From a spiritual perspective, the ways in which we interact with each other is a pretty big deal. It leads to growth of individuals and also unification of beings. But let’s face it, such co-mingling isn’t without a few snags. Indeed, on this human plane of existence, individual units of consciousness exist and sometimes we all get along. Just as often though, conflicts arise in human relationships creating friction and crisis.
The good news is that once we graduate to the next higher plane after Earth, we’re no longer going to be fragmented units. So some day, all will live in harmony as one consciousness through which every single created being will express itself uniquely. As we come, more and more, into our own, dealing with our own inner disharmonies, we will experience this truth. And realizing it won’t diminish us in the slightest.
On the contrary, we will come to feel our own wholeness—our own individual oneness. Because every principle that applies on the macro level—meaning to all of humanity—applies the same for each of us personally, on a micro level.
For now, each one of us is made up of mismatched parts. On the innermost levels of our being, we have some bits governing our thinking, feeling, willing and acting that are quite nicely developed, thank you very much. Then again, there are other parts still in a lower state of development—and they like to have their say in things, too.
We are all, each and every one of us, living in a house divided, which always creates tension, anxiety and pain. In short, that’s why we’ve got problems.
So some aspects of our personalities are already in truth. Others, not so much. Errors and distortions abound. This results in confusion that leads to disturbances in the force fields of our lives. And what do we usually do about that? We look the other way—away from the dirty laundry and towards the parts that are already tidied up.
This pushing aside of one part of ourselves and identifying ourselves with another, is not—surprise, surprise—a path that leads to unification. Nope. Instead, it widens the gap. So how do we sew up this split? We have to be willing to bring out the deviating side and face it. Only by facing the conflicting sides within ourselves can we find the ultimate reality of our unified selves.
What can emerge then from our willingness to recognize, accept and understand the nature of our own inner conflicts, is peace. To the degree we move our feet in the direction of inner unification, to that exact same degree we will know outer peace.
So consider how all this applies on the outer level, where we find either dissension or unity between people. Because beyond the level of appearances, all must be one. The dissension, it turns out, has nothing to do with actual differences, per se, but rather with the differences in our levels of development. Just as within each individual.
Even though the principle is the same—what applies between individuals is the same exact thing that applies within them—we can’t actually apply this truth to someone else unless we have first applied it to our own inner self. In other words, if we’re not facing, accepting and understanding our own inner divergent parts, we can’t put this process of unification into practice with others. This is an important fact that explains the need to emphasize self-responsibility as a foundation for doing spiritual development work. In fact, self-responsibility is a key requirement for cultivating relationships with others in a meaningful and effective way.
Relationships, as you may have noticed, create a great challenge for most folks. Here’s why: only in relationship to others do our own as-yet-unresolved problems get activated. And what do we typically do then? We back off. This helps tremendously in maintaining the illusion that the problem lies with the other person. Because after all, the disturbance in our little private force field only appears in their presence. Ergo, it must be them.
But then, being alone elicits this inner call to be in contact with others. The less we cultivate this contact, the louder the call. Well, crap. Isolation, then, creates a different brand of pain: loneliness and frustration. Over time, it requires some mental gymnastics to keep up the illusion that we, all on our own, are faultless and harmonious.
This is why relationships are, at one and the same time: a fulfillment, a challenge, and an accurate gauge to what’s going in one’s own inner state. But if we play it right, the friction can be a sharp instrument for self-recognition, and ultimately, purification. Again, we have to play it right.
If we take the weenie way out, shrinking from this challenge and giving up on intimate contact, many of our inner problems won’t get called into play. Ah, safe. This illusion of inner peace and unity can easily lead to the notion that spiritual growth is furthered by isolation. Sorry—foul ball. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t need some intervals of downtime or seclusion now and then. These are necessary for the task of self-confrontation, which requires a bit of inner concentration. But these periods need to alternate with periods of contact—and the more intimate, the better. Because the more intimate, the more spiritually mature we are.
On the spectrum of contact, there are many, many degrees. On one end is the outer extreme of total isolation. On the other is the deepest, most intimate ability to relate. The latter involves the capacity to love and accept others, to deal in a mutual way with problems that arise, to find the delicate balance between giving in and asserting oneself, and to being acutely aware of how we are interacting with the other on all these levels. Most people fluctuate somewhere between these extremes.
It happens that we can master a certain superficial ability to relate, but we still withdraw from revealing ourselves in a more meaningful, open and unmasked way. In the end, we can measure our personal sense of fulfillment in a relationship by the depth of our intimate contact, the strength of the feelings we allow ourselves to experience, and our willingness to both give and receive.
