Most people think of "young love" as dramatic, impetuous, rife with those "diva moments." Yet in my younger years, I wasn't much of a diva at all.
In fact, you might say I was the complete opposite. My goal was always to be "cute as a button," and so I avoided asserting myself, my needs and wants, my sense of self. In romantic contexts, I became lost, unsure of who I was and what I cared about.
In hindsight, I realize my behavior had to do with being a people-pleaser (and avoiding pleasing myself). I believed that my limiting, insecure thoughts were hard facts: if I were to assert myself, people would think I was pushy and undesirable. And so I never wanted to stir the pot too much.
But all of these dynamics turned around one fateful winter in 2010. I had just completed my first 10-day meditation retreat and was headed to Tucson, Arizona for an acro-yoga retreat, where I would meet my current husband and begin the most amazing partnership of my life!
While I'm inclined to say that it was some higher force that brought us together (hey, I even used the word "fateful!"), I know that I created this partnership by changing my relationship to my thoughts. My current sense of fulfillment and wholeness in my relationship owe themselves to mindfulness.
It wasn't an easy journey to get there. Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation put my horrible relationship track record to a screeching halt — and it wasn't painless. But it was a gift, albeit a painful one: I spent 10 days on that retreat, in total silence, traveling the depths of my subconscious and taking a long, honest look at my patterns.
Coming out of Vipassana, I didn't actually realize how much had changed in me. That is, until I met my partner Aaron. At first, I didn't really care about engaging with him. Don’t get me wrong, I was interested and I definitely flirted back a little, but I maintained connection with myself at all times and simply didn’t care about what happened next.
Along the way, I realized all of the steps it took for me to create such a badass partnership with the power of mindfulness. I hope you too learn something about the power of being in the present when it comes to finding connection.
1. Step One: Be present with yourself.
As the title of Jon Kabat-Zinn's book says, "Wherever you go, there you are." You are always with yourself, so honor that by being present. Don't look to others for reference to change who you are, even if you think it will make someone like you more. Don't worry about the future with the person you're interested in. Try to just live in the moment!
Feeling comfortable in my own skin was an amazing beginning to our relationship. I felt like me 99% of the time and always spoke my mind. This paved the way for step two.
2. Step Two: Realize that confidence is within you already.
I was able to feel confident in myself as a result of my mindfulness practice, as it provided me the mental space to figure out my beliefs on how I wanted to live my life, and who I wanted to be in this world. With a firm grip on who that person was, I realized I could share my own life with anyone. I didn't need to rely on the external to validate my sense of self and my life.
3. Step Three: Cultivate inner peace.
Because then you will be able to fully own the truth that you will be OK no matter what life brings your way. Along our journey I used mindfulness and awareness of my body sensations to know when I wasn't living in alignment with my values and needs.
Often I would start to think that Aaron wasn't spiritual enough, "hippie" enough, or [insert adjective] enough. But thankfully I had my mindfulness practice to remind me that he was just himself, and that was fulfilling in and of itself. Whenever I started blaming him for my unhappiness that was my signal to look within and see how I wasn't taking care of my own needs.
4. Step Four: Take responsibility for your own happiness (even when you are happy in the relationship).
I stopped putting my happiness in the hands of another person, it became my responsibility to make sure I was fulfilling all my own needs and living in my fullest potential. And now, after five years of being together I still tap in to that source of connection with myself via a continual mindfulness meditation practice.
Being present with myself keeps me connected to the fact that I am the only source of peace and happiness for myself, even if/when other things, like my relationship, make me happy.
5. Step Five: Be aware of habits and patterns as they are forming.
We both work to stay aware of our habits, and communicate about this practice. Cultivating self-awareness alongside one another makes it easy to avoid resentments, frustration and disappointment that otherwise could be brushed under the rug and saved for a massive fight.
If you have ever considered attending a 10-day or even a seven day mindfulness meditation retreat, I highly recommend you do it, at least once in your life. It may or may not be a thing you repeat but you will gain invaluable insights into yourself and your mind.