Light Watkins Shares What He's Learned about Relationships

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Light Watkins is on a mission to inspire. He has been meditating for 15 years and has taught over 2,000 people how to meditate. He speaks regularly on meditation, most recently sharing 5 Most Common Meditation Myths at TEDxVenice. He also created The Shine Movement, a popular community event in Los Angeles that brings people together through storytelling, meditation, music and philanthropy. You can follow him on Instagram @lightwatkins.

HIS FIRST HEARTBREAK
"I was in my late twenties and I was in an on-again off-again relationship with a wonderful woman, but I wasn’t in the space to go to the next level like I knew she was ready for. If something didn’t go right for a few days, I would decide to take a break. And she would be devastated. And we’d come back together and be together for another month, and then take another break. 

I remember there was a point three and a half years into it where I found myself more attracted to her. I realized it was because she wasn’t giving me so much attention as she was before, which I felt was smothering (probably because my mom was so attentive). I was thinking, maybe this could work and we could be together if she’s getting back to who she was when we met - this independent, strong woman who didn’t need to be around me all the time. This was my 29 year old mind. It turned out she had actually met someone else and that’s why she wasn’t giving me as much attention. I didn’t know that. I remember dropping her off at the airport to go on a business trip. She was flying to Portland and she walked out of the house with heels on and her nails are done. I thought that was odd. The moment I dropped her off it dawned on me that she was meeting someone there. That was my moment of realizing that it was over. 

That’s when I discovered the Stevie Wonder anthology, and that’s the only thing that really got me through. Don’t Worry Be Happy, and all of those classic Stevie Wonder songs got me through that period. I listened to them over and over, on repeat, because I couldn’t sleep at night. You know, you’re just up in the middle of the night wondering the worst thoughts about what they’re doing with this other person. When she got back, I picked her up from the airport and we talked about the whole thing then. She acknowledged she was with someone and I was trying to work it out, but she didn’t want to get back together with me. She was happy with this other guy."

THE ROLE OF TIMING
"Looking back now, she was the best girlfriend I had in those days. She was everything I had wanted in a woman. Smart, sexy, attentive, maternal, family oriented, all of those things. I was just 29 years old. I wasn’t even thinking about getting married. I’m 42 now and I just started thinking about all of that 5 years ago. Before that, I just didn’t feel it was a priority. Back then my priorities were building a career and doing what I felt contributed to my happiness. Having fun. Exploring. It’s not to say I wasn’t open to it, but my expectations were way too high for what a woman had to be in my life. I felt she had to be a perfect specimen of a person. And you realize with life that there is no perfection in anybody. And relationships take work. I didn’t appreciate that. As soon as we hit one snag, I’d be ready to jump off the ship and swim over to the next boat."

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HIS MOST RECENT HEARTBREAK
"My last girlfriend was a heartbreak situation. We tried to be friends after we broke up. I have a pattern of off-again on-again. I was always confused about women not being happy. I would take it personally. So one time I told her I wanted space, and it was a mishandling of the term. I didn’t do my part in reassuring her that I just needed space. To me, it didn’t mean ‘I’m not coming back.’ I should have said, ‘I love you so much and want to be with you, and I care about you more than anything in the world.’ But I didn’t say that and she cut it off. And that was hard for me. Initially I resisted because I’m not that kind of person. And then I realized it wasn’t me. So I just didn’t take it personally. But the period after she cut me off - before I got to that point - it was difficult emotionally. My mind was wondering what I did and what happened."

THE PIVOTAL BOOK
"The pivotal book for me was Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. I learned a ton about women. Part of it was about the cycles and hormones and moods; that women typically have a dip in their mood every month, at least once a month. And at the same time, men typically have a desire to retract and have their own space. I thought there was something wrong with me, but it is very normal and expected. Once you see that there’s already a paradigm, you see that there are so many misread intentions. If people knew what the biology was around all of it, it would clear up so many issues."