Feeling frustration, by contrast, is a pretty good litmus test indicating lack of contact. When this happens, we’re withdrawing from the challenge of being in relationship and essentially deciding to give up on personal fulfillment, pleasure, love and joy. Not a great trade.
It sometimes happens that we only want to share of ourselves based on receiving according to our own terms. In this case, we are secretly unwilling to share and our longings are going to remain unfulfilled. And then often, at this point, we conclude that we are just unlucky and unfairly put upon by life.
Instead, we need to look at our level of contentment and fulfillment in relationships like a yardstick: they measure our own inner state and help point us in the direction we need to go for our own self-development. Then we need to have a come-to-Jesus moment of honesty with ourselves. Because it’s only through self-facing honesty that we can allow feelings to blossom in long-term relationships, and that’s what creates the vitality needed to keep them alive. It is in this way that personal relationships play such a heavy role in the game of human growth.
On the flip side, when we’re still mired in inner conflicts, we may run from relationships because of the way they surface our turmoil. Our choice then for isolation can throw a major wrench into the works because our unfulfilled longing for connection becomes unbearably painful.
The way out is by searching for the cause of the conflict within ourselves, without resorting to the defensive strategies of annihilating guilt and self-blame. These two things do nothing but change the whole game into a losing proposition, effectively eliminating the possibility of getting to the bottom of the real conflict.
So a willingness to search must be cultivated along with a willingness to change, if one wants to escape this painful dilemma in which both options—contact and isolation—equally stink. What’s more, we may need to poke around in seeing how we actually have a fear of pleasure, strange as that may sound.
Keep in mind, this business of isolating and withdrawing can be quite subtle. It may even be outwardly unnoticeable. There’s just a guardedness and a wonky self-protection going on. Being a social butterfly is no guarantee that one has any real capacity for inner closeness. For many, closeness just feels too taxing. This is brushed off as being related to how difficult others are, when in actuality, the difficulty lies in the self. Regardless of how imperfect the other may also be.
When two people interact who are on different levels of spiritual development, the more highly developed one is responsible for the relationship. Moreover, the more highly developed one is responsible for searching the depths of the interaction for the cause of any friction. The less developed one often isn’t capable of such a search, being stuck in the state of blaming the other and needing the other to “do right” if unpleasantness is to be avoided.
The less developed person will also tend to get tripped up in duality. From the perspective of this illusion, only one person can be right. So then any problem in the other is used to whitewash themselves, even in cases where their own negative involvement is more weighty than the other person’s.
When we do the work of surfacing and healing our own inner conflicts—which is what we need to do to become more spiritually developed—we become more capable of realistic, non-dualistic perception. We may then be able to see that either one of us has a deep problem to work on, but that doesn’t eliminate the importance of a lesser problem also existing for the other person. Because in any conflict where people feel affected, there is something for everyone.
The more developed a person is, the more they will be willing to search for their own involvement whenever they feel negatively affected. It doesn’t matter how at-fault the other may be. A lesser-developed person always lays the blame at someone else’s feet. This is true whether we’re talking about loving partners, parents and children, friends or business associates.
We tell ourselves that it’s easier if we shift the burden of blame onto others. But man, what a price we pay. Such avoidance makes us helpless, brings about isolation, and traps us in unending friction with others. It’s only through the doorway of self-responsibility that we begin to look for our part in our own problems. Our willingness to change then becomes the passageway to freedom. Relationships then become both fruitful and fulfilling. And that is their deeper spiritual significance.
If the more highly developed person doesn’t take the high road of assuming responsibility, as part of their spiritual duty, and seeking the root cause of any dissension by looking within their own core, the deeper understanding of the mutual interaction will be missed. We won’t uncover where this problem lives within, or see how one problem affects another. Things, then, are likely to fall apart. It is such a lost opportunity if both parties leave confused and less able to cope with themselves or others.
On the other hand, if the more spiritually developed person accepts their responsibility, they will help the other out in a subtle way. By resisting the temptation to belabor the obvious sour points of the other and instead look within, they will not only raise their own development considerably, but also spread peace and joy. This is the way to eliminate the poison of friction, while also making it possible to move on and find other partners for a truly mutual growth process.
So then how does this work when two equals relate? Simple. They both carry the full responsibility for the relationship. What a beautiful venture this can be, creating a deeply satisfying state of mutuality (which we’ll discuss in greater detail in later chapters). Each person will recognize even the slightest flaw in their mood for its inner meaning, so they will keep up with the growth process. Both will look to see how they have co-created any momentary flaw, whether it’s an actual friction or a deadening of feelings. This will increasingly add to the significance of the interaction and keep the relationship from being injured. That’s how to keep a good thing going.
