Friday, October 1, 2010

The Sadhana of Relationships

‘Sadhana’ is the process of consciously participating in spiritual growth, or the exercises or methods we practice for personal development and Self-mastery, leading toward what is thought of as ‘enlightenment’ or ‘Self-realization.’

There are as many different forms of sadhana as there are types of people, and no two have exactly the same sadhana. We have different dispositions, different personalities, and different needs on the level of the soul. Yet everything is amazingly arranged for each of us to get exactly what we need at the exact time that we need it.

One of the primary forms sadhana takes for almost everyone is that of relationship. This does not necessarily mean that we are in a committed or ‘romantic’ relationship, although we might be. Even monks and swamis live in relationship to each other, if no one else. Whether we are involved in a committed relationship or not is determined entirely by karma, and not by the luck of the draw. Nothing in this world is random or purely coincidental; nothing happens by chance or accident. The karmic web we have spun for ourselves, and which we undergo a cycle of during this physical incarnation, is structured very exactly according to immutable, infallible, and undeviating natural laws.

In the broadest sense, we are ‘in relationship’ with everyone we come in contact with, with everyone in our karmic sphere. While we are in line we come into relationship with the clerk at the store. Paying the toll as we drive on certain highways, or to cross certain bridges or tunnels, we are briefly in relationship with the toll-taker at the toll booth. If the car breaks down we come into relationship with the mechanic who hopefully gets us going again.

So the exploration of the principles of relationship should not be thought of as being limited to ‘real and lasting’ relationships (everything is permanent as long as it is happening), but in terms of our interactions with everyone in our lives. Even so, many of us function as a vital member of a ‘couple,’ and it is especially good to understand the underlying elements and factors of relationship in such cases.

For many people, their primary relationship contains the most intense sadhana that they are faced with. Truly speaking, relationships are a great sadhana, equal in intensity and effectiveness to the sadhana of sannyasi. Successful relationships do not come easily, and maintaining the harmony and balance of a relationship can be an exquisite sadhana taking place on the very highest and most expanded levels of our being.

Now for a brief announcement relevant to those who participate in the course by email:

In the very first blog entry, posted July 14, 2008, the titles of the sections of the course were listed as:

Living in the Truth of the Present Moment
What You Think Is What You Get
The Evolution of Wisdom
How Feeling Creates Reality
Attention, Conscious Intent, and Will
Our Amazing Capacity to Change
The Incredible Power of Feelings
The Importance of Priorities
The Greatest Game Ever Invented
The Ego and Beyond
The Inner State
The Art of Flowing
Love Is Where the Heart Is
Growth Through Relationships
God in Human Form
The Mastery of Life
Attaining the Highest Now
Living in Your Own Secret Heaven
Entering the Stillness
Establishing Joy in Your Heart

So far, during the first two years of the course, we have followed this outline exactly, as people entering their third year are in the section titled, The Incredible Power of Feelings, which has been a very powerful section of the course for everyone.

However, with relationships on various levels existing in the lives of everyone save perhaps the most secluded and dedicated hermit, we are moving up our extensive exploration of relationships, titled Growth Through Relationships, to come immediately following The Importance of Priorities, and now preceding The Greatest Game Ever Invented.

I know that many old-time participants simply see the next lesson as the next lesson, and many of them might have no idea, were we to press them for an answer, what section of the course they are in. Other people, however, like an overview of things, and this ‘announcement’ is simply to keep such people up to date.

We are indeed involved in many relationships to various degrees, so we might as well be afforded the opportunity to practice the highest principles of relationship without any further delay, and while we are younger instead of when we’re older. This way we won’t go through life wondering, Why wasn’t I aware of such knowledge when I truly needed it?

On the subject of relationships, I recently received the following letter. Since the writer touches on many points I have heard in various ways from other people, I am quoting from her letter rather extensively:

“After many years of studying and practicing the principles laid out so clearly in your course, my husband and I have each reached a miraculous level of freedom on the inside, a level of contentment and the pure joy of life I never would have believed possible if I hadn’t lived it in my own life. I’ll always be grateful for the huge part you’ve played in that.

“But here’s the thing, and when it’s up it’s a really BIG thing, and it’s up a LOT these days (like whenever we’re in each other’s company for more than a few minutes): Seems like there’s always been this obstacle in relationship with ‘the man in my life’ (whoever he might be at the time) that comes up at a certain point and eventually leads to the demise of the relationship.

“I recognize that it’s a samskara and yet no matter how strong my intention to catch myself going into reactive mode before it escalates into a full-blown screaming match, I still take what my husband says personally, go into a hurtful feeling that blindsides me, and then turn all that fury I perceived in him back on him.

