We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know theplace for the first time. – T.S. Eliot
Where do we most deeply meet each other?
I had never carefully considered this question until some years ago when one of my clients said something that sparked a revelation. She had felt very isolated her entire life and found it hard to trust anyone, myself included. One day, out of the blue, she said, “I have never met anyone outside of myself.” She was trying to describe how isolated she felt – how she could not contact others beyond her shame and fear-bound sense of self. I completely misunderstood her and took her to mean that all meetings happen within the unbounded Self. Talk about an empathic failure! When I shared my excitement about the depth of her insight, she corrected me and, after some initial confusion, we had a good laugh. Nonetheless, I had accidently gained a seminal insight into relationships.
Before this, I had always assumed that I met others somewhere outside of myself. It seemed that I had to extend myself to connect with someone else. It might be with a handshake, eye contact, or an exchange of words. I am here, you are there, and we meet somewhere in between as we reach out to one another testing the waters. Psychologists call this the intersubjective field.
We all know this experience and its many variations as we encounter family members, lovers, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers. Each relationship has varying degrees of closeness depending upon our mutual resonance, roles, attraction, familiarity, and trust. They also happen on different levels - physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Subtle and complex bonds form over time based upon these interactions. They can be nurturing, ambivalent, indifferent or destructive. Some are short-term and volatile, others are long-term and relatively stable. All of them change.
This is the very briefest of overviews of human relationships. We also form bonds with everything else - animals, environments, physical objects, and especially ideas. As earthlings, we are made of stardust and share the same oxygen with all of the creatures on this small, precious blue sphere. Manifest life is an infinitely complex web of relationship. As the wilderness sage and early ecologist John Muir observed, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
Experiment: Inquiry into Essential Meeting When have you felt the deepest contact and connection with another being? Where does this most intimate and essential meeting occur? What do you experience right now as you inquire? Take some time to reflect on these questions.
My accidental revelation crystalized the conscious understanding of something that I was already experiencing. As I sat with this insight about essential meeting, I realized that it always happens when I fully, effortlessly receive the other within myself. I saw that I never had to leave myself to connect with someone else. Yes, I needed to open, but I did not need to go anywhere. It is a subtle but important insight. We are so afraid to lose connection (and sometimes to make it) yet the deepest connection is always available when we are resting in our self. If we do not abandon our self, we cannot be abandoned. We are always, already connected.
While we can and do meet others in all the objective ways I described above, an essential meeting always happens in the heart. Yet what is this that we call the heart? When I initially investigate this “place,” it feels like a center of warmth inside my chest. Think of someone you love right now and notice what you feel. If we explore this feeling more thoroughly, however, we will not find a center or periphery. This apparent meeting place dissolves. There is only openness, intimacy, and unbounded love. We discover something beyond our limited self, something universal. It is here that we most truly meet.
In order to meet others in this most intimate of ways, we must first be at home within our self. Our relationship with others is rooted in our relationship with our self. If we are not intimate with our self, it is impossible to be so with others. Self intimacy comes from profound self acceptance.
If we take our self as either an inflated or deficient somebody, we are not at home and our contact with others will be partial. To the degree that we are trying to fill a hole in our self, we are not entirely at home. Nor are we home in our self if we are desperate to be seen or to remain hidden. If we are lost in the fear of abandonment, attack, or engulfment, we are far from home. If we are caught in an identity as a caretaker – one who cares for others as an unconscious strategy to be cared for – we are also not fully at home.
The more we take our self and others as objects, the further away from home we are. There seem to be endless ways to be homeless while we appear to be in a relationship! Yet, as Ramana Maharshi pointed out, we are always at home, we just don’t realize it. All of the kinds of inner homelessness that I just described are forms of self forgetfulness. As Byron Katie would say, “It is just innocent confusion.”
When I am at home in myself, I meet you in and as myself. This is a step beyond Martin Buber’s description of an I-Thou relationship. It is I-I. This does not mean that differences are ignored or erased. There is a clear recognition, respect, and even celebration of the distinctive views, feelings and needs of others; it is not psychological merging. It is the recognition that the apparent “I” here and the apparent “you” there share the same ground of being. As Being, you are an expression of myself. As Being, I am an expression of yourself. This is true communion. In the same way that we are connected with all biological life through our shared DNA, we are connected with all of Life through our shared being. We are like different trees that share the same ground. Are we the tree or the ground? Yes. We are unique and not separate – neither two nor one. These words are crude pointers to this direct, inner knowing.
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