Sunday, July 8, 2012

The yoga of relationship

It is no secret that relationship-yoga is, for many, the royal road to profound (and often excruciating) revelation about where we really are in our lives, to illuminating exploration of our emotional/somatic world, and to uncovering the unconscious forces that are at least in part running the show. Intimacy has a unique way of showing us very quickly where we’re caught, where we’re holding on, how we’re closing to immediate experience, and the intricacies of how we defend and guard against the unyielding realities of the heart. We really don’t want to be too exposed. Maybe a little bit here or there, on Tuesdays and Fridays, or when we’re sure that even in the face of intimate exposure, things are likely to remain relatively safe and predictable. 

People often ask: you’ve met and worked with so many teachers and authors behind the scenes, in their most vulnerable, unscripted moments. Who are the ones that are really, truly awake; and who are the ones that maybe aren’t quite as awake as they come off in their public roles? I find myself simultaneously enjoying and cringing in the wake of these sorts of questions. Perhaps playfully, but also in a more serious way, I usually offer a response along the lines of: if you really want to know how awakened someone is, don’t ask them. Don’t ask their students or disciples. Don’t read their books. Don’t watch them on stage responding to questions from devotees. Ask their intimate partners. This is often met with a bit of awkward silence. 

We have so many ideas about relationship that we’ve picked up from our families of origin, teachers of all kinds, the media, books, television, and movies. One idea in particular that I’ve been really aware of lately is the idea that a conscious, intimate relationship is one where both partners feel profoundly connected at all times. And that if this feeling of connection is missing, then something must inherently be wrong; and must be fixed. Connection is one very fundamental quality of a relationship, yes. But what about the times when we feel disconnected from our partners, our friends, our children, our parents, our co-workers? Where has the “relationship” gone? 

What is relationship, anyway? Is it a feeling? A sense of security? A warmness in the heart? A content knowing that there is someone to share the journey with? Is relationship, like love, a vast enough field to contain aliveness, flatness, waves of joy, feelings of irritation, sensations of disturbance? Can we sit in the fire of intimate relationship knowing that all of our fears, fantasies, anxieties, scary parts, and vulnerability will likely never ever be resolved into some neat little relationship package? That there is something perhaps about intimacy that by definition is ultimately unresolvable? And that is in fact why it is so transformative? Can we find a way to be in relationship where we do not limit the mystery of love’s expression, and resist the temptation to have the fire of love conform to our endless requirements? Perhaps there will always be surges of uncontainable grief, sadness, fear, anger, and irritation that arise in the intersubjective field of lovers. We are all painfully aware of the seemingly miraculous power of our partners to touch our sore spots and to elicit the most unexplainable reactions within us. 

One question I find especially important to explore at the deepest levels, conscious and unconscious, is: can we allow the other matter to us? Are we willing/able to let another touch us, to expose ourselves so profoundly to them, that we stand completely naked, vulnerable, fully exposed to very unsafe waters of real love, knowing that we could be devastated at any instant? Many of our childhood biographies, of course, present a very unstable situation, a groundless reality where it was not safe to let another become too important. As innocent little ones, of course we very naturally allow others to deeply matter. This sort of exposure, as we all know, is tremendously risky; and we can learn very quickly the danger involved in letting someone matter, usually the hard way. But as little ones we can’t really help it, we’re wired to connect. 

Often in the challenges inherent in intimate relationship, we become convinced that it is our partner who is causing us to feel so bad. They don’t respect us, they speak unkindly to us, they don’t understand us, they’re never there when we really need them, etc. And of course there is likely some relative truth in these things. But we might also be able to see that just by being in relationship, we will be forced in a certain way to feel feelings that we really don’t want to feel. It’s not so much that our partner is doing something to us, but rather when we open ourselves to love, there are previously unmet feelings there, lurking in the unconscious, looking for the light of day. If we look closely, perhaps we can see how we organize our lives around not having to feel certain feelings. 

Intimate relationship is a yoga because it cuts into this organization. Perhaps we’re able to avoid certain feelings, certain thoughts, certain bodily sensations, certain emotions, in our daily lives or in our spiritual lives with all of our rituals and practices and worshipping the guru from afar. But in intimate relationship, alas, we’re not so lucky. The so-called “other” in intimate relationship will always push against that which is unresolved within us. How fortunate! (and painful) 

Let us all love those we’re in relationship with, including ourselves, by committing to taking love’s journey with them, knowing nothing about the route or the destination. Let us be kind to ourselves and our partners if we decide to truly take up the yoga of intimacy, knowing that it will take everything we have and are to navigate, as it offers fruits beyond this world.