As a facilitator in Wake Up groups and retreats, I consistently cut myself some slack and recognize that we are all young adults who are moving in and out of periods of romantic and sexual exploration, which can be quite a fun, challenging, and careful dance. So often in Wake Up communities, we are both opening up to our deepest aspirations to love all beings as well as navigating through attractions to so many kind, caring, intelligent, creative, young, and good looking practitioners! Does this sound like your Wake Up experience? Fortunately I know from conversations with some friends that I am not alone in this love dance, both in Wake Up and the Sangha at large.
On the one hand, the Sangha is wholesome, fertile ground for falling in love romantically with someone who shares our deepest values and spiritual calling. This is a blessing, especially for singles. Truly, is there a better place to find a wonderful life partner than our spiritual community? Who wouldn’t love to find a “spiritual hottie”, a “Sangha sweatheart”, or a “Dharma hunk”? I know I would! Walking a spiritual path with a romantic life partner can be an endless source of joy and support for one another. I have heard elder monks and nuns share with non-monastic sincere practitioners that it is wise to develop a partnership with someone who shares our spiritual path, because of the support, inclusion, and harmony it fosters throughout our life. When a stable friendship supports the relationship, romantic involvement can also allow us to know someone in our Sangha very deeply and discover what love is with that person. But we have to be careful how we go about it! So the big question is, how do we balance our romantic interests as young adults with the needs of everyone in our Sangha community.
Walking a spiritual path with a romantic life partner can be an endless source of joy and support for one another.
An important thing to frequently keep in mind, especially for facilitators, is that people don’t come to Wake Up in order to date. If you’re like some of us, then you may like to repeat that a few times and breathe mindfully before a Wake Up gathering. Sometimes, it appears that my brain is hardwired for mate selection, and the instinct to find and attract a partner arises continuously. Fortunately, the aspiration to practice, awaken to this life, and build community can be deeper and transformative. People are drawn to Wake Up to take refuge in a spiritual community of friends who can support them in their spiritual path and deepest aspirations. We truly want to transform our suffering into compassion, and thereby help our world be a more loving one. As facilitators or core members of a Wake Up group, we may like to frequently contemplate and be very aware why people have entered our practice community, and how our presence can support their deepest calling. To forget about new members’ aspirations and reasons for coming, and be carried away by our romantic interests towards them can put their trust and safety with us and our community at risk.
An important thing to frequently keep in mind, especially for facilitators, is that people don’t come to Wake Up in order to date.
Here is a worthwhile short story that a close female friend once shared with me. She tried attending a Sangha where she recently moved because she was suffering and looking for support from others in her practice. During the Sangha, a young man was hitting on her during her first visit, and she felt quite uncomfortable, confused, and very frustrated. She needed to be seen for both her suffering and her sincere aspirations, and not simply as a young attractive female. It would be sad if someone came to our Wake Up group, and wanted to leave because of the discomfort created by romantic advances from others to the degree that she or he did not feel comfortable or safe practicing with us.
As a facilitator in Wake Up and in other Sanghas for several years, I’ve witnessed on many occasions what happens when romantic interests take center stage, and consideration for people’s needs for practice community fall to the side. It can be very painful to witness, when romances go sour and people no longer feel safe and held in the Sangha refuge. It can also stunt a Sangha’s development. As Wake Up ambassadors, we can learn how to prevent this in our community, so our refuge stays healthy and strong.
As a facilitator, from time to time we can set a positive tone and remind the Sangha of our collective intentions: “While we are all young adults, we gather first and foremost as spiritual friends, and not as a dating group.” We’ve shared this on occasion at Wake Up San Diego, and it seems to be refreshing for everyone to hear, as well as grounding in our practice together. We remind each other that Wake Up is where we come to learn in depth about brotherhood, sisterhood, and what it means to truly love ourselves and others. We can all use reminders like this sometimes. Most importantly, it builds an atmosphere of safety and trust together. Because of historical precedence of unethical behaviors in religious settings, it’s especially important for male facilitators to be aware of potential harm that could be caused by misusing one’s position of spiritual leadership, and the crucial need for group safety.
As facilitators, we can cultivate an atmosphere of safety and trust which allows everyone to let down their guard, reveal themselves as they are, and open to the healing effects of our collective practice and support together. A great deal of trust is needed for people to take refuge wholeheartedly. The facilitators and other core members can establish this refuge of trust and safety so that everyone can feel more at ease and supported in their practice. Maintaining clarity in the group that we are first and foremost a community of spiritual brothers and sisters, and not a dating group, can help to establish such a positive and trusting atmosphere.
