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Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

As I turned 40 on Friday, the questions I was asking myself  were  “Have I loved enough? Have  I given enough? Have I dared enough?”.  (The enough here is not meant as some kind of measurement constructed to compare myself with some ideal or others and bring competitiveness into the picture but rather as a reference to the potential). Not surprisingly, I came to the conclusion that I was able and willing to give, love and dare more.

Loving

It’s been quite an adventure loving others but I had to admit to myself that I had yet a lot to learn about giving myself to love wholeheartedly. The love I was offering to my partners and close friends often have been tinted with the desire for them to be a certain way or do specific things, if only for a few minutes. While this was something I honestly believed in earlier, it was a shock for me to realise this has not been how I have been living the loving.

In “Everyday Zen” Joko Beck makes a radical statement: relationships don’t work. In fact, it is the very fact that we want something to work that makes relationships unsatisfactory. “We all want something from the people we are in relationship to. None of us can say that we don’t want something from those we are in relationship to. And even if we avoid relationships that’s another way of wanting something. So relationships just don’t work.”

The only thing that works, according to her, “(if we really practice) is a desire not to have something for myself but to support all life, including individual relationships.” When someone loves/supports someone, there is no book-keeping going on when we try to balance the sheet: I gave this much and now I want something back (be it about preparing meals, doing the dishes or giving emotional support and time). So what does it mean to love/support others on the moment-to-moment basis, choosing love again and again? Loving the person because I want to be with them and not because I want them to be someone else or do something else.

Joko Beck: “To truly support somebody means that you give them everything and expect nothing. You might give them your time, your work, your money, anything. “You need it. I’ll give it to you”. Love expects nothing.”

Quite a different perspective on love from the one we often see in films, books and definately not the one shared by the cultures I have been living in, which are driven by the concern that we cannot get enough of something. We cannot get enough of good food, trendy clothes and gadgets, wise books, cool hobbies, time. Love. We actually start believing someone actually can give us love while love can only exist within ourselves, this is something we feel.

For the moment it might seem like I am doubting my own feelings, often returning to the question,  “Do I love him/her or do I want them to be someone else?” but this is the only way I know that can wake me up from the confusion. If I am not getting enough love, can it be that I am not feeling enough love, not choosing love but instead balancing the sheets too much?

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A certain person came to te Friend’s door

and knocked.

“Who is there?”

“It’s me”

The Friend answered, “Go away. There’s no place

for raw meat at this table.”

The individual went wandering for a year.

Nothing but the fire of separation

can change hypocisy and ego. The person returned

completely cooked,

walked up and down in front of the Friend’s house,

gently knocked.

“Who is it?”

“You.”

“Please come in, my self,

there’s no place in this house for two.

The doubled end of the thread is not what goes through

the eye of the needle…”

Rumi, from The Essential Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks


Nathan’s post on fear of abandonment inspired me to revisit that old companion of mine since childhood. According to psychologists the two main fears that shape our reactions in childhood are fear of abandonment and fear of being overwhelmed by the large world. Already as children we develop defence mechanisms such as withdrawal, pleasing others and others in order to deal with them the best way we can. We have to. We are entirely dependent on our caregivers and have to make it in this world. Interestingly, most of us use the same mechanisms even in adulthood and do not take some time to reflect on how those reactions to the old fears shape our (unconscious) decisions and influence our relationships today.

Pretty much early in life it became clear to me that people and relationships were not there to stay and that nobody could ever truly get me. People were there to teach me something and our time together, however fleeting, was valuable. Some would teach me read in English, others taught me generosity, and others – what mattered to me when I felt those values were violated.  As a child, I was terrified to get lost, that my parents would forget me somewhere. When the waiting became unbearable, I’d convince myself that they did forget me and would start looking for them myself and – of course – got lost, wherever it was they had left me to play. I would finally make it home with the help of strangers, thankful for this opportunity to return and enriched by the experience.

