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Why do I always fall for the same type of man….

In 2015 and 2016 I went to Loving Men in Wales. I loved it as an event, and the feeling of community, friendship and ease. It gives a feeling of what it can be like to live in a world where we are connected, and as gay men can enjoy a playful sense of ease and company. I also left each weekend with a deep pang of unrequited love, having on both occasions met a man who for various reasons was unavailable, but for whom I built up hopes that he might be.

The result was then spending the first months of the New Year struggling with a visceral feeling of loss, of pining for what never was but I had hoped might be and shame at feeling I was being weak to be so preoccupied with a man who it seemed showed little interest in thinking of me or having any wish to have any further connection. In fact with each man we did meet in the weeks after returning from Loving Men, and with each I felt them retreat from the eagerness of my desire to have more connection.

Once again, I then blamed myself for being too keen, for not playing it cool, for wearing my heart on my sleeve and being needy, invasive of their boundaries. So this year I decided that I would avoid Loving Men and go away to a space that was just for me, a 10 day silent retreat. On my way there I saw a man on the train who looked as if he was on his way to the retreat. As we got off I asked him if he was going to the meditation retreat and he was. We struck up a conversation and shared a taxi to the venue. In the remaining time left before going into silence we had a great time chatting. He’s straight so I was not worried about any unrequited love….or so I thought!

As we went into silence I noticed a curious dynamic in relation to this man and another. Someone had arrived just as we went into silence who I did find attractive, and as fate would have it he was placed to sit immediately behind me in the meditation hall, so I saw him each time I went in to meditate. The centre divides men and women into separate rooms and men and women are seated on separate sides in the dining room. This is great if you are straight, as it reduces the impact of seeing someone you are attracted to. Doesn’t really work if you are gay!

So over the time I sat meditating and in the stillness of the silent time between meditations I was present to a familiar dynamic. With the man I had met on the train, once we were in silence I became so anxious that I would be too much in some way – that I would be making eye contact when he just wanted to be in his own space or that I would impinge on him in some way (I noticed that I am at ease looking and smiling at people I know, but once on retreat this can feel awkward as we all withdraw into a more personal space. Also I noticed a fear of not being wanted once it was no longer possible to find out through a few words that someone was feeling friendly). With the man sitting behind me, I saw how my mind wove a story of desire and hope – that at the end of the retreat we would talk, he would turn out to be gay, we would meet and realise we were destined for each other. Exactly the story that fuelled my hopes with the two men at Loving Men, a belief we were meant to be together that in the end turned out to be not an intuition but an empty dream.

The end of the retreat brought two lessons. The man behind me, who I had anticipated talking with once we came out of silence, left immediately the silence was lifted and I never saw him! The man I had met on the train and had worried I was going to be too much for, had chosen me as his meditation buddy! I had noticed we tended to be at the same table after a while and had our drinks together in the breaks. This had helped me to relax around him and feel at ease. He then told me at the end that he is a diver and when diving you have one person as your buddy who you stay close to. He chose me.

Apart from showing how my mind got distracted during the retreat, how is this relevant? It actually was a perfect example of the dynamic I had just been reading about in a book about relationships and the dynamics that can happen between people. The book is called Attached, and it describes how people fall into three broad groups when entering relationship:

1. Anxious people are often preoccupied with thier relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back.
2. Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and commonly try to minimise closeness.
3. Secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving.

A few people are anxious/avoidant, but this is more rare.

The following list of traits for each type are from pages 65-66 of ‘Attached’

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And a few suggestions about how to work with your type:

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The book describes the different dynamics that can arise as these three types form relationships. It talks of how anxious types will often enter a relationship worrying that the other person will lose interest, that they will do something wrong to scare the other person away and take the blame if things do not work out. Avoidant’s will be concerned that the other person will become interested too quickly and so will give mixed messages – seeming to show interest whilst at the same time not replying to messages quickly and being ambivalent about committing. Secure people will not play games but be straight forward, showing if they like you, being open to commitment and ready to talk about anything that concerns them in the relationship rather than using it as a reason to pull away or play games.

What can happen is that anxious people create a template of what it feels like to fall in love – the worry, the heightened sense of uncertainty, the fear of rejection leading to the delight when the other seems to want you, but followed by fretting about why they have not replied to a text. The result of this template is that when an anxious person meets an avoidant it feels like love, because it feels like a familiar experience of what falling in love is like. Whereas meeting a secure person can feel flat – there’s no edge or drama, and so an anxious person can overlook the people who would be best able to give them a feeling of security as they chase after all the avoidant people they are drawn to.

Avoidant’s are drawn to anxious people as it fits with their script that people will become too demanding, needy and that they risk loosing their independence so in the end they need to drop this person in the hope of meeting the right person at some point in the future. It is not that avoidant’s do not want a relationship, but they can have an overly romantic idea of what their ideal partner should be like and so tend to be critical of the people they meet.

What I like about the book is that it does not make any type wrong and does not seek to fix anyone. It encourages you to be aware of your patterns and see how these interact with others, and to recognise that certain parings will be more likely to provide a feeling of security and being held by one’s partner than others. It does not say the neediness of the anxious type is wrong, just something that easily gets triggered when the partner is withdrawing or giving mixed messages, whereas with a partner who is ready to be fully present this dynamic occurs but is pacified by their willingness to hold. This can literally be the willingness of your  partner to take your hand when you want to hold there’s, rather than the avoidant’s response of shaking it off.

Avoidant’s are also looking for love, but have learnt to feel frightened of being overwhelmed. So for them if they recognise that always being attracted to anxious types will not be very likely to lead to a relationship they can relax in they can instead look to meet secure types – but they need to be ready for the challenge a secure person will offer of calling them out on their tendency to pull away. The secure person will not take the blame on themselves as the anxious person does when the avoidant pulls away, instead they will name what is happening and start a dialogue around it.

This is a brief synopsis of the points covered in the book, but if it has interested you or you recognise your type already I recommend reading it. “Know thyself” and you no longer have to live out unconscious dramas and stories. The self test form is below if you would like to find out your type. Or for a more detailed test taking about 15 minutes click here. To buy the book click here

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Balanced Effort

This Christmas and New Year I wanted to get away for a break and to refresh my meditation. A student at the group I run at UCL told me of the International Meditation Centre near Bath and I booked myself on to their  10 day retreat. I have been in London 12 years now since leaving the monastery and have not been on any long retreats in that time, so this was a very welcome return to a structure that was very like my life in the monastery. The morning bell went at 4am and we were mediating at 4.30 for the first of many 1 hour sessions during the day.

Apart from the first and last day we were in silence throughout. There were about 80 of us on the retreat, evenly split between men and women, yet the silence made it feel very spacious and took away the need to try and connect and talk, instead giving a feeling of a lot of personal space.  

The meditation itself was intense. We were sitting between 7 – 8 hours each day. With plenty of gaps! You can see the schedule below. This really gave the chance to drop much more deeply into the practice. Following a more intensive meditation schedule thinking can really recede to the periphery and there is a tremendous sense of spacious awareness, a feeling of light and open attentiveness, the mind being calm and bright, honed to a single point of attention in the moment.

When the mind stops jumping into the past and future, there really is just this spacious present moment, that is not a fixed point in time, but an aliveness in the vibration of this energetic field of being. 

The retreat really helped me to drink deeply from the joy of a calm mind. My body feeling alive and vital, mind calm and heart happy. 

Leaving the retreat felt the hardest part of the whole experience! Retreats are what they are: a leaving behind of our usual life. They are not a way of living. Even in the monastery we did not live with this intensity all the time, we had to maintain the infrastructure of the monastery, which meant working as well as mediating. The skill of meditation is learning how to bring the lessons from these deeper immersions into the practice back into one’s daily life.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing a few experiences from the retreat. 

 

Balanced effort

The first experience is the story told in one of the sessions which illustrates right effort. It was a Buddhist retreat so they were quoting from the Buddhist scriptures, which contain a plethora of stories from the time of the Buddha. This story concerned a monk called Sona. As a young man he lived a very luxurious life, so much so that he had fine down on the soles of his feet from never exerting himself. A king once asked to see this and marvel at his fine feet! Shortly after this the young man met the Buddha and became a monk.

Suddenly he left his life of privilege, wealth and ease and concentrated on the training of a monk. He was determined to gain insight. He was living in a hut in the forest, and used a track outside to do walking meditation. Reflecting on his meditation subject as he walked. His delicate feet were used to walking on silk, not the forest floor, and his walking track was soon covered with blood from his lacerated feet – but determined to see the profundity of the Buddha’s teaching for himself he kept walking. In his sitting meditation he strained for insight, but it did not come. Eventually he thought it was to no avail and he decided to leave and return to lay life. 

The Buddha saw this and came to Sona, concerned for his well fair, knowing that if he pushed himself too hard his mind would not be able to soften and be receptive to the intuitive knowledge that was there like a bud waiting to open, but which could also wither in the intensity of his wilful effort. 

The Buddha spoke to him in the following dialogue:

“Sona,” he said, “I have heard that you are not getting good results from your practice of mindfulness and want to return to the lay life. Suppose I explain why you did not get good results, would you stay on as a monk and try again?”

“Yes I would, Lord,” replied Sona.

“Sona, you were a musician and you used to play the lute. Tell me, Sona, did you produce good music when the lute string was well tuned, neither too tight nor too loose?”

“I was able to produce good music, Lord,” replied Sona.

“What happened when the strings were too tightly wound up?”

“I could not produce any music, Lord,” said Sona.

“What happened when the strings were too slack?”

“I could not produce any music at all, Lord,” replied Sona

“Sona, do you now see why you did not experience the happiness of renouncing worldly craving? You have been straining too hard in your meditation. Do it in a relaxed way, but without being slack. Try it again and you will experience the good result.”

Sona understood and stayed on in the monastery as a monk and soon attained awakening.

As you sit in meditation remembering this story can be a really great way to check in with the quality of your own effort: is it too wilful, or too unfocused, or is it in the middle – balanced and just enough?

This was a living part of how the retreat centre worked. In the first few days the retreat leader told us to notice the quality of our intention as we sat. Were we sitting with forced determination not to move? Were our knees hurting but from pride we would not move as we wanted to be seen to sit for the whole hour? He said that we are here to train our mind, not our body. If we find we reach a point where sitting is done with gritted teeth – then it is time to stand and move, he even invited us to go to the kitchen, make a cup of tea and have some cake!

This was a very different approach from what I have come across in other retreat centres, and it encouraged a softness that made it easier to rest into a deeply calm and focused attention. The teacher said that when effort was too much from sitting with gritted teeth, then there would be a lot of ego in the sitting, which would mean a lot of thinking. So this approach only makes for more thinking and distraction.

It did help! Giving myself permission to move, shift posture, make myself comfortable, allowed for a relaxing into the practice that then made it easier to sit in a stillness that arose from being present rather than as an effort of will. 

If you would like to have a more in depth experience of meditation I recommend the centre. They run 10 day retreats at the end of very month. Their next starts on the 19th January. For details click here

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