So does this mean, then, that in uneven pairings, the more developed person is always stuck having to carry the less developed one? No, that’s not how it works. No one can ever really carry another or their burden for them. That just can’t ever be.
Rather, the situation is this: someone who, spiritually speaking, is still a tad primitive does not typically explore the difficulties that arise in a relationship in much depth. Such a person is going to quickly jump to blame, which by definition leaves out half the people involved. By not seeing the whole issue, such a person is not in position to eliminate the disharmony. No, only the person who is willing to assume responsibility for finding the deeper disturbance and seeing the way it is affecting both can untangle the knots. Hence, the spiritually immature person will be dependent on the more spiritually evolved one.
So let’s say the destructiveness of a less developed person makes it downright impossible to experience growth, harmony and good feelings. Like when all of the contact seems so darned negative. What then? In this case, the relationship needs to end. And as a rule, the more highly developed person is going to need to take the initiative. And what if they don’t want to? That probably points to some unrecognized weakness and fear that needs to be faced. Yep, more work to do. (And just when we were thinking we could totally claim the high road.)
As always, there is “what we do,” and then there is “how we do it.” In this case, dissolving a relationship on the grounds that it is more destructive and pain producing than constructive and harmonious should be done after inner problems and their effects are fully recognized and worked through. Otherwise, an old tie will be severed only to turn around and form a new relationship with the same live wires dancing on the ground of the inner interactions. Also, this assures that the decision to move on comes from a motive for growth, rather than as a result of spite, fear or a desire to run away.
This is no easy thing, exploring the underlying difficulties of two people, laying them bare and accepting the unattractive sides. At the same time, nothing could be more beautiful or rewarding. And coming into such an enlightened way of relating will dismantle any lingering fears about any kind of interaction with anyone in our lives.
Our fears and difficulties arise to the same degree that we project our problems in relating onto others, making them responsible for everything that goes against our liking. For example, let’s say someone has a fault that bugs us. At first glance, it may seem justified to focus on this. We may even subtly overemphasize this one aspect and exclude some other aspects. We deny that we have any responsibility for our difficulty in relating to this person. But we are now dependent on them being perfect, which creates fear and hostility in us for the way the other has let us down by not meeting our standard of perfection.
The bottom line is this: no matter what the other does wrong, if we are disturbed by it, there is something in ourselves that we overlook. In this case, being disturbed doesn’t refer to clear-cut anger, where we express ourselves free of guilt and don’t end up feeling any trace of inner confusion or pain. No, we’re talking here about disturbed, as in arising from conflict and creating further conflict.
What we repeatedly do is overlook our own part in just about any conflict. Because it’s not easy to look within for the source of a disturbance. It is humbling and it takes serious, conscious effort. But it’s a necessary step on the path to liberation and unification—inside us and between our fellow human beings and us.
The blame game is so ubiquitous, we often don’t realize we’re playing it, essentially telling the world, “You are doing it to me,” or “You’re making me feel this way.” The game goes on in attempting to make others feel guilty for this. One person blames another, one country blames another, one political party blames the other. That’s how far we’ve come collectively in our development, perpetuating such harmful and illusory processes.
So why do we do this? Because we get pleasure from expressing our hostility while whitewashing ourselves. We don’t connect this with the pain that ensues and with the insoluble conflicts that follow, which are way bigger than the puny, momentary pleasure. This is a lose-lose game that harms all of the players, and we are often not aware of our blind involvement in it.
But, you may ask, what about when we really are the victim? How do we deal with that? Well, right out of the gates, if we believe we are a victim, we are already caught in illusion and not even aware of what is happening. Most often, though, victimhood happens in subtle, unarticulated ways. There will be a silent, covert, indirect blame launched without anyone speaking a word.
So step one, we need to name the game. We have to pinpoint and articulate what is happening. Otherwise we will respond unconsciously in equally destructive ways, believing we are defending ourselves. Once this ball gets rolling, it’s extremely hard to sort out all the threads of actions, reactions and interactions, as everything gets enmeshed in a big ol’ snarled up mess. Of course, many a relationship has fallen victim to such insidious and unconscious missteps.
This kind of launching of blame is a poison that spreads fear and as much guilt as one can attempt to project. The receiver of such blame and guilt will react in any number of ways, dictated by their own problems and unresolved conflicts. As long as one reacts blindly, there will be countercurrents of destructiveness. Only by raising all this into conscious awareness can that be prevented. That’s the proper way to refuse a burden that someone is trying to place on us—by challenging the subtle blame put on us for another’s personal happiness. This is an important pitfall to look for, especially in a relationship that is about to blossom.
