When I was a freshman in college, I became friends with a French woman named Celine.
She was a dark-haired beauty from the 16th in Paris. She read poetry, was deeply intellectual and terribly chic in that soignée way only French women can be.
We talked grand ideas, history, art and literature.
Just being around her made me long for a bigger, more exciting world than the one I had been exposed to til then.
And then Valentine’s Day rolled around.
Both of us were single and pretty much saddened by the whole hype of that day. It was like we fell into a trance.
So we did what was probably the boldest, coolest thing I have yet to do on that special day, even all these years later: the two of us, two straight, unattached young women went to the Four Seasons in Washington, D.C. for dinner, had champagne and celebrated our own fabulousness. It was terribly chic and seemed so grown up to me at the time, and utterly unlike anything I had ever done in my own working poor history.
Even after all these years, I look back at the chutzpah and wisdom those young (albeit not very financially responsible) women displayed.
Rather than falling into the trance that both men and women often fall into - that somebody else will do something to make us feel loved - we took matters, literally, into our hands.
We wanted a loving, positive and special experience. And we created it.
So often I see the tendency in the men and women with whom I work to err on one side or the other.
Either we think, “That person/situation/house/ring/vacation is the only thing that can make me happy and without it I am doomed.”
Or we think, “There is nothing I can do about it anyway, so I might as well wallow in my dissatisfaction.”
Both of these solutions are, inevitably, disappointing.
Learning to love better means also learning to love according to the middle way, what the Buddha talked about more than 2500 years ago. With neither extreme attachment (what psychologist and author Jack Kornfield calls the “near enemy of love”) nor cold indifference.
A simple four-step process here is truly powerful.
The first step is about getting very clear about your desires (to go to Bali on a yoga retreat, for example).
It is helpful to bring this to our meditation or other mindfulness practice where the deepest part of the self - what is often called the Buddha mind - can express its longings. Just sitting for 5 or 10 minutes in a quiet breathing meditation can help the truest part of you express what you really, really want.
A recent student of mine sat down to meditate and was stunned with what came out of the meditation.
She discovered that, rather than wanting to get to work on the book she was writing, the deepest desire in her heart was actually for a bigger home where she would feel less cluttered and more peaceful. By allowing the time for her deepest desires to be made clear, she was able to be more honest and open with herself and her husband. And that began to shift things in their relationship which made finding time and support to write even easier.
The second step, once you’ve gotten super clear on your heart’s desires, is to ask yourself why.
Why do you want to go on a trip with your honey for Valentine’s Day, for example?
Is it to show him that you love him? Or for him to show you that he loves you?
Or one better: to show your friends that you have a honey that takes you places and so that it means you must be loved, loving and lovable?
These are hard questions, to be sure.
And if the answer to your “Why?” comes from the small, fear-based ego rather than your highest mind of love, the results of getting what you want may or may not be satisfying.
But they get at the heart of what the Buddha called our clinging and grasping, the origin of all our suffering and dissatisfaction.
Most of the time we are hiding the truth from ourselves. And by simply acknowledging it to ourselves, with openness, compassion and acceptance, something shifts.
Tenderness increases. Self-hatred decreases. Relationships and intimacy shifts and changes.
Once you know your why, it’s time for the third step: communicating.
That means taking a risk and telling your best friend you’d really, really like to go on that trip to New Zealand that you had planned on even if it means risking disappointing her. It means telling your honey that you actually do want to have children even when you aren’t sure he wants to hear that. It means telling your boss that you are chomping at the bit to start a new initiative to help your community and want your company’s support and buy-in.
It even means looking in the mirror and telling the person you see how you really feel, one of the hardest tasks ever for most people.
It means, in a nutshell, taking a risk of being vulnerable.
And fourth, when you have finally gone through this entire process comes the really, really hard - and transformative - part:
It’s the part about letting go.
Letting go … entirely.
To what happens. To what he says. To what she does. To all of it.
It means completely detaching from the outcome and simply allowing what is and will be, to be.
Why bother with this whole process if it is only to let go?
Because at the end of the day, all we can do is work on our own hearts and minds. The only way lives change is when the mind of the beholder changes and it is from this place, that truly sustainable external changes in your relationships and your life can flow.
And as we do that, a far greater sense of self-love and loving-kindness arises from the inside.
The more of that there is, the less of it we need from the outside. And that tends to be the exact moment when we actually get what we desired all along.