By Ajay Kalra
A spiritual partnership is a relationship between equals for the purpose of spiritual growth. Through the process of facing and resolving the issues that emerge through this dynamic interplay, the partners move from the other to their own self.
After 12 years the former Siddhartha returned to visit his wife, Yashodhara. Among the many things she asked him, was this: 'Tell me, whatsoever you have attained, could you not have attained it here living with me?' It is said that the Buddha remained silent.
Could Siddhartha have pursued truth with Yashodhara as his spiritual companion? Do relationships lead us to further bondage? Or are they important milestones on our journey to self-discovery?
To live is to relate. To persons, ideas or things. While the things and ideas we acquire are intrinsic to our self-concept, it is our relationships with people that truly reflect our spiritual progress. If the purpose of any spiritual quest is to discover our true selves, it becomes imperative to begin our journey towards self-awareness by seeing ourselves reflected in the mirror of relationships.
Love is not About Need
It began one day in childhood when something made me experience a certain rapturous feeling in my body. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. The feeling triggered my imagination almost of its own accord. The more I imagined, the more I felt. And the more I felt, the more I imagined. Although I did not realize it then, I had stumbled upon something that would influence most of my adolescent years. The capacity of a mental image to create a feeling. The power of fantasy!
'As a child, mountains, clouds and rivers would give me the feeling of loving oneness with the universe. When I saw these in Hindi films later, they would evoke the same feelings, but in a romantic set-up. So I got the perception from Bollywood that the only place I could get that kind of love was in a relationship. Therefore, I began to eagerly await my soulmate, who I thought would make me complete,' says TV personality Ruby K. Bhatia.
I remember my first romance in college. I spent hours decorating her birthday card and finding the perfect gift for her with my meager pocket money. Nothing can match the high of a new romance! Her attention made me feel special and wanted.
Says Ruby, 'Coming from a conservative background, I was not allowed to have a boyfriend. I was 20 when I came to Mumbai and met Nitin. We were working together. I had so much need for love and affection. Even though I was aware that we were different I couldn't help it. He was such a romantic person; there was an intensity about him.'
My first romance lasted my entire college life. It was a period marked by extremely poor self-awareness and a total identification with my thoughts and feelings. The reason it lasted so long was due to my fear of confronting beyond a point and because I didn't really know what I wanted, except what my impulses told me. In spite of such poor awareness, the relationship continued as it met both our needs. It never occurred to me that it was dysfunctional in many ways. In his book, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes with penetrating insight into the nature of romantic love, '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 the same for him or her. The feeling can be so intense that the rest of the world fades into insignificance. However, there is a neediness and clinging quality to this intensity. You become addicted to the other person. 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 jealousy, possessiveness, attempts at manipulation through emotional blackmail, blaming and accusing. If the other person does leave you, this can give rise to the most intense hostility or the most profound grief and despair. Where is the 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?'
In the intensity of romantic love we project images of each other that have no reality except what our desires want them to be. Thus, a lazy individual may seem happy-go-lucky and a controlling person may seem independent and decisive. We relate to these images until they begin to crack. When the other person behaves in ways that fail to meet our ego needs, feelings of pain, fear and lack begin to surface.
At this point of time we have a choice. The choice to raise our consciousness and move to the next level in the relationship or get stuck in a dysfunctional pattern of relating. Sadly, most relationships don't move beyond this stage and we continue to make the same mistakes with different partners or in the same relationship. Says Tolle, 'The same relationship will oscillate between the polarities of love and hate, and it gives you as much pleasure as it gives you pain. It is not uncommon for couples to be addicted to these cycles. The drama makes them feel alive. It is only when the negative cycles increase in frequency and intensity that the relationship collapses, or may simply continue for the sake of the children, security or the fear of being alone.'
