An intimate relationship, like marriage, is an exclusive attachment to another. Enlightenment is detaching from people and things in general, yet realising that we are all intertwined. Are enlightenment and intimacy compatible?
Enlightenment and intimacy in intimate relationships
Take the example of a woman discovering that her husband is having an affair. As a wife, she feels anger, hurt, and maybe jealousy. Most of us would feel the same in her position.
An enlightened soul would understand that she IS her husband, she IS the other woman. She would be happy that her husband’s needs are being met, and happy that the other woman is getting the attention she craves. If we truly loved everyone, this is how we would think. But of course, trapped in ourselves, we only feel the betrayal and hurt.
Therefore, can a truly enlightened person form enough of an attached to have an intimate relationship? If you’re already married, would seeking enlightenment cause you to detach from the person you chose to attach yourself to?
I find that as I grow, I’m able to detach more easily from intimate relationships. I’m more able to see things from a larger perspective, to know that even when a couple breaks up, they are never really separate. And even if they stay together, they do not belong to each other but to the universe.
Yet I also enjoy the deep emotions that come with attachment – the feeling of being special, being different from and preferred above all others, of sharing a mutual bond that no one else is privy to.
So I find myself confronted with this choice: do I want to grow towards detachment or attachment? My current, limited understanding views those as different and opposite paths. Yet, as usual, I want the best of both worlds. Can we increase our attachment and become more detached at the same time?
Enlightenment and intimacy in living life
In an earlier post about selflessness I wondered if we could zoom in and out of the Self, to choose to manifest in a smaller individual ego or to manifest in the larger universal Self. If this was indeed possible, then you would be able to attach and detach by choice, any time you wanted to.
Intimacy is limiting. We can have only so many intimate relationships in one lifetime. Enlightenment is liberating. It frees us to love as many people as the world can hold.
So I find myself living on two different planes, as it were. The larger, detached “I” can watch the smaller, attached “i” going through all the emotions that an intimate relationship brings, yet remain separate from it. At the moment though I’m not able to do both simultaneously. I have to choose which plane to be on at any given point in time.
Is this a schizophrenic way to live? Is one plane preferable to the other? Can we move easily between the two? What are your thoughts?
34 replies on “Are Enlightenment and Intimacy Compatible?”
This is something I also struggle with. As a child, my parents worked all the time and I spent a significant portion of time alone, voraciously reading, reflecting, and I didn’t really have friends until high school, but I didn’t want them per say.. I understood the larger interconnected ness of things, I had psychic dreams, I felt connected to the universe, but detached from human connection and I think that led to drug experimentation as a teenager, I think certain drugs helped me feel a different aspect of the human experience. And I maintained that for a while, forming close relationships with people and going through the ups and downs in romantic relationships and the knowledge from my childhood was still there, still resonating so much so that it felt I was carrying both ways of being. Now, in my 30s, I feel I’ve been jaded for so long and I believe what I believe about the world, because I have a memory of having fully seen & understood it, but it’s like I’m going through the motions & im struggling with transcending that.
I found you by searching “marriage and enlightenment” in google search wondering about this exact same thing. I’m on a spiritual journey myself and at times I can slip in and out of that stream of conscious “knowing”. The last time I found myself attached to the source, I asked the question “Why do people fall in love?” And I was told spontaneously that it’s because of three things: Lust, Need and Fear. There is no other reason to attach yourself to anyone. All three have to happen together in order to feel in love. I wrote a whole post about it.
You can read it here
It’s a really long post, but might be helpful for anyone on this spiritual path.
Google is good at bringing people together 🙂 I hopped over and yes it’s a really long post! The text messages you captured make the topic very real. Thanks for visiting here, and hope to see you around.
Thank-you so much for raising these questions! After a transformative experience this April, I detached from the outside. I learned we don’t want people or things, we wanted the feeling we mistake them for, and that we can give it to ourselves anytime. Since then I have lived in freedom, peace, love and even ecstasy (as a single). It is said that the discovery of a treasure is a lesser joy than sharing it, and so I wrote a book about it. (Awakening Joy). Old-mind, which sometimes still rises (unattached) asks, relationship? What for? I am swimming in new waters and asking similar questions as you. I would love to hear your comments on the book (you can get the first several chapters free), and to continue this exploration…
Your expression “we don’t want people or things, we want the feeling we mistake them for” struck me at once as being the very crux of attachment. I totally agree with you that once we identify what feeling we really want, we can give this to ourselves without relying on others to do so. This is true detachment. Great that you wrote a book about it – I’ll check it out, though I have to apologise for spending much less time blogging than I used to, hence this very late comment, and so I don’t know when I’ll actually get round to reading those chapters. Thanks for dropping by.
