Thursday, August 27, 2015

Navigating well in the sea of relationships

Connection and communication

I have a new notebook that only has a micro HDMI connection for video presentation. The projector I had available for a recent retreat on the theme of this post, was an old one with only a VGA connector. I had an adapter, but I just couldn't get it to work. A problem of connection and communication. Coincidence? How we interact and how and what we communicate are exactly the two fields that define the quality of any relationship.
Though most people had come to the retreat to understand how to mend or strengthen the relationship with their partners, the theme was actually much broader.
There are four basic relationships:
  • With myself
  • With others
  • With the world around
  • With God

Me with myself

In a way they are all connected and they all start with me. How I understand my inner self and appreciate who and what I really am, determines everything else. If I am not able to create a sense of worth that remains relatively constant no matter what happens,  this will affect the way I relate to others, the world and God. In simple terms, if I don't love myself I can't love others, the world or even God. 

So how do I connect with my deeper self? 

Buried beneath the swirling confusion of thoughts, feelings, memories and apprehensions that generally make up our conscious state, is what can be called the foundation of the self. It is made up of some basic qualities such as love, peace, happiness, truth and purity. If I remove all the associations that spring from my physical identity - age, gender, culture, religion, social background and education - I still exist as a spiritual being with the above qualities.
Because I am not aware of this deep secret, or I don't have the power to express these qualities constantly, I seek them in others and the world. This is the dilemma. I want and expect from others and the world the peace, love and happiness that I already have in myself, but for some reason, I can't access. No matter what they do, the bottom line is that someone or something else can't compensate for the love, peace and happiness I have been unable to give myself. When any relationship is motivated by this lack of inner fulfillment, it can never really work long-term.


Take a typical relationship of co-dependency between two people. The unspoken agreement is: 'I will love you, if you love me. You boost my ego, I'll boost yours. If not, watch out'. Each side thinks that the other needs to be a sort of constant source of love, peace and happiness, when neither really is. The basis of a solid, long-term relationship is giving and not taking or trying to take. Even so, it's not just a question of giving. It is giving without counting what I give. "I have given at least ten examples of how much I love you in the last six months. You have not even shown one. It isn't fair!"

It is not just episodes of love and respect that we keep a tally of. All sorts of actions come under the scrutiny of both sides.
Another typical conversation between two co-dependents:
How many times have I told you not to interrupt me when I'm speaking to others?
But you do exactly the same thing with me. I can't count the times that you have done it.
But I hate it when you try to control me.
But isn't that what you do with me all the time?
etc. etc.
This type of comment or thought permeates co-dependent relationships. Instead of genuine, unconditional love it becomes a sort of emotional commerce. The lover and the beloved become accountants of each other's actions. Understanding and compassion become hostages of the win or lose game of the ego.

One foot in the grave

After a talk in Sao Paulo once, a woman came up to me to complain about husband - that he was no good, that he had been showing some strange behavior for the previous six months, that she had talked to him "hundreds" of times without result, that the way he was going, he would probably die and so on. I asked her if he, by chance, had any virtues. She hesitated far too long to give an answer. That silence probably meant that she had not thought about his virtues for months or even years. I asked her if her constant vision of her husband's defects helped or hindered him. She replied that course probably wouldn't help him. So I left her thinking with a very powerful metaphor: "Just imagine that your husband is making an incredible effort to improve. It is as if he were lying in a coffin trying to get out. And there you are sitting on the lid!" She gave a little jolt when she heard this. When this image sunk in, she actually thanked me for having reminded how our vision can help others to change or can condemn them to never changing.
It is not easy to navigate in the sea of relationships, especially with other people occupying the same "sea lanes". But my thinking can make it easier or more difficult to live and work with others.

(to be continued)

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