Relational Spirituality

Happy, Healthy, Whole, Holy Relationships, or: The Nondual Wisdom of I, I-and-Thou, and Authentic Peacemaking

© Copyright 2000/2006 by Timothy Conway

• The basic, crucial realization is twofold: 1) our real nature as Divine Spirit is always beyond relationship as the transcendent, formless One (this One has no second, no other, no object for relationship); and 2) in this dream-play cosmos that the Divine stages and hosts, the One-manifest-as-Many, Who I Am is always in relationship with a great multitude of beings. I Am the single Divine Host for a wondrous world of Divine Guests who are appearances of the I AM. As is clear through spiritual practices like Buddhist “mindfulness,” Hindu “witnessing,” Christian “watchfulness,” or just a natural sensitivity and receptivity toward energies and events in/around us, we are continually hosting various objects of attention, be they fellow human beings, animals, plants, tiny microbes and air molecules in each breath, the trillions of cells in our own physical body, rocks, rivers, mountains, oceans, distant stars. How, then, could we ever be “lonely” when, in this Divine play (Sanskrit: lîlâ) of multiplicity, we are perpetually dancing with countless other forms of life and energy? As the Formless Infinite Being playfully sporting as the multitude of finite, formed beings, I am, de facto, immersed in a beautiful, rich web of interrelationships.

Realizing these two basic facts, that we are always beyond all relationships, and yet simultaneously (paradoxically) always immersed in ongoing relationships, helps us to live from the freedom of Divine transcendence yet also function from a deeply compassionate engagement in nature and society. We are beyond all, yet within all, and so we can be fully free yet fully involved.

• We are the One Spirit and many souls. The One manifests as the many for delightful relationship. Yet the sense of “many” is, ultimately, a certain type of illusion. Every soul you meet is, at their depths, the one Divine Spirit who is not “out there,” but RIGHT HERE. The “other” you encounter is the single omnipresent God-Self pervading all creation. It is a case of God meeting God in the holy relationship of I and Thou, Lover and Beloved. Again, each one you meet is but God looking back at you (the real I or God). So it’s not a matter of “hey you!” but “Hi I!”

• In this light, relationship is wondrous adventure in Divine Self-discovery. The world and all its beings comprise a Divine game of “hide and seek” where God is awakening to God by exploring relationships. Life is a dream in which God is playing all roles, and apparently pretending to feel separation (from an “other”) and consequent fear, desire, loathing, jealousy, envy, loneliness, and so on. At a certain point, Spirit wakes up from each personality’s dream of feeling limited, henceforth to see all “others” as God. Then the Dream is obviously re-cognized as Divinely Dreamed, and all beings met are none other than the One Beloved, utterly Formless yet masquerading with unique, adorable forms.

• It’s useful here to recall that modern physics knows that the world comes from and is ultimately made of nothing—literally, “no thing.” All objects, including “other people,” are temporary illusions, all matter is but “energy in drag” as Richard Feynman stated. We can say that the world is a dream made of Divine Consciousness-Energy, arising in Consciousness-Energy. What seems so solid to our sense of touch is in fact made of molecules which are made of atoms which are constituted by, at the subatomic level, 99.9999% empty space and mysteriously shimmering fields of energy. The play of matter is the play of this Divine Consciousness-Energy, what in India's Sanskrit language is termed Cit-Shakti. There are no “things” in this Consciousness-Energy; there is just Consciousness-Energy!

When we truly realize that there is only this Divine Cit-Shakti as substratum at the bottom of all material manifestations, and no ultimately separate things or objects, then it is like the individual wave on the sea realizing it is nothing but water, one with the sea. No more fundamental sense of alienation can arise in the light of this truth. Thus one is free to perceive and feel everything as a play of Consciousness-Energy, i.e., the Divine Dreamer’s Dream. This is “lightening up,” authentic enlightenment, no more fear/lust/hatred toward “thee,” and no more pride/shame/doubt about “me.” Just Love--endless, boundless, changeless Love.

• This is why it behooves us never to get obsessed or too fascinated by any human relationship—since this is all a dream conjured up by the Divine Dreamer. While honoring the people in our lives, committing to a partner, forming close friendships, working with team-mates to help the world and society, we can always stay utterly free in our deepest Truth and see everyone and everything as a disguise for God. "Hama ûst," say the Sufis, "All is He." As the most ancient wisdom text, the Brihadâranyaka Upanishad, says: family and friends only seem near and dear because of the Divine Âtma-Self animating them. Without this Divine Presence, all are but inert, lifeless, dead.