“Why would you detach from feeling angry and hurt?”
That sounds as if the emotion would be being stuffed or ignored. You can see or know the emotion, and choose to change it. Suffering serves no purpose but to awaken you to joy, to the freedom of who you are.
Detachment means to not be dragged around, up or down, by outside circumstances. And believe me, it is an experience worth seeking.
Every now and then I get a comment that I feel is better than the post itself, and yours was one such comment. I felt a sense of calm and peace when I read what you wrote.
“To experience every moment without judging it.” This rings so true and I’ll remember this excellent way to describe enlightenment.
Thanks Wesley for leaving a comment and I hope you will share your wisdom more often here!
I do not believe enlightenment is something you can achieve by trying to control your thoughts, emotions and life.
To be enlightent, i think, is just to be.
To experience every moment without judging it.
Why would you detach from feeling angry and hurt?
I can’t see the wisdom in learning to feel or love in a certain way, love as you do, feel as you do, it’s good enough!
Enlightenment is not something at the end of a path, it is here and now in everything!
I’ve never considered these concepts in relationship terms before. I think the key is to be aware of where we are so that we can always bring more chosen consciousness into the relationship. I’m glad somebody is considering these points. Early in a relationship is when more heart is involved and attachment is welcomed. Later the head comes in judging and once that occurs it’s very difficult to go back.
I think I’m veering in your direction – preferring detachment to attachment if given a choice. I find that this allows me to be with people freely, enjoy their company, feel absolutely happy… and if things don’t work out the way my ego would like, it’s so much easier to walk away. Deepak Chopra is probably on to something big! Still, it’s not a constant for me either, and I still vacillate between the two. Thanks for sharing your perspective. It encourages me a great deal.
‘Chosen consciousness’ is a term I like, and applied to relationships is a wonderful thing. Funnily though, I find that early in a relationship my head is clearer, and the heart becomes involved over time. So detachment gets harder for me the closer I get to someone. Seems with you it’s vice versa. Interesting!
What a great post! I’ve considered this question a great deal myself.
Attachment is something I am constantly working on, and while I get your concerns over becoming too detached in relationships, I think overall I’d prefer to be able to live my life with non-attachment.
I’ve heard Deepak Chopra say that when you’re not attached you can live your live with even more passion and engagement. It makes sense to me: being open to how things might eventually work out removes the pressure. When we’re fixed on a particular outcome, we stress out when things veer slightly off-course. But if we remain unnattached, we can enjoy the detours and remain curious about where it will all lead.
Whenever I manage to be unattached I move through life with great joy. But as I said, it’s not a constant for me – yet!
Yes that example of detaching in relationships is extreme, because I was trying to understand if this is possible so I took the extreme to see what it would mean if true. I’m not sure it’s possible myself.
I love the title of the book How Love Would Respond. And I appreciate your presence here.
I love that quote! Heard it before and thought it was by Kahlil Gibran, so am glad to have the proper reference. Your point is quite correct, I think, that it is the ego that attaches. How true!
Welcome, and thanks for this very insightful comment. Yes, the journey of life brings many attachments. You suggested that detachment may not be a conscious choice. That’s very interesting. I’m not sure as I’m not very detached, but it’s great food for thought.
I’m really not sure of the answer myself, just asking the questions. Glad it got you thinking!
“And” is a good way to understand things. The small i and big I helped me to remember which I was talking about!
I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and was very moved. Thanks for mentioning Brida – I’ll have to look out for that and read it, then I’ll understand your comment better. It’s a great comment!
Good point about judgment, and how this comes into attachment. I’m not sure if there is judgment in detachment, and will have to think about this. Thanks for the thought!
I like the visual of foreground and background – meaning both are present at the same time but with one more prominent.
Great point about choosing what to be attached and detached to. I love what you said about detaching from fears, hurts, and misunderstandings – the things that hinder our joy. Well said!
I’m and AND kind of a guy and I like how you framed the flavors of combinations.
