Recently I found myself feeling attracted to a woman who works in my office. She is a very nice person at heart, but her interests and personality are very different from mine. Yet I cannot help feeling drawn to her. Day and night my mind is raked by storms of emotion. I try to follow my Guru’s advice on loving others in an impersonal, divine way, but I haven’t succeeded. Is there a way to get some relief?
When you say she is a “very nice person at heart,” does it mean that she is “less nice” on the outside? You say her interests and personality are “different from mine.” Presumably you mean they are in some way incompatible with yours?
One person could love reading spiritual books, and another person enjoys walking in nature while thinking of God. Those are different interests, but both are refined activities.
If one person, however, likes to meditate and the other likes to drink and go dancing, then those are quite incompatible.
You didn’t say so explicitly, but it sounds as if you are talking about a person whose nature and interests are actually “incompatible” with yours and not merely “different.”
Although the idea of arranged marriages would be impossible to impose on western society, habituated as we are to having “free” choice in these matters, there is a lot of wisdom behind the custom. It is not hard to fall in love with someone. It is effortless to be “attracted.”
(Cartoon: Unwise relationships can lead to unfortunate consequences!)
We can have lots of karma with people whom we “recognize” from past lives together. This happens all the time. But not all of these connections are appropriate to live out in the present life. Much of the karma of these mere infatuations, where there isn’t a true compatibility, is not good if your goal is to find greater happiness and inner freedom, instead of just endless experiences.
The great challenge is not only to find someone to whom you feel “attracted” But to make a successful life together. This is where it’s essential to determine if the other person has compatible values, goals, and a general approach to life.
Friends who can stand a bit outside the “heat of the moment” are usually better able to evaluate the long-term prospects for the relationship. Those most closely involved often have their judgment clouded by desires of various kinds. Sex is the most obvious, but other desires also come into play — home, children, financial security, social status, etc. Thus the benefit of arranged marriages, where these priorities can be sorted out objectively. It isn’t as common in the society we live in now, but it is helpful to appreciate why, in many cultures, for many centuries, it has been an effective system.
No doubt you have some kind of karmic connection with this woman; otherwise, you wouldn’t be haunted by the thought of her. But having karma with someone is not the same as having dharma with that person.
Karma means that an impersonal process of cause-and-effect is working on you. The cosmic force is inviting you to set in motion more cause-and-effect – including probably lots of painful cause and effect. To get involved with someone who you suspect doesn’t share your basic view of life will guarantee that once the fires have cooled, you will be in for plenty of suffering. And if you should be so unlucky as to marry and have children, you will get to spread the suffering beyond yourself and your partner. Not a good plan!
Dharma means those actions that will expand your consciousness and move you closer to God and His love and bliss. Dharma includes cultivating the strength to resist unwise attractions.
Dharma means trusting that you don’t have to enter relationships that are unsuitable, but that you can wait — even if you are feeling very lonely and tempted — until a relationship with a true chance of success comes along. This is not a popular teaching nowadays, for sure! And no one is asking you to be perfect. Just do your best.
In the meantime, what should you do about your preoccupation with this woman?
Above all, don’t feed it. Even though everything in you is pushing you to be close to her, to think about her, to spend time with her if you can — don’t.
Is this easy? Of course not. This is the cosmic play, which brings us face to face with serious challenges. It is the way God trains us to be strong in our commitment to high ideals. You don’t get strong without being tested.
You may think that this is a bad system. But the Masters remind us that those who walk the path of righteousness to the end never conclude that it wasn’t worth the struggle.
The benefits of dharma may be appear very unclear and far from obvious. But after a few trips down the karmic path rather than the dharmic path, we begin to learn the lesson fast!
Do everything you can to stay away from this woman. Avoid any kind of personal interactions. Be formal and respectful, but keep your distance if you can’t always avoid her. And above all, don’t be alone with her. You can’t afford to play around with this kind of energy – it is simply too strong. It can seize the mind and make us its slave, if we let it.
Forget about “loving her on a divine level.” That is not the appropriate plan for this situation. Now is the time for complete separation, inwardly as well as outwardly.
When you are in the throes of an attraction, you shouldn’t think of the object of your infatuation at all. Any mental or emotional energy you direct toward her will immediately draw you back into the very obsession you are trying to escape. Don’t kid yourself. Be realistic.
If you have to see her at work, complete separation might not be possible. But if you are honest, you will be able to understand the difference between what is imposed upon you by circumstances and what you are seeking because of desire.
You think it is very important to relate to her on some level – but that is karma calling, not dharma.
You can’t, however, replace your preoccupation with nothing at all. Nature abhors a vacuum. Try to fill your daydreaming time, and the social time you might try to spend with her, with other fulfilling activities. (I would say more fulfilling, but it may not feel so at first.)
Get involved in whatever your interests actually are. Be in uplifting company. Develop yourself spiritually, to build your inner strength. Stay away from anything romantically or sexually stimulating as much as you can. (Difficult to do in modern society, but give it a try!)
And pray. Continuously ask God and Guru to free you from this preoccupation, but then do your part to extricate yourself. Don’t, however, use that prayer as an excuse to focus on her again! The mind is tricky. Rather than be specific, better to pray, “Lord, help me to live a life that is pleasing to Thee.” God will know what you mean.
You’ll be surprised, once you commit yourself to this course of action, that it isn’t so hard. But even if it is, what choice do you have? It’s guaranteed that a bad relationship is MUCH more painful than taking a few simple steps to find inner freedom.
And if you fail from time to time, and the attraction sweeps you into unwise interactions, extricate yourself as soon as you can. Don’t say “I have failed,” but only, “I haven’t yet succeeded.”
Eventually you will look back and say, “Thank God I never followed that attraction. How unfortunate it would have been. Look at the years of intense pain that I have avoided.”