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Relationships and the Agony of Need
Michael: Dear Sundari, I hope you are well and happy.
I know you are not an agony aunt!
I am, however, in a certain amount of pain in my relationship.
I have been applying the principles in your book as best I can but am finding it tough going.
I have a lot of rajas in my make-up.
I entered the relationship (nearly 10 years ago now) on a romantic basis and am having trouble adjusting.
I have really had to face deep, bloody neediness in my personality, which is an absolute torture for me and for my partner Sally.
It just keeps coming, damn it!
There is progress, but it just keeps breaking through.
I have an active work life and am much appreciated and admired in the workplace – of course this is not the same at home and I keep looking for admiration in my relationship.
I am also highly manipulative, as you can imagine, but this is all seen through now – so embarrassing.
I am getting sick to death of this jiva’s temperament!
Sally is dependent on me financially but not emotionally. I am still dependent emotionally – so sick of this!
I go through periods where I am okay with things, but my neediness and manipulation still flare up when things get too busy (rajas!) or when things happen which make me sad and emotional (tamas).
Recently I was visiting my aging mother, who is not so well, and I got a call from a friend of mine to say his mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer – I bottled it up, got needy and oversensitive and, bingo, began to get whiny with Sally.
I can see all this quite clearly when it passes and only partially when it is happening.
I value this relationship with Sally, as she is committed to moksa and is a good companion.
She is a dharmic person and very straightforward and kind in her instincts.
She can be extremely sharp and critical though, and I get hurt.
It is getting difficult between us.
I think we are both getting tired of adjusting to each other’s personalities.
Where we meet is in the teaching and with humour and general outlook on life.
Where we don’t is lifestyle and emotional make-up.
I wonder if we can stay together.
I would like to, as I am 52 now and a veteran of a few relationships – I don’t think there is something better out there.
I really don’t want to go through the damned relationship thing again, so I am guessing I would wind up living alone, which might not be a bad thing – just not what I would prefer perhaps.
My preference would be to work this out, but I am feeling a bit stumped.
The way I see it is that the best thing to do is to keep practising my own karma yoga and Self-inquiry and let things play out.
I am not good at patience – rajasic – and always want to patch things up and move on, but I think that won’t do here.
I think I must accept the situation without trying to sort it out on a jiva level.
If I take care of my own life and remain independent, non-manipulative and non-interfering, then things will just be whatever they are.
I think I must take a different approach – in a sense doing nothing.
I automatically act to “save” the relationship – it is my programming and I am questioning that.
To hand the result to Isvara and just mind my own business seems to be the right thing.
I am sorry to go on, but I felt it was right to continue the dialogue.
The upside to this is that I am becoming a bit more dispassionate – this situation would have had me acting out all over the place in the past – blaming either Sally or myself.
Right now, as I write I am calm and objective.
I know that her and my behaviour is conditioned by the gunas (yes, I read the book).
I have my preferences but there is not the panic there would have been in the past.
Thank you for the time you take to answer these emails and also again for putting me onto Christine – it has made a huge difference in my relationship to my daughter.
I am sincere in my desire for moksa and also in my desire to sort out the most problematic aspects of this jiva.
I know that sorting out the jiva will not bring moksa, but I also know that the jiva’s problems get in the way of Self-actualization if they are not handled properly.
I found the book very helpful and it confirmed a lot of my suspicions about myself in relationships – the truth hurts sometimes, but it is good to know it.
I really hope this email has not been too tiresome and I wish you all the best the world has to offer in gratitude.
Sundari: I hear your frustration, but there is no quick fix to the agony of duality. You will just have to keep up the vigilance and discrimination. There is nothing more we can say to help you with this – you have all the knowledge and you are doing a pretty good job. Remember that karma yoga is your main defence, see it as a kind of need-armour, your vital go-to in a “need hit.”
When the foul smell of the fear/need samskara snakes its way into the mind, it is utterly repellent, especially if Self-realization has occurred. All jivas must pass this way – and there be dragons there. What to do but face them because they won’t go away any other way. The deep need vasanas often emerge like gangbusters and even though it feels like absolute crap emotionally it’s a total gift that begs gratitude. Never underestimate the power of gratitude.
We spoke before of the “love whore” vasana, the almost zombie-like impulse to get love and approval from others, aka the duality-o-meter. Assimilating the most primary lessons of Vedanta is very hard (the joy is not in any object), and most people are not suited for it. If you see the vasanas for what they are and know that they do not belong to you as the jiva or the Self, leave them firmly in Isvara’s hands and resolutely stick to karma yoga while being okay with being flawed as a jiva. And whenever that hungry whore need-vasana pops up like an unwelcome cork in the ocean of samsara, whack it instantly with the opposite thought, do not hesitate even for a second. Hold tight to the lifeline of Self-knowledge like a deep-sea diver, keep discriminating. Perseverance and persistence is the name of the game when up against the formidable foe of need.
If you have never resolved the needy, lustful part of your psyche, you are an emotional thief and the treasure you are after to steal is your lover’s detachment or lack of need. As I said in my book, it is very painful for a non-needy person to remain with a needy person. In fact they seldom do, because the needy person is only after their own needs-fulfilment; they don’t actually care about the other. Needy people are often narcissists, though they often feel self-loathing for being so weak.
Stand up to those pesky vasanas, Michael, and don’t be afraid to be alone. Give up the idea of hanging onto your relationship, because that is contrary to the most basic entry-level Vedanta – dependence on objects for happiness. If you do give it up the desire to hold on, you may suffer for a while if your relationship ends, but that will pass. In its place will be relief that you have one less fear to do combat with, the fear of loss. What is the worst that could happen? Nobody gives us anything or takes it away. Only our own mental and emotional poverty starves us of joy. Go easy on yourself and face the fear. It’s not real, just a paper tiger.
As we have said many times, most people don’t go into or stay in relationships for freedom. They do so for emotional satisfaction, which is not necessarily the kiss of death spiritually, but may well be. Relationships are samsaric preoccupations if they are based on desire and need. Unless you are a proper karma yogi, intimate relationships create bondage. Entering new relationships is only permitted in the first stage of karma yoga (sakama karma).
In the second stage of karma yoga (nishkama karma) chasing relationships is not permitted, but not having relationships per se. In the second stage, you are presumably mature enough to stand up to your desires and dismiss them with reference to your love of Isvara.
Maybe you do or maybe you don’t realize that when you commit yourself to Vedanta you are locked into a predetermined sadhana. You are no longer the boss. You must follow the steps for Self-inquiry to bear fruit. The whole point is to bring that willful self-centred ego into line with scripture, which is Isvara’s words. If the vasana tail is still wagging the Michael dog, it is important to accept that fact and follow the program of Self-inquiry to the letter.
What is very hard for many inquirers is to see love attachments for what they are without making any excuses and adjusting relationship to them according to Self-knowledge, not the jiva’s conditioning. It does not necessarily (though it may) require ending relationships, simply acknowledging the blind spots and cutting the psychological bondage to and dependence on the people in our lives with whom we have karma or with whom we want karma.
Love always endures because it is the nature of life, it is who we are, not something we must work to gain or give. We can never “lose” anyone we love, we only lose the binding attachments to them as a jiva because we see them as the Self, while loving and accepting their jiva program as it is and, for what it is, only apparently real.
Self-actualized people have relationships all the time. The only difference between them and jivas who need love is that they are never “in love.” Love is their nature, so there is no need for objects. Desires that are not contrary to dharma are never binding. Satya and mithya never meet and are not expected to, which is the hopeless quest of people in dualistic relationships. They are looking for love/security where it cannot be found, in someone else.
If you are “in” this relationship, you will be “out” of it one fine day – law of karma. Why fight it? But if the relationship is “in” you, that is a different kettle of fish. What is the real motivation for holding onto this relationship? Fear? You don’t have to have a relationship to grow spiritually, even though your partner is on the same path. Most people who haven’t worked out the love issue go for love relationships and then look for spiritual reasons to justify them.
I am very glad that Christine has been of help with the relationship with your daughter, great news!
~ Much love, Sundari