I also like your larger “I” and smaller “i” … right when I thought it was just the 3 of us (me, myself and I), now we got a 4th wheel.
Very interesting article, it really got me to thinking and that’s good!
I really like what Jodi said “I do not think that applies to the extreme of lovingly watching your husband take on other lovers, though. I think affairs are expressions of the ego. True love is respectful; true love is devoted; true love is sacred”
I echo those thoughts. 🙂
Thanks for the engaging article!
One comes to this world empty handed and departs likewise. It is in the journey through life in between that attachment, whether for people or things, grows. I don’t suppose atachment can grow without yearning, not only to receive but to give, a longing that arises from deep within us, feelings that we may not always be able to explain rationally. We become attached, whether we like it or not, in spite of ourselves, and I don’t suppose it is possible to become detatched consciously. I think it would be possible to detatch myself if and only if I was not really and truely attached in the first place.
Your post is thought-provoking. I don’t have an answer right away. However, here is a quote I’d like to share…
“Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939, translated from French by Lewis Galantière
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you can be involved in a relationship with a partner on the same journey as you – being able to switch from being “attached” or “detached” as the situation calls for it? Now this is what I call a true “soul mate”!
Additionally, I don’t have a detachment to love. My ego is the one which attaches! As we have incarnated with the ego as a learning tool, my practice is to be watchful that it does not control my life. So in a way, there is nothing to re-attach.
I just read “How Would Love Respond” by Kurec Ashley and while it isn’t subject matter that is related directly to this post, it did ‘prepare’ me for reading your post. I must say, very thought-provoking. I wish I could comment more at this time.
Daphne, this was certainly thought provoking! To me the attachment idea is about identifying yourself with the other person. By making them part of what you identify as your self, you risk destroying your sense of self when you lose what you thought you had. Attaching yourself to things or people is a problem.
I think the whole conversation is interesting but I don’t know too many men or women who are willing to detach themselves to that degree from their love relationships.
This is also one of the areas I’m having difficulty in. Seems to be opposite poles, but somehow, I too believe that they may not necessarily be so. Maybe the trouble lies in us trying to define both terms in the extreme. Detachment and attachment may well be up to a certain extent only, and within that boundary lies balance and wholeness. We need detachment not to be separate from the good, nor from what we love, but from the things that hinder us from loving fully, like our fears, our hurts, our misunderstandings. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be attached to unnecessary objects or things that wouldn’t last, in some ways, we shouldn’t be attached to expectations of other people or to our belief that our happiness emanates from them. We need only be attached to our Higher Self, to the Absolute Love there is, to GOD. And that is why the first commandment is to love God above all else, otherwise, we would make idols of other things and attach ourselves beyond the sacred boundaries of what true love means. 🙂
My experience is as you describe: living on more than one level. Starting around maybe ten years ago, I started to experience this less schizophrenically. That is, my experience of that larger, more inclusive identity has been “on” most of the time in the background even when it’s not in the foreground.
This WAS a brain-teaser for me. I think I understand what you are saying, and here are my thoughts.
To either be attached or detached tells me that there is some form of judgment; good or bad, wrong or right, freedom or entrapment, etc.
But to just [and here goes the broken record ;-)] live in the moment of the experience and let it flow, there is both detachment from having to make something into something, and attachment to the full experience. And I have NO idea where this is coming from… it just popped into my mind while I was reading.
Interesting topic. I just read “Brida” by Paulo Coelho. In the story, there is talk of finding our soul mate(s) in life and how in loving another we need not and must not “possess them.” I thought that was an interesting perspective. I do not think that applies to the extreme of lovingly watching your husband take on other lovers, though. I think affairs are expressions of the ego. True love is respectful; true love is devoted; true love is sacred. Hmmm…food for thought. I’ll have to keep rolling this one around in my mind.
What an interesting post, and so well timed in my life. I felt like I was reading the inner walls of my brain here… Thanks for shining a light in there!
Evan had some interesting things to say about detachment allowing a truer love and/or compassion to arise, which feels right to me. I know that when I’m attached or operating from the “I,” the lens I’m looking through is clouded with my egoic wants and needs. And since this life is all reflection, I’m just projecting onto another person whatever my ego is demanding at that time (good, bad, right or wrong).
When I’m operating from the “we” and can be more detached (not to ever be confused with indifferent), I’m able to love more fully, allowing whoever I’m in relation with at the time — friend, lover, family member — to be who they are in their purest sense; wanting who or what they want, acting how they act, etc.
