Zen Dating

The Zen approach to dating is to cut through all the games, to be your authentic self and to be present and compassionate toward whoever is with you.

The biggest game in dating is wanting something from another person and pretending we don’t. We want all kinds of things from other people when we date them. We want love, acceptance, appreciation, understanding, confirmation, sex, commitment, money, security, healing, and on and on. We bring every want and need in our lives into our relationships. In a dating situation it is a brand new relationship and so we play the game of pretending that we are complete, have lots to offer and need nothing. Playing that game is already taking something from the other person as we rely on them to support the fantasies we project about ourselves.

To approach a date from a zen perspective you go into your date as an enlightened person. You can’t just put your enlightenment on for a date like a sweater or scarf. That would be playing a game. You have to use that as your approach to life. You must approach life as a process of personal growth, learning to be who you are, where you are in all circumstances. Going out on a date, is a special opportunity to catch yourself at your normal habits, pretending to be things, and wanting things from other people.

Dating is a time of heightened judging and self-consciousness. When you find yourself being present and connecting with another person you judge positively, imagining a long life of happiness together, or getting what you want from them. When you are not connecting, you imagine you are wasting your time, that the person will not give you anything that you need or want. You sense that they may want something from you that you can’t give.

Whether you are connecting or not connecting changes moment to moment and instead of connecting, you wonder if you are connecting or not. If you think the other person is great, you may start to worry that you are not enough. If you find them annoying, you’re not too worried about how good you are, and you may even find yourself being mean. As you wander away from the present moment, indulge your judgments, and forget your compassion you lose your enlightenment. You find yourself involved in a transaction rather than an interpersonal connection. You are swallowed up by your own game. Zen is remembering to come back to the present and be who you are where you are.

When a date is over, you continue working on yourself, your presence, your compassion and your enlightenment. When you notice yourself playing a game, recognize the game and respond compassionately. When you are deciding what to do, ask yourself, am I playing a game or am I engaged in real life? Ask yourself if you are being authentic or manipulative. If you are bashing yourself, be compassionate with yourself. If you are acting toward another person be compassionate with them.

As dating progresses and you become more intimate, more authentic, with another person, walls crumble, or stand firm. Illusions pop. Pretenses are exposed. You grow and change. You may get married, you may go separate ways. You continue to work on being present, compassionate and enlightened. That is a zen approach to dating.


Love your no-self

I am me, you are you and we are both part of something else. We live in a world that is built around each of us being individuals. We have names, birth certificates, belongings, opinions, all of which contribute to our sense of self. Self makes complete sense to us. No-self makes no sense. However, the idea of anatta, the underlying truth of no-self, compels us to wonder if it is true or not.

I don’t know how my computer works, how it manages to send information through the air so that it makes sense to your computer, but other people understand that very well. They understand truths about electrical engineering that are complete mysteries to me.

No-self is something you can learn, like electrical engineering. You learn to see the world from a different perspective. No separate self is much easier to grasp. We can’t exist without our parents, without food, water, or sunlight. All of these things are conditions of our existence. We are intertwined with everything. There is nothing about us that is completely us and not also part of something else.

When you don’t think about it, you have a solid, concrete sense of self. When you think about it a lot, that idea breaks up. There is also an experience of no-self where you may get a sense that you are not breathing, but that something is breathing you, or that there are just thoughts and nobody thinking them. These are some ways people have talked about the no-self experience. If you have such an experience the idea of no-self then makes intuitive sense.

Loving yourself is like a stepping stone to no-self. As long as you believe in a self and experience a self you should treat yourself lovingly. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Don’t create situations for yourself to suffer. Do things to help yourself feel better.  Even if you experience a strong sense of no-self you still have to inhabit yourself and interact with the world, which is built around a sense of self.  At an even more basic level, you can’t not eat because you think you don’t have a self.

Understanding no-self is understanding interrelatedness. The reality that we are all in this together. Loving yourself is recognizing that you suffer and would rather not and then finding life affirming, sustainable ways to suffer less. That opens the gates to loving others, noticing that others suffer and finding ways to help them suffer less. That creates opportunities to experience no-self. Loving yourself is a way to explore no-self.