REDEFINING SUCCESS
"A relationship is sort of like a college course. When you’re in college, and you’re looking through the course directory, you read the descriptions. You go into this course not thinking that it has to last forever. Can you imagine? No one would take that class if it lasted forever. There’s a definitive end point and the intention is to learn something from it and contribute to it. Once you get to the end of it, you may feel that it was great and you learned a lot, and that you want to take the next level of that course - the 102, and then the 103. Or maybe you realize that you learned a lot and you want to see what’s happening in another track. No one will feel bad about it. Maybe you want to study astrology instead, so you go there and you end up getting a phD in that. 

I think we have this idea that relationships, if they don’t last a certain amount of time, aren't successful. I’ve changed now to see that a relationship is successful if, in the length of time it lasted (whether that’s two months or two years), I learned something about myself and was able to leave the relationship in a better place than I found it. In my eyes that is the epitome of success. Some people you may want to take next step with, and some people you may not. Once I made that adjustment, it made being in a relationship a lot more fun."

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RELATIONSHIPS ARE THE EQUALIZER
"Relationships are the great equalizer. No matter who you are, no matter what you do. You know, it’s like what Chris Rock said so brilliantly about Nelson Mandela. He endured almost three decades of imprisonment, and then he gets out of prison and after 6 months he files for divorce. Chris has a brilliant standup bit about it and how hard relationships are. They’re hard for everybody. I’m sure if the Dalai Lama wasn’t a monk and he was in relationships, he’d be going through it too like everybody else. That’s what we do. That’s how we grow. It challenges us. If you’re not in a relationship, it’s like you’re just staying in your neighborhood all the time. Yeah, you can be happy in your neighborhood. But if you travel somewhere where you don’t know the language or the customs, you get stretched in a way that expands your worldview."

HIS BREAKUP VICE
"I think there’s a tendency to distract yourself with other people. I’ve gotten to the point where I am much better at sitting in the quiet space of my own self and mind, not thinking that someone else is going to help. I mean, I’ve run that experiment so many times. You surround yourself with so many other people and you are sitting there having dinner - you can hear yourself talking, but you are just thinking about this other person the entire time."

THE BENEFIT OF SPACE
"I think everyone thinks they are going to be the first couple that becomes friends after they breakup. As much as I didn’t like being cut off [by my ex], it’s good to have some healthy, mutually agreed upon separation. Maybe you have a conversation where you highlight the positive aspects of the person or relationship, and then you separate. Instead of ‘fuck you, I don’t want you talking to me again.’ You don’t want those to be the last words you say to someone or hear from someone."

MEDITATING
"What people don’t realize is that your mind is obsessing over this person not because something is wrong with you or because it was meant to be. Our bodies become addicted to the way we feel around that person. Meditation is really good at breaking off the addiction because the chemicals that get released during meditation are an industrial strength drano for dissolving those chemicals."

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THE IMPORTANCE OF RELEASE
"I’ve had people break up or lose someone and they don’t want to meditate because they find themselves obsessing over the person when they meditate. Meditation is a release valve for those feelings and as they are leaving the body, they are passing through the mind. It is a symptom that your body is releasing it. You have to let it out. That’s not a sign that meditation is not working. It’s actually a positive. You just have to sit and do it. You come out of every meditation less addicted to that person. That’s amazing."

VULNERABILITY
"The thing about guys is that we want to be vulnerable. We really do. We have a necessity for safety as well. Men want to feel safe too. We want to feel appreciated. And when a man feels appreciated, he will have the conditions for being vulnerable. When he’s not appreciated, he feels like there’s something more he needs to get done before he can rest."

OPTIMISTIC ABOUT LOVE
"I’m an optimist about learning and love is a means to learn. It’s the means and it’s the end. A relationship is going to take you to a place you can’t get to by yourself and it’s the outcome: you become more loving as a result of it. Each relationship helps me grow as a human, which means I try to understand the lessons, and as a result I become more compassionate and patient (both with myself and my partner)."

HIS MANTRA: INSPIRE
"My mantra is 'inspire.' Since starting The Shine, I've embraced this Emerson quote: 'Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.'"

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Photographed by Ellen Huerta.

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