I’ve been thinking about the term ‘relationship’ lately, and how in spiritual world it seems to be counterproductive with one’s journey within. Well, from its track record, any kind of relationships – friendship, mother-daughter, father-son, or and particularly intimate relationship – often notoriously give adverse impact to one’s spiritual journey. Particularly intimate relationship, it has the large potentials to you needy, clinging, pining etc that eventually make you lose your self-respect. I often then understand how conscious people, inter alia but not limited to nuns and monks, choose to live celibate lives, for enough is enough. It is painful to go through a relationship. Why bother? Better get out and enjoy being alone.
But… but… How do I say this? I’m not saying that being alone is wrong. I think it’s great when you are alone and immensely happy with yourself. It’s great, it’s amazing. You feel whole, well… you ARE and always have been whole… and you feel that the world is in your hand. Or rather, you are melting and becoming part of the world. Part of Life. Trust me. It’s good. IT’S GREAT, and it’s peaceful. More over, it gives you time to thoroughly explore the journey within. It’s amazing and for some people – including me – it is the best thing that comes out of a single life. You become acquainted with yourself, and you are immensely happy with it. After all, Khalil Gibran put it most eloquently:
It is wrong to think that love comes from long companionship and persevering courtship. Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity and unless that affinity is created in a moment, it will not be created for years or even generations.
But what if an opportunity for intimate partnership – for relationship – presents itself in front of you? You are tempted to follow love… whatever the risk is… for as Gibran said… the path of love IS hard.
When love beckons to you follow him, Though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold you yield to him, Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
The Path of Love is indeed hard… but the fact is that you are in love (or at least ‘in like’) with your significant other. Then you wake up one day and realise…that you are not in full control anymore of your life. You become needy and helpless if you do not hear from said significant other. You are not comfortable with your addiction, with your pining. People say that it’s the exact characteristic of love, but you do not like it… because your feelings are alternating between ecstasy and sorrow.
Then, perhaps like me, you will question… that how could you be happy in a relationship if you keep being needy and clinging like this? But perhaps the fault is not in said significant other. Perhaps… it is your fault, my fault. Or rather… perhaps our paradigm needs a radical change. Perhaps we have not understood love and relationship as they are.
Then what is love?... If it is harder to answer it, at least this one: What is a relationship for?
To find some answers, I consulted some books, including Eckhart Tolle’s bestselling book ‘The Power of Now’. I use many direct quotes from the book, particularly from Chapter ‘Enlightened Relationships’, so if you want to read them through, you can buy them from the Amazon, among others.
You are "in love" with your partner. This is at first a deeply satisfying state. You feel intensely alive. Your existence has suddenly become meaningful because someone needs you, wants you, and makes you feel special, and you do he same for him or her. When you are together, you feel whole. The feeling can become so intense that the rest of the world fades into insignificance. However, you may also have noticed that there is a neediness and a clinging quality to that intensity. You become addicted to the other person. He or she acts on you like a drug. you are on a high when the drug is available, but even the possibility or the thought that he or she might no longer be there for you can lead to jealously, possessiveness, attempts at manipulation through emotional blackmail, blaming and accusing - fear of loss. (Emphasise my own)
And doth giveth way to romantic poetries and songs, such as Sting’s rearranged 16th century Come Again. FYI, I truly love this song… but I also think it is a classical example of how prone we can be when our significant other is not available for us:
Come again! that I may cease to mourn
Through thy unkind disdain;
For now left and forlorn I sit, I sigh, I weep, I faint, I die
In deadly pain and endless misery
Coming back to Tolle:
If the other person does leave you, this can give rise to the most intense hostility or the most profound grief and despair. In an instant, loving tenderness can turn into a savage attack or dreadful grief. Where is love now? Can love change into its opposite in an instant? Was it love in the first place, or just an addictive grasping and clinging?
See how it makes me rather losing my self-confidence? If I am that easy to swing from ecstasy to sorrow, from loving to clinging…then, is it true love that I experience? Or I’m just still a novice trying to learn love through a relationship? Then, what is the significance of my happiness when I am alone? Was it true that I was happy when I was alone? Or did I secretly harbour a hope for a prince charming rescuing me and taking me to his castle? Many people have painfully proven how outward relationships, hoping that our partners would change for our sake instead of us taking full responsibilities of our own lives, do not work. It is maddening, hence the high rates of divorce world wide. Not to judge anyone here, I’m not an angel myself. I just want to do some reflections here.
Then… how do we get out of this mad circle? Most importantly, can we use intimacy, a romantic relationship, for our own spiritual journey???