Much of our suffering comes from our ideas about how things are. The idea of self is one of those big ideas that leads to a lot of suffering. The idea that you should love yourself is one of those ideas that can reduce suffering. So, as long as you experience a self, try to love that self. When you experience no-self there is only love.


Attachment and Love

If love leads to happiness and attachment leads to suffering, how can we expect to love without attachment? Love is bigger than attachment. Love is a force that binds us all together. Attachment is what happens when we think of ourselves as separate. As soon as we think of ourselves as something other than what we love, we start grabbing onto love and that grabbing causes us pain.

Buddhism teaches us that attachment causes suffering. It is the glue of desire. When we desire something that we don’t have, or that we imagine we don’t have, we start to suffer. The suffering is not in the having as much as in the imagining. We attach to ideas about what we are and what love is. We imagine that we are lovable or not lovable. We base our happiness on being loved by a certain person in a certain way. When we are happy in love, love seems to work that way. When we are sad in love, love seems to be missing. Love is always there. Other people’s love for us does not make us happy. Loving makes us happy.

When somebody loves us, and that love awakens the love in us, we will feel happy. If we attach that feeling of happiness to love, when the happiness goes away, we may imagine that the love has gone away too. Happiness comes and goes. Love is eternal. When we attach to things that go away, we feel the pain of loss. When our happiness comes and goes with our thoughts about how we are loved, we like regular reassurances that we are loved. We are loved. Rest assured.

Love is easy. Relationships are hard. In love we are one. In relationships we are two. When we become two, we begin looking at ourselves as though in a mirror. If we don’t love what we see, we are probably attached to an idea of what love should be. If we do love what we see, we feel happy.


A Simple Practice

There is no end to self improvement advice. When you read all the things you could and should do to find happiness and peace, it can get overwhelming and confusing. In order to simplify all that you read into a single, easy to access practice, practice checking in with your breath regularly throughout the day.

Whenever you notice stress, or any other emotion, take a conscious breath and see what you are thinking and how you are feeling. When you notice what you are thinking and feeling turn off all judgement.

If you are confused about what to do, take a breath.

If you notice yourself judging yourself or others, take a breath.

If you notice yourself comparing yourself to others or to an idealized version of yourself, take a breath.

If you meditate regularly, checking in with your breath throughout the day will come more naturally.

Another simple practice is to be kind to yourself and others in your thoughts and actions. Practice generosity and generate good feelings. Notice the good feelings. Smile and appreciate smiles around you. Take some time to think about people you love, and who love you. Look for beauty wherever you are.

These simple practices will help you both be who you want to be and appreciate who you are.


Love Pressures

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to love and be loved. We see love as a magic elixir that can make everything in our lives right. The loss of love can be devastating. We define ourselves, create our identities, around who and what we love and by who loves us. Empires are built and kingdoms crumble from the forces of love. With so much riding on love, it is important that we learn to live with it.

Living with love should be easy. It is the closest thing we have to a magic potion that will make everything right. When we feel love, we feel good. When we don’t feel love, we feel bad. That part is simple. When we try to love ourselves or other people things get more complicated. The problems do not come out of love, they come out of our ideas about how love should be.

Love is always just as it should be. We often think it should be different, which causes problems. We think love should make us feel good. It does. When we think love is making us feel bad, we are not feeling love. We are feeling attachment to an idea of what love should be. We expect people to behave in certain ways to demonstrate their love. They behave differently and we question the love. We expect ourselves to be a certain way to be worthy of love, but we are how we are and we question love.

When we feel sad or anxious or scared because of love, we are putting too much pressure on love. We are trying to confine it to too small of a space. We try to confine it to a specific circumstance, person, place or time. No matter how awful these ideas of love may make us feel, love will eventually be there to make us feel better. Big love, spacious love, is all around us.

Everybody, everywhere, does everything they do for love. Admittedly, in our confusion, we sometimes make a big mess of things as we do what we do for love. When we are feeling the pressure of the love we want, we need to open ourselves up to the love that we have. In every interaction, love is present. To summon love we don’t need to find our soulmate,  we can think of people we love. think of things we love, or think of times we felt loved. When we are able to evoke that feeling of love, it works. We love. We feel good. No pressure.


