At the beginning of many relationships, there is this special magic you feel with the other person. Your heart naturally feels warm when you think about them, they appear to you to be just a wonderful person, you see good in them, and every once in a while, they also feel the same way about you! Magic! This feels so good because in our heart of hearts, we all long to be linked with others by love. It is as if our heart knows that this feeling of separation and isolation we feel is not the natural state of our relationship with others and we get a glimpse of the experience of loving interconnectedness.
The reason why people have affairs is because they lose this feeling with the person they are with (more on that below). They then meet somebody (or refind a long lost love from earlier in life), feel that magical spark again, and since it feels so good they start heading towards it. If there are sexual feelings towards this new person, and especially if the feelings are reciprocal, it is almost an irresistable combination. They see the difference in the feelings towards their regular partner, become increasingly dissastisfied, and gradually the relationship erodes away. Affairs are often not just sexual flings, they are usually a by product of having lost that special feeling with the one we are with, and then being hit with it with somebody else.
All of these dynamics occur because we mistakenly think these special feelings reside in and are dependent upon the other person. We relate to the other person like we relate to any other samsaric object, really, where we believe that happiness resides within the other person and by “consuming” the other person we can get some of it. The problem is as soon as we start relating to other people like they are samsaric objects that have the power to give us happiness, things start going south! We start to relate to them like a drug, where we are trying to get our fix, and we need more and more of them to get the same high. But then they are no longer able to provide us with the same good feelings they once did, and we become frustrated with them because they are not living up to our expectations. We lose the magic. We then are willing to do anything to get it back. We start acting in all sorts of goofy ways towards the other person, alternating between being a sychophant to being a raging lunatic, and then back again. The relationship grows increasingly dysfunctional, we increasingly blame the other person, and we start to hate ourselves for how we are stuck in such a dynamic. We blame them for how we are, and so we start hating them. We have invested so much in chasing the end of the rainbow with them we become willing to do anything to get some good out of the relationship to justify all that we have done. But the more we run after the mirage, the more it escapes us. Eventually, we decide to end it. But we go back – again and again – caught in a vicious cycle. Eventually, though, we realize it is a cycle and start to break free completely. At some point we walk away and don’t fall back in.
But if we still grasp at other people as samsaric objects, it is just a question of time before we fall into a similarly dysfunctional dynamic with somebody else.
So how do we protect ourselves against this? Simple, we need to realize that the magic is within us and within our own mind, and it is in no way dependent upon the other person. This magic is called affectionate love, and we can cultivate it within our mind with training. We can feel this magic towards everyone all of the time. Our affectionate love can become like the sun which radiates out towards all around us. The sun does not need the objects it illuminates to be a source of warmth, it simply radiates from its own inner fire. It is the same with affectionate love. When we know it comes from within and is not dependent upon or sourced in others, then we stop chasing the rainbow and instead we start becoming a loving person. We learn how to feel affectionate love for everyone around us. Of course we will express this love differently with different people depending upon our karmic relationship with them, but the warm, magical feelings within us remain within us all of the time. We must apply effort to cultivate and sustain these feelings, but it is an internal project, not one of stalking and manipulating others to get them to do what we want them to do so we can regain the feelings.
So how do we generate these feelings? Simple: take the time to identify and appreciate the good qualities of others. Each being has within them Buddha nature, so each being has within them all of the qualities and potential for all goodness. We need to appreciate others. See the good in others, draw it out, transform all of their faults into opportunities to practice. Then you will appreciate all that they do, good and bad, and your feelings of affectionate love will be stable and ever lasting.
(Please note, no, I am not having an affair! I am just reflecting on what I have observed and understood. Just thought I needed to clarify that! hee hee)
Your turn: Describe how relating to others as an object of attachment has created problems in your life.