“So here we are, still reading our lessons, still determined that our marriage-as-sadhana be as free of reactivity as humanly possible, yet still reacting to each other’s words/silences, reactions/non-responsiveness, tone of voice/facial expressions, and various other slights (imagined and otherwise) and excuses for diving into the samskara once again.

“And then the bickering that we both hate so much starts as if there’s nobody home to make a choice about it and on many days escalates into explosive anger. So imagine all that, right in the middle of a life that is otherwise wonderful, and you see why I’m writing to you.

“I know that we both desire only to live a life of freedom and fun and loving compassionate service in each other’s company, yet here we are after all these years still wasting our precious time and shakti bickering like the people you describe in my current lesson. And there I go, saying ‘we’ again. I know I should focus on what ‘I’ am doing and not what ‘we’ are doing if I actually hope to change anything.

“I’ve already tried everything except writing to you, and it’s frustrating and embarrassing to realize that no matter what I do I can’t seem to get past this obstacle on my own. I need help before this one takes me down yet another road to a split-up (which sometimes feels like the only compassionate thing we could do for each other if old dogs really can’t learn new tricks).
Please help. I remain,
Your Loving and Grateful Student”

Let’s look at this letter and see what we can learn from it. A significant clue is found right here: ”Seems like there’s always been this obstacle in relationship with ‘the man in my life’ (whoever he might be at the time) that comes up at a certain point and eventually leads to the demise of the relationship.”

In that one sentence alone she sets herself up and creates the possibility for all else to follow. There’s ‘always’ (key word) been this ‘obstacle in relationship’ (key phrase) with the ‘man in my life’ (another key phrase) that ‘eventually leads to the demise of the relationship’ (the crux of her particular pattern.)

Then she describes the process perfectly: ‘I still take what my husband says personally, go into a hurtful feeling that blindsides me, and then turn all that fury I perceived in him back on him.’

Finally she brings up the scourge of relationships: ‘the bickering that we both hate so much.’ Oh, the endless bickering. How many of us would love more than anything to finally be free from that one, while at the same time enjoying the company of a pleasant companion and playmate? So often it seems we can’t have one without the other.

I have often heard that ‘it takes two to bicker.’ However I beg to differ. It only takes one to bicker. If one goes into bickering mode, the only thing the other can do is deal with it the best he can. From the bickerer’s perspective, the other trying to deal with it is perceived as bickering back. In truth, if the first ceased to bicker, all appearance of bickering would cease as well. It just takes one to bicker, and then we get the mirror. If we’re the one bickering, we should at least be spiritually mature enough to take responsibility for what we are doing.

Anyway, our letter writer says there is ‘always’ an obstacle with the ‘man in her life’ that leads to the ‘demise of the relationship.’ Well, she’s certainly set up things to flow right along with their usual patterns. Of course, her concept itself, this whole chain of thoughts and this description she’s presenting as her reality, IS the obstacle. The whole problem is established in the words of this one sentence of hers, which she accepts as her reality.

Then, she acknowledges, she takes something her husband says personally, is ‘hurt’ by his words, then unleashes the full fury of her anger upon him in retribution, to punish him for what he said that hurt her—even though she actually hurt herself by hearing or interpreting his words in a habitual and predictable way that is her pattern of being ‘hurt’ so that she can more easily justify her ‘anger’.

You can believe that she is highly identified with anger as an essential aspect of her true nature, and something that she feels she can’t do a thing about as it’s such an ingrained aspect of who she thinks is. To keep it going she has to come up with a lot of imagined slights.

She has to stop thinking of herself as a potentially angry person. And, to the same degree, she must stop projecting that anger onto anyone else, seeing it as ‘their’ anger, or ‘their bickering,’ or even ‘our bickering.’ As long as any problem or conflict is ‘ours’, or a matter of something that ‘we do,’ we set it up so that we don’t actually have to work with it or change ourselves in any way. For actual transformation, we have to first own it, and recognize that it is ours alone, not something we share with another. She must stop seeing anger altogether, or allowing for the possibility of anger within the sphere of the relationship.

Anger is perfectly natural and in certain situations the healthiest and most dharmic route to take. Yet, when it becomes such a primary feature of a relationship to the degree that it leads to habitual bickering, then it’s not true anger. It is more accurately ‘hostility.’ Hostility is not a verb, not something we ‘do,’ nor is it something we are. It is a state that we sometimes resort to, or if we’re really afflicted by it, a state we habitually live in as though it is the most natural way for a person to be when having to deal with this world.

If the husband had written me and described what was going on from his point of view, I am sure it would have been a totally different perspective, and who knows what I might have said to him? Since she was the one to write, however, the only response is to let her know what she most needs to understand about herself and what she can do to help transform the situation.

