Animals can teach us a lot about relationships. They just seem to handle them so naturally and gracefully, with a minimum of fuss. Not so for we humans. All of life involves relationships of various sorts and they are central to our human lives. They are the alchemical vessels we are cooked in, changed or transmuted in. They can provide the sauce or the zest for a while, or we can be scorched or burned by them. They can nurture us or poison us – depending on what is generated in the mix. How can we enter into ‘right relationship’ with another if we are not in right relationship with ourselves? What in fact does it mean to be ‘related’ or ‘relational’? If we cannot listen deeply to our own inner states, voices and desires and realize that we are not in that moment grounded in the Self, can we hope to ever really listen to another, to hear them, to have compassion and love for them?
Ultimately we all have to take responsibility for what we bring to the relationships we are in. Are we fragmented, angry, miserable? Do we blame others for our unhappiness, for our suffering? Do we hope magically that the Other will cure us, heal us of all our wounds? Do we blame them when they fail to do so? We bring all of our fragmented, wounded selves into our relationships and then expect the relationship to be the panacea, the magical potion that will cure all. Instead, once the honeymoon is over, we meet the other in all of his or her raw woundedness. Marion Woodman once said, ‘this is when you get to see if you can learn to love the other.’ Self-knowledge must be the keystone for all our relationships; otherwise we are stumbling down dark alleys, bumping into obstacle after obstacle, cursing others and our fate without realizing we are the only ones who can live our lives; we are the only ones who can do the inner work that needs to be done.
As the great teacher Krishnamurti pointed out in The Awakening of Intelligence, in order to understand relationship we need to understand the problem of love, and what love is not. He states:
“ When you find out for yourself what love is not, then you know what love is – not theoretically, not verbally – but when you realize actually what it is not, which is: not to have a mind that is competitive, ