Mindful Loving Can Improve Relationships
The 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso), Pema Chodron, David Richo and many others have provided us with helpful advice about improving the quality of our significant relationships. The Dalai Lama in various writings reminds us that to have true compassion for others – including those we love – we must first have self-compassion. We cannot know true compassion for others if we do not have compassion for ourself. Open-heartedness in kindness and caring begins within us. Once we have it and can feel it, then we can provide it to others. In the end we are reducing our own suffering as well as the suffering of others.
Pema Chodron, in A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation, reminds us that we can experience true transformation only after we practice honoring ourselves as the sources of innate compassion and insight. Bodhichitta (open, soft, warm and kind heartedness) is necessary for social wisdom and personal transformation to occur. We must begin with ourselves. The various approaches to compassion, generosity, loving kindness, and sharing – they all begin within.
David Richo’s book, How to be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving, also notes that it all begins within us. He quotes Milton’s Paradise Lost: “A paradise within” is the starting point. According to Richo, it all begins with mindful attention. Paying caring attention to the person you are in relationship with is highly important for improving the quality of that relationship. Be present, listen, observe, and be part of mutually-supportive interactions. Having skills in mindful attention is a must. Mindful acceptance is another required characteristic for successful relationships. Accepting the other person – all parts of them – sometimes may even require radical acceptance (see Tara Brach’s work). Mindful appreciation and gratitude for the other person and their caring actions are part of the formula for healthy, loving relationships. Let us not forget the importance of mindful affection – respectful, mutual holding and touching. Mindful affection, perhaps more than any other mindfulness-based practice, may be the single most powerful connective aspect in loving relationships. Deep, caring, mutual affectionate interactions are required. Mindful allowing is also important – the quality in a relationship that allows space and time for the other person to be who they are. It is clear that specific mindful actions improve the quality of significant relationships, and that these mindful interactions are mutual in nature.
There are other powerful components in loving relationships. Support for each person’s self-esteem and self-respect is absolutely necessary. The quality of early attachment relationships will play a highly significant role in the quality of current relationships. Trust, feeling safe, being supportive, and experiencing love all improve our relationships. Likewise, emotional self-regulation and the ability to let go of ego-based and habitual control mechanisms become more and more important as our relationship grows closer and deeper. Insight into our own narcissistic desires and self-hating extremes (if existing) will be necessary to overcome archaic emotional entanglements. We must change these conditions of the self. We all suffer, and we all can experience happiness. Regular couples meditation and loving kindness and compassion practices will be helpful. There are enemies of healthy relationships: ego, fear, over-attachment, self-centered desire, clinging, over-controlling, and entitlement – all work against loving relationships. Do good! Be kind! Allow yourselves to become ONE with it all. Since love may be the ultimate possibility of possibilities (as Richo notes), true mutual selflessness may also be part of this process.
For more information refer to Richo, D. (2012). How to be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving. Boston: Shambhala Publications.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness
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