I made my worst fears come true. I guess somehow it was preferable to the waiting to be abandoned. Now it seems funny and sad but I see how through those experiences I’ve learnt the art of getting lost and found and that I would not always need my parents or people I thought I depended upon. Those were pretty useful lessons to learn as a child. I did not become better with directions and often times I get lost in the fields and forest not far from my new home but now I look forward to those brief moments. And never for a second do I feel lost and lonely in a forest full of trees. Getting lost makes me more aware of the potential to be at home wherever I am and to establish connections with others.

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When I saw that Vince Horn was interviewing Insight meditation teacher Christopher Titmuss on Buddhist Geeks on the issues of sexuality and love in the practice of Dharma (episodes 176 & 177) , I heard myself exclaiming, “At last!” As lay practitioners we deal with these issues everyday yet few Buddhist teachers in their Dharma talks explore the ways of being a sexual being and a Dharma practitioner. Probably because there is not much said about it in the traditions or because these questions are not often asked? A the same time, I cannot help but notice that many people around me, including those practising Buddhism, have been going through separations and divorces and often see those relationships ending as a failure.

Here I could not agree more with Christopher when he points out that in our modern world defining a successful relationship as long-lasting, monogamous, heterosexual, etc is not helpful to us. I find that by putting a label on the relationship (many of which are simply too narrow for our modern lives) or deciding what it is supposed to be like we put an additional pressure on it which can lead to its premature ending, at least in its current form. I realise it is not the label per se that puts pressure on us but the expectations we associate with it and the static, Polaroid-like image in our head of what it should be like. It is then even more important to bring attention and exploration into these areas and observe the whole dynamics as the relationship unfolds.

The questions I ask myself about anything when I feel stuck, including all areas of the heart are

What is the most important thing for me in this area?

and

What does it ask from me on a daily basis?

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When I ask someone what it is they like about their partner, often the answer tells me more about what that person receives from their partner – a feeling of being appreciated, loved, understood, safe, etc. It seems what we are looking for in relationships is to have our emotional needs satisfied. Is this not expecting too much? Is it even possible?

I am interested in how something that starts like a romantic movie on the scale of “Titanic” turns into a low-budget drama with elements of nightmare. What is it in me that triggers and steers this process from the very start? Why longing for a working relationship, I set myself up for failure and sabotaged the few ones I had? What would it take from me to live together without hurting my beloved? I have been trying to remember a single morning when I woke up and said to myself, “How can I make sure I get hurt again and while I am at it, why not help another soul feel miserable?” Not that I remember. There seems to be a glitch in the system somewhere.


So I thought I’d take a good look at the dynamics of intimate relationships and try to see where my own judgement fails me.

Why this exploration? Because

a) those same patterns show up in all our relationships although not as powerfully

b) I strive to live a conscious life in this universe not of my choosing

c) let’s just say I finally bought Elisabeth Gilbert’s “Committed” and find myself warming up to the idea of giving myself a try at relationships

“Of all the ideologies that possess the contemporary soul, perhaps none is more powerful, more seductive, and possibly more delusory than the romantic fantasy that there is someone out there who is right for us, the long-sought soul mate, what I call “the magical other” , the one who will truly understand us, take care of us, meet our needs, repair the wounds, and, with a little luck, spare us the burden of growing up and meeting our needs”.

James Hollis, “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Your Life”, p 104

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In the presentation part of the warming-up webinar Dosho quoted Dogen-zenji on the benefits of practicing in a community:

Although the color of the flowers is beautiful, they do not bloom of themselves; they need the spring breeze to open. The conditions of the Way are also like this; although the Way is complete in everyone, the realization of the Way depends upon collective conditions. Although individuals may be clever, the practice of the Way is done by means of collective power. Therefore, now you should make your minds as one, set your aspiration in one direction and study thoroughly, seek and inquire.

– Dogen

We cannot bloom by ourselves and to become transformed we need to be exposed to all kinds of weather conditions, get proper nourishment and be tested.

Later the same evening it was time for the second call with the Integral Enlightenment teleclass. This time we were invited to try for size nothing less than the perspective of the Evolutionary Impulse (IE) and from that larger place look at our lives and the specific areas where we were struggling. What was possible from thar larger perspective, no matter how frightening it might seem to the smaller, personal self?

When we were  sharing in small groups what came up to us as a response to questions, I felt that very spring breeze that Dogen writes about, go through my living room and my heart. Our brief but full-hearted exchanges expanded my own understanding of what was possible for me and fuelled the internal fire when I was listening to the responses of others. At times I experienced it as one response voiced differently.

For the coming week we were offered the following questions to reflect on and explore on the daily basis how we could approach our lives from that larger perspective:

  • What does the Evolutionary Impulse need from me?
  • What are the values of the Evolutionary Impulse and how, if at all, do they differ from the values of the personal self?
  • How can I stretch to more fully embody this Impulse?
  • How does aligning with the Evolutionary Impulse impact my experience of myself?
  • How does it impact my relationship to Life?
  • How does it impact my behavior toward others?
  • What does it reveal about my and our potential for radical evolution?

Having carried the questions around for three days and just listening to the responses that showed up, I noticed that my mind was getting seduced by the “How can I stretch …” question which was more on the doing side. It is the most familiar mode: identifying the problem (existance of the ego) and suggesting the solution (get rid of it NOW!). My mind loves tinkering with whatever shows up on the horizon and prescribing solutions. Who is talking? Yet another self-image: me, myself and Irene, the bettered – the ego-less – version. Ego-less who?

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On our first call with the ”Awakening to the Evolutionary Relationship to Life ” teleclass at Integral Enlightenment we heard an impressive number of participants – over 400 people from 25 countries – that the course gathered. Rather amazing! During the call Craig went through a few principles of engagement for people coming together to practice.

One of them is that actually it is less important where we are on our journey than where we are in relationship to our edge. Craig pointed out the importance of allowing for the evolving edge by welcoming the discomfort and the growing pain of stretching instead of resisting or avoiding it.

“If we’re not uncomfortable, we’re probably not evolving.”

I find this to be very true for my path and maintaining a blog actually challenged me in ways I could not anticipate when I wrote my first post and which I came to appreciate.When comments starting coming in and when I started commenting on other people’s posts online, I saw how the way we listen to each other (or read) and respond to each other’s writing influences the energy between us and in itself can be used as way to deepen our practice.

The other day I posted a comment to a friend’s blog in which I shared what came up for me after reading the post but my comment deeply upset my friend. He felt that I misunderstood the point he was making in the post and thought I was lacking compassion when I replied to what other people wrote. That feedback made me reflect on my listening/reading/ skills as well as on what matters to me as someone who writes a blog (how important is it for me to be understood? ). I felt sad that my comment have created an emotional divide between us, wondering how I could have responded differently. From what place was I reading the post and what were my intentions when I was replying to it?

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Not one

One of the insights from the last Ango period was the importance of a community and a teacher for one’s practice.  In a community (as well as in relationships of all kinds) we have a chance to test what comes up for us in our practice.  I took a look at my own hang ups coming from earlier sometimes quite emotional experiences of joining a spiritually oriented community.

Here are some of the traits that I noticed a group could develop that can take it into a different direction than the one intended from the start:

  • Being nice – syndrome:  Socializing can take over and overshadow the initial purpose for which the group is created. People start getting to know each other, get comfortable with the ideas of others and themselves, develop friendships and …new attachments. To help each other grow we need to be open to fuelling our practice by dealing with whatever comes up when the Pandora’s box is open. Conflicts? This, too.  I believe a teacher can help in a situation like that by rattling the cage now and then and bringing in the element of discomfort and uncertainty.

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