Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: I have really gotten much inspiration from your answers. Never have I read such candid answers dealt out with such warm compassion. Go Deepak!
My question has to do with dating. A year ago, I had the biggest heartbreak of my life, and while it was unbearably painful, I'm thankful that it opened a door in me that wasn't there before. I now live my life with more awareness, gratitude and compassion. But the down side is that I've become more wary of entering a new relationship. I do feel whole again, but am confused as to how to start dating again and nervous about my own judgment about whom to date. The last thing I want to ever become is a jaded woman who hasn't had a relationship work out. In my past, I've been the giver in relationships, putting my own desires and career aspirations on hold. I don't want to do that anymore. Do you have advice on dating? And then while dating, how does one give but also maintain one's identity? What are your thoughts on online dating? Do you have advice on how to keep one's heart open in daily life so that chance meetings can happen? Thanks so much! I appreciate your time in reading my question.
— Karen D., Long Island City, New York
There are quite a few separate questions bundled together here, so let's see if we can find their essence. The core issue here isn't dating and how to make it go smoother. It's about being wounded. When a person is wounded, two things happen: A change occurs and a memory is implanted. In your case, the change was that you gained in self-awareness. That's productive, positive and natural. It indicates that you are willing to evolve and that you place a real value on your own growth.
Pulling against this is a memory of being wounded. This memory tells you to contract and not to grow. It keeps reminding you of old pain. As a result, you fear new pain, even before it has shown any sign of appearing. This is an example of how fear misleads us. The past keeps intruding on the present with anxiety that belongs in the past. (I'm sure you will identify with my favorite quotation from Mark Twain: "The cat, having sat upon a hot stove lid, will not sit upon a hot stove lid again. But he won't sit upon a cold stove lid, either.")
The crucial point is not how to date or whether online dating works. Relationships are always a reflection of your own inner world, with all its beliefs, expectations, assumptions, past conditioning and self-image. This world is too complex to address in a single answer, and it looks like you are paying attention to it on your own. Only by paying attention to your inner world can the outer world profoundly change in its reflections. So make it a point not to accept one aspect of what you find inside: old fears.
How do you dispel old fears? Action takes place on several levels:
Cognitive: When you have fearful thoughts, distrust them. Look for other perspectives that are not fearful.
Emotional: Fear makes us feel weak, uncertain and vulnerable. When such feelings come up, they are real but not reliable. Make no decisions until they pass. Work through your feelings by talking them out with a trusted friend, meditating and some kind of energy or body work if that is available.
Physical: Old traumas get communicated to every part of the body. Make sure that you are nurturing your body and treating it well. Seek out body work and massage if they feel appropriate.
Spiritual: When they are mature and intimate, relationships become a core part of our spiritual growth. Instead of falling into old patterns of giving too much or flipping the coin and not giving too much, let intuition be your guide. You can feel fairly quickly if another person adds more vibrancy, joy, emotional warmth, trust and love to your existence. Don't let the mind intrude with rationalizations. Make room for what you need spiritually, then ask for someone to help fulfill those needs. You won't be misled if you operate from a core sense of who you are and what your vision of personal growth is.