• Standing free, clear, and full as our Infinite Reality of Spirit, our energy-field is spontaneously purified and empowered to be more flowing and harmonious, less hindered by self-contracted emotions (fear, greed, anger, pettiness, etc.). Within the field of Divine Grace, our relationships can flourish with empathetic ease, blissful blessing, and gracious giving. Nevertheless, as part of the Divine game of waking up from the dream of life to the fact that all beings are manifestations of God, the God-Self creates certain situations of apparent conflict, tension, difficulty, and charged emotion in our relationships. This not only “adds zest to the Divine play,” as India’s 19th-century God-man Sri Ramakrishna would say—such difficulties and conflicts also test or elicit our ability to manifest the Divine qualities of unconditional love and forgiveness, as well as empathy, courage, patience, inner strength, unconditional bliss and ego-transcendence. So any person with whom we are experiencing relationship problems is actually God “in disguise,” helping us (by challenging us) to remember Who We Really Are.

• In our relationships (or apparent lack thereof), we can discover any self-obsessions or fears that might prevent intimacy with and commitment to another person in love, truth, and integrity. Are we identifying with any “self-ish” position (“I am this,” “I am that” particular need, grudge, fear, or whatever)? --Or are we abiding free of selfishness as the Self-full I AM THAT AM, the Self of all selves? Being truly no-thing and no-body, we are spontaneously available to host and serve every-thing and every-body.

• As God-Self, we can affirm that this personality (“me”) be wisely guided in relationships—and shifted into wholesome relationships—fully awake to Divine Love. That is, our true Identity, the Divine Nature, can affirm that all our relationships be suffused with love, kindness, caring, compassion, generosity, and boundless, ego-free joy.

• On the psychic, personality level, with each person we can intuitively sense the quality of energy between us. This can be visualized as a connecting current or beam of light/energy between the “other” person and “oneself.” With the power of active imagination, the Divine tool of visualization-enactment, one sees this connecting current or beam of energy being cleansed, purified, healed, and empowered by our Divine Nature, God/Goddess. This is simply allowing the Divine Self to clear and empower all energy connections until, on the psychic level, there is harmonious, loving attunement to any “other” person... soul to soul, all one in Spirit.

• You can always view with compassion a person with whom you experience any “difficulty.” Remember who they truly ARE as the Self-same Spirit or Infinite Pure Awareness. You need not condone the finite personality’s behavior, just understand the likely dynamics involved in that person’s life-history which led to such behavior. Realize that people are “only doing the best they know how.” If, deep down, they knew how to act differently and more appropriately to feel fulfilled, they would!

• On the personality level, because we are all different mind-body organisms, it is a plain fact of life that we will, from time to time, experience conflict situations with one another. Conflicts happen whenever 1) there is a difference in our wants/goals; 2) there is a difference of opinion regarding what is “right” or “appropriate” or “fair” in a given situation; 3) there is a fear of losing scarce resources, including that perceived scarce resource of “who gets to be ‘right’” in situations.

• Given our human differences, naturally there will be divergences in our needs and feelings. So conflict itself is almost inevitable and is not a problem. The issue is how we resolve conflict: peacefully, intelligently, lovingly, or else selfishly with anger, fear, pettiness, aggression, passive-aggression, etc. Conflicts are a truly terrific opportunity for spiritual breakthrough into a more profound, rich awareness, a chance to realize the deepest levels of oneself and fellow human beings. Thus, conflicts become wonderful adventures in peace-making and finding God in one’s partner rather than painful struggles or traumatic nightmares. So let us appreciate conflicts as a natural part of earthly life; there’s no need to dread them as “horrible.” Many techniques exist for resolving conflicts peacefully.... However, the most important point to realize is that real peace happens by being Divine peace.

• Feel free to notice any initial signs of emerging conflict with a partner (one’s mate, child, parent, sibling, friend, co-worker, client, etc.): bodily tensions, exaggerated body language, stuck breathing, a tone of voice that is raised, whining, agitated; “heavy” silences; curtness, sarcasm, name-calling, and so on. Find out as precisely as you can what are your needs and feelings. Be careful to not minimize, deny, magnify, falsely imagine, or misplace conflict. Meet it straight on, with a welcoming attitude, a chance to demonstrate peace. Use various relaxation techniques to find a peaceful, stress-free state. You can transcend the claustrophobic sense of being “inside” the conflict by remembering that the world arises as a play of the Divine. You are vast Infinity, not a tiny ego. Again, as the sages say, “you are not in the world, the world is in You.”

