A student writes:
How do we learn to love without attachment? I have been revisiting the Apramanas study material recently and reflecting on the four qualities. With the quality of ‘Love’ – we often think we love someone, but looking deeper we love them conditionally. As long as they do what we want we’re happy but if they don’t, we can feel resentful.
Lama Shenpen responds:
It’s true isn’t it? There is this warm glow of approval from us or a cold blast of disconnection. Our love is being distorted by the ego-mandala overlay that distorts it into wanting certain results or rejecting not only what we don’t want but those who go the way we don’t want. It is always the same basic pattern of suffering isn’t it?
So, the answer to your question is just keep going with Dharma practice on all fronts – spiral learning. As we understand suffering better we understand its origin better and its cessation. Then we have a glimpse of Right View which we can then stabilise through the Eight Fold Path. It always comes back to that.
Yet on the way we can find ways to familiarise ourselves with our ego mandala dynamic and talk to our various sub-mandalas and parts about what they think they are up to, becoming more aware of what is going on, is how to see how it all works and how to step out of those patterns. So, lots of different methods can help and we each have to find what works for us.
I have noticed this in myself with friends and family, I can worry about them when I think they are making bad decisions that will bring more suffering onto themselves. I want to intervene (and sometimes do) and tell them what I think they should do, then get frustrated if they don’t follow my advice.
And then if one doesn’t advise them and they harm themselves one feels bad about not having said anything, and then one worries endlessly about whether one should have said something or not! Meanwhile, that lovely warm connected feelings of ease in each other’s company seem to ebb away – and that is what we tend to associate with feelings of love don’t we? But maybe that isn’t the only feeling we might associate with love. Maybe love sometimes just feels very painful – poignantly painful so it hurts and it’s that feeling we are resenting and perhaps projecting on to the other person. I think I resent them but actually I just don’t like feeling what I am feeling…
I think my wanting to intervene comes from a good place of not wanting to see them suffer…
I’m sure it does…
…but it normally doesn’t work out very well and can lead to resentment on both sides. I appreciate getting advice from friends when I ask for it, but I don’t like it when someone just starts dishing out advice without me asking for it. It feels disempowering and can sound like criticism.
Yes, I notice this myself. I certainly don’t feel seen if someone just keeps going on and on with their advice as if I couldn’t have thought of it for myself and as if somehow I am resisting and need to excuse myself from taking their advice, why should I have to do that? But still the advice keeps on coming. It’s a good warning to me not to do this to other people!!!
Some of the kindest people I have met in my life just accepted me for who I was… they didn’t necessarily do anything but I could sense their love for me and I think of them with a lot of fondness.
Yes it’s good to remember that and take them as our model and as a reassurance.
So, how do we learn to love without attachment? When you were teaching from the Metta Sutta, you said we can love beings without having to do anything, without having to fix their problems. Perhaps it’s a question of having confidence that this is enough?
Yes, it is a matter of confidence and also sensitivity – being open to seizing any opportunity to help that offers itself without going over the top. Karma Thinley Rinpoche’s intervention with ants and slugs comes to mind. [Stories told in Lama Shenpen’s life story book.]
You can sometimes give up too easily as if you can’t do anything but by staying with the suffering of another person just that bit longer than perhaps you habitually would, sometimes something pops up as a sudden inspiration. It might be as simple as saying something quite daring and yet you just feel in your body a sense of ease and spontaneity about it, and it works. It might bring a smile to both parties! Other times there is no reassurance at the time and yet perhaps years later you find out that your simple presence made a world of difference to someone.
Lama Shenpen Hookham
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