Relationships are a doorway to Spiritual Growth
One of the highest ideals on the spiritual path is the feeling of universal love - a sense of kindness and compassion for ourselves and all beings.
A lot of us experience this expansive state usually after a practice on the mat. It could be through movement modalities, breath work, relaxation techniques, concentration exercises, or singing names of the divine.
We experience this feeling with spiritual practices because we learn to access our natural essence - which is a relaxed, loving, and creative state of being. This essence helps us feel grounded and flow with life, rather than resisting and fighting the transient experiences and emotions.
But, this peak of bliss is often short-lived and fades away when we consume more than we can digest. This is with relevance to not only the food we eat, but also the information we absorb through our senses, and the quality of interactions in our relationships.
Relationships in the Modern Times
Urban life has become so fast-paced and heavily laced with technology, that we have developed the wrong kind of sensitivity.
We have lost sensitivity towards feeling empathy, appreciating the nuances of life, and being grateful for blessings. We have instead become overly sensitive about criticism, insecure about self-image, and lost in propaganda and trends.
This alienation has occurred because we have lost touch with nature, the child within us, and empathy for other living beings. The repercussions of this has affected us at the global level, but most certainly individually too.
We are feeling an increasing sense of separation from other human beings and animals. Our definition of love is limited to family and friends. Romantic relationships have become a means of convenience, rather than connection.
I don’t intend to paint a gloomy image here, but highlight the reality of the situation which needs our attention. Yes, there is indeed a lot of beauty in parenting, holding space for loved ones, bonding with family, and celebrating with friends.
But, there is also an inherent need to approach these beyond the conditioned view of relationships and operate from a place of love, rather than fear or attachment.
In that lens, our spiritual practice is not limited to only the altar or yoga mat. It blends into our daily interactions, lifestyle choices, habits, and most importantly - quality of relationships.
Have you wondered how is it possible to suddenly shift from the Zen state after a practice, to becoming reactive when someone pushes your buttons?
Well, the nervous system is designed to protect us from danger and our threat in the modern day is not a tiger we need to run away from. It is a loud neighbour, nagging partner, competitive co-worker, or anxious child.
So, if we spend almost two-thirds of our day interacting with other people - it makes sense to approach relationships as a spiritual practice. After all, they are an opportunity to become aware of our limitations, heal wounds, and observe how our likes and dislikes strongly influence us.
I believe it is relatively easy to step on the yoga mat and practice. Yes, we deal with inner conflicts through practice and that helps us be aware at different levels.
But, the measure of progress does not lie in achieving a headstand or meditating for an hour. It is reflected in how we can maintain a sense of calm amidst adversity, how we choose to respond or let go during conflict, and how equanimous we remain during challenges.
After all, that is the real sadhana / spiritual practice for householders - finding harmony and balance in relationships and spiritual practice.
Four Pillars of a Relationship
So, let’s take a look at how we can use the four pillars of a relationship to find harmony in our interactions. Please note that these pillars are applicable to every relationship - romantic, genetic, and platonic.
1. Trust The foundation of any relationship is trust. Without trust, the relationship sustains only at the surface level.
If we don’t trust our partner, if we don’t believe in our children, if we don’t have an understanding with co-workers, if we don’t have faith in loved ones - there will always be conflict due to the insecurity and fear we project onto them.
A lot of business collaborations don’t work out because the stakeholders don’t believe in the vision. Marriages don’t sustain because the partners don’t trust each other. A child might not see a parent as a confidant if they don’t trust them.
Trust between two people, regardless of the bond shared, is an integral factor which helps cultivate a sense of depth in understanding and belief in the relationship. It also helps overcome doubt - which is a major obstacle for spiritual aspirants.
Cultivating faith in the other person by appreciating their strengths, believing in yourself, and trusting the process of how the relationship evolves - are important factors that lay the foundation for a healthy relationship.
2. Freedom of Expression
We live in a society which inhibits our authenticity and this leads to a lot of suppression. Almost everyone has a fear of being judged for who they are. Hence, we put on a mask and show our persona to the world. But, we also have a shadow which comprises these repressed emotions, memories, and trauma.
In a loving relationship, we must feel free to express ourselves at all levels - physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.
