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Intimate Relationships As A Vehicle for Spiritual Growth

“If life is a school, relationship is its university.” – Judith Saly

From the soul’s point of view, each of us is here on earth to fulfill our inner design. In that process, it doesn’t really matter whether we remain in one intimate relationship for an entire lifetime, have many intimate relationships, or even have none at all. We will, of course, always be in relationships; the very essence of human life is interdependent and relational. Yet whatever our specific relational circumstances may be, our real work is the work of becoming more fully ourselves.

However, most of us have a very strong drive toward intimate relationships – or at least, toward pair-bonding, a process we hope will provide us with the feelings of safety and security that we often confuse with intimacy. In fact, true intimacy rarely creates what the human personality self experiences as “safety,” and the kind of safety that seems desirable to some parts of the personality actually leads to stagnation of other parts of us, and of our soul. This is one reason why so many of us experience romantic relationships as a source of great confusion and suffering.

True intimacy is an experience of deep contact in which one consciousness appreciatively encounters another. Since each of contains many levels and aspects of consciousness, we can experience intimacy (or lack thereof) within ourselves, or with any other living thing. Although intimacy may be present with people whom we know very well, a sudden flash of intimacy can also occur in a brief exchange between strangers.

Intimacy takes place on the level of consciousness, the level where the soul resides. Therefore, it both requires and facilitates authenticity, the dropping-away of social masks. This is one reason why many people find it easiest to experience intimacy with animals, who neither wear social masks nor respond to such masks in us. It’s also why so many of us find it surprisingly difficult to actually be intimate with our lovers or partners. Very often, people in designated “intimate relationships” fall into patterns which are destructive to intimacy – for instance, when we attempt to require certain feelings or behaviors from each other or from ourselves, or when fear leads us to hide aspects of ourselves. Ironically, the intimacy in most “intimate relationships” has a very short life-span, if it is ever present at all.

Many of us hold particular visions or ideals for romantic relationships. We may believe that our partners should or must have particular physical and emotional characteristics, live their lives in certain ways, and be with us in ways our human selves find pleasurable or comforting. While there is nothing “wrong” with any of these beliefs or desires, they have absolutely nothing to do with love or intimacy. They are based on a transactional model of relationship, a model which is appropriate in a market context (“I’ll give you one dollar, you’ll give me one avocado”) but is irrelevant, even antithetical, to authentic connection.

“But having a partner who is X or who does X would bring me joy,” part of us may protest. Actually, that’s not exactly true. Our human selves have many preferences, and as we’ve discussed, it is harmonious for us to arrange our lives in accordance to those preferences, rather than in opposition to them. Yet the exclusive goal of creating a life that meets our preferences leads to a never-ending search – since no matter what we choose, our deeper work will always present itself to be done, often in ways that bring challenge or discomfort. And joy is an inner soul movement that can and does often arise regardless of whether our preferences have been met, or completely subverted. For instance, no parent would prefer to have a child with Down syndrome or severe disabilities, yet many parents of children born with such conditions report that their children bring them enormous joy.

The belief that we must have things a certain way in order to be happy emerges from a part of the self that has not released life on its own recognizance, has not said Yes to ourselves and our world as it is. All of us have such parts, but allowing them to dominate our relationships is a recipe for pain, both for ourselves and whoever we attempt to “love.” Love does not dictate conditions; love embraces conditions exactly as they are.

Eckhart Tolle says matter-of-factly, “In case you haven’t noticed, relationships are not here to make us happy.” Yet even when we have noticed this, we may continue to hope blindly that it’s simply because we haven’t yet found the “right” relationship, the partner who will give us everything we want and believe we need.

Practicing the rewarding and demanding work of intimacy is an important part of the inner design of most people. Yet this work, when properly understood and engaged, looks little like the “happily ever after” myth we grew up with. In fact, the ability to develop and sustain true intimacy with self and others depends upon the willingness to wonder about ourselves and each other, to stretch, explore and inquire in an atmosphere of open, compassionate curiosity. In his book Soul Mates, Thomas Moore describes this well:

“I am not referring to endless analysis and introspection, which can dry out a relationship with the drive toward understanding. Wonder and open discussion are more moist. They keep people close to their experience, while at the same time they offer a degree of imagination, an element sorely needed in every intimate relationship.”

Truly intimate relationships require us to be willing to see and know our partners, and also to tolerate being seen and known. At the same time, they require us to bear those ways and times when it appears that our partners cannot or will not see or know us, and those times when we ourselves fall short of that difficult work.

Relationships that are genuinely intimate also require us to take responsibility both for our own pain, and our own needs. In fact, relationships of all kinds are ideal places for practicing the challenge of self-responsibility. We can start by remembering that other people, including our romantic partners, are never the cause of any pain we experience. All other people can do is illuminate the collapsed places in our own beings – places of soul loss, damaging imprints, shame or self-hatred, victim consciousness or problematic emotional postures. Because of the spotlight they shine on these hurt places within us relationships can be great catalysts for growth and healing when we allow them to be – and when we can accept the messages they bring us without blaming the messenger.

Full self-responsibility requires us to remain clear that it is never our partner’s job to meet our emotional needs (nor, of course, is it ever our job to meet our partner’s needs). Of course, if none of our emotional needs are ever met within a given relationship, we may decide to discontinue that relationship, or to change its form. But in most cases, those whom we attempt to love do meet some of our needs, some of the time. Strangely, the fact that some but not all of our needs are met often 抑鬱症催眠治療 causes us great pain. Faced with this situation, most of us either try to exert pressure on our partner to meet more of our needs, or begin to punish our partners or to emotionally withdraw from the relationship. Rather than reacting in this way, we would be better served to inquire into these things we experience as “needs,” and the real source of the pain we feel when they are not met. Generally this process of inquiry can lead us toward healing processes that have little to do with our current relationships, and much to do with ways we have separated ourselves from ourselves, from compassion, and from life.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should remain in relationships that we don’t want to be in. It simply means that whether we choose to end a given relationship or stay within it, we recognize that the pain, fear or other challenging emotions that have been brought up in us are ours – ours to work with, heal and dismantle. In fact, the most painful relationships of all are those in which people refuse this self-responsibility, and instead persist in endless power struggles and unsatisfying negotiations with each other, all in an effort to flee from difficult emotions. In contrast, the most rewarding relationships are those in which both partners recognize their own responsibility, and work side by side on their own growth and healing – including those areas in need of healing that are continuously brought to their attention by the relationship.

Sometimes people attempt to support one another by taking over the emotional work our partners find most difficult, but this is a risky approach. For instance, Person A has trouble allowing herself to be vulnerable; Person B provides a safe space for her to do that. Person B has trouble valuing herself; Person A continually reflects her value back to her. Although this type of dynamic can be supportive if it leads to Person A becoming more able to tolerate her own vulnerability and Person B becoming more able to value herself, all too often this is not what occurs. Emotional support, like physical crutches, can be used in ways that facilitate healing, or in ways that keep us from that healing.

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