Being In Love

Love connects us all. Whether we like somebody or not, we are connected to them through love. The love that connects us knows no limits. We don’t have to be in the same room or same country as a person to love them. We can love people while they are awake or asleep, alive or dead. Such is the capacity of love. We love all the time. We are loved all the time. We are beings in love.

Sometimes we forget about that. Sometimes we think that love is a delicate and rare commodity, that we can give and withhold it according to our moods. We think it comes and goes, that it happens to some people and not to others. When we think that way, we worry that it might not happen to us. We worry that we can lose love. We feel separate, alone, unloved, unlovable. That is confusion.

When we find somebody special to love, who loves us, we fall in love. That feels great. It is hard to know though how the other person experiences love. We may feel intense love and begin to doubt if they feel the same. That feels awful. Then they say something or do something that confirms how they feel. That feels great. Then we worry that something might have changed, or doubt their motives. That feels awful again. Then they reassure us that they love us and we feel great again. That checking, checking, checking, can be exhausting. It can get in the way of recognizing the love that carries on, unphased with those ups and downs.

Figuring out how to love and who to love is part of what we do. Loving beings is what we are. It is helpful to remember that whether we are in-love or not, we are in love. Being aware of that, feeling the comfort and peace that comes with that recognition is always a nice place to be. Being around people who help us to recognize where we are is also wonderful.





Learning To Love Again

The way to get over a broken heart is to find somebody new to love. The problem with finding somebody new to love when your heart is broken, is that you don’t feel like loving when you are suffering.  You are still occupied with loving the person who broke your heart. When you experience such intense pain, the last thing you want to do is fall in love again. When your heart aches, it’s hard to imagine loving in a way that won’t lead right back to that pain. Even if you were to meet your soul mate while you are nursing a broken heart, you wouldn’t recognize them because when you are feeling that bad, you don’t know your own soul.

To find somebody new to love, you have to look into your own soul. You have to see who and what you are. You have to look with the eyes of pain, and see what hurts and why. There is no better time to look into your soul than when it is torn wide open. When it seems you have lost everything that you thought you had, everything that you thought you were, you can get a clear view of what you are. What you are is hurting. You are also compassionate. The compassionate side of you looks into the hurting side of you and wants to make it feel better. When you recognize your compassionate side, recognizing your hurting side, you begin to get to know your soul again. If you get a good glimpse of your soul, you will have found somebody new to love. It’s not some random stranger sweeping you off your feet. It is your new self.

When the new person that you find to love is the new you, you don’t have to worry about future heartbreaks. You won’t have to protect your heart from future love. If your soul mate walks into your life you will recognize them, because you have recognized your soul.

When you recognize your compassionate soul, you may recognize many soul mates. Whenever you see another person suffering, your compassionate soul will be able to see into that suffering and recognize a kindred spirit. All that compassion will mend your broken heart. When you practice loving yourself and others who are suffering, you learn to love again. When suddenly you find yourself in love again, with someone new, you know you are over your broken heart.

When you go through this process with awareness, your heart doesn’t harden to become unbreakable in case it falls, it softens, so it can bounce. It lightens, so it can float.


Rising From The Ashes

When a relationship ends with heartbreak, for whatever reason, that heartbreak is like a fire burning down the house of the relationship. Once we become aware of the fire, our tendency is to run through the house, gathering the valuables, our self-esteem, trust, hope, while the flames consume us. It is hard to go about our daily lives while we are standing in the middle of the fire.

The fire doesn’t begin at the end of the relationship. The end of the relationship beings with the fire. For a while we are able to ignore the burning, but as the pain mounts, we notice that the person we built our lives with is not the person we thought they were. We are not the person we thought we were either. That life that we imagined for ourselves is not happening. It is natural to want to save ourselves, to salvage our illusion. The illusion will not survive the fire. We cannot escape the fire, all we can do is watch it burn. That is heartbreak. It hurts, a lot.

