Love or Attachment?
by Diane Linsley

In recent years, I've spent a lot of time contemplating the meaning
of love. One of the most enlightening things I have learned is the
difference between love and attachment.

Stages of Relationship

In Transformation through Intimacy, Robert Augustus Masters discusses the four stages of intimate relationship: ego-centered, codependent, co-independent, and being-centered. The vast majority of relationships are in the first two stages.

An ego-centered relationship is fraught with contention because the partners are mainly concerned with defending their egos. It is very attached in the sense of grasping and clinging. This unhealthy attachment causes each partner to try to control the other.

A codependent relationship is more "we-centered," but it's still based on control, which is more covert. In fact, there may be a lack of overt fighting. Partners in a codependent relationship pride themselves on how well they get along. There is an unspoken agreement to not rock the boat. But underneath the apparent peace, there are unmet needs, a lack of individual freedom, and a fear of true intimacy (which would involve more openess and honesty than the partners are willing to risk).

In a co-independent relationship, the partners pride themselves on respecting each other's space and independence. If a relationship progresses to this stage, it may actually fall apart - especially if only one of the partners is ready to experience a new type of relationship, while the other clings to the old, codependent paradigm. This is a tricky stage because it's a transition phase. It requires people to grow up and take responsibility for themselves, instead of expecting someone else to meet their needs.

A being-centered relationship can only happen between two highly aware and mature people. At this stage, there is a radical acceptance of self and other. Partners experience the profound intimacy of sharing their thoughts and feelings without the fear of being rejected or controlled. Disagreements are seen as opportunities for growth. Differences are respected and even appreciated - not seen as a threat. Each partner follows their own spiritual path while supporting the other's growth. They appreciate the lessons they are learning through their relationship - even when it's difficult.

A person can only be as loving as their stage of development allows them to be. Whenever there are people at different stages of development, there are unavoidable misunderstandings.

You cannot have a two-way, being-centered relationship with someone who's not ready for it. But while you are waiting for that experience, you can have a being-centered relationship with yourself. You can prepare for a great relationship by practicing self-compassion.

"The man who loves himself enjoys the love so much, becomes so blissful, that the love starts overflowing, it starts reaching others. It has to reach! ... One thing will become absolutely clear to you: that if loving one person, yourself, is so tremendously ecstatic and beautiful, how much more ecstasy is waiting for you if you start sharing your love with many, many people!" ~Osho

Attachment is not Love

People often confuse love with attachment. In Love, Freedom, Aloneness, Osho says that true love is detached, which is a neutral state that is neither attached nor indifferent.

Enlightenment is an incredible experience of letting go of attachments. That's why it's so blissful. It's the experience of Oneness. In this experience, you feel an immense love for all people and all of creation. There is no need to possess or control anyone because there's nothing outside of you.

The initial euphoria of enlightenment fades over time, and the ego eventually reasserts itself, requiring constant vigilance to keep it from taking over your life again. But the realization of enlightenment stays with you. You can never be completely deceived by the ego again. You recognize the ego in yourself and in everyone around you (which can be disconcerting and downright depressing sometimes).

You don't have to experience enlightenment before you can experience true love. Some basic principles, along with the practice of Witnessing, are enough to get started on the path. And you don't need a romantic partner. You can practice loving every person in your life, starting with yourself and extending out into the whole world.

The advantage of having a romantic partner and/or children is that these relationships trigger more shadow material. So there's more grist for the mill - more ego dysfunction to observe in yourself.

Osho says, "All that is needed on your part is not to learn the ways of love, but to unlearn the ways of unlove. The hindrances have to be removed, the obstacles have to be destroyed - then love is your natural, spontaneous being."

How do you remove the obtacles? Watch your ego. Watch every thought and feeling that arises. Watch every fear, jealousy, and desire to control that arises. Just keep watching. As my teacher Bill Harris says, "You cannot do something that does not serve you and do it with awareness."

Attachment Styles and Energies

The book Attached by Amir Levine describes three attachment styles: anxious, secure and avoidant.

Hal and Sidra Stone, the creators of Voice Dialogue, identify three different energies that people have when interacting with others: personal, impersonal and withdrawn. These energies remind me of the anxious, secure and avoidant attachment styles. They also sound like the attached, detached and indifferent states that Osho speaks of.

Osho says that if you love someone, "you will take every care of his needs, but .... you will not fulfill anything that is really going to harm him .... you will not fulfill his ego, although his ego will be demanding. The person who is too concerned, attached, will fulfill the ego demands - that means you are poisoning your beloved."

Spiritually mature people have a well-developed ability to witness with detachment. They operate in a neutral, impersonal energy most of the time. They are aware of their energy, and they can adjust the type and intensity of the energy, depending on who they are with.

The Stones suggest that you practice embodying the three different energies with a partner until you become proficient at recognizing and controlling your own energy.

Love and Freedom

The foundation of true love is freedom. The moment one person tries to control another, love vanishes.

When you are very attached to someone, the temptation to control them is very great. With awareness, you can look deeply into your desire to control. You will see that it's rooted in fear. Rather than feeling ashamed of the fear, you can regard it as an opportunity to go deeper into meditation and become more aware. Try tonglen meditation.

Witness how you react to the realization that all things are impermanent, including your relationships. Your child will grow up and leave you - if you have raised him properly. And your romantic relationship will eventually end in either a break-up or in death.

Witness the fear without turning away from it. Feel the anxiety and grief that arises when you imagine your loved ones changing, growing up or dying. Watch how you project your fears onto others and try to control them.

If you try to control someone, they will probably leave sooner. At the very least, you will destroy the love. That's what most people do because they don't know love. They only know attachment.

Over many years of looking deeply into these things, a person gradually develops compassion, which is the best word to describe enlightened love.

"Love is the only freedom from attachment. When you love everything, you are attached to nothing." ~Mikhail Naimy

Enlightened Love

Once you have tasted true love, you won't settle for anything less.

True love is not the burning desire of wanting or needing. It's not the ego's grasping and clinging.

True love is peaceful, patient and understanding. It wants what is best for the soul development of the other, even if it means letting go. Hal and Sidra Stone say that the secret to keeping love in a relationship is to hold it with an open hand.

"Can anyone be happy if they aren't free?" ~Belle in Beauty and the Beast

"Love takes no prisoners." ~Junpo Denis Kelly Roshi, The Heart of Zen

This video about Disney's Aladdin explains why freedom is the foundation of love. This is a fun way to teach this concept to children (or your own Inner Child).

Here's a guided meditation for anxious attachment.

Be well,
Diane Linsley

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