Building “Sacred Vessels” of Our Relationships
Part 1 of 3 parts
If we really do want to make our daily lives into a spiritual practice, we have to realize that EVERY relationship we have is a way to open to greater purpose and meaning in our lives. This is spiritualizing matter.Carl Jung talked much about relationships as containers – vessels that hold the “liquid” of our psychic transformation. They are vessels in which, with each interaction, alchemical processes can be seen as working. In each interaction, there is a small (sometimes not so small) incremental possibility for change. Each can help to enlighten or endarken us. The choice is ours.To create sacred vessels of our relationships, we must first be clear that our intention is to live and relate in this way. First, we need to understand what the word “sacred” means as it is used here. I mean it, not as an allegiance to any single god, but as a commitment to the very highest principles of contact and service to the essential core of our being, which is Spiritual in nature. We deepen in our acknowledgement that the very essence of our lives becomes imbued with this numinous quality (a feeling of being in the presence of something holy and mysterious). We seek to have every encounter be a contribution to the creation of consciousness on our planet. Openness is required — to other people and to the opportunities for growth inherent in each situation. Trust is also necessary – trust in ourselves and in one another, and in our capacity for self-realization. And essential is commitment — commitment to maintaining and nurturing this vessel and to engaging together in the process of transformation. These three qualities – openness, trust, and commitment – form the walls of the sacred vessel. Without these, the vessel will not be strong enough to hold the deeply transformative work we must do.These qualities can be present in just one person’s intention to make all their relationships a spiritual practice, whether or not the “other” willingly engages in the practice. Becoming aware that it is our own intention whether or not others are doing the same thing is essential to taking responsibility for our own interactions. Jung seemed to believe that if enough of us undertake our personal transformation/individuation process, perhaps we can create deep change in our world. Not doing this work places us in peril, personally and globally.
If you are fortunate to have a partner or friends who choose to practice together, I have outlined a few principles that can be applied in such relationships. I’ve also included some examples and suggestions for exercises. I’ll explore the first four principles in this month’s Newsletter, and then explore the others in the following two Newsletters. I welcome your comments and suggestions.Once the “vessel” has been forged, and your intention set, the following principles can serve as guidelines on the spiritual path of relationship. If you have made a decision to do these with all of your relationships, they can be viewed as what you can do, regardless of how the other person views relationships.
1. Practice telling and hearing the truth. We fear the truth because we’re afraid of being abandoned or engulfed. We don’t often consider the enormous pain we cause ourselves and others when we don’t tell the truth. Set aside some time each week to be completely truthful with one another — even to divulge truths that are very difficult to share. Total honesty can have a cleansing and healing effect on a relationship. The rewards of this total honesty far outweigh the temporary discomfort and pain which is caused and can build trust and respect for one another. Make sure that you understand that your intention is to create something sacred with this truth.However, there is a caveat here. Sometimes people say very cruel things to one another in the name of “truth.” Remember your intention to create consciousness from this encounter, so before speaking, make sure you have examined those intentions – and if part of your intention is to hurt the other, tell them that as well. I have see this many times with couples with whom I have worked who say they are committed to telling one another the truth and then one will simply “aim” his/her comments at the other, saying, “I was just telling you the truth which you said you wanted.” When this happens, I have them stop and examine what was really going on and tell a deeper truth, including their intentions.Think of a situation that has created mixed feelings for you in regards to another person. Set up a time that is convenient for both of you, to be fully present to listening to the truth from the other and sharing your own – with full disclosure. Use the basic tools of active listening and empathy expression as you tell each other the truth. Give both of you equal time to share these experiences. There are many self-help books or couples’ therapy and workshops to gain these tools. Of most importance is making this a priority and setting aside time for it. This immediately tells the other person and yourself that you value this time.
2. Stay with the experience of the present moment. To the best of our ability, we need to penetrate more and more deeply into our present moment experience. This fidelity to our experience, rather than to some intellectual understanding alone, can take us into the deeper mystery of Being itself. Sharing this process with another can open us to ever-deepening levels of awareness and can form a “dialogue” which creates consciousness itself for both people. Many traditions have taught that the only way of accessing the Deep Self is through present moment awareness and experience. For those of you interested, studying The Red Book by C.G. Jung is very much a chronicle of such penetration.Very often in couples’ work, people stray into the past or the future – veering away from the present moment encounter with another. I have found over and over that helping people stay with their experience of the moment facilitates many breakthroughs. Sometimes it leads into grief and despair, sometimes into hearts bursting open and people realizing how much they have used the past or future to keep themselves walled off from one another.Think about your own relationships and how often you are in the present moment – or not – with another person.3. Choose the relationship exactly as it is. This goes along with #2 quite well. By choosing in this way, we take responsibility for our lives and empower ourselves to be active participants in life, not victims of or aggressors against life. Taking responsibility keeps us from blaming one another and opens us to the opportunities for growth and learning inherent in our present life situation. The current relationship is the way it is in order to help each person wake up to his/her own capacity. Viewing relationships like this helps us to move from need-based to growth-based, and allows us to take a more meaning-filled and purposeful approach to our relationships.
Ask yourself, “What am I learning here about my own spiritual path?” “Am I willing to see this person as fully capable, intelligent and responsible as myself?” Sometimes, this approach can lead in unexpected directions. For example, I worked with one woman who had been abused by her husband many times. Using the above questions, she realized that she had been seeing her husband as weak and in need of her strength and superior understanding of life. When she began to see that her spiritual commitment to her own individuation process dictated that she see him as fully responsible as she was for his own growth, she left him because she no longer needed to see herself as emotionally and spiritually superior to him. She realized she had been excusing his violence as being out of his control. After seeing this, she was able to break free of the relationship and this helped him see the effects of his behavior.An interesting exercise for two people is to ask yourselves and one another just what it is that you are learning from the current situation.4. Respect, appreciate, and acknowledge yourself and others. Self-respect and respect for others involves a willingness to be open and not fixate on any set of reactions or preconceptions. By deeply honoring, acknowledging, and appreciating our own and each other’s uniqueness and wholeness, we set one another free to be as we really are, beyond all the images fabricated by our minds.
We are indeed spiritual beings having a human experience. Reach deep inside for the empathy you can feel for the “other” which can lead to deepening forgiveness and acceptance of differences. Realize that differences can enrich a relationship if taken out of the realm of judgments. They can make us feel more intimate. They can also be irreconcilable and lead us to realizations of “right form” of a relationship.
In approaching relationships as a spiritual practice, try this: within yourself, commit to giving someone in your life an acknowledgement of some kind every day for a month. Out of the blue, for no “reason,” just compliment the person – and not just superficially, but dig down for some genuine appreciations of that person.
One man recently came into a session saying he had done this with his wife everyday since the last session. He said he could not believe how good he felt towards her and towards his life. Before this, he had complained a great deal about how “negative” she was all the time. During this past week, however, she had actually stopped being negative. I’m not saying it is always this simple, but deep patterns of negativity can be changed with intention.