In the past few weeks, there have been several of our sangha members, both virtual and local, young and (dare I say) more mature, who’ve asked me about their deep longing for partnership. Questions surrounding how they might find true intimacy, and then how to ground relationships spiritually, have dominated our discussions. This is not only appropriate but it is an utterly necessary demand to put on spiritual work if the blessings of ancient traditions are going to survive in the face of contemporary societies most pressing needs. So can dating be more conscious, more enlightened? The answer depends on one’s willingness to truly meet his or her life from a place of radical honesty and depth, where people work to courageously face and then see through their loneliness.
Truth be told, my expertise on this issue should be considered suspect. I haven’t dated since the last century. It should also be noted that I spent much of my youth searching for connection in pretty destructive ways. In high school and college, I learned that if I couldn’t have a meaningful relationship of depth with the one that I wanted, I might as well, as the song goes, love the one I was with. Lot’s of playing around in between long-lasting relationships of varying degrees of dysfunction. But as the years passed, I became pretty picky. I began to hone my checklist of what I wanted and what I didn’t want in a partner and became clear about where I was willing to compromise, and, more importantly, where I wasn’t.
What I really wanted was to live near truth, all of the time. I wanted to love and to be loved, and I wanted this shared experience to show up as something deep, something of merit, integrity and power. I wanted something that could lead me closer to awakening with another. This impulse began to grow in me as I was introduced to Buddhist training which began to show me that my patterns of sexual greed merely fed the parts of me that continually prevented clarity. The more I sat in meditation, however, the more I began to see that my time alone was a gift that allowed me to see through to the core of my own loneliness. When I got to the base of my sense of alienation and disconnectedness, I saw a bunch of false stories of inadequacy that I’d written over many years. I had the help of a great therapist and a great Zen teacher in uncovering all of this, with each of them relentlessly pointing me in the direction of my own interior. In time I no longer felt the compulsion to act on my desire to escape from my pain. I learned that pain was simply intensity that I was continually running from. When I accepted and sat still in the face of the intensity, however, I saw that it had no power over what was real in me. As a result of this discovery, a relatively unshakeable and comfortable presence began to grow regardless of whether or not I was with or without a partner. Not surprisingly, it was in this felt-sense of wholeness that partnerships of true potential started to show up.