Fortunately, some like Ruby learn fast, 'We got married to each other at a stage when one didn't really know what one wanted in life. We were both looking for happiness and we thought this relationship could give it to us. We had the most intensely romantic relationship one could ask for. Nitin replaced God for me. He seemed to know and fulfill all my needs instinctively. I became completely dependent on him emotionally. The limitations of romantic love then began to surface. We sought to overcome these limitations through excessive sense indulgence: expensive vacations, non-stop partying and extreme materialism. Nothing I did could fill the growing emptiness within me. Saddened and disillusioned, we both went into depression. It was then that I realized that the happiness we were looking for could not be found in any human relationship. It's like looking for sugar in a bottle of salt! Eventually we parted.'
When we realize that love is not about fulfilling our physical, psychological and emotional needs through the other person, we are ready for a spiritual partnership. We may continue to have our needs, but with this insight we see relationships as sacred partnerships to become aware of these needs and support us in our journey towards wholeness.
Commitment to Siritual Growth
The first prerequisite to a spiritual partnership is a commitment to spiritual growth. A spiritual partnership is a partnership between equals for the purpose of spiritual growth.
Devdas Menon, a professor at IIT, and an ardent seeker at age 25, was initially opposed to marriage. He says, 'Even though I earned my livelihood as structural engineer, I spent most of my time in meditation and study. There was some pressure on me to get married, but I warded off all marriage proposals, because I firmly believed that it would not be compatible with my spiritual quest. I lived like this for many years, a brahmachari until the age of 33, when I had a change of heart. I realized that something was incomplete or missing in my life and perhaps there is something valuable to be discovered in an intimate relationship with the opposite sex. It was an arranged marriage; but the astrologer went so far as to suggest that this was a continuation of a relationship through several births as husband and wife. Perhaps it is.'
For Devdas, choosing the 'right' partner was irrelevant. 'For a committed seeker, these are not problems, and it really does not matter who the partner is. All that matters is who you are, and how ready you are to walk the path and to accept what nature brings for you. You discover the joy and challenge in a choiceless existence. However, for a normal person, who thinks he or she has a choice, perhaps these are very important questions to ask...'
Having entered into spiritual partnership, the first step in self-awareness lies in discovering true intimacy. The word intimacy comes from the Latin word intimum, which means interior or the innermost core. It's only when we peel off all our superficial layers and share our innermost core, without our protective social facades, that we discover true intimacy. This makes us vulnerable, but true love is about making yourself vulnerable, absolutely vulnerable, just like a newborn child. This is the only way you can penetrate your deepest core, which is the prime objective of a spiritual partnership. This requires confronting our deepest fears and insecurities and sharing what we are most frightened or ashamed to share.
Sushma Sharma has been married for 30 years and has worked in the area of behavioral sciences and organizational development. Says she, 'I really believe in pushing the boundaries in a relationship. That's where confrontation comes in. The intimacy in a relationship comes only when we move out of our comfort zone. This may be painful or painless, but it's the only way we can discover something new about the relationship or ourselves. However, this needs to be done with care and concern, since it is about building bridges, not burning them. Hence, I have coined the term 'care-frontation' instead of confrontation. If you don't 'care-front' you start settling for less and start shrinking in the relationship. Compromise or suppression of emotions for the fear of facing our insecurities or jeopardizing the relationship, does not work in the long run.' She adds from her own experience with Raji: 'This sort of relating was not easy to begin with. It took time to create and build an environment for this sort of sharing. It is still difficult each time we do it. But I do believe if things don't become worse they won't become better. We repeatedly have to destroy something that is comfortable to create something new. A repair job never helps!'
While verbal communication is essential for confronting our deepest fears, true communion can happen only through silence. In silence we can connect to each other at a depth that's beyond the surface personality made of words and images. Eckhart Tolle mentions, 'Most human interactions are confined to the exchange of words - the realm of thought. It is essential to bring some stillness, particularly into your close relationships.'
My most favored mode of communication is through spontaneous, loving touch. Expressing pure love and affection through uninhibited hugs, kisses, caresses and sweet nothings can heal emotional wounds and make up for the unconditional love we may have not received as children. It also brings about an element of loving playfulness in the relationship, which may help us to recover our lost innocence.