As a facilitator, from time to time we can set a positive tone and remind the Sangha of our collective intentions: “While we are all young adults, we gather first and foremost as spiritual friends, and not as a dating group.”
Getting lost in romantic fantasy can happen to any of us from time to time. So it’s important to know our minds and hearts well, especially when those coming to our Wake Up gatherings are so compassionate, openhearted, fun, and attractive! Combine these conditions with the spiritual bliss we enjoy in our practice together, and without even knowing, we’re swept away again into romantic fantasy land.
The main thing is to be aware of the impermanence of fleeting attractions that hit our buttons of sensory pleasure. They can hook our minds and hearts, but lack a foundation of worth in our lives. On the other hand, developing a sincere friendship over time and understanding each other better can lead to a deep attraction that embraces our spiritual life as well. This is the most wonderful kind of deep attraction that can develop into a real partnership.
On many occasions, I have been overly playful and flirtatious with others in our Wake Up group, while temporarily lapsing into forgetfulness about my role as a lead facilitator towards someone who is still new to our group. Habit energies of romantic attachment can spring forth like a puppy after a rolling ball. It can be easy to temporarily forget one’s deep intentions for practice and building spiritual community. Luckily the combination of recognizing our mind, the mindfulness trainings, as well as skillful friends and mentors all support me to act with more wisdom for the greater happiness of myself and my community.
The main thing is to be aware of the impermanence of fleeting attractions that hit our buttons of sensory pleasure.
If we helped to start a Wake Up group, and have more experience in facilitating, then we can be try to be aware of the influence that we have on others, as well as their projected feelings onto us because of our roles. Whether the projections are positive or negative, we should not be too fooled by them, as they are fleeting and superficial. People are attracted to the power of the three jewels: the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha; we are a vehicle for transmitting them. We can honor the role and trust we have in the Sangha by being truly mindful of the real needs and safety of our group.
Here’s a short story about this. After starting a Wake Up group, I discussed some of my enthusiasm as well as concerns with an older brother. I shared with him that I felt safer not to date anyone in the group, and promised not to unless a deep friendship evolved over time and romantic interests grew. In that case, I could consult again with him and reassess the situation. My older brother was very supportive and held my promise in confidence. This was very helpful, because almost as soon as we started the Wake Up group, a new member appeared who looked like an exotic model out of a mindfulness magazine! She was very attractive, kind, and intelligent, and I could barely maintain focus during our meditations. She expressed her appreciation for me as a facilitator and leader in the group, and I was appreciating her appreciations very much. It was not clear to me then, but I later recognized that she was projecting onto me simply because of my role as a facilitator and founder in the group. It was easy to think that she was liking me, rather than admiring the position in the Sangha that I was holding. One thing that helped during our practice was to meditate on compassion, because this helped to cut through the surface layer of attraction to her, and embrace our suffering. The infatuation on both of our parts slowly subsided, and this young woman became romantically involved with another person in our Wake Up group soon after. Their romance ended quickly, turned sour, and she no longer felt comfortable to continue attending our group, even though we reached out to her. While we felt sad that she was no longer able to enjoy our fellowship together, I was relieved to not get caught in the romantic drama and contribute to her departure. As a facilitator, that may have further disrupted the community’s harmony and stability.
When we notice feelings of sexual attraction to another member in a Wake Up group (or several members if you’re like some of us), it’s very helpful to simply be aware of these feelings while following the breath to maintain some equanimity. I’ve found that it’s very helpful to share these feelings with a trusted friend, such as an older brother or sister, a teacher, or a trusted peer, after I’ve already done some of the work to embrace my own feelings. This helps to stay grounded, and not be so swept away by continuing feelings of infatuation and fantasies. It’s not always easy to do this work alone, so a trustworthy friend can be an invaluable support. With the support of a friend or mentor, it’s easier to ascertain how we would like to handle the situation, and whether it’s wise to act upon our romantic feelings. Wisdom will come after we have been able to not only embrace our own feelings of attraction, but also hold in our awareness the needs of the other person, as well as our community as a whole. When we can embrace others’ need for trust and safety, then we will also feel safer in ourselves, and able to maintain harmony and stability in our community. From that place of harmony and stability, beautiful relationships, both platonic and romantic, may evolve naturally and with deep happiness.