Emily Takes on Buddhism, Detached Men, and The Purpose of Life
How Not to Win Friends and Influence People
I was in a text message conversation with an old friend/acquaintance recently (okay, okay, someone I used to date). They’d moved to Hawaii with their son into a house overlooking the ocean. They described how they were studying judo, eating loads of smoked pork, and managing an ecological reserve that just got a contract supplying wood to a major guitar manufacturer. Sounds like a decent life, right? I asked if they were happy. “I don’t believe in happiness,” they replied. “Happiness is just a judgment based on the human construct that some things are good and some things are bad.” Or something like that.
Oh boy, here we go I thought. “Sigh. I think that philosophy is just an elaborate defense mechanism for avoiding pain,” I typed. Or something like that.
Yeah okay, so my blunt delivery of my opinions doesn’t win me friends or influence people. But I’ve known this person and their patterns for many years. I knew engaging with them was going to end in them taking offense with me sooner or later, so you could say I was just fucking with them for my own entertainment. No, not really, you could say that I wouldn’t be engaging in the first place if there were not aspects of their character I really admired and enjoyed, but I knew they most likely had not changed and these patterns would eventually get in the way of any serious exchange.
These patterns are exactly why dating never worked out.
What do I mean by patterns? I mean withdrawal, emotional detachment, straight-up avoiding certain questions and topics. In my observation a major element of this person’s approach to life was a masochistic and self-defeating attitude in which they would angrily retreat from personal relationships at the first sign of conflict and seek self-improvement via various solitary spiritual practices until that day when they might finally be ready, have the emotional equanimity, to handle such things.
You won’t be surprised to hear they were currently practicing celibacy, though they expressed to me some underlying doubt and loneliness (“does no one find me desirable?”), which they quickly brushed assigned by reaffirming their commitment to their path, as encouraged by “the elders”.
The Spiritual Bypass
Now, I’m picking on this individual because I know they don’t and won’t read my blog, but the truth is that several of the men I’ve loved most deeply have displayed this same existentially detached attitude (we won’t get into why that is, but trust me, I know its meaningful). I’ve displayed it in the past myself, sometimes as an actual state of sustained consciousness, and other times trying to get back to that state. Buddhist philosophy, existentialism, moral relativism, post-modernism, as well as the works of spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie (in Katie's work you continually examine how each thought you think is both true and untrue) encourage this kind of attitude.
It appears that some people who have gone through an awakening and live in a state of non-duality are on to something. They most definitely help people with their teachings and have a certain quality of peace and calm emanating from them. In my understanding, the whole idea of their teachings is to see the Joy, Love, and Light underneath everything, the ultimate truth of reality—that darkness is merely an illusion. I do believe in that reality.
But neither myself nor any of these men were the least bit happy. We were all quite clearly miserable in our own ways, and in denial of a deep and real pain, but had been unhappy for so long we just quit trying, and decided to live lives based on other goals instead, like having experiences that were interesting.
I did many “interesting” things in these days...I slept with other people’s boyfriends. I let strangers tie me up for money. I ate hostess cupcakes and watched Veronica Mars in my tipi at primitive skills gatherings I’d paid to attend instead of taking any classes or interacting with anybody, because that’s what I wanted to do goddamn it, and I wasn’t going to let my conscience dictate for me anymore. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a more heady and peaceful time than usual, where I felt above the concerns of the mere mortals scrambling around me, whining about the state of the planet, or praising the growing consciousness (this was around 2012, when ascension was a big thing). But although free of my typical neurotic and self-punishing judgments, I wasn’t blissfully happy. In fact I felt even more alienated than normal. I called that state “reverse enlightenment”. Everything about existing just seemed super weird to me, which I now recognize as a sort of depersonalization/derealization disorder.
I question even the people who experience a more blissful enlightenment. I don’t believe they are seeing the whole picture. The whole picture is not just the big picture. It’s the big (cosmic) picture and the small (earthly) picture combined. If you observe these people they, like myself but less extreme, don’t really seem to make the most mindful choices all the time and they don’t seem particularly healthy physically. Their detachment shows.
We All Want the Same Things
I believe that we have come to the earth plane to experience the state of duality, and learn from it, and work within it. Sure you could play a video game just wandering around aimlessly, not caring if you win or lose, live or die, because you know it's just a game, but most people playing video games are in it to win it. Living, solving the puzzle, doing the “right” thing, is what brings them pleasure.
Emotions are not evil. They are here to be our guide, our compass. The problem is we get all programmed wrong in our childhoods, many of us, so that good things give us fear and bad things give us pleasure, and then our lives become very confusing. Even then intuition and synchronicity can still help us to trust and guide us through confusing times. For example, I often experience anxiety about making videos or writing blogs, but I know its a good thing for me because good things typically come into my life when I post them.
And by good things. I mean Good Things. Everybody wants the same Good Things. These things are our birthright. They are what we are designed to strive for as biological and spiritual creatures. Everybody wants love, friendship, admiration, partnership, sex, health, happiness, money, luck, abundance, safe and beautiful environments, etc. Nobody wants death, disease, abuse, poverty, ugly and dangerous environments, or having their things break or get stolen.
The only reason someone would take a detached stance to life is because they believe they can’t control what type of things they experience, or that detaching from outcomes will somehow help them get Good Things.
But I suspect that detaching or practicing presence is only successful to the extent that it actually brings awareness to unhealthy patterns, dismantles negative programmed beliefs, dissolves stored traumas and energies, and frees up intuition that inspires right action. And there are possibly more direct ways to go about each of those things.
Emotional Detachment in Relationships
From what I’ve observed, much of the time, a person who is drawn to one of the detachment philosophies has a long-standing wounding and resulting numbness and closed-heartedness that literally means they do not feel certain things, at least not consciously. The intellectual explanations come later in life to glorify this affliction/justify further not feeling by suppressing, denying, brushing-off, or ignoring real positive or negative feelings, such as love or heartache, that are still leaking through their defenses. They've learned that wanting things, needing things, and loving things is dangerous because it means one can be disappointed, even devastated.
Outcome # 1: Leakage
"A double minded man is unstable in all his ways." -The Bible?
You can often spot a person who is detached (or faux-detached) because their feelings still leak through resulting in mixed messages. They may seem to exaggerate or rub in your face how little you or your actions matter to them, a suspiciously amplified ignorance that suggests an underlying fear of caring. They are apt to use passive aggressive phrases such as, “Do whatever you want. I don’t care,” “Suit yourself,” or "Fine. Whatever." Masquerading as easygoing, the energy behind these phrases often carries a certain hostility that indicates they do, in fact, care,
Psychosomatic symptoms are another form of leakage.
Outcome # 2: Secondary Emotions
A second thing that happens when a person attempts to suppress or ignore their emotions is that they actually become more emotionally disturbed. It only serves to confuse and complicate matters in the sense that now there is both a primary reaction and a secondary reaction to that reaction. Anytime they start to feel something rise within them, or anyone else close to them, it triggers alarm bells and fear, “Oh no, emotions! Emotions are bad! Drama coming, look out!” Instead of just discussing what they are feeling with others, which is usually not the big deal they make it out to be, they lie and hide. They may physically escape from a situation or escape into drugs and alcohol to hold the feelings at bay. All of this creates more of the very drama they were hoping to avoid.
In the more reflective type, emotions may inspire elaborate analysis and methods for “undoing” them. The secondary reaction is a self-punishing blame and guilt followed by a commitment to do better when the spiritual or psychological methods fail to fully eradicate the undesired response.
Outcome #3: Poor Boundaries
A third thing that happens is poor boundaries and trouble making decisions. Feelings are our guides. Many "nice" people try to save relationships in which they are being treated poorly by attempting to not take the other person’s behavior personally, to stuff their own feelings. Typically this is a disaster, the person who is acting poorly does not magically change in the face of non-reactivity but simply gets trained that their bad behavior will be tolerated without consequence.
Then there are the uber-independent types who do not allow themselves to share wants, needs, and insecurities because that would be akin to admitting to an interpersonal vulnerability and imposing on the freedom of another, both of which go against their "code". These individuals often lash out and set boundaries inappropriately at the last minute because they've let things go too far, or keep mum and give up on a relationship entirely without ever giving their partner a chance to change something that might have been quite easy to reconcile.
Naturally, decision making is difficult in a detached state of mind, as one can’t say whether they truly want something or not if they don’t have any preferences and if all things are equally good and bad. Such people often let others or life decide things for them.
I recall when I was about 15, I begged my parents to send me to adventure summer camp where I could learn rock climbing, mountain biking, and white water rafting skills. When it came time to actually put down a deposit for the camp they asked me if I really wanted to go. But a peculiar blockage had come up inside of me, an apathy. I honestly just couldn’t say. Did I? Didn’t I? Now if my parents were different they might have decided not to pay and taught me a lesson about having to want things to get them, or if I'd known more about navigating life I might have tried to figure out what this depression was that had come over me and why. Was it about the camp itself, or something else? But instead they just paid and I went.
My last relationship ended in just this way. Except I was the camp. He was the apathetic teen. Luckily, I was also the version of the parents that said, "Nope, too bad sucker, you snooze you lose."
"This youthful heart can love you and give you what you need
But I'm too old to go chasing you around
Wasting my precious energy"
-Tracy Chapman, Give Me One Reason
If this person had been more in touch with their repressed needs and wishes and able to set boundaries they may have said, “I am still interested in you, and don’t want to end this yet, but would prefer if you give me some more space and time to feel things out because I am kinda stressed and overwhelmed right now.” Or something like that. Instead they allowed me to dominate during the relationship, perhaps taking it in directions they did not wish it to go, and let me dominate at the end, by failing to protest, yet seeming to not understand why I was making the call to leave.
The real question is what is the alternative to these shenanigans? What guiding philosophy could supplant these beliefs? Well, here is what I would say to my ex in Hawaii if he had been open and willing to examine his beliefs rather than tell me, “I can no longer continue this conversation.” :
1. I believe that seeking peace by eschewing/discounting earthly delights is a bad strategy. Earthly delights such as love and money are available to all, and earthly events CAN be manipulated, manifested, etc. to avoid pain. You are the creator and director of your own reality. You just haven’t mastered the how-to yet.
2. Each person has a soul and that soul has come here to grow and develop itself. All experiences are not equally valuable. The soul has certain goals for us in mind. The soul is in it to win it. Emotions are golden. When we move toward those goals, we feel pleasure and reward, and when we move away from them we feel pain and punishment.
3. A main way we grow and develop is through relationship. When you ignore your loneliness you are most likely ignoring your true needs. It is okay to want to have sex and be desired by someone. You’re not here to be a completely self-sufficient entity. You want to have meaningful spiritual sex, let’s get you that, but the first step is admitting to wanting it. Hell, I'd have sex with you if you'd just drop all this B.S. I think we should examine these limiting beliefs: that you don’t think you deserve or can find that type of partnership, that it isn’t meant for you or you somehow aren’t ready and won’t be for a very long time.
4. In addition to a soul each person also has a body with a personality, used to carry out the soul’s mission. The personality typically has no memory of the soul and the traits and wishes of the personality can diverge massively from the traits and wishes of the soul depending on what sort of childhood we have, the environment and culture we were raised in, and events that happen to us in our lives. Oftentimes the worse the events, the worse the forgetting. But the payoff is that massive growth occurs through the process of remembering. I know your childhood was tough and it shows, but your soul is quite beautiful, and that's why I'm always challenging you.
5. When we remove what is in the way--toxic energies, toxic beliefs, toxic behaviors—our light begins to shine, we feel “lighter” a.k.a happier, we attract good things to ourselves, and the soul can once again become the true guiding force in our lives. In my opinion your spiritual beliefs are mostly toxic beliefs.
6. If you're after equanimity, fully feeling and expressing emotions is key to relieving old burdens and preventing the buildup of new ones. All emotions should be felt/expressed/processed somehow. Sometimes it is only appropriate to express them to the self. Other times they can and should be expressed to others. Even when emotions are probably irrational, it is okay to express them from a place of vulnerability. You’ll have to decide whether another person is trustworthy, but the majority of people appreciate when others are vulnerable and honest with them. For example, right now, for practice, you could tell me why you don’t want to continue this conversation rather than retreat into silence as you always do. You could tell me you think I’m arrogant, that when your beliefs are attacked it makes you feel hurt and angry. I can take it. Maybe I should be more gentle with you. If you don't ever tell me nothing can change. But you won't tell me, because that is what withdrawn people do.
Crazy story. So this person and I have a psychic bond, and after working on this piece for a few days, without them reading it, they wrote back to me, exactly as if they had read it, basically validating everything I said.
It was not my intention to be abrupt.
You are right about this.
I have some things blocking direct influx of light.
And since I have accepted this rather than turned away from it and into asceticism I am just beginning to correct it.
I accept that the heart has desires.
That are real needs.
He even made a joke about his typical attitude:
Now I must not speak to you for one year and flagellate myself in darkness because my model of belief differs from yours GOODBYE.
I'm kidding of course.
I'm ready to not say goodbye anymore.
Booyah! Who is always right. Emily, that's who.
Kidding/not kidding. Maybe I know how to win friends and influence people after all.