Devdas and Roshni seem to strike this playful note in their relationship. 'We have devised our own ways of communication. We both love surprises. Roshni especially loves it when I slip into her room and hug her suddenly from behind. She surprises me frequently with gifts and food preparations, little notes. But, most of all, I guess, we are mentally tuned in to each other, and can quickly anticipate each other's moods. We know how to change the mood, by talking, by touching, by caressing. We have even invented all kinds of interesting nicknames, not only for each other, but for practically everything we own, including the car, the bicycles, even the sofa,' says Devdas.
The Illusion of Security
How long does a spiritual partnership last? Does a spiritual partnership guarantee security?
'An awakened man is seldom disillusioned, because he has no illusions,' says Lin Yutang in his book, The Importance of Living. The biggest illusion we live with (and for) is security. We look for certainty and comfort at all levels of our being - physical, emotional and psychological. Ironically, one of life's paradoxes is that absolute security lies only in embracing absolute insecurity. The more we accept insecurity, the more secure we truly become.
In the context of a relationship, in our need for security, we inhibit ourselves (or our partners) from venturing forth to find our own truths. Our fears may restrict us or the other from taking up a new venture, relating differently to each other or to other persons outside the primary relationship. Says Osho in his book, Intimacy, 'No relationship can be secure. It is not in the nature of relationships to be secure; that's a requirement of the mind, which cannot live in a state of uncertainty. If you make a relationship completely secure, you cannot enjoy it - it loses all charm and attraction. If we want a relationship that is alive, we have to accept uncertainty, because anything that is alive has to be unpredictable. And because it is unpredictable this moment becomes intense.'
Insecurity may stem from a lack of self-esteem, emotional dependence or a simple fear of losing the relationship. Says Sushma, 'If I relate I have to be honest and authentic. I cannot relate at a superficial level, so all my relationships are intimate and intense. This not only makes me less dependent on one person to meet all my needs, but also enriches the primary relationship. However, if this makes my partner feel insecure about what I feel for him then that's an issue that needs to be addressed. For instance, if I spontaneously hug a friend when Raji is not there and avoid doing so when he is around, knowing that it would affect him, to me it is something unnatural. This means that I have started to hide or behave unnaturally in order to avoid hurting my partner. This to me is not sensitivity, but a compromise. I don't believe Raji will grow if I curb my spontaneity; because in my shrinking cannot lie my partner's liberation.'
A very reasonable expectation in most relationships is loyalty. What is loyalty? Says Osho 'If love is asked, then it becomes loyalty. If love is given without being asked, it is your free gift to the other. Then it raises your consciousness. The difference is very small but of tremendous importance: when asked or ordered, love and trust become false. When they arise on their own, they have immense intrinsic value. They do not make you a slave; they make you richer human beings. I teach to the new human being in whom loyalty has no place but who has instead an intelligence, an inquiry, a capacity to say no. To me, unless you are capable of saying no, your yes is meaningless.'
In a spiritual partnership loyalty arises out of each partner's commitment to his or her own integrity. It is not imposed but intrinsic, stemming from mutual respect and regard. Issues regarding boundaries in other relationships are dynamically addressed and resolved. Says Gary Zukov in his book, Soul Stories, 'Promiscuity prevents spiritual partnership. People who are promiscuous use each other like replaceable automobile parts. Spiritual partners don't do this. They are involved in each other's life and are unique to each other.' He adds, 'Spiritual partners do not exchange each other lightly. Changing spiritual partners is like changing scenery in the middle of a play. The play goes on. If you are in the tenth grade and change schools because you don't like your classmates, you will still be in the tenth grade no matter what other school you choose.
'That brings us to the next question: Are spiritual partnerships forever? Gary Zukov writes about a spiritual partnership that dissolved because of the woman's persistent anger against the man: 'Scott and Marilyn's marriage was a spiritual partnership, but it ended anyway. Why did that happen? It happened because they stopped growing together. Marilyn wasn't changing and Scott was. Scott wanted to be with Marilyn, but he wanted more to be true to himself. They did not decide to end their spiritual partnership because things got tough. All spiritual partners get into tough times. Some of those times are intense. They separated because one of them refused to grow and the other moved forward anyway. Refusing to grow is different from having a difficult time growing. It is an intention not to grow. Sometimes people know this, sometimes they don't, and irrespective of what they say the result is always the same - no change.'
