The Challenge of Relationships

By John Prendergast

photo by Valerie Tirard

by John J. Prendergast, Ph.D.

Relationships tend to be the most challenging arena for spiritually-oriented people. We may be fine reading our spiritual books and being on retreat but what happens when we deal with a friend, partner, or family member with whom we are in conflict? Inner peace can fly out the window in the blink of an eye followed by days of inner turmoil. As a result, we may want to avoid the messy business of relationships and hole up in a monastery for awhile.

We can approach human relationships as a catalyst rather than an obstacle to spiritual growth. Relationships are where the rubber hits the road, where residues of the separate-inside-self, large or small, get exposed and worked through. It is the launching pad for the judging mind and the laboratory for examining and withdrawing these projections. It is where we practice telling and hearing the unarguable truth. It is where we test and temper the depths of our spiritual understanding.

When I recently co-led a workshop entitled “Meeting the Sacred in Relationship,” I asked the participants what took them away from this non-place of the Heart. Everyone had the same answer: judgments. Judging always creates separation.

Experiment: Observing the Effect of the Judging Others Think of someone whom you strongly judge. What is your judgment? Notice the feeling that it generates. Do you feel closer or more distant?

Our most frequent and charged judgments of others carry a hidden judgment of our self. We unconsciously project out what is unwelcome in our self and experience it being mirrored back by others. It is really quite amazing to see how our inner and outer arguments with others decline in direct proportion to our self acceptance. As long as we think that getting others to change will make us happy, we will continue to judge and blame them. When we discover that our happiness comes from self acceptance and self knowledge, we stop reflexively trying to manipulate others. No one else can make us happy or unhappy. They can certainly trigger us at times but this becomes an opportunity to examine our own reactions – our core limiting beliefs and the disturbing emotions that they induce.

This does not mean that we become passive but rather more conscious and self responsible. When we share our subjective truth, we are willing to be honest, vulnerable, and sometimes mistaken. Our willingness and capacity to deeply listen is the greatest gift we can offer to each other.

The more open, present and awake we are, the less objective our relationships become. So-called relationship becomes simple relating. The noun transforms into a verb – an apparent thing opens up into an alive process. If I no longer take myself as an object, I also cannot make you into one. Nor can I create what is happening between us into something. We may call it friendship but it is really a dynamic mystery, a lively, unfolding, open-ended process of listening, sharing, and discovery.

When we are no longer protecting our images and exchanging news reports over a wall, a completely new level of intimacy unfolds. Yes, I may be called your partner, friend, parent,  child, sister or brother, but if I know that I am none of these, I am available and open. If I deeply know that you are not here to fulfill me and cannot diminish me, then our meeting is a mutual sharing from fullness. Then we can truly meet in love just as we are.

excerpt from his latest book “In Touch


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