Mindful Romance

I read this article, re-posted by a friend. I didn’t listen to the podcasts and such, I admit. It seemed like a sweet, hopeful article, and far better than most of the “relationship advice” we see on a daily basis in various media. This is the quote I like best:

“There’s a difference between the couple who drives through the rainstorm and the couple who pulls their car to the side of the road to make out in the rain. (Yes, that’s a true story.) There’s a difference between the couple who kisses for 10 seconds or longer when they say goodbye to each other rather than just giving each other a peck… or nothing at all…The couples who try on a daily basis to experience some sort of meaningful connection, or create a fun memory…”     –Nate Bagley

And in thinking about why I like this quote, I realized that it is a form of mindfulness. In my own ideal world, I am mindful about much of my day: I want to pat my dogs mindfully, really being there, feeling the connection we have. I want to do laundry mindfully, noticing my body’s ability to bend and lift and fold, the smell of clean clothes, the particular articles of clothing I wear that are comfortable or practical or beautiful. I want to listen to music mindfully, hearing the songs like I did the first time, really listening, not waiting impatiently for the next song to come on. I want to drive mindfully, looking around at the landscape, feeling the power of getting myself to where I am going with ease and comfort.

What I especially love about the idea of being mindful in a relationship is how it seems to re-cast a Buddhist concept I often have difficulty with: that we should not cling to or crave things. I want the kind of love that means I crave my lover’s kisses. I want to look forward to hearing his laugh.

So how do I reconcile this kind of romantic love with a Buddhist approach to life? I’m thinking my answer lies in mindfulness. Craving can become an end in itself, the daydreaming so idealized that no real life experience could measure up. When I get that kiss, I want to really be there—I want to be all in, feeling my skin and breath and the soles of my feet. And if the kiss is shorter than I had imagined, then rather than feeling disappointed, I want to just say, “Could we try a longer kiss? I’d really like that.” And then to be there, fully, for what follows, because even in my most vulnerable relationship—which is generally my romantic relationship—I want to feel all the sparkling cells in my fingertips and all the best energies of my mind at work, trying to live the way I hope to live.

SHAME: A LIST

I feel ashamed when

–I feel insecure and ask people to reassure me that I really am loved/loveable

–I write my own work (even this) instead of nurturing others

–I remember the big plans and assumption of success I had when I was a girl

–I curse in front of men

–I think about how I got my current job because the school where I teach wanted my husband, and I was a by-product of the transaction

–I promote my work

–a doctor tells me the weight chart shows me as “obese”

–I hope something good happens to me

–I explain to someone that I am not a first class academic citizen because I am not on the tenure track, so I teach more classes and make considerably less money than a “real professor”

–I see my double chin in a photograph of myself

–I tell my lover exactly what I want him to do

–women start talking about fashion and clothes and I look down and realize I’m wearing my Target jeans and comfortable shoes

–I cannot make other people happy

–writers and editors can’t remember my name, even when I’m met them several times

I could go on, as, I think, most of us could. It is an awful thing, shame, and even worse when I look at the items on the list in a specific way. My core values include body acceptance, the acknowledgment that all bodies are beautiful and each of us is beautiful right now, as we are. So where’s that acceptance for myself? I also am a feminist, which makes it especially difficult to admit that I worry about my language when I’m around men; I want to be my authentic self whomever I’m with. Money, a prestigious job, fancy clothes? I care far more about people, time, poetry, nature, animals—the way our hearts connect with other hearts and with whatever larger things are out there.

I don’t want to feel ashamed. I don’t want any of you to, either. I want to know I’m a smokin’ hot, voluptuous, sensual woman; a fucking beautiful and smart writer; a teacher whose presence makes her students’ lives better and thereby improves the world; a tender-hearted lover of animals who creates tail-wagging-happiness with every touch of a dog’s furry chin; a human being who triumphs every day by just getting out of bed; a sensitive and vulnerable person who is—goddamn it—ALLOWED to ask for others to reassure and adore her, because this life is a hell of a hard thing for us all.

I don’t know how to overcome these feelings. Saying what I did in the above paragraph helps—studies show that you can re-route your brain through affirmations, for real. But we all have to fight the constraints put on us by culture, family, and ourselves. I believe that just saying it—sharing our feelings and thoughts, naked like this—is a vital part of the battle.