Remember that in relationships it is never a matter of who is right or wrong. So you prove him wrong and yourself right, so what? What has been accomplished or attained by that? Did it escort you right along in your sadhana? Actual spiritual growth happens to a greater degree when we are proven wrong than when we are proven right, so why be so attached to being right? When we are proven wrong, at least we can learn something new and grow. If we are proven right, what have we gained other than an inflated ego?

She closes her letter by saying: “I need help before this one takes me down yet another road to a split-up (which sometimes feels like the only compassionate thing we could do for each other if old dogs really can’t learn new tricks).”

Once again she is focusing on the ‘road to a split-up.’ This is behind everything for her. This is the substratum from which her mind operates. She won’t simply relax and enjoy what she has and accept being together as a happy couple.

I happen to have known this couple for many years. I know her husband, and I am certain that he’s never once considered the idea of ‘splitting up’ with her, as he has told me as much. It is all her thing, centered around her predominant samskara that ruled all past relationships. It has nothing whatsoever to do with her husband. He himself is a happily married man. All this stuff she writes about, she does to herself. She creates the whole thing from scratch, based on her own past, and having nothing to do with her actual existing relationship.

So the only true answer is another question: when will she stop doing it? When will she stop projecting some future split up? She affects herself, she impacts her husband, and she also affects their relationship by inflicting this. She must realize that it is her own old pattern, as she herself knows that her husband is her ‘current man.’ Even from how she uses that particular phrase, with the word ‘current,’ you see how she doesn’t naturally think in terms of stability. It’s ‘current’ now but will be something different later, according to her thinking.

She has been given a wonderful relationship. Hopefully she will wake up and enjoy it and finally appreciate it for what it truly is.

And she better not dare think, Or what? Does this mean that otherwise it will be over? After all this discussion, that would just be taking things a bit too far. I’d have to advise him, She’s right, you’d better leave her. Otherwise she’ll drive us both crazy.

We have room for one exchange from the comments following the September 1 entry:

Rico: I've noticed that emotions often arise with no apparent external stimuli. When the emotion is pleasant, contentment is usually experienced. But if the emotion is unpleasant, the mind kicks in with reasons for the feelings or a search for where this emotional "attack" came from. What's making me feel this way? If I follow this where the mind leads, the feeling usually gets stronger. If I ignore the mind the unpleasantness often dissipates in short order.

DRB: Astute observations as always, Rico. This movement of emotions is actually the activity of the subtle body or astral body. We explore this in depth in our course, as you know. Feelings most definitely have a life of their own, relatively speaking.

As explored thoroughly in the course, we can think of the natural progression of the Creative chain from the Universal to the individual as beginning with pure, unmodified and unconditioned Consciousness. From here is a 'link' to higher mind (in Sanskrit, Buddhi), which we recognize consciously as 'intuition.' If we are open and receptive to intuitive guidance, we allow that to gently influence will, which is the next realm, from which we act and move and have our power (either consciously or subconsciously).

Hopefully we apply will to use vigilance regarding what we think, since thought is creative energy. Either conscious or subconscious application of will directs the conscious mind (manas in Sanskrit), and from there the flow of manifestation goes to the emotional realm (as experienced within the subtle body), and finally from there directly to the physical body. It is quite a chain of events, and the above delineates the flow of creation from the Universal to the individual.

You are absolutely right, when we inexplicably feel good, we don't associate those feelings with patterns of past thought. We might wonder if we unknowingly digested something wonderful or if someone slipped something into our drink, but usually we simply accept such blissful feelings as natural and unrelated to cause. We think, "I feel good today. Must be good vibes in the air." Actually, the 'good vibes' exist within our own subtle network.

When negative emotions come up—which are among the chief obstacles to sadhana or spiritual growth—they are immediately associated with all the samskaras and vasanas we have stored up that we think are the 'cause' of our unrest and discomfort.

Truly speaking, they are exactly the cause of our unrest and discomfort, but not in the way we ordinarily think, which is to 'blame' persons or circumstances. Blame is totally misguided energy and we will do well to be rid of that one, in all its forms and manifestations, as soon as possible. Breaking free from blame introduces more integrity and less perversity in our lives.

For this reason, and the practical point of all this, now that you got me started, is when unpleasant feelings arise, it is VERY IMPORTANT to not associate or attach those feelings to thoughts or memories, because once we’ve done this, we are entangled in their net until we finally manage to break free once again, usually only after some help.

If we can refrain from associating the unpleasant feeling with thoughts of any nature, and simply observe the feeling itself—watching it as a vibration along the nervous system—we immediately distance ourselves from it. Once we can simply observe it as a nervous vibration without any reaction to it, and without attaching any significance to it, we withdraw all power from it, and it becomes helpless and impotent right then and there. If we maintain our observation with great vigilance, the unpleasant pattern will never come up or bother us again.

In a sense, this can be understood as a microcosm of the process that leads to eventual freedom or liberation even while in this body.

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