A little over a month ago, I declared 2010 (ok, perhaps a bit early) “The Year of Loving Myself Passionately (TYOLMP).” This is a serious decision for me: a holy vow to really, no-bullshit, truly, honestly shed some layers of self hatred and get down to the business of serious self esteem-building. I am literally seeking to raze myself to the ground and strengthen my internal foundation, which has been so shaky and weak for so much of my life. I see this as the greatest gift I could ever bestow upon myself or my family.

TYOLMP is a year to truly hold and embrace myself. A year to connect to a sense of something larger than myself in a real and authentic way. I’ve abandoned hope for the man who will save me and I am now bent on my own salvation. I am taking the words of the Buddha to heart: “Work out your own salvation with diligence.”

Since the day I took the YOLMP vow, I am mostly happy with it. But sometimes in my encounters with the Married or the Partnered, I find that old familiar longing to love and be loved romantically, that compulsion to date, rearing its head. That need to be cherished by some other person who somehow sees in me what I cannot see in myself. I have written before about my relationship with Married Folk here, from a very raw place of resentment and sadness and jealousy.

But now I am seeking to change my relationship to the Partnered World. I refuse to play the role of the beleaguered single, orphaned mother in a world of people who are happy and secure and safe and loved. I give up the “me vs. them” mentality, which is nothing but illusion created by my mind.

I am choosing instead to see that the pain that I sometimes feel in the presence of the Wedded as a positive sign: my heart has not hardened and given up on love. I still have the romantic belief that someday I will be part of a real relationship with a kind, evolved, decent person. Yet I do not and will not need that person to feel complete and whole. I am glad that I have had the courage and willingness to stop the dating hamster wheel and get some clarity on who I am when I am not in a dating or love relationship with someone. That has never happened before as I have literally been continuously (no exaggeration) in a relationship with someone from the age of 18 until my divorce at age 32, with much frenzied and unsatisfying dating until I took the YOLMP vow.

Today, when those feelings of jealousy and lack surface, I can choose to see them for what they are: another form of my personal Mara. I can “invite Mara to tea.” Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite books about the spiritual path: Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, that talks about this concept of inviting Mara to tea:

“One of my favorite stories of the Buddha shows the power of a wakeful and friendly heart. On the morning of Buddha’s enlightenment Mara, the fearsome demon who symbolizes the shadow-side of human nature, fled in defeat and disarray. In Sanskrit “Mara” means “delusion” – that craving and fear that obscure our enlightened nature.

But it seems that he was only temporarily discouraged. Even after the Buddha had embarked on his teaching career and become a revered figure throughout Indian, Mara continued to make unexpected appearances. Instead of driving him away, however, the Buddha would calmly acknowledge the demon’s presence saying, “I see you, Mara.”

He would then invite him for tea and serve him as an honored guest.

Offering Mara a cushion so that he could sit comfortably, the Buddha would fill two earthen cups with tea and place them on a low table between them. Mara would stay for awhile and then go, but throughout, the Buddha remained free and undisturbed.

You see, when Mara visits us in the form of troubling emotions or fearsome stories, we can say, “I see you Mara,” and clearly recognize the craving and fear that persists in each human heart. The objective is to see what is true and to hold what is seen with kindness….

Our habit of being a fair-weather friend to ourselves – of pushing away or ignoring whatever darkness we can – is deeply entrenched…. We truly befriend ourselves when, rather than resisting our experience, we open our hearts and willingly invite Mara to tea….”

There is such enormous power in naming and seeing Mara. I can attest to this in all aspects of my life. I need to write a post soon about how Mara creeps into my mothering, and how “inviting Mara to tea” has helped me to gain greater awareness of the stories I tell myself about motherhood and to shift some of the heavy layers of judgment and self-recrimination I hold around mothering and parenthood.

For now…the sadness around the Married People has shifted and I am back to unabashedly celebrating TYOLMP, trusting that this path of abstaining from intoxicants, celibacy, and spiritual practice will bring forth possibilities I can’t even begin to imagine in this life.