By Suma Varughese
None of us are free because we are all pulled and pushed by the relationships in our lives. they determine our moods, motives and actions. how then are we to be free of these factors and sail into relationships that are loving and beautiful, but not coercive? The philosopher, J. Krishnamurti, used to put a huge premium on relationships. To be, he used to say, is to be related. What he meant by this somewhat cryptic statement was that we are born into a web of relationships with everything that comes our way, including objects and events. Our relationship with the people in our lives and our own selves, are, of course, our primary relationships. There is certainly no doubt that our happiness revolves a great deal around our relationships. There is also no doubt that our relationships, as Krishnamurti used to say, are the clearest mirrors of our own states of mind, reflecting all our weakness and strengths, our generosity or lack of it, our sense of security or lack of it, our need to control or not, our sense of caring, loving, nurturing, etc. This being so, how can we ensure that our relationships are the source of joy and happiness in our lives and not of tension, grief and rage? All of us have been through contentious equations with people, perhaps with our parents, siblings, teachers, bosses or peers. We have bullied or been bullied, exploited and manipulated or vice versa, loved or been loved and so on. All of us have experienced the helplessness of depending on others for our happiness. This is never more so than when we fall in love. Suddenly, one person becomes crucial for our happiness. We long to be loved by her/him, long to please them, long to secure the relationship in some lasting way. Whatever they do affects us, so that we experience the whole panoply of feelings in love: joy, tenderness, giddy excitement, hurt, grief, anger and frustration. In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle talks about the irony of experiencing pain in a love relationship. How can it be love? he asks. How right he is. What we experience is not love but our own ego’s needs, desires and play of imagination. But insofar as love relationships force us to confront these issues, they are of tremendous importance and constitute a path in their own right. To an extent, these feelings are at play in all our relationships, helping us to see how little freedom and self-determination we really have. Where is freedom, when a word or look from someone can send us into paroxysms of joy or sorrow? Where is freedom when your neighbour’s new car sends you tail spinning into envy and the determination to upgrade your own vehicle? Where is freedom when your father’s disapproval invalidates any achievement, including winning the Nobel Prize? None of us are free because we are all pulled and pushed by the relationships in our lives. They determine our moods, motives and actions. How then are we to be free of these factors and sail into relationships that are loving and beautiful, but not coercive? How can we relate to people in freedom? How can we spin away from this cycle of attraction to some and resistance to others? How can we retain our balance in all situations? How can we be our own person all the time with everyone? These are questions all seekers address for without this ability we are only provisionally ourselves. The controls to our behaviour and ourselves lie outside us and not within. As we inquire deeply into this issue we will once again come to the same hoary conclusion. We can control our reactions, but not that of others. We have no control at all over what people are like, what they think, say or do. Your wife nags you; your subordinate sends the office into gales of laughter by mimicking you; the driver in the car ahead of you is painfully slow. That’s the way they are. What can you do? Oh, yes, you can rave and rant and scream and yell, until they carry you out feet first, a victim to stress and heart failure. Or you can work on yourself. One thing is to recognise that the other person has the perfect right to be who he or she is. Just as we have been given freedom of choice, so have they and therefore it’s up to us to accept them as they are, and not up to them to change themselves to suit you. The plain truth is that the world is not designed to please us; it’s up to us to change ourselves and our attitude to attune to the world. The minute we give people the right to be themselves, we drop all expectations of them. We can’t have any, because we have no control over them. So what do we do with our feelings, reactions and general emotional mess? We take responsibility for them. They are our problem. We have to take ownership of them and process them within ourselves instead of spraying them all over the world. When we truly do this, we go deep within ourselves into the very depth of our being. There we lovingly receive our feelings, wants, needs, desires, anger, grief, in fact any mental movement. Through loving attention and acceptance we gradually assimilate our reactions within us and free ourselves of them. When we become capable of doing this we freewheel out of the control of others and finally into our own. The beauty is that when we give others their freedom, we are actually taking back our own freedom. The attachments that tie us to the world are born out of an untidy tangle of blaming others for our reactions, being dependent on them, wanting them to behave the way we want them to, etc. When we finally free ourselves of all these and accept with clarity that our reactions, feelings, wants, fantasies and what have you are all our projections and others are not responsible for them, and simultaneously that their reactions, etc., are their business and we don’t have to take responsibility for it, we start separating ourselves from others. We begin to cut the Gordian knot that ties us to people. This is freedom. Enjoy it and savour it. It is very hard won. From now on, you will not be dependent on others; you will not be in their control. And therefore, you can reach out to them in friendliness and love.
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