By Sally Kempton
I am having trouble letting go of a relationship that is over. We had a soul-mate connection but an unsatisfying and stormy relationship, yet I keep hoping that it's not quite over. I am still in love, and my instinct is to nurture the love. How do I let go?
In our culture there's a basic assumption that being in love means we are supposed to walk off into the sunset together. The truth is that two people can be close, love each other deeply and romantically, and not be suited to have a long-term relationship. In fact, having a soul-mate connection is not necessarily a good platform for a permanent relationship. If you accept the idea of karma, you can view that strong sense of connection as a sign that you share an intense karma from the past. The feeling of being soul mates can actually be the karmas drawing the two of you together so that you'll work out some unfinished business or help each other in some specific but limited way.
Paradoxically, being willing to accept the fact that you may not be a couple is the first step toward keeping the love while letting go of the suffering. There may still be pain—loss and endings are painful. By accepting the loss, however, you open the door for a different kind of flowering, between either you and this person or you and someone else.
So, here's my suggestion: Every time you feel the love and pain of the relationship, formally offer it up to the universe or to God. Do this over and over, and you'll begin to notice that your love is being freed of its clinging, possessive quality and becoming more a tender feeling.
When this happens, another possibility emerges. The soul-mate quality in the relationship can develop into a deep friendship. You can then free yourself from romantic expectations and the pain they engender, and genuinely wish the person well. That takes time and attentiveness to your own mind. I'd suggest working with your mind and heart through the following inner practices.
Set aside 30 minutes when you can be alone in your room or in nature. Go into your heart center. Imagine that this person is there with you and say, as if to him, "I release you. I offer our relationship and the love I have for you to the universe."
Stay with this thought or prayer until you feel a shift or release. There may be tears, emotional release, and pain. At some point you should get a sense of letting go. It doesn't have to be a big letting go—just a small release will do. Then, whenever you think of him, have the thought, "I release you and our relationship to the universe." Send him loving kindness by saying or thinking, "May you be happy; may you be healthy; may you be free." Whenever you wish him happiness, wish the same for yourself.
Second, along with that, I strongly suggest that you keep noticing the thoughts and fantasies that come up around this person. Practice seeing them as passing thoughts, instead of identifying with the thoughts and the patterns of feeling. Once you can see a thought as simply a thought—not necessarily a truth—the next step is to let it go. In Sanskrit, certain kinds of thoughts are calledvikalpahs, sometimes translated as "dreams" or "fantasies." One vikalpah that really hooks us is the dream of the perfect love, the perfect relationship. If we identify with that fantasy, it can become an escape for us—a kind of alternate universe that we enter over and over again, effectively preventing us from inhabiting the places and situations of our "real" lives. Fantasy keeps us out of the present. When we practice the mantra If only I were with him, I'd be happy, we make our happiness unreachable, unattainable, outside ourselves, and outside the moment in which we are living. Working with the thoughts—noticing the thought arising, recognizing it as simply a thought, then letting it go—begins to break this pattern and takes us back into our present.
The Bhakti Sutras, a great text of Indian devotional literature, teaches that any human emotion serves as a way to love God. God can be loved as a friend, as a parent, even as a child. And the sutras say that the most powerful form of devotional love is the romantic style of devotion, calledmadhura bhakti (literally, "sweet devotion"). The intensity and longing in romantic love creates a powerful fire in the heart. When that fire is turned inward and is directed toward God or toward the inner Self, then it can transform our character, open our heart, and move us into great depths of surrender and adoration. I'm telling you this as a prelude to suggesting a way to work with these fantasies.
There are two approaches to dealing with an impractical and potentially dangerous romantic passion. One way is through discipline, self-inquiry, and renunciation—in other words, by cutting off the fantasies when they arise. The other, more inclusive, path is the way of the ancient yoga philosophy known as Tantra. Tantra asks you to focus on the feelings behind the fantasies—the pure feeling of longing for love that we all possess. This longing is activated by our connection to another person, yet it is much larger than that individual. When we find it and follow it, the longing can lead us toward Essence itself.
Both approaches work: One uses discipline to remove the fantasy, and the other moves into and through the fantasy to the longing at its core. By attending to the call of your deepest desire, you can make your fantasies into pointers rather than ends in themselves.
The way of discipline is the basic practice of interrupting thoughts and fantasies, the way you would do in meditation. Begin by making a decision that when the fantasies arise, you'll interrupt them. You may have to do that again and again—perhaps every morning when you wake up. Remind yourself that you don't want to go down the road of fantasy. Explain to yourself that they distract you and ultimately cause suffering. Then, each time one comes up, imagine yourself offering it to a fire in your heart. Just keep offering your thoughts to the internal fire again and again. This is an essential meditative discipline that helps break any kind of cognitive pattern.
To try the Tantric approach, begin by finding a quiet place to sit that's free from distractions. Then spend some time bringing up the fantasies. Fully feel the emotions and inner sensations aroused by your fantasy romance: the pure longing, the pure sexual intensity, if that is how it manifests. Try to feel the sensation deep inside the core of your body. Then bring the sensation up into the heart area and hold your attention there, feeling the emotion expand. Imagine it as light.
At that point, totally remove the image or the fantasy of your dream lover. This is crucial. Instead, concentrate on the feeling state itself. Notice its flavors—perhaps aliveness, sadness, longing, heart-ache, love. Let yourself sit with the feeling state of your heart.
Recognize that these are yourfeelings, your longings, your love. With that awareness, let the feeling state continue to shift and expand.
The result of this practice is the dawning recognition that what you really are after, what you really long for, is the felt state triggered by your romantic fantasies. The more you can touch the feeling state in your body while letting go of the image that triggered it, the more you'll begin to see that it is your own love, your own internally generated aliveness.
A second step with the Tantric approach might be to expand the feeling to include people other th
Let the romantic feeling spread to include as many others as you possibly can. Realize that the love you feel can be universal. When you allow your focused, personal affection to expand in that way, you can begin to recognize how many opportunities for loving there actually are in this world.
Take it one step further and acknowledge the truth that is at the heart of the bhakti or devotional path: Inside your feeling is God. A feeling of love—any feeling of love—is God. Be aware that this feeling within you is Divine Presence.
These two practices, the basic mind discipline and the Tantric, both help fantasies lose their stickiness. But the Tantric approach can help you open your heart to love's healing depths.