Tolle said again:
Every addiction arises from an unconscious refusal to face and move through your own pain. Every addiction starts with pain and ends with pain. Whatever the substances you are addicted to – alcohol, food, legal or illegal drugs, or a person – you are using something or somebody. That is why, after the initial euphoria has passed, there is so much unhappiness, so much pain in intimate relationships. They do not cause pain and unhappiness. They bring out the pain and unhappiness that is already in you. Every addiction does that. Every addiction does not work for you anymore, and then you feel the pain more intensely than ever.
How to change it then? How to break the addictive cycle?
Tolle: …by taking your attention ever more deeply into the Now: Whether you are living alone or with a partner, this remains the key. For love to flourish, the light of your presence needs to be strong enough so that you no longer get taken over by the thinker or pain-body, and mistake them for who you are.
So you just have to BE in the present moment. All ancient and modern sages recommend this. Live your life in the present moment, here and now. And you will attain your happiness, for you realise that the happiness, the Love never leaves you anyway. It’s always there within you and me. Within all of us.
Tolle again: The greatest catalyst for change in a relationship is complete acceptance of your partner as he or she is, without needing to judge or change them in any way. That immediately takes you beyond ego.
In another word, that takes me and you to our real selves within. To LOVE. Tolle also reminded us that:
… whenever your relationship is not working, whenever it brings out the "madness" in you and in your partner, be glad. What was unconscious is being brought up to the light. It is an opportunity for salvation/…/The relationship then becomes your sadhana, your spiritual practice/…/
If you continue to pursue the goal of salvation through a relationship, you will be disillusioned again and again. But if you accept that the relationship is here to make you conscious instead of happy, then the relationship will offer you salvation, and you will be aligning yourself with the higher consciousness that wants to be born into this world. For those who hold on to the old patterns, there will be increasing pain, violence, confusion, and madness.
Eckhart Tolle, thank you so much for your amazing enlightenment. If I can summarise it in my own words:
Relationships, including painful and failed ones, are there to teach us lessons. Think of it as a school for us to learn to grow. For the journey within. Our partners (of former partners) are mirrors of our own issues we must face here and now, while we still have time. Any relationship crisis is actually a chance for us to learn to be better beings. Thus, the relationship becomes a vehicle to be better her, better him. Thus, we are here to learn from each other, to be better beings of light.
Then, how to go within? There are several ways. My favourite way now – in addition to yoga, meditation, writing diary, and doing creative writing – is to get connected with my own feminine nature. The woman, priestess, goddess within me. To feel the joy of being a woman... who are complete as she is, with or without a man. With or without acknowledgements from the world outside. In this case, self-help books e.g. Dr. Christiane Northrup’s Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom is like a Bible to me (see also this post). Having friends (particularly sisterhood circle to me) to help you dealing with your issues is treasure. Having a Guru, a spiritual Master like Swami Anand Krishna, to show you how to dig further into yourself is priceless.
I guarantee you that the process of going within is not easy... but we have to realise that no man (or woman) can help us. I have to help myself. I have to be happy with myself first before enjoying my relationship with anyone. I have to and choose to love myself first before loving him. For when I have love within, when I realise that I always have the love within me... love then automatically expands... till it envelopes me in her bright blinding and soothing light... and overflow outward... including to a man... who (and if he) is sensitive enough to catch it.
Otherwise, any relationships will be just another failure. For we keep falling to the same hole, repeating the same mistake of searching for happiness outside, instead of finding it within ourselves and then sharing it.
So whenever I think of a certain person in a pining or clinging way...I have to just smile at the longing and memories… and be grateful that I can still feel such longing. It means that love is there, or at least the seeds to blossom. Then, gently I remind myself to look within. To be immensely happy with myself, here and now.
It takes practice... it doesn’t happen overnight. But with all other Sadhanas, all other spiritual practices…, the process of overturning romantic relationship, taking it further deep into a spiritual practice that nurtures myself and (hopefully) that other person, is worth it.
And thus, intimate relationship becomes a spiritual journey, and we can celebrate it the way True Lovers do. The way Khalil Gibran did, at least, in The Prophet:
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous,
but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone
though they quiver with the same music
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow
Pic 1. ‘Dear Heart’ by Iza87 from Deviantart.com
Pic 2. ‘Let me go’ by Khalil Gibran from the Gibran Academy
Pic 3. ‘Separation’ by Edvard Munch
Pic 4. ‘The Lovers’ by Puimun from Deviantart.com