How many of you have thought about loving without attachment or what that even means? It’s a tricky concept to understand and live, I think, at least it’s been for me. To love without attachment means we open our hearts to another but we don’t control or possess them. It’s something I’ve been consciously trying to do for at least a year now. My first attempt was unsuccessful for several reasons.
My ideal is to be with a partner I trust who will make and honor agreements with me, but I don’t want to own him nor do I want to be owned by him. In the splendid book, The Way to Love, The Last Meditations of Anthony De Mello, De Mello suggests we say to our love, “I leave you free to be yourself, to think your thoughts, to indulge your taste, follow your inclinations, behave in any way that you decide is to your liking.” He adds, “The moment you say that, you will observe one of two things: Either your heart will resist those words and you will be exposed for the clinger and exploiter that you are; so now is the time to examine your false belief that without this person you cannot live or cannot be happy. Or your heart will pronounce the words sincerely and in that very instant all control, manipulation, exploitation, possessiveness, jealousy will drop.”
What do you think? When a friend first read those words to me I wasn’t ready to accept them. I responded with the resistance De Mello describes. But I know, now, this is how I want to live, although I’ll admit it’s not always easy, nor is it a concept that receives wide cultural support.
The fact is, we can never really own another and I don’t believe we’re meant to. Nor are there any guarantees, as much as we would love there to be. Loss is simply a part of life. We can lose those we love to death and we can lose them to other relationships. Sometimes love just dies. The man I love could meet someone tomorrow who draws him away from me. This does not make either of them bad people in spite of what our society may say. Love happens, relationships finish. We all know this. Most of us have experienced it at one time or another. But that hurts so we still long for the fairy tale, don’t we? And sometimes love does last a lifetime. Let’s celebrate it when it does, but let’s lovingly release it when it doesn’t. As hard as it is, when a relationship completes itself we are meant to move on. When the lessons we came together to learn have been gained, we are supposed to let go. I think part of loving is knowing when to do that, if that time comes.
De Mello goes on to say, “Your beloved will then belong not to you but to everyone or to no one, like the sunrise… In saying those words you have set yourself free. You are now ready to love… Love can only exist in freedom. The true lover seeks the good of his beloved which requires especially the liberation of the beloved from the lover.”
Loving without attachment doesn’t mean we love less. I think it actually means we love more. We love with our hearts fully open, but we don’t hold to any sense of ownership. And we take responsibility for finding our own happiness within. We don’t depend on the love of a particular other to create it for us. In loving like this we make our own lives which we can then share with another if we choose.
I said at the beginning of this piece that my first attempt at this kind of loving failed for several reasons. First of all, I chose the wrong partner and, back then, I wasn’t aware of how deeply I’d internalized our societal beliefs about relationships. So now I’m sifting through them, endeavoring to shed those that do not serve. And I didn’t have the self-confidence or internal peace needed for a non-possessive kind of commitment to work. I’m still practicing that and I envy those of you who have it. I’m getting better every day.
We can’t snap our fingers and suddenly be transformed into people who seamlessly love within the kind of freedom DeMello is talking about. It can be a life-long process of growth and discovery–an on-going learning—two steps forward, one step back, as they say. But the journey is so very worth the time and effort, I believe. There are few role models to follow so we have to make it up as we go along. However, don’t you think it’s a good way to learn to live, with complete autonomy for both people in a partnership, and a genuine desire for the other’s good?
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