When all is said and done, the only way to avoid becoming a victim of blame and projected guilt is to avoid doing this ourselves. But if we indulge in this folly—and we may do it differently than the way someone does it to us—we won’t be aware of it when it is being done to us. Bullseye. We then become a victim.
Mere awareness that this goes on can make all the difference in the world, even if we don’t verbally express our perceptions or confront the other. To the degree that we remain undefended, exploring and accepting our own off-base reactions and destructive tendencies, we can defuse someone’s attempt to project guilt on us. We’ll steer clear of being drawn into a maze of confusion, where we either retreat or become aggressive. We’ll be able to sort out self-assertion from hostility, and not confuse flexible compromise with unhealthy submission.
These are the skills we need to develop if we want to cope well with relationships. The more we understand how to do this, the more we’ll create intimate, fulfilling and beautiful interactions with other people.
Otherwise, how can we assert our rights to reach out for pleasure? How can we love fearlessly unless we approach interactions with others in such a manner? Unless we learn to purify ourselves, which we do by uncovering and transforming our own inner negativity, we will always feel threatened by intimacy because it so often is used as a weapon for unloading guilt.
In truth, loving, sharing and having profoundly satisfying closeness with others could be a purely positive and powerful experience, without any gotchas. That is, if we are willing to look at any snares directly—and of utmost importance, to look within ourselves first.
The magnet that draws people together is the purest spiritual energy, giving us an inkling of the purest spiritual state. Without a doubt, intimate sexual relationships are the most beautiful, challenging, spiritually important and growth-producing kind. The power that attracts two people together in love, and the pleasure that this creates, is a small taste of cosmic reality. It’s as if we all, in some recess of our being, know about this blissful state, and we want to have it in the most potent way possible: through love and sexuality.
But for two people to stay together in an enduring, committed relationship, the ability to hang onto and even increase the bliss depends entirely on how the two relate to each other. Do we recognize the link between enduring pleasure and inner growth? Do we use inevitable difficulties as a yardstick for assessing our own inner difficulties? Do we share deeply and truthfully, helping our partners grow rather than planting guilt and whitewashing ourselves?
These are important factors for determining whether a relationship will falter, dissolve, stagnate or thrive. Looking around, you might notice that very few people reveal themselves in such an open way. Equally few appreciate the way that growing together determines the solidity of feelings, of pleasure, of enduring love and of respect. And that is why, not surprisingly, most long-lasting relationships are so often more or less dead in terms of feelings.
When difficulties arise—and they always do—they are flags for something unattended to. For those who are listening, these are loud and clear messages. The sooner we heed their call, the more spiritual energy will be released, so bliss will keep building. It’s like a finely calibrated instrument that reveals the most subtle aspects of the relationship, as well as of the two people. Every day and every hour, we can tune into our inner state and assess our feelings as a testimony to our present state and what we need to be paying attention to for growth.
As such, mature and spiritually valid relationships are always intimately connected with our individual growth. The moment we start thinking of our relationships as irrelevant to our inner landscape, it’s curtains. It can’t be otherwise. Because it’s all connected.
And that, right there, explains the fate of most failed relationships, especially the intimate kind. As soon as we lose sight of how they are a mirror for inner growth, they start to wear out. The first blush fades and nothing remains. In barges overt friction and dissension, or along comes stagnation and boredom, wrecking what was once so promising.
When both people grow to their ultimate potential, the relationship can become more dynamic and even more alive. This is the way to build on rock, not sand. Then fear can’t wiggle its way in. Feelings will deepen and security about the self and the other will expand. Then each person can, at any moment, become a precious mirror for the other and for the state of the relationship.
But if there’s friction or boredom, something’s gotten stuck—something that needs to be seen. If, however, there is a fear of intimacy, there is also a rigidity present and a denial of the way that we’re intended to show up. If we choose to ignore this reality, or just give it lip service, then we aren’t ready to assume responsibility for our own suffering—either inside of a relationship, or in the absence of one. We’re likely then still in the state of wanting to shift blame onto others. And that will make it impossible to find the pleasure of closeness.
Bliss and beauty are eternal spiritual qualities. They are readily available to all who seek the key to the problems of beings in relationship, as well as to loneliness. And that key, we need to discover, is in our own hearts. If we’re ready for this kind of growth, along with the accompanying profound fulfillment, vibrant aliveness and joyous relating that is possible, we’ll find the appropriate partner with whom such sharing will be possible.
We won’t be frightened to use this all-important key, because we will realize that we can’t ever feel helpless or victimized when we no longer render others responsible for what we experience or don’t. This opens up a whole new way to meet life. We can finally decide to take a few risks, seek the cause in ourselves, and become free to love. What a joyful way for us to live our lives and for relationships to bear fruit.
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