When insecurity is confronted and dealt with, a spiritual partnership flowers out into its own unique form. Bharat and Shalan Savur, authors of the book, Fitness for Life, and teachers of the same program, share a few insights from their own married experience: 'We avoid role-playing as husband and wife. We delegate work according to our inclinations and strengths. She cooks because she is more interested in cooking than I am,' says Bharat. Adds Shalan, 'We respect and value what's important to the other. In our case it's easier since we are both writers.'
Relationships, just like everything else in the world, are ephemeral. Even the most caring and supportive relationship cannot withstand the decree of fate. Janaki Thakkar, a beautiful grandmother of three, reminisces about her marriage to the late Budhddidhan Thakkar (Dadaji), 'Dadaji was very keen that I educate myself further. He engaged a lady to teach me English and encouraged me to join college. In spite of his extremely busy business schedule he took a keen interest in my studies. He would ask me questions, write notes for me and read my books to update himself about the new curriculum. He also encouraged me to help in the family business, in spite of the conservative attitude of the elders in the family. So I began handling business accounts from home and excelled in that too. I am grateful to Dadaji for teaching me English and sending me to college. It not only gave me immense knowledge, but tremendous confidence too.' About their relationship, she adds, 'When we were very young, we decided we would accept each other's plus and minus points, whatever they may be. We would try to improve by telling each other about them, but we never quarreled. After a certain age, you tend to become friends, and he would talk to me about everything, from crime novels, jokes or whatever happened during the day. In fact, from the day of the marriage till the time he passed away, he made it a point to always call me twice a day from wherever he was.' She takes a brief moment before recounting, 'He was not keeping well. The doctors advised him to take a cardiogram test. Unfortunately, the cardiologist couldn't come for the appointment due to some reason. In the meantime, Dadaji had a massive heart attack and passed away. It happened suddenly; just ten minutes before, he was joking, laughing and holding my hand.' Tears well up and her voice trails off. After composing herself, Janaki adds, 'For one year, I didn't do anything. I just sat in my room and wrote many poems on Dadaji and our relationship. I am more social now and fortunately everyone at home is very nice and takes good care of me. Of course, I still feel lonely without him, especially in the evenings�'
Sooner or later we come across situations in life where existence invites us into a relationship with ourselves. A relationship where there is no other, only you. Aloneness is that state where we can meet our true self. The invitation is always there, ever since the time we come alone into the world and till the time we depart alone. However, our attention in the intervening period is taken up in fulfilling our dreams, such as earning an enviable degree, becoming successful and finding the ideal life partner.
After parting from an intimate friendship, I encountered my own aloneness. I spent most of one morning experiencing the fearful knot that jealousy created in the pit of my stomach. The initial reaction was to continue sleeping, but I had given in to the seductive pull of the unconscious once too often in the past and now it was time to experience these feelings with as much consciousness as I could muster.
Then came feelings of intense loneliness and a longing to return to the emotional comfort of the friendship. At times, these feelings were so overwhelming that they almost seemed unbearable. There were traces of anger too. I had experienced this cocktail of emotions earlier too, when two previous relationships ended on an unexpected note. On both the previous occasions, it seemed reasonable to affix the basis of my anger and pain on the other person, without taking responsibility or fully experiencing the true source of my feelings. This time I did not wish to use any exit route in order to escape facing my own insecurities.
I realized it was necessary to embrace and befriend my aloneness, not escape it by finding a comforting arm for consolation. I stopped making a conscious effort to interact with friends and in the process may have lost a few of them. In solitude came a few insights. My misery was on account of my identification with the image of myself that the friendship created, and even though I loved my friend, I loved this image far more. It was me! It made me feel attractive and wanted. When I realised that I was not the sole and most important person for the other, it hurt this image, even though I knew fully well that this expectation itself was unreasonable. And because I was emotionally identified with this image, it hurt me.