This involves radical acceptance of ourselves and the other person. It also means compassionate listening and holding space for others to express openly, without any unsolicited advice, and that can be very therapeutic.
Many relationships don’t move beyond the superficial aspect of familiarity and comfort. This leads to saturation, and doesn’t allow space for the individuals to evolve and the relationship to blossom into its potential.
When two people in a dynamic feel completely free to be who they are and express themselves without being judged - it creates a beautiful symphony of a shared understanding and purpose.
3. Mutual Evolution The nature of life is evolution and the constant theme is change. We are wired to keep growing. Even if someone seems to be stagnant in our limited perception, they are constantly undergoing a change at their own pace. What seems slow or incorrect to us is how nature intended them to be.
Every individual goes through their own journey of evolution. Two people in a relationship are also going through their own transformation personally. But, it is imperative for both people to evolve collectively too, as a team.
When the individual evolution is not complemented with mutual growth - there is conflict, discord, and misalignment. This is experienced mostly at the energetic and psychological level.
During any journey of awakening, when we are undergoing an internal change process, we unconsciously want others to change too. The intention might stem from a genuine place, but it is helpful to remember that we can only change ourselves.
Offering unsolicited advice, trying to fix the other person, wanting to heal someone - are often subtle forms of seeking control. The most effective way to help someone is by example and reference. When people around us feel our energy and witness our actions, they are naturally inspired and receptive to imbibe that aspect.
If two people evolve collectively in the most natural sense, without force, control, or manipulation - the evolution is sustainable as the desire comes from within.
Our generation is intellectual, tech-savvy, resourceful, but we lack patience and commitment. The sensory world of instant gratification has polluted our minds and we don’t hesitate before moving on to a new chapter.
This is prevalent with how people are switching to “better” options with job opportunities, romantic partners, certifications, and life paths. It is definitely beneficial to explore, experience things, and learn though the ups and downs.
But, we must strengthen our pattern of perseverance. Always seeking a better option can also be a means of escapism.
In a relationship, there will always be challenges and conflicts. Businesses will undergo loss, marriages will experience friction, parents and children might argue, friends might have misunderstandings.
But, unless it is very unhealthy or toxic, we must persevere with the help of the other pillars. This is important because the underlying fear and insecurity are the tendency of the mind, and manifest in other aspects of life too.
The strength to endure can be derived from our spiritual practice, but only when we persevere with one path and source, rather than jumping from one technique to another.
Experiencing Harmony in Relationships
The four pillars mentioned above always begin with ourselves. If we don’t trust and believe in ourselves, if we don’t accept and express ourselves, if we don’t strive to evolve, and if we don’t preserve the hardships of life and the spiritual path - it will be difficult to experience those aspects in our relationships too.
The relationship we have with ourselves is the ultimate defining factor of how we give, receive, respond, react - as the external connections are often a reflection of what's inside us.
Spiritual practices are designed for us to go inward and connect to a higher power. These bestow us with grounding, gratitude, and inner strength, which naturally influence the quality of our relationships.
Our relationships also influence our emotions and wellbeing, which energetically impact our spiritual practice.
The material dimension of life and the spiritual realm are intricately connected. As householders, our path may not be renunciation of material life. But, we must absolutely work towards renouncing the six enemies within our mind - lust, anger, greed, delusion, arrogance, and jealousy.
These are the destructive forces within us and find expression in our interactions and relationships. We must start by accepting that these emotions are there within all of us. The next step would be purifying the body, energy, senses and mind to experience inner harmony. The harmony will naturally lead to more peaceful and loving relationships.
Our relationships can be a source of bondage, or they can be beautiful bonds. When we approach them as a spiritual practice, they hold a mirror to our unconscious wounds, inner demons, and limitations - a wonderful opportunity for growth.
We begin to observe that everything is interconnected and every experience is a stepping stone for spiritual evolution. We see the child within other people, we recognise their suffering and pain, we see a glimpse of the divine within them.
This silences the mind and opens the heart, which helps us evolve into beautiful beings and reduces the divide between our material and spiritual dimensions. And, that is a lovely marriage of the human aspect and divinity within us.
"There should be a balance between material and spiritual progress, a balance achieved through the principles based on love and compassion.” - Dalia Lama