For many of us as humans, our lives follow a particular trajectory. We might have one, two or even a few times in our lives when we fall in love with someone. Heady, passionate, and addictive. We can’t wait to hear the sound of her/his voice again. Until it turns catastrophic, excruciating, and completely soul-wrenching when love inevitably ends and hearts are broken (whether by mutual parting, rejection, or death).
Outside of romantic love in our daily lives, we’re guaranteed to have happy times, miserable times and fairly neutral times. However, how much of our lives can we honestly say has been spent in feeling comfortable with ourselves regardless of our external circumstances? Content with who we are and with the way things are, and not wishing for things to be different?
This can be a difficult thing, especially after years of being unconsciously programmed by our moment-to-moment desires. It can be hard to differentiate between the things that are ephemeral and those that will produce an enduring sense of equanimity. And let’s face it, those ephemeral things can feel pretty darn sweet! Dopamine, anyone?
When we are feeling sad, lonely, disappointed in ourselves, or just in sore need of some comfort, our (perfectly natural) human tendency is to try to ease the pain somehow. The perfect love affair- with a person, an object (like food or drugs), or even an activity (like video games, exercise or sex).
In one of his final messages, the Buddha addressed his beloved attendant Ananda thus:
“Therefore, O Ananda, be a lamp unto yourself.
Betake yourself to no external refuge.
Hold fast to the Truth as a lamp.
Hold fast to the Truth as a refuge.”
In this famous sutta, the Buddha is talking about the mirage of the perfect love affair. So, what if instead of seeking a love affair with a person, thing or activity outside of ourselves, we cultivate a relationship with ourselves? That is, a deep and meaningful relationship with the truth of the way things are with us right now. A relationship takes work, and isn’t characterized by the trance-like intoxication of an early love affair. It’s grown-up, is more reliant on commitment and wisdom, and is more steadfast through thick and thin. Can we simply observe the way things really are? With compassion and patient endurance, and without generating suffering by constantly fighting our reality?
This is the opposite of navel-gazing, and it definitely isn’t narcissism. Self-absorption usually obscures the truth of the way things are. Mindfulness helps to illuminate it.
Our relationship with ourselves is the most important one of our lives. It begins and ends with us alone, with our very first and last breath. We translate the Pali word “sati” as mindfulness, but it more literally means “to remember.” So the next time you feel the gnawing temptation of wanting something external to soothe your soul but which your heart knows to be unwise, try “to remember” the potential consequences of your actions on this most important love relationship. The beautiful you, the one who has loved you all your life. Betake yourself to no external refuge 🙂