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Monday, 4 November 2013
Being Oneself in a Relationship
We met while I was having an English cuppa in front of my Greek white-washed flat on a tiny cobbled street too narrow almost for bicycles. Bourganvilla pink and purples brushed against the white walls that wedged my house besides a little orthodox chapel where I was sat under the orange tree. He was a tourist, and I was not into having relationships. End of story. I was out of the market. The last one had burnt me so deeply that I had decided that I could not be me AND be in a relationship: I needed space and time to develop myself, and stop being so utterly and completely lost.
Later by email (yes I admit we swapped contact details) he invited me for a drink which seemed safe enough because I thought he was gay. He also seemed to be one of those interesting people who you wouldn’t want to miss, especially when living in a small society where the social offer is not exactly continually dazzling. This guy seemed to have intricate ideas and an open mind, and mentioned being a dancer, but even so last minute I tried to get out of it, but my mobile wouldn’t send a text to his American cell phone.
He clinched it later though, after the drink when we wandered up to the church on the top of Paroikia. Overlooking the expansive Aegean horizon of the dark, moonlit sea, and I found myself in his arms, being twirled through the air, and all I could see was a palm tree coming in and out of my vision as I circled, flying almost weightlessly in the air. If a man can lift this sturdy lass, he’s worth looking into.
In the following days we went swimming in the sea with a full moon lighting our return along the cliffs, had a secret breakfast where all my friends spotted me, and walked hand in hand down the little Greek streets, laughing because once again he had thrown me over his back as if it were completely normal and nothing had happened at all. The big turn on was discovering he was actually as intelligent as he seemed.
And so those three heady days spent together turned into a risk: after a month of email addiction we wondered about a three month ticket for me to go stay with him. I looked at the photos of his picturesque house in the first range of the Rocky Mountains, a cycle ride from Boulder, Colorado, and did a ping pong game of yes-no for about two weeks.
It turned out to be a good bet: I learnt ‘merican words and ways, we fell in love more, got on well, argued well together. During the end of my stay his work asked him to go to a world-wide conference. It is held at a different location around the world, and this time was in Nottingham, an hour and a half from my family home, a week after I returned. Surely this was meant to be? We both saw it written in the stars in Arial Black font.
Like attracts like. He also seems to think he cannot be in a relationship and be himself.
So, instead of going for the dramatic surges of hormonal addiction to inboxes, we decided to be strong and separate: to walk our own paths. Sensible perhaps. We both sighed with relief, it had all been starting to get quite intense. It was beginning to be real.
And so I sit, hours and hours in the Vipassana center as a long term server and ponder all this, when I should in fact be not pondering or thinking at all but just quietly, equanimously, observing sensations arising and passing away.
Out of the meditation sessions, as a dhamma worker we can talk (imagine the disasters in the kitchen if not) and so as a children’s course ended I chatted with a woman who told me ‘It’s all about loving yourself.’ She said ‘Go travel alone, live alone, find a friend in yourself.’
Hmmm. Have done. Didn’t make the grade. I mean how much travelling alone must one do?
She says ‘Ohh but did you do it from love of self, or from lack? Running towards or running away?’
Thoughts flash of travelling alone and yearning for contact, for an arm to stroke, to feel someone’s hands on my lower back walking down a street.
‘Maybe you need to learn to live alone?’
I think of the isolation in the other house I lived in on the Greek hillside, hours playing the trumpet, painting, meditating, and doing all sorts of stuff that I like, thinking how much better it would be with someone else.
She suggests baths, with Chardonnay and candles.
Yes, that would be nice.
But still it doesn’t get down to the bottom of it for me. Everyone has their own root causes, and sitting so many hours with myself, in that hall, is still not bringing out the love. Everything but. I’m finding that I am addicted to yearning for a man. I find I yearn for him more when I feel insecure. So I’m yearning for security. I yearn for him when I am tired. So I’m yearning energy. I yearn for him to tell me that I am funny, and bright and that I am worth keeping alive.
It’s not really a positive point of view.
‘Uff,’ I say ‘why is it so difficult?’
We look into each other’s eyes, sensing we have gone through the same: beating up on ourselves for no apparent reason.
‘I would never to talk to a friend like I talked to myself,’ she admits.
‘I know,’ I collude. I’ve thought that many times before.
‘But now, I’m pleased to say, I hardly beat myself up at all. I am loving to myself, I am soft, and as I become softer, the outer world does too.’
I realise in that wide, deep, chasm of comparison, that I have barriers to that inner calm, to that inner peace, where the mind is at rest.
‘I think I’m addicted to yearning for men,’ I admit for the first time out loud, as much to myself as to her. I shrink back wondering how she will react.
I feel the relief flood through my pores.
Over these meditation days I have realised that I’m addicted to the fantasy of relationships, to craving for a man, as if ‘the one’ were the key to my everlasting fairytale happiness, where no longer will I need to sit through the agony of facing myself and my shadow: a magic cure for all.
I mean actually when you think about it, it is so embarrassing infantile, that you would only really want to admit it to a stranger at the bus stop.
‘You can spend half a meditation session dreaming about a man,’ she says.
I look at her alarmed, only thirty minutes? She senses it and amends, ‘I guess we can spend half our lives wasting away with all that craving.’
And so, the wonderful woman with the calm, deep still eyes, continues. ‘When you can love yourself, you begin to really get to know yourself, who you are, what you are, and only then can you set healthy limits.’ She pauses as if laughing inside to herself ‘I thought that I couldn’t be myself, and, be in a committed relationship at the same time. I travelled the world alone, I wrote a book, I did research in the United States alone…’
I look at her, wondering if she is going to add anything new.
With a blast to my innerds she says, ‘That idea of not being able to be in a relationship and be yourself, I realised, was just more bashing up on myself, more self abuse.’
Wow, what a turnaround!…Maybe it’s not always such a brave thing to march on alone with the banner of ‘self searcher’. Could it be just be another subtle way in which we can abuse ourselves, telling ourselves that we can’t be in a nourishing relationship? Perhaps being nourished in a relationship is actually what we need to allow ourselves?
‘Because, actually,’ she continues ‘if you love yourself you can, you really can, maintain that relationship with yourself, while setting healthy limits and creating space for your own growth while in a relationship with someone else too.’
I checked. This seemed too good to be true, ‘Are you in a relationship now?’
‘I’m going into the beginning of a relationship.’
‘But of course setting boundaries might sometimes mean leaving a relationship with another if it is not as nourishing as being by yourself.’
I nod, suddenly eager to move onwards into the bubble bath, not alone but by myself.
So of course I didn’t go into a bubble bath, there are no baths in a meditation center, instead I went into a ten-day silent course. In between one of the breaks I walked into the fields and stood there, it had gone dark and the stars were shining in that way where you wonder how so many fit in and yet still maintain the deep dark velvet space around them.
I was alone. And I found myself wanting to get to the end the course so that I could tell someone what I had done so they could say ‘Well done! I’m so proud of you!’ when I realised there is no-one waiting for me at the finishing line. It was then that I realised that actually here, deep inside this meditative place, I could say it to myself.
‘I’m proud of you,’ I said to myself, and suddenly I realised that actually I really am.
It is not easy to do ten and a half hours of meditation each day, going into the depths, facing myself and I do it patiently and persistently, without complaining, waking up everyday at 4.15am even though I really don’t want to. I put in all my efforts, even when I’m exhausted. I keep chipping away into deeper concentration, observing, feeling sensations. It is not easy and yet I do it.
I really am proud of myself. Really.
And suddenly I don’t need anyone to tell it to me.