoy, adore, light up when they see that other person. So that is part of taking time.

We do need people, and if we really look to ourselves, we ache and hurt but there’s nothing like the arms of another person. When we can’t turn to another person, we withdraw, we tighten up, we go away; and a huge part of relationship that’s wonderful is if we can learn when we’re in need to reach out that hand for help. Indeed, that’s one of the great markers of people overcoming trauma is that they can give and receive help when they feel scared in need. They don’t withdraw. So differentiation is kind of like an open mind and open heart and we can engage deeply because we know we can also say, “No, I need to go now.”

AK: Now we’re going to talk about making peace with our parents and how that can help us have extraordinary intimate relationships. So Charlotte, talk to me a little bit about why healing, making peace with parents is so important.

CK: Well, I think it’s making peace with the parents that live inside our heads. We may not be able to make peace with the parents out there, but let’s say I was yelled at a lot or hit a lot as a child. So when someone raises their voice, I’m going to flinch, I’m going to pull away. Even if they only raised it on a scale of one to 10, to about a two, I may have this hard wiring go off that says, “Danger!” and that might make me run away.

So I need to go in and have help with all those triggers from childhood, those places where I get scared, those places where I want to withdraw and look at them and process them so I separate out this new person is not my mother. One of the things I hear from men a lot in couples counseling is like, “Oh, oh, I’m in trouble.” Now, that’s a kid’s statement, right? That’s not an adult’s because if this is your beloved and your partner, you’re not in trouble, there may be difficulty you need to talk over. But when you feel those adolescent or even younger kind of thoughts come up, that means there’s unfinished business. So we can listen for those, it’s like panic about someone leaving us.

Now, it may be we’ve partnered with someone who is ambivalent and doesn’t understand but if that panic about being left pervades all our relationships, then we need to look back to our childhood and that we were left a lot and that panic is very physiological when it goes off and it feels very real. Of course, when someone gets angry at someone and terrified they’re going to leave, that’s usually a little kid part of us, “Mommy, don’t leave me, don’t leave me. I’ll feel alone, I’ll fall in to the abyss.” That’s how people experience it so often when a partner wants to be separate or to leave, so that oneness and separateness is a developmental thing. So the more we can feel our separate self, the more we can allow our partner to go off and do what they do, “I’m not get jealous, I’m not going into those little baby states or little kid states.”

AK: That is so important. You’re saying really important things here. One is noticing our reactions and triggers such that we actually have the ability to own them. So you’re telling us being responsible for noticing those triggers when they’re going off and not projecting on to the other person how they are, they send our own confusion in our mind. Yes?

CK: Absolutely. It’s the ability to finally say, “Oh, oh, I’m triggered. I’m feeling really little. I don’t want to talk about that right now.” You know, four year olds aren’t very good at processing things. It’s just saying, “Oh, oh, I’m getting scared, let me just take a minute. Can you give me a hug? I’m feeling scared. It’s about me.” Again, there’s that the line to watch because some of these may be being triggered by your partner.

AK: Yes, I love that. I love what you said about the oneness of being in the relationship with the person and then also having a healthy boundary and balance of being separate from that person. So what are some of the ways we’re triggered in the moment, say we are having a jealous fit. He said, “X, I’m busy the whole weekend” and we’re dating and we’re trying to figure out what that means. So what are some things we can do so we don’t get lost in that mind spin off: “Oh, maybe he’s seeing other people. Maybe I’m not that important, blah, blah, blah.” Is there something that you suggest to your clients to control or help allay their mind from getting out of control? Mostly, men just say “X”, they don’t lie. They’re like, “I’m busy” for whatever reason. It doesn’t really necessarily mean anything about us.

CK: It may or it may not, you don’t really know. But what you know is they’re not available this weekend. So you go back to being kind of an observer. It’s like, “Well, OK, that’s what they’re doing.” Again, a skillful person will explain “It doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. I really have this prior commitment I need to do. I’ll see you Monday.” That would be a much more skillful way to tell someone you’re not available for the weekend because you would want to put their mind at rest.

AK: I love that. I love that you said ‘emotional freedom techniques’ because I interviewed a woman about emotional freedom techniques because that is one of the amazing techniques I’ve learned for exactly what you just said.

CK: Right, because when we get lost in the trigger, we go “Well, see? You don’t care about me.” We get into that attack mode and then they are really going to stay away for a long time. But you know, I want to send out a note about this is that, yes, the emotional freedom techniques. I’m really glad you’re recommending that because you can take like an eight anxiety level on a zero to 10, and often get it down to at least a three or four which is more manageable in maybe 15 minutes.

So that’s a wonderful thing to have, but I want to say the other thing. When I’ve been in a relationship with someone who really wanted to be with me, I didn’t have any anxiety at all because I could feel in my body and in my heart that person was there. They let me know in so many ways—I feel now in my life so loved, so cared for. It doesn’t ever cross my mind that anything else could happen except that I’m going to be cherished and talked about and talked to wonderfully and loved and that we can talk things over. Earlier on, I had a relationship like that also and there was just no doubt in my mind.

AK: Yes, and tell me if you agree or not, that comes from a deep, deep love of self because you won’t tolerate anything less.

CK: Well, I won’t say necessarily say that because you know that longing is also what takes us into trouble sometimes. Because having had several relationships in life, we start messing with our minds and we start making rationalizations and excuses for the other person and that’s a thing of fusion also. We’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole. We’re making all kinds of reasons to excuse someone’s behavior, when the truth is I have certain feelings about it. I didn’t like that, it didn’t feel comfortable, and I feel scared. My gut is telling me this isn’t going to work or that they’re not really here and I really have to listen to that.

I mean, I’ve gone enough off in my own head with someone because they were fun, they were delightful. If they think they want to be there but something in my gut was getting nervous and I couldn’t get words for it and they didn’t give me words for it, that my concentration got worse, my life got a little off centered and that’s a big sign to us. When we’re starting to get off centered and starting to not sleep and not eat and get very nervous inside and it doesn’t feel right, usually something is going on under the surface that we’re not paying attention to.

AK: Yes, because we’re such sensitive beings, we are energy, we’re made of energy and I think we forget that sometimes that we can actually feel that and to trust and honor that is such an important part of dating and relationship. (source / full text)

Originally Posted 4/27/2011

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