I came across this article by Michele Knight in my Twitter feed, and as soon as I saw the title, a feeling went off inside me: oh yah, I know alllll about the spiritual gifts of unrequited love. When you are in the midst of an unrequited love infection, you can’t eat, you can’t sleep, the world revolves around the Beloved and what they are or aren’t doing, what they said or didn’t say, how close or far you perceive them to be to you, and your mood lurches around as jarringly as an old wood roller coaster.
There are three typical routes this situation can take. The first one is: oblivion. You and your unrequited love never manifest into a real relationship. You keep holding on, despite every evidence to the contrary, as your heart and soul leak vitality and wholeness with every passing moment. The Beloved holds such power over you, but instead of seeing this situation as your choice and a learning experience you must pass through, you externalize the lesson and make it about him or her. This seldom creates growth. Instead, it sets up a tendency towards self-mutilation, as you examine your personality and being with a fine-tooth comb, seeing only what can be changed, excised, or gained to make yourself desirable to the Beloved. “If only I…” and the thought invariably ends “…then s/he would love me.”
The second route is transmutation: all that stored up energy is released. The Beloved and you come to some sort of agreement. Either you agree to move on or give it a shot or whatever you come up with, but there is a transmutation that both participate in. You both have grown. The lover has learned patience, has followed his intuition, has gone deep into the well of love, has stayed on course with an open mind and heart. The Beloved learns from, and is softened, by the loyalty and constancy of the lover. The Beloved opens and the lover’s ability to trust is healed, and something alchemical happens in the process. I’m not sure if these relationships stay together. Maybe all that resistance was building up to a huge transmutation of energy, and both partners needed one another to release it. The relationship stays together only so long as both need to gather what’s necessary for the next stage of development, but there is always a fond memory ands special acknowledgement of the growth you brought to each other’s lives.
The third way is the way of time and reality. Time, compassion, and open-heartedness are needed to move through this phase or style of connection. In this dynamic, the Beloved never acknowledges your love, and the lover is never quite able to let go of the feelings. Perhaps it is a karmic connection and there is soul material from the past that needs to be worked through. Perhaps this is a Twin Flame vibration and one partner does not recognize the other as a Twin. Whatever the case, the feelings can persist for years and decades, but this is the scenario that holds immense fodder for spiritual and emotional growth.
To recognize it is possible to love someone without needing them to love you back is a huge spiritual lesson. Not an easy lesson, and one that requires constant practice, but to be able to love and not be loved back in the way you desire puts you, as Pema Chodoron says, in the state of soft heart. Soft heart, when our heart is broken and bruised, when tears are just below the surface almost all of the time, when the physical ache of our heart corresponds exactly to the emotional pain we feel at not being able to merge with the Beloved, is a place of great tenderness and openness. Pema says having your heart broken is a gift. She says it awakens boddhichitta.
A book on this subject which affected me deeply is Open To Desire by Mark Epstein. In this book, Epstein uses the Buddha’s lesson of relinquishing attachment as the device to help people see the difference between attachment and desire. Desire often stimulates attachment, and can definitely encourage attachment: humans are creatures of habit and sensually oriented and love things that make them feel better. Such feelings, when externalized onto an object, are temporary. Even within, they can be temporary if not tended to through meditation, introspection, and constant mental training to distinguish the difference between craving and attachment.
Check out Michele Knight’s article, which beautifully expresses the transformative gifts of unrequited love. Remember, everything is a mirror, a reflection. What you see out there is somewhere within you, and it’s especially valuable to check out the stuff reflected back that we don’t like so much.