• Understand that your partner in conflict is probably also experiencing discomfort. As persons, you’re both in this together. (On the absolute level of spiritual truth, paramârtha satya, you are the One Being playing as two apparently distinct, separate beings.) It helps to allow your partner’s personality a certain number of “bad days” each year, due to various factors. Don’t expect them to be rational or loving on such days. Know, too, that the occurrence of some bad arguments from time to time isn’t necessarily a sign that “the relationship isn’t working.” Some personality types may experience more friction than others; but this can be a source of energy for spiritual/psychological growth and mutual enrichment.

• Cultivate empathy, the ability to recognize what is going on with your partner, his/her needs, feelings, interests, perspectives and psycho-social conditioning. Empathy is being able to “walk a mile in his moccasins,” to “see things from her viewpoint.” Be aware that an issue may have different meanings to different persons because of how each person was raised and conditioned by parents, peers, culture, language, and religion. What strikes you as “right” or “funny,” etc. may not seem so to your partner, and vice-versa. It’s also important to realize that the meaning of your communication is not just what you intend, but what the other person gets. Be 100% responsible for having your partner get the meaning you intend. If s/he doesn’t understand, maybe you need to find a way to say it differently. Also: style your communication in a way that meets your partner’s needs and level of understanding.

• In light of all this, in addition to authentically being and fully feeling the Divine Presence, one of the most useful initial psychological steps in any conflict situation is finding out and genuinely acknowledging your partner’s needs and feelings without judgement, sarcasm, resistance or “diagnosing” (e.g., “You’re so paranoid,” “You’ve really got a mental problem,” etc.) The ideal is that your partner really feel heard, not ignored or shut out by any attacking or defensive stance on your part. Find out (maybe by just asking!) whatever unmet needs or unexpressed feelings your partner may have, and find out what your partner would have liked to experience in the situation—for example, “Are you sad because you would have liked me to [x,y,z]?” Be aware that your partner may be subject to underlying, subconscious needs unknown to them (e.g., an unconscious need to heal a deep shame caused by abusive parents; a need to always compete with others; a need for adrenaline-producing crisis; etc.). Empathy notices, without judging, any Freudian defense mechanisms your partner may be unconsciously using to feel secure, such as denial, projection, identification, rationalization, compensation, and reaction formation (you must, of course, also notice any of these defense mechanisms arising in your own psyche). Empathy also involves being able to determine which “types” of personality your partner manifests. For example, your partner may be 1) a thinking, feeling, sensing, or intuitive type, and introverted or extroverted (Carl Jung); 2) someone who registers, stores and accesses their information either by sight, hearing or kinesthesia (N.L.P.); 3) someone who is a spender/saver, scurrier/dawdler, lover/warrior, looker /leaper, parallel player/face-to-face player, or space-taker/space-maker (Susan Campbell); 4) a convergent or divergent thinker; 5) a “left brain” or “right brain” thinker; etc. (One could even bring in here astrological or Enneagram types, etc. There are many more-or-less useful typologies found around the world.)

Advanced empathy is based on the respectful inquiry: “I wonder what it is like to be you?—leading all the way up to the realization of the God-Self animating all of us, the all-embracing Divine Spirit that is our truly fundamental Reality. This deep empathy notices that we are all different personalities, with our talents, flaws, likes, dislikes, etc., but that on the transpersonal level, we share the self-same “I Am That Am” Divine Identity. This is the changeless Reality underlying all changing processes, the one vast, open, free Spirit behind all limited souls or personalities.

• With such an intuitive realization of this transpersonal, changeless, all-pervasive “I,” we can always feel a deep rapport and identification with all sentient beings, beyond any personality clashes we may occasionally experience together. (Whereas the waves may crash on the surface, here we are in the depths as the one, peaceful Ocean.)

• The essence of mature peace-making and enlightened relationships is moving beyond adversarial “me vs. you” struggle to mutual problem-solving via authentically win-win negotiation; or, if this does not seem attainable at this moment in time, via loving, generous compromise. Imagine this: how would your guardian angels solve this problem between your two human personalities?—and then try to enact that solution! To put this another way, the Higher Self is dynamically empowering the relationship to resolve all conflicts lovingly, without competition or aggression. So let go, let God.

The final realization: nothing is really happening, or has ever really happened. There’s an amazing cosmic dream or movie playing out, made of Light, projected by Light, witnessed by the Light of Pure Divine Awareness, which is right HERE, right NOW. Truly, you are and we are this One, Self-Shining, Utterly Effulgent Light-Awareness.

Peace and Love and Joy to all beings! Let us all lovingly dance the ecstatic dance of relationship. All praise to the One Divine Being!