Further, I realized in the entire drama of my life there is only one hero. Me! All my waking time is spent in my preoccupation with myself. Whether it is through my actions, speech or thoughts; all my endeavors are to make me feel nice, important and special. I became aware of how much I depended on phone calls, sms messages and e-mails to feel wanted by others. Even when I was alone I was preoccupied with thoughts of myself.
Then came another insight! Both my pleasure and misery was on account of these thoughts. If there was no thought, there was no misery or pleasure. So there was a level in which I could exist without my thoughts. As a silent conscious being. This was the space in which all my thoughts and feelings passed like seasons of the year. This space was available to me only when I was present totally in the now. In fact in that state there was no 'I', just pure consciousness. My 'I' was a mind-made image produced by my thoughts, and as long as I was caught in thoughts (which was all the time) I functioned from and for this illusionary image.
With this insight I have now begun to make friends with my aloneness. It's a shaky start and like most friendships it will take a while before we are both truly comfortable with each other. I do feel that only a person who can revel in his aloneness is capable of love. Says Osho, 'Love is not a need, it is a luxury. It comes out of aloneness. When you are tremendously alone and joyful, a great energy goes on storing in you. You don't need anybody. In that moment the energy is so much, you would like it to be shared. Then you give; you give because you have so much. You give without asking anything in return - that is love. So very few people attain to love, and those are the people who attain first to aloneness.'
Paramahansa Yogananda says, 'Don't mix with others too closely. Our human wish for loving understanding from others is, in reality, the soul's desire for unity with God. The more we seek that desire outwardly the less likely are we to find the divine companion. Don't spend your leisure time with others for merely social purposes. God's love is hard to find in company. Don't lead the aimless life so many people follow. Seek solitude as much as possible. Seclusion is the price of greatness and God realization. Enjoy solitude. Be alone within.'
The key to spiritual growth is not in wanting or avoiding marriage or pursuing the phantom of an ideal partner, but in one's earnest desire to seek the truth. The following words of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj in the book, I Am That, are insightful in resolving this dilemma. 'For seeking reality all you need is a well-ordered, quiet life and immense earnestness. At every moment whatever comes to you unasked, comes from God and will surely help you, if you make the fullest use of it. It is only what you strive for, out of your own imagination and desire, that gives you trouble.'
Freedom From the Other
When a person has attained to aloneness, with or without a spiritual partnership, he is truly free of the other. A deep peace and bliss from an ever-lasting source permeates his being. 'He continues to function in the world, although realizing that nothing he ever did could possibly add to anything that he already has,' adds Eckhart.
What then happens to the spiritual partnership? Does a person who has awakened to her true identity choose to remain in a spiritual partnership? Or does she choose to transcend all human relations? The answer is neither. She has no choice. There is no 'her' to speak of. A choiceless awareness expresses itself though the human form. She effortlessly flows with the natural rhythm of existence, taking on whatever role nature assigns her. It may be the role of a wife, a mother or a spiritual teacher. Says Eckhart, 'If the other partner is ready, he will walk through the door that she has opened or they will naturally separate like oil and water. An ego-image can only survive in the presence of another reflecting ego-image. It needs drama, attention, arguments, conflicts, to sustain itself.'
An awakened individual's love affair encompasses the whole of existence. Says Nisargadatta Maharaj, 'Love is not selective, desire is selective. In love there are no strangers. When the center of selfishness is no longer there, all desire for pleasure and fear of pain cease; one is no longer interested in being happy; beyond happiness there is pure intensity, inexhaustible energy, the ecstasy of giving from a perennial source. All dependence on another is futile, for what others can give, others will take away. Only what is your own at the start will remain with you in the end.'
And the only thing that exists without a start or an end is this singular universal space. The essence of which is summed up in this quote. 'I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides. I honor the place in you of love, of light, of truth, of peace. I honor the place within you, where, if you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us.'
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