When we face the pain, feel the burn, we begin to care for ourselves in the midst of the fire. The fire cleans up everything around us. We can see that the most essential valuables are impervious to flame. When our illusions are gone, we see our own strength. We see that we were able to love. We can see that we were loved. We can see our capacity for love has grown in the fire. Our hearts are not hardened by the heat, but exposed. Those who love us deeply are still there with us. Those we love are still there. The future that burned up was never anything more than a mirage. The only thing we miss is an illusion. When we recognize that, we emerge from the ashes.

When our illusions are gone, we cast no blame, we have no cause for self-reproach. We go on with our newfound wisdom, grateful for the cleansing flames, nurturing our tender, indestructible heart, practicing compassion for those still standing in the flames.



Love Can’t Hurt

One sign of our confusion is that we believe in the notion that love hurts. Love, however, is not what hurts. Love feels great. Love lifts us up and connects us to the joy of living. Love heals.

Life hurts. Many of the things we do in the name of love cause us pain. It is not the love that causes us pain, it is our disconnection from the love that hurts. When we think we are hurting from love, we hurt from other things. If we can put all of those other things aside and focus on feeling love, we can make sense of the hurt.

When it feels like you are hurting from love, focus your mind and look into the pain. Instead of imagining that love is hurting, look into the usual suspects, fear, loneliness, sadness, anger, loss or uncertainty. These are the feelings that hurt. Love is what makes all of these feelings bearable.

We like to put love into a little box, like it is a special connection between two people. I love you. You love me. We love each other. Everything is perfect. In that view, love is like an electrical circuit. When it is complete, the light goes on. With that view of love, there will be lots of things that can interfere with the circuit, causing shocks and pain and leaving people in the dark.

Love is your life force. It is the air you breathe. It is the sun in the sky. It is the light from within you. If you are hurting because somebody that you love is not returning your text, you are hurting from insecurity, impatience, or wanting love to be something much smaller that it is. If you are hurting because you have lost love, again you are hurting from the sense of loss, not the love. The love is still there. It’s in you.

When you want to sort out the hurt from the love, breathe into the pain and see the thoughts that come with the pain. When you have explored the pain long enough, breathe it all out and imagine love. Think of times you have been filled with love. Think of love without self, like the love of a pet. When you have evoked a feeling of love, it will comfort your pain.

True love is not happily ever after. True love encompasses everything. You don’t need a perfect somebody else to practice feeling love. Practice feeling love. It can’t hurt.


Find Yourself in a Relationship

There is no better spiritual practice than trying to love another human being. The problem that we run into as we search for the love of our life, is that we don’t often approach love as a spiritual practice. We tend to approach relationships full of romantic ideals of what love should be. We have faith that, with the right person, love will take care of us. The mistake we make is looking for the right person outside of ourselves.

To find the right person, we have to be the right person. Fortunately, we are all the right person. We are each, uniquely, ourselves. That is who we have been, who we will be and who we are. Unfortunately, we don’t know who we are. We often think that we are something else entirely. We tend to think of ourselves as something worse than we actually are. That is because what we actually are is as good as it gets. When we understand that we are complete as we are, we don’t make the mistake of looking for somebody else to complete us.

When we understand that our view of ourselves is distorted, then we become curious as to what we actually are. A romantic relationship is a great mirror for finding ourselves. The first thing we should notice when we love somebody is that the love we feel for them is our love. The other person may have wonderful qualities that inspire love, but the love we actually feel is our own. It is the beautiful essence of ourselves. When we feel other things as we get into a relationship, those are also our feelings. When they are reflected back to us, we need to look at them as well.

A relationship will show us how we relate to our feelings. Because the feelings in a close relationship are extra intense, we can’t miss them. We will see which feelings we can handle on our own, and which we assign to others. We will see if we need to forgive ourselves, or be forgiven. We will notice how we feel when we are angry and how we feel when somebody is angry at us. We can explore how we relate to jealousy, rejection, criticism. We will create opportunities to be generous to see how that feels. We will be able to practice saying sorry when we make mistakes.

If we look to find ourselves in relationships, whatever happens will help us grow. If we look to escape ourselves in a relationship, we will only confront ourselves again and again and we will need to escape the relationship.

Love is a great safety net that allows you to be yourself without fear of falling. When you practice finding yourself in love, you will love what you find.