Building the “sacred vessel” of Relationship
Part 2 of 3
Feedback from Part 1 made me realize that I need to clarify a couple of points.
One point of clarification is that what I’m proposing here are simply practices. That is why we call what we do spiritual practice, not perfection! Every day of our lives, we have dozens of new opportunities to practice getting better at aligning with spiritual principles. Just as professionals of all sorts need to practice to become the best at their chosen craft, so too do we need to practice our “spiritual craft.”
In my own life, for example, I see my psychotherapy practice as a “spiritual practice.” Hundreds of times per year, in very concentrated doses, I get the opportunity to practice building a stronger “container” into which I can pour the ingredients of positive regard, compassion, insight and commitment that I offer my clients. They offer their own ingredients, rich and varied. I often fall short of offering the things I’ve mentioned and get a chance to see my own pockets of judgment and lack of compassion. I am sometimes confronted with behaviors and belief systems that are far from what I think of as healing. Each time I get challenged with my own shortcomings and blind spots, I’m offered another opportunity to grow and overcome my own obstacles. It is truly a daily spiritual practice for me.
The other clarification I wish to make relates to this idea of “container” or vessel. In alchemy, the ancients spoke of converting lead into gold. In psychological terms, it is used as the symbolic process of turning an ordinary human being (lead) into the fully realized human being who has become one with the Spirit dwelling within him (the gold). The “vessel” that I’m talking about here is one of relationship which we use to help us move towards this Wholeness.
Last month, we looked at four different principles that can help us do that changing of lead into gold. This month, we will look at five more such principles or ideas. The last five will be explored next month.
5. Recognize the relationship as a mirror reflecting parts of you back to yourself. Relationships, especially those with people close to us, reflect both positive and negative information about ourselves to ourselves. We often project various aspects of ourselves out onto other people. When we re-own these projections, we move a little bit closer to our wholeness.
For example, when we use relationships as spiritual practices, we stop blaming others for our “lot” in life and begin to see that it is up to us to change our own behavior. This can be very difficult, especially if we have had abusive childhoods and a good deal of trauma. Taking responsibility for our life can be a slow process with great needs for compassion and understanding. As we become more serious about “waking up,” each person, no matter how we feel about them, becomes a soul seeking for answers, just as we are. Now, please hear me, I am in no way suggesting that we minimize the incredible cost of trauma and abuse in people having to deal with this. It is often very important to teach people to move away from those who have hurt or are hurting them. I am suggesting that when we help people re-claim their lives from the quagmire of such pasts, they begin to feel empowered to create a better life for themselves. I have seen transformations nothing short of miraculous in people when they “get” this insight and make it an active principle in their lives. One person I was seeing in therapy said he realized that he would walk down the street judging every person he saw – making up little stories about them that made them “less than” himself. One day, he came in and said that he realized in the midst of doing this judging in a crowd of people, he was the one making himself miserable and lonely by doing this. He didn’t feel good about himself in the judging, just separate and lonely. Instead of judging, he decided to focus on each person and send him or her thoughts of kindness. Pretty soon, he decided to talk to a few of them, and found them very friendly and interesting. Not only did his loneliness go away, he also found he liked them and they liked him. What he learned turned his life around.
6. Try sharing your grief as well as your highest visions and dreams with other people. Because of our cultural conditioning, we often find it more difficult to share our highest aspirations and visions than to share our deepest despair. These areas in us are often so protected that we feel extremely vulnerable sharing them. But we need to support one another in responding to a higher, spiritual calling; we need to come to know the light in each other’s hearts.
I have seen couples “light up” with both feeling “seen” and really emotionally touched by a partner or spouse sharing long-held dreams and aspirations with the other. Ask yourself if your spouse or partner has really had the opportunity to hear from you about these things that matter so much.
7. Risk being impeccably true to yourself. We often impose form on relationships because we are insecure and afraid of the future. We do this when we try to change the other person into what we “want them to be.” If we allow a relationship to grow naturally, as an expression of our authenticity, an organic form will generally emerge. I remember Angeles Arrien saying once that the Basques have 49 different forms of relationship. This always impressed me because I have seen so many couples who have said things like, “We never should have married; it spoiled what we had.” At this point, I always suggest going back to the original form because it really was working for them. Very often, I have found that if people tell the truth, and are not be bound by “conventional or tradition” ways of relating, they allow a more organic way of being.
I’ve also found that when people come in for counseling as a couple, if they will really allow themselves to risk being true to themselves, it almost always proves to be the best thing for the “other.” No one really wants their significant other to lie to them. If they do, the relationship is already on pretty shaky ground.
Using this principle as an actual spiritual practice can clear out and clean up the relationship so that a deeper, authentic life can emerge for both people. This helps both people to actualize the spirit they feel within themselves.8. Practice forgiveness. I devoted an entire article to this at one time. (Click here to access) We can facilitate our own and each other’s release from suffering by practicing forgiveness. First, spend time looking into your own heart to find there the willingness to forgive, and then forgive yourself and others and ask for forgiveness in return. Forgiveness also involves asking ourselves whether we are willing to support each other in becoming whole, no matter how it may affect the form of the relationship. This, of course, takes a lot of commitment and compassion to treat as a spiritual practice. Please see my longer article for elaboration.
9. Share your joy, laughter, and playfulness together. Spend time not working on the relationship. We need to grow “joy muscles” so that our capacity to experience these things grows stronger. Paradoxically, as we share our joy, we become more aware of how attached we are to suffering. This may sound strange to you, but those who have practiced Buddhism and mindfulness can see how true this really is. Also the Course in Miracles talks a great deal about our attachment to pain and suffering. Whenever I have a difficult session with people, I advise them to leave the session and go play for the rest of the day or evening. I also explore the beginnings of their relationships to see what originally attracted them to one another. This usually includes a lot of good times together doing things they both enjoyed. And usually, by the time they come to see me, they have stopped doing such things. Putting back into the relationship the dating and courting behaviors they enjoyed does wonders for them. Even in relationships that are not romantic, like between parents and children or friends, this principle applies very deeply – make sure you are doing things that are enriching with this person.
Ask yourself if you and your spouse or partner play enough and laugh enough together. If you don’t like the answer, really contemplate why this is so. Do you hold beliefs that life is too serious to laugh a lot? The research shows clearly that people who laugh and share good times together, especially as they age, seem to fair much better than people who do not do so. This principle really seems to help us “lighten up” our relationships, and enjoy our lives a good deal more.