I'm no Buddhist monk by any means, but I am always looking for ways of relating to my partner on a deeper level and am on a continued journey with him to enrich the levels of intimacy between us. When a recent interview on love and relationships between Buddhist author/teacher Thich Nhat Hanh and everyone's favorite TV talking head and spirit animal Oprah Winfrey came across my desk, I decided to take a closer look. They were chatting about meditation and four mantras that can be used between people in love to help strengthen the bond and establish healthy ways of embracing, supporting, and reassuring each other through mindfulness. Nhat Hanh is quoted as saying these first two mantras can bring "instant happiness" to any relationship, so if you're into that sort of thing, listen up!
Mantra 1: "Darling, I'm here for you."
The idea behind this is to spotlight your presence in the relationship without being focused on the past or the future. Nhat Hanh teaches this practice because he believes that when you love someone, the best you can offer is your presence in the here and now. I have a hard time doing this when I'm by myself, much less in a committed relationship with someone I care deeply about. The past can be so hurtful, so sad, so present, and the future can be scary to the point that I have to look away at times. This is where the importance of staying present comes in. Much of the trouble I run into in my relationship has little to do with what is happening now between the two of us and everything to do with what has happened in days gone by with former partners, our history together, and the fears that take over when thinking about how that will all play out over our time together. Ultimately, if I could stay in the present day, in the moment with my most treasured person, this would all fade away.
Mantra 2: "Darling, I know you are there, and I am so happy."
Thich Nhat Hanh writes, "To be loved means to be recognized as existing." In letting your partner know you are there for them and acknowledging that they are also there for you, each of you is honoring that presence as something incredibly precious and important. My history in relationships has set me up for a general disbelief around people's motivations for "being there" and has left me in some ways unable to trust when someone is there, or that they have intent to stick around once they are. I want so desperately to be seen and loved for who I am, but the trust needed in order to position myself on the receiving end of these deep longings proves very difficult to harness sometimes. Often, when I most need to be seen, I am unable to show myself. I hide behind this tough exterior that doesn't need love, doesn't need to be seen, and doesn't need to acknowledge that you are here doing your best to see and love me. I work really hard to trust that what someone says is what they will do, but this has not been my experience with people, historically, so it's tricky. It requires a little bit of faith, which I don't always have. The bottom line is that it's about my needing to show up in my relationship in the face of fear and hurt, whether I think rejection or abandonment is in store or not.
Mantra 3: "Darling, I know you're suffering. That is why I am here for you."
This is for when your beloved is in pain. Nhat Hanh posits that long before you do something to help, just being there and acknowledging the suffering can make all the difference. I tend to want to make things better instinctively when my man (or anyone) is hurting, but sometimes all that's needed is my ear to listen to what's happening and my arms to hold him tight while he tells me. This comes up in my relationship from time to time. I will sense that he is suffering and will, almost without knowing I'm doing it, start highlighting the bright side of the situation or putting the best-case scenario at the forefront of the conversation. This action brings with it a sense of not being heard on the other side, or that I am not willing to sit with the uncomfortable pain of it all, which is actually the opposite of what I am wanting to do for him (and us) in those moments. As time goes by, I get better at just being there through these difficult times, but I still have a lot of work to do before I am even close to mastering the art. In the end, I can't always make the pain go away. All I can do is honor the feelings around it by letting them be, and by being with them as they are. Standing by him through the lot of it is what matters, not whether I can make things better or not. Sometimes there just isn't anything to fix, and simply crying together can be such a gift.
Mantra 4: "Darling, I suffer. Please help me."
This is for when you suffer and you believe that your suffering has been caused by your beloved. It's reserved for those times when if another person had done the same wrong to you, the pain inflicted would have been less, but because it was the person closest to you, whom you love the most, the wound is deep. My initial reaction at these times is to pull away and punish my partner for hurting me, but the goal in using this fourth and final mantra is to overcome that. In doing so, I instantly suffer less, because that initial hurtful wedge between me and my sweetheart has been removed by my expressing my trust in him through making myself vulnerable. Oh god, this one is so hard. Even Nhat Hanh admits that this is the most difficult of the four mantras to put into practice. I have a really hard time staying present when my feelings are hurt or when I am frightened or triggered, particularly with the person whom I perceive as being the one who has inflicted the suffering, but this is essential to intimacy. When you love someone, you want to share everything with them, and it becomes your duty to tell them when they are hurting you. If they love you, as well, they will appreciate this. Communicating this pain in appropriate ways is its own skill set, which I am constantly challenged by and developing. For every time I am able to rise above the hurt and stay honest, there are two times that I fail. The goal is to, in time, be able to show myself and my true feelings always, no matter what is going on... but I'm not totally there yet.
The way I understand it, these mantras are not meant to be prescriptive as much as tools one can use to bring oneself back into a place of being mindful and aware. It's easy for me to get lost in the everyday shuffle and routine of work and life, and staying present within myself and with my partner is something that, at times, actually has to be done intentionally and with a bit of deliberate method infused to assist in the process. I don't know that I will ever recite these four mantras to my sweet man verbatim, but I will try and find ways of expressing them in my own words, my own way.
Patience is hard when so much is at stake, but these things take time. The kind of closeness I yearn for in relationship just doesn't happen overnight. The goal is to become better and better versions of myself as the years roll out, and to grow together as individuals as we grow our relationship. The point is to show up, to be fearless about letting him know I see him and love him, and to stay put long enough for him to see and love me, too.
If mantras help us get there, great. I'm open to it... but when all is said and done, it's up to me and my darling to live out the words therein. Otherwise, they are just words.
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