I’d like to think that enlightenment offers the truest intimacy with another human being, because rather than projecting myself onto them and only seeing a reflection of me, I can instead see them authentically… clearly … and connect from that perspective. A true perspective, as opposed to something skewed by ego.
Much to ponder here! I’m grateful.
Thanks for taking time to comment even though your life is pulling you in a different direction right now. This would be interesting to discuss with your mother. The older and wiser usually are more enlightened and detached than us, and I’ve learnt a lot from my mother myself. Take care.
Your comment helped me to understand this whole issue better. Thank you for that! Especially your last paragraph where you said that enlightenment offers the truest intimacy with another person because we can see them authentically. I have to admit I often project myself and my needs and wants onto other people. It will be a lifelong effort to connect from a detached, authentic place. I am grateful to you too, for planting this perspective in my mind. I really needed this now, really!
Hi Daphne .. I can’t comment on your ideas at the moment – too tied into what I’m doing, while wanting to break out I unable to do so, as the elderly need me.
I do need to have a good look at Jill Bolte Taylor’s thought processes again, especially after marelisa’s excellent review – so well summarised. If I can get them settled into my thought processes, then I can mull them through while I’m with my mother at her bedside, during the quiet she enjoys and needs.
Thanks for putting across the thoughts –
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Yes I think that is a schizophrenic (or dissociative) way to live.
In my view non-attachment (is the raft) in the service of compassion. Clinging gets in the way of seeing clearly and so compassion.
Detachment and closeness are quite compatible. But clinging and closeness aren’t. Clinging gets in the way of seeing clearly and acting compassionately.
Thanks for a very important post.
I never considered this before either, until the thought hit me that day and I tried to sort out my thoughts, and realised I could do it in a blog post. Thanks for reading and sharing those thoughts with me.
You made an excellent point, that we can be attached to an emotion rather than to a person, and learn to accept and release emotions as they come and go. I like this perspective, and perhaps would have written my post in a different way if I’d known. Thanks for expanding my thoughts.
I knew I could count on you for an honest opinion 🙂 Clinging is definitely limiting, and I can understand that. I’m still pondering your sentence ‘detachment and closeness are quite compatible.’ I guess that’s what I’m trying to come to grips with right now. Thanks for sharing your point of view here. It helps me a lot.
Thanks for this D. My thoughts on this are that we’re “attached” to an emotion when we find ourselves saying “I wish that emotion would come back.” Buddhists would also say we have aversion to an emotion, the flip side of the coin, when we find ourselves wishing how we’re feeling can go away.
I think letting go of attachment and aversion doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy what we’re feeling in this moment, whether it’s love or grief or something else. But it does mean recognizing that no emotion stays around forever, and by demanding that the universe give us love, happiness or whatever all the time we set ourselves up for suffering.
What a great question and topic! This is something I’ve never considered before and I think you’ve raised some really interesting points here. Thank you for sharing your personal experience as well as your thoughts on the subject. You’ve given me a lot to ponder!
Thanks so much for your lovely first comment here. Welcome, and I hope you hang around for a long time!
I’m not sure how detached I would be with my husband too. I suspect most of us would not want to be enlightened in this regard! Great that you can experience your daughter’s side of things and so become one. Great examples!
You wrote an excellent post. I watched the same video but did not crystallise my thoughts on it or lessons learnt as well as you did, so thanks for the post. I’d like to think we can learn to easily move between the “I” and “we” too.
Hi Daphne: I see what you mean. There’s a difference between never fully being in a relationship because when you start to feel too committed you get scared that you might get hurt, so you pull back, and being so secure in the fact that you have the psychological strength and the spiritual certainty to release the other person if need be, that you can allow yourself to feel complete intimacy with that other person. And after reading about Jill Bolte Taylor’s experience, I do think that we can learn to easily move between the “I” and the “we” simply by shifting our focus from one brain hemisphere to the other. Thank you for mentioning my post. 🙂
I would say my husband needs to end one relationship before getting into another. I’m not enlightened or detached when it comes to this example.
For a different example, one daughter is always angry with me…I can detach and realize we are one and experience her side of it.
Just a couple of thoughts…great post. I’m always willing to grow!
Hi Daphne, i just stumble on ur blog. I’m sure i have a lot to learn from ur archives. Good work!