Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Sacred Ground of Intimate Relationships

Intimate relationships provide wonderful spiritual opportunities for those who maintain the tenacious faith, courage and wisdom to remain open to the process. This is especially true during inevitable times of great suffering. Through both hardships and in good times, we learn the art of compromise and acceptance (for both our partner and for ourselves), thus enabling a deepening in our ability to remain fully present and awake in our lives and with each other. While long term relationships can be challenging, it is the inherent difficulty that provides us with the opportunity to grow as individuals. The fact that we share this earth with others guarantees that things will inevitably not go our way. This becomes magnified the closer we become to those we have chosen to love. To expect that things always go our way is nothing more than a childish addiction to illusions of our own ego.

The challenge in any relationship is to be mindful in keeping ones heart open and soft. Equally important is the ability to resist the urge to let our hearts grow cold and harden during times of heightened emotion and inevitable misunderstanding and/or disconnection, inherent of most intimate relationships. Challenging this tendency involves the constant reminder that both individuals are equal members of a "team," and though it may feel so during times of great turmoil, in most cases, neither party is "out to get" one another. Resist the urge to see your partner as the enemy. Your partner is merely suffering and doing the best that they can (just as you are). Ignorance is the true enemy in most relationships. Because it is external to both of you, it can be overcome by coming together in understanding as intimate and integral parts of a unified team.  Without understanding there can be no compassion.

The truth of the matter is, studies have shown that most people will typically lose close to 30 IQ points during times of great emotional stress. Relationship difficulties are no different.  Attachment injuries of childhood inevitably become triggered in our most intimate relationships and it is often these injuries (and the cycles of thought, emotion, and behavior that accompany them) that we are responding to emotionally and projecting upon our intimate partner.  Don't trust your reasoning during these times (or heaven forbid, act upon your impulses), because emotional reasoning can be quite different than reasoning that relies on critical thinking.  Take space, take a few breaths and try to cool down before coming back to the subject.    There is a Zen saying that states "to eternity, a mountain is no more solid than a cloud."  Your thoughts and emotions are like this.  During heated exchanges our logic is typically flawed on some level, and we often later regret the things said and done in the heat of the moment.  Nothing ever turns out to be quite as it seems during times of heightened emotion (one merely needs to look back upon their own history to see the truth in this).

It takes great courage to admit that you may have been wrong.  Maintaining faith in the fact that our thoughts and emotions are merely untested hypothesis, we begin to gather the courage to remain fearlessly open to our loved ones in a new way, especially in the face of great suffering and confusion.  In this way, we establish a more intimate understanding of one another, and through the process, begin to grow closer, feel more intimately connected, and inevitably heal as a result.  It is within this process of remaining fearlessly open to one another - no longer rigidly attached to our own biased opinions or thoughts that keeps us from intimately connecting with one another - that we open ourselves to our own latent compassion and wisdom inherent of our species.  Within this process, old attachment injuries of childhood are held compassionately and understood by both parties on a deeper level, thus bringing a couple closer together and more intimately connected.   While these emotional injuries may never fully disappear, the process inevitably leads to a great deal of growth and healing and generally brings most couples together on a deeper level. With this said, it should come as no surprise that most people in healthy, long-term relationships tend to be, on average, more emotionally complex than their habitually single counterparts!

But many of us erroneously succumb to the meme a fearful society projects - that being open and vulnerable is a weakness to be avoided at all costs.  We are told that boys don't cry and that a strong person will pull themselves up from their bootstraps.  As a result, many of us fearfully continue to run, compelled by a relentless aversion of intimacy, and cling to the superimposed western ideals of independence.   While inflexibly guarding our perceived flaws from the light of the outside world and calling it "freedom", we are doing nothing more than hiding our true selves from others.  The irony of this is that while acting as though we were keeping some kind of dirty secret hidden from others, we fail to make the connection as to why we feel so empty inside.  The fact of the matter is, what most of us often view as our greatest strength (our stubborn independence) is actually nothing more than the exact area in our lives where we are most weak and incorrigible.  Because of this self-fullfilling prophesy, we never open ourselves to the opportunity of connecting with this inherent strength and/or connection shared by all of us - the one place where they could inevitably find peace and healing in their lives.  The result is that while we remain closed off, we do not develop a deeper confidence in ourselves - a confidence which could often be supported by an understanding, unconditionally loving partner in most healthy relationships.

The inevitable result of our self-protection is that we often continue to feel as though we are alone or unique in our suffering, and unconsciously believe the notion that we are somehow uniquely flawed (often blaming ourselves for this) and thus go through life feeling as though we were an empty, disconnected shell of a person.  Never opening up to others, we have very little exposure to the fact that most of humanity feels or has felt this way at some point.  Rigidly adhering to a code of self-protective silence does nothing more than further strengthen the belief in the universal myth of ones own mortal failings.  What is most ironic however, is that which is most feared - being vulnerable and the sharing of ones suffering - is primarily that which has the potential to make us whole and more fully alive.  It is who we truly are as a species and what intimately connects each and every one of us, and is in turn, can be seen as our greatest collective strength - our ability to connect and overcome adversity.  Touching this aspect of our humanity merely requires the courage to remain open despite the pain, and to place our faith and trust in the compassion of others.  Unfortunately, it is this rigid, fearful attachment to ego and ignorant, self-protective stubbornness that keeps one from realizing the sacredness of life and the world that we are all intimately a part of.

The fact of the matter is that it takes much more courage and strength to allow yourself to be vulnerable in front of somebody - being open enough to allow them to see all of your perceived flaws - than it does to hide behind protective walls of silence and not let anybody in.   Running away from pain takes very little effort.  Without such fearless courage there can be no true openness. Without true openness there can be no meaningful understanding.   And without meaningful understanding there can not be a deeper level of unconditional compassion.  Deep compassion therefore, requires great courage.   Despite its inevitable hardships, the end results of such an endeavor - greater clarity, balance, harmony, and confidence within oneself and in relationships with others, as well as a much deeper level of lasting happiness - makes such a journey so worthwhile and personally meaningful.  It is nothing more then a small taste of what it means to be truly human.

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