The Only One You Can Change…

Radha_Madhavam“If the people we love won’t change for our sake, does that mean that we are not loved enough?”

An intense discussion today about getting those around us to behave the way we want them to. It simply isn’t going to happen. At least not because we wish and demand it to be so. So does this mean we aren’t loved enough? That if only our loved ones reciprocated our feelings, they would certainly do what we ask of them and do so happily?

The Gita says that we must perform our duties, and that includes towards our nearest and dearest, with love, compassion and devotion. It also states that we must do so with absolutely no expectation of getting something, whether that be love, appreciation or gratitude, in return.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, certainly. But some of us argued that love in itself, at least our limited human interpretation of it, is nothing more than a possessive need to control the ones we “love.” By love, we most often mean a sense of ownership and belonging, of obligation and need. But real love, in the divine sense of the term, is compassionately detached. It makes no demands and expects no returns. It is the kind of love God has for us, allowing us to make an infinite number of mistakes, to turn away from our source, to chase after foolish goals, and yet be always compassionate and full of unending Bliss. Bliss cannot be offered to those who do not want it or see its value. But it is always there regardless, complete within itself.

The Gita urges us to seek that inner Bliss and remain content. By seeking to control others we lose control over ourselves. We dwell in a place of longing and misery, anguished by our lack of power, eager to create and maintain an illusory perfection in our little world. The Gita points out the foolishness of putting all our faith into others who are imperfect like ourselves. See them rather as fellow beings on their own journey toward perfection.

One of our members put it well. “You can either stay and be loving yet unaffected by expectations, or you can leave. There is no middle ground where you stay and insist on change. The only one you can change is yourself.”

I spent twelve years doing just that. I was determined to make my first marriage work. I had my dream of a perfect marriage, with a loving husband and beautiful children, a happy home and a healthy family. I refused to let that dream go. And in the process, I allowed myself to be hurt and damaged, I sought to control my spouse, I made desperate efforts to “fix” things, so they would go according to plan. What I realize now is that I was demanding things he simply could not give. I was willing to stay and fight and struggle and endure abuse and pain, rather than give up on what I wanted. Like one of our members today, I wondered if this meant I simply wasn’t loved. But what I was locked in was not love at all, but a battle for control. I chose finally to walk away and give up on that particular dream.

Does this mean I failed? Yes, I failed at establishing control and getting what I wanted from someone who was unable to provide it. But is that what we are seeking? Or is it peace, contentment and a compassionately detached attitude that allows us to love others freely, happily, and without expectation? In that sense I succeeded in letting go and moving on. And this allowed me the freedom to love again, only this time I learned quickly to do so without expectation. The peace that such an attitude brings is beyond comprehension.

I think the Gita is warning us to guard against the immense pain and damage we can cause others and ourselves by demanding that our expectations be fulfilled. Instead, we need to love fully and yet be fully satisfied within ourselves, regardless of the impermanent relationships that come and go in each of our lives. I’m certain that’s where God comes in, to fulfill that need for love that all of us have, by loving us enough to show us the way home.

Image: Raja Ravi Varma, Wikimedia Commons.

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