Today’s guest is Dave Richo, a psychotherapist, teacher, workshop leader, and author of the well-known book “How To Be An Adult in Relationships- The 5 Keys to Mindful Loving”. In this conversation we explore topics found in his more recent book “How To Be an Adult In Love- Letting Love In Safely and Showing It Recklessly”, and his brand new book “You Are Not What You Think- The Egoless Path To Self-Esteem and Generous Love”. Richo’s approach, which combines Jungian, poetic, and mythical perspectives, delves deep into the Buddhist concept of loving-kindness. In today’s episode we explore the whys and the hows of egoless love in the context of romantic relationships. You will learn key questions to help you assess your own ego balance, and ways to surrender ego in order to build self-esteem, address old wounds and fears, be fully loving in all of your relationships, and to actually evolve your capacity for love. You will be reminded and awakened to the ways in which taking care of ourselves is in itself an act of love.
Here are some highlights, insights, and suggestions from my conversation with Dave Richo:
Widening the range of love- The Buddhist practice of loving-kindness is really about expanding our definition of what it means to love. It is about beaming out love to yourself, those closest to you, those you feel neutral about, those you don’t even really like, and all with EQUAL force. This force of grace and power is one that comes from beyond our ego, and extends through us to all beings. We can learn how to love, which is important, but we can also work on opening ourselves to call upon this sense of unconditional grace that is omnipresent and here to help us. How to connect with this sense of spirit is incredibly personal and you must find the right wording, symbolism, rituals, and practices that make it your own. However you relate to this concept, take a moment to consider that perhaps by incorporating awareness of this wider loving spirit you might find ways to better heal during difficult times, feel connected to your partner regardless of what you think or feel about them in a given moment, and even potentially, as Dave explains, feel more fully human.
Agape love: The Greek’s referred to this form of selfless, unconditional and utterly limitless way of showing love as ‘Agape love’. They saw this form of boundless love to be our own highest calling. Although the love we hold for our romantic partner(s) exists within the definitions of the Greek’s Agape love and the Buddhist’s loving-kindness paradigm, it is the erotic dimension that distinguishes our intimate partnerships from the crowd. Interestingly enough, the Greek’s also believe that erotic love exists in our creative pursuits as well. Therefore there are many ways to experience erotic love, and infinite ways to experience Agape love.
Tending to the relationship through Egoless Loving: So how can this wide definition of love inform our ability to engage the challenges that may arise in our partnerships? Love is about giving of oneself without being sure exactly what we will get in return. If instead, our egos are leading the way in our relationship we may find ourselves using the partnership to assert and solidify our own ego purposes, leading to patterns of selfishness (and not the good kind!).
The evolution of a relationship from Ego-ideals to Egoless led love: There are three phases a romantic relationship must pass through in order to achieve an egoless led love:
1) Ego-Ideal to Ego-Ideal Romantic Phase: In the beginning… two individuals meet, and their two ego ideals fall in love. Meaning that person you always desired is finally found! Stars, rainbows, romantic dates, until…
2) Ego to Ego Phase: The inevitable conflicts, big or small, begin, and the ego-ideals erode and you begin to see the other person as she or he really is (warts and all). You may start to see your partner as self-centered, self-promoting, self-ish, or maybe you just start getting really irritated with the way they do or don’t do the dishes, you get the idea… In this conflict stage, the goal is to confront the ego dimension of ourselves and see if we can let go of it in favor of a more loving response. There are many psychological techniques, communication tips, outlined processes, prompts and activities you can choose to engage in here to help address, process, and make it through this phase. Regardless of how you and your partner work on your conflicts, it is critical to remember that this is an act of love! When we commit to working through the tough stuff and putting in the energy when struggles arise we are showing ourselves and our partners love in action. This increases connection, and of course, trust. And it leads to the final phase.
3) Egoless Love Phase: Through successfully showing up for Phase 2 and taking responsibility for our own egos, a new dimension of love is possible. Now that our partners can trust that we are dedicated to tending to the partnership versus tending solely to our egos, true commitment is possible. (Note to eager hearts: this is the appropriate time to choose marriage rather than during the Ego-ideal phase!).
Hold up! Lets take a moment to look closer at what ego is, and what it means in love.
Ego is the latin word for ‘I’. It lies on a continuum. One extreme is when the ego is inflated which can look like arrogance/swagger/narcism, and on the other extreme when the ego is deflated it can look like withdrawn/shutdown/doormat-like. In equilibrium the ego is strong yet not forceful, direct but not judging, respectful, humble, confident without arrogance, and loving.
Only from a healthy ego is true love possible. You cannot be fully loved by those whose egos are stuck on either end of the spectrum. Someone with an inflated ego cannot truly love you, even if it seems she/he cares about you it is only because they are focusing on you to see what they can get from you. Someone with a deflated ego is guided by fear and appeasement, neither conducive to deep healthy love. Those with healthy egos however, have self-esteem, and so they are capable of looking into YOU.
Helpful questions to uncover where you are on the ego spectrum, and consequently discover if the love you are giving and getting in your relationship is healthy:
We are each born with a set of original needs, Dave categorizes them into the 5 As: attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing.
-Attention- your caretakers focused on your needs in an engaged way
-Acceptance- your family and community accepted you as you were
-Appreciation- your family cherished and celebrated you
-Affection- your family showed affection in physical and appropriate ways
-Allowing- your family supported you without clinging or holding you back
These five needs remain with us throughout our life and they create a solid definition of how love is shown.
How do you know that you really love yourself? Ask! Using the same 5As you can ask yourself “Am I paying attention to my needs? Am I accepting myself as I really am? Am I holding myself as valuable? Am I taking care of my body? Am I allowing myself to make the choices that reflect who I am rather than what others insist?
Notice your answers, and notice how assertive you are. Can you state your needs without aggression or demand? Are you afraid of asking for what you want or afraid of your needs themselves? Are you afraid of needing or wanting to be fully loved?
Bring the 5 As into your relationship by talking through them with your partner and turning the questions around! How can I pay attention to your needs? Am I accepting you as you really are? Etc. This can be in incredibly informative and empowering process to pursue together.
When you can give yourself the 5As it is called healthy self-love. When you can give your partner the 5As it is called intimacy. And don’t be fooled. Acts of self-love are in themselves a way of showing love to others. Turning attention inward helps you show up and be fully you!
The 4A Process: In establishing intimacy, it is critical to address fears of intimacy- Although subconscious, hidden, or simply out of awareness, many relationship conflicts arise from two common fears originating from our childhoods: 1) fear of abandonment and 2) fear of engulfment. These fears develop into fears of intimacy and are the root causes of so many relationship struggles (both MAJOR and minor ones!). The 4A process can help you and your partner work through the fear(s).
1) Admit- admit you are afraid, share with your partner
2) Allow- allow yourself to feel the feeling
3) Act as If- feel the fear but do it anyway, don’t let the fear stop you
4) Affirmation- Tell yourself “I am letting go of this fear”
An example: “When you hug me I feel scared you will smother me, but please keep hugging me so that I can work through this feeling because I know you are safe and will not overwhelm me. I don’t want the fear to stop this moment that is happening, so I am going to let go of this fear.”
Work with original fears so that you can experience the other side of intimacy! There is a difference between fear management (making exceptions, working around, and placating ourselves, etc) versus taking responsibility for our fear (tracing source, acknowledging triggers, expressing awareness).
It’s not you, It’s me! While our romantic relationships are indeed sources of deep happiness, they are also our best labs in which to grow into awakened, full, and healthy human beings. As so many of us have experienced, our intimate partnerships lead us to the most undeveloped parts of ourselves. Humbling! Intruiging! And experience shows that everyone, we mean everyone, has childhood scars that continue to dwell in the psyche and play out in subtle, and unsubtle ways! Taking responsibility and becoming aware of how our past carries over into the present is in itself an ACT OF LOVE.
Healthy relationships give us the opportunity to heal old wounds, and therefore the ability to have healthier relationships, and so on. Welcome these opportunities to heal your past!
For those of you growth-oriented partners, you can begin to ask yourself and your partner “how can I best sponsor growth and healing?” From this place of love, you can engage in what Dave calls Safe Conversations.
Safe Conversations- If you want to love yourself and allow your relationship (current or future) to have more love in it, you must be willing to have conversations without judgement about how the past is informing the present. From here you can choose how you want to give and receive the 5As and how to have a relationship in which childhood wounds are no longer getting in the way. Safe Conversations help to air out and find patterns for deeper understanding. Here is short list of example questions to discuss with your partner (taking turns asking each other), but please refer to Dave’s book for more a more in depth discussion. “How were your early needs handled in childhood? How did your parents show you the 5 As?” “How can your needs be met now in this relationship?” “How were your feelings handled and expressed in your childhood? How was sadness shown? Anger? Fear? Joy?” “How were conflicts handled by your parents?” “How do you want to handle conflicts in our relationship?” “How was free speech seen ny your family?” “How can you feel safe to speak your needs in our relationship?”
This is a lot! It is long, deep, unfolding, and takes an immense amount of ego-less led presence. Take breaks!
And lastly, a suggestion for expanding your daily capacity for loving kindness: Daily rituals help call our awareness to attention, Dave shares his morning dedication with us: “I say yes to everything that happens to me today as an opportunity to give and receive love without reserve. I am thankful for the enduring capacity to love that has come to me from the sacred heart of the universe. May everything that happens to me today open my heart more and more. May all that I think, say, feel, and do, express loving kindness towards myself, those close to me, and all beings. May love be my life purpose, my bliss, my destiny, my calling, the richest grace I can receive or give and may I always be especially compassionate toward people who are considered least, or last, or who feel alone or lost”
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