I went through many years of my life seeking romantic love. From the earliest times when I figured out that people could couple up, that’s what I wanted. Whenever I’d meet a new person the first thought would be “I wonder if she’s interested?” There wasn’t a slight possibility for friendship, just a hope that I’d finally have found “The One” who would satisfy that longing and make me whole. No wonder they’d run. Barf!
The pattern was usually one of two. First, there was the pattern of me falling hard for them and they’d run. Second, vise versa. Either way I spent a lot of time on a roller coaster of seeking, finding and losing that always had an acute layer of pain that would grow over time, just keeping the cycle going. Most of my waking hours were spent obsessing and feeling out of control, wandering all over the countryside looking for Dulcinea. There would also be periods where I’d put on a brave face and show the world that I didn’t need love, that I was just fine by myself, all the time silently wondering if the flight attendant, restaurant server, bartender, guitar student, teacher, fill in the blank woman would be the answer to my most desperate prayers. Another strange thing about all of this was that there were many times when I found partners who genuinely loved me...and I would run! What the hell?
I’m not sure where the underlying beliefs came from that formed these needs, nor do I know exactly what it was that I thought I’d eventually find. All I remember is that being in love felt like a life or death need. It was a stronger pull than heroin or nicotine. I had to have it, didn’t know if, when or where I’d find it, and most assuredly I knew that once it was found that I would feel better and my suffering would end. Yet, when someone did love me, it wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be, and somehow it wasn’t enough. The pain, anxiety and grief were all still there. That love didn’t reach those places in me.
One day I went on a walk by Sligo Creek near my home at that time in Silver Spring, Maryland. I had just been given the ‘just friends’ talk the night before for the second time in that year. A few months before that I’d given the same talk to another person who was interested in me. I was tired, I was confused, and I was ready to be done searching.
Sligo Creek has large boulders along it’s banks and one of my favorite things to do back then was to walk until I needed a rest, then I’d find a boulder to sit on and meditate, think and reflect. I’m not sure why that day was going to be any different than any other, but it was going to be a turning point, an important one.
The boulder I sat on was my favorite place to sit. It had an overhang that jutted over the water a foot or two, and a school of fish nested underneath it. When the sun came through the oaks and beech trees that surrounded the place I could see the fish swimming out and back, over and over again. The current was a few feet away from the boulder so they had a nice calm spot to raise a family. This was my peaceful and happy place. Even on days that felt pretty dark, I could come here and find a modicum of inner peace.
This day I didn’t find inner peace. This day there was going to be an explosion, a demolition of the patterns that had been my focus for so long. As I was sitting on my rock a thought came through that was the pin in the grenade. It was simply “what if the love that I’m looking for doesn’t exist?” When my attention held that thought something shifted. In that moment all of my thinking stopped, I lost my breath and I felt uncomfortably dizzy. It felt like an electric charge had gone through my head. I knew enough about strokes to know that I wasn’t having one, so I got my unsteady self up and stumbled up the hill to the house. I spent most of the day lying down going in and out of sleep. Strangely, the obsession that had been my constant companion for all those years was gone. The exhaustion that had set in was an honest one, and a liberating one.
In the minutes and hours that all of this was happening, I experienced a new and different love. This love came from deep within my own being, and radiated to include and affect the whole universe. Nothing was out of place. All was well. This felt sense was to last for a while, but the understanding has been with me ever since. I knew for a fact that I AM all the love that can ever be. There could be no love outside myself that I needed. If I started to believe that there was, then I would start looking outside of myself for it, which would be the wrong place. Interestingly, as the days went by, the love that I found within manifested as love in and through others. That which radiated from me, returned to me. Full circle.
This realization didn’t erase my problems in the world. I still had the death of a child, a major illness, and financial ruin to go through. The stuff of life continues, but from that day on I knew that my obsessions weren’t real. They were generated by my own thought patterns and habits. Old tapes that didn’t necessarily go away, but I now knew that I didn’t have to listen. That’s where the freedom is. We can always choose what we pay attention to.
Not long after this day, I started dating my wife to be. For the first time I was in a relationship by choice, not by compulsion. The love wasn’t immediate or overwhelmingly joyful. It developed gradually and quietly while we got to know each other. the love we share is strong because it’s a meeting of the love that comes from deep within each of us. It’s not dependent on how we each show up. It’s the thing that makes us show up every day, even on the days that showing up isn’t the easiest thing to do.
To my friends that are in any way experiencing the same longing and need that I felt, please know that what you are looking for is already and forever present within you. This is the love that you really seek. The only thing that has kept us from seeing is our thinking that it’s not already here. The fairy tales, soap operas, and romance novels are misleading. The romantic love that you think will make you whole and happy isn’t real. It’s a spectre. Seeking it outside yourself leads you away from where love already is, within your own spirit. May you find your own freedom.