QUESTION: I read a lot about enlightenment (Buddha, Osho, Eckhart Tolle, Jed McKenna), which can be very challenging. At the moment, I’m struggling to reconcile my understanding of Buddha and Osho’s teachings (that a byproduct of enlightenment is losing all attachments to and bonds with romantic partners) with my desire to have romantic relationships.

On one hand, I imagine losing these attachments means that you are focused on yourself and that you are happy with yourself, which I know to be integral in having healthy relationships. The expression “being alone with someone together” comes to mind when describing these relationships.

On the other hand, I imagine that this means losing the desire to have sex by reaching an “I don’t care about anything anymore” state of mind, and I think: what is that bullshit all about? I am a human being and yes, I want to live an integrated life with the Universe/God, but I am not a fucking hermit. I want to be with someone and I want to love that person and feel bonded with him in a positive way.

Is it wrong to wish to find safety in a relationship? To wish to find a man and to just know that we want to spend our lives together? Is this childish? Maybe this sounds like Hollywood shit. I am at a loss and just don’t know anything anymore. I had a traumatic childhood and get confused around these topics. Can you help me with my struggle?

ANSWER: What you are touching upon here is the split inside many of us that can come about on our spiritual journey. The confusion arises when we try to imagine certain teachings and what they feel like before we have realized them in our bones. It is similar to being in the desert one’s whole life and reading about the ocean one has never seen. Our imagination can run wild: what does it feel like, what does being wet look like? The only honest thing is to keep walking until one reaches the ocean, all else is just thinking. And in your case, overthinking. All the concepts that we have (and that is all we are talking about here) are absolutely useless. Building one’s life on concepts is dangerous business, be conscious of that.

Go inside yourself and examine what is the driving force behind your desire for enlightenment and spiritual seeking. Put one foot in front the other. Is there emotional pain that needs to be addressed from your traumatic childhood? Are you attempting to escape your present moment by imagining some better future moment? You stated some honest things here: your desire for relationship and that you are not a hermit. Good, start there. You are not a hermit, but yet you are quoting Buddha as your guide around relationships? Examine that. There is much to learn from the teachings of great masters, but they have to be put into context. Do not confuse apples with oranges here.

Regarding romantic relationships, when entered into from a conscious place, it’s a powerful spiritual path in itself. It might not seem as magical or as special as being a hermit, but nothing brings up our stuff like the mirror of another. And not just romantic relationships, but certainly they in particular will push buttons like nobody’s business. When honestly approached, we are shown where there is work to be done: we can choose to roll our sleeves up and see why these buttons are being pushed. I have talked at length about that topic on this blog. This is not easy work, but certainly fruitful.

As for your Hollywood comment: yes, as a culture, there is much of this juvenile archetype hammered into our psyches. Who would deny the joy of a new love or hot sex when discovering a new body? These delights, however, are appetizers and invitations to a deeper union, not the final destination. Even though this fact is lost on some who keep trying to recapture that moment over and over, that puppy love moment is not the same thing as a deep relationship. Deep relationships only occur between people who have the maturity to do their own inner work. Otherwise, you end up with partners who are sleepwalking with each other.

So there is nothing wrong with your desire. Make sure that you address your emotional wounding as you move on in your life. Yes, it can be a difficult path, but what choice do you have once you are on it? Do not muddy the waters of your mind by overthinking things. One can be in a relationship and be on a spiritual quest at the same time. For some, the relationship is the path. For others, the spiritual path is the relationship. And others yet, being in relationship with themselves and navigating this life without a partner is their path. There is no right or wrong. The key is to examine the unconscious aspects of oneself and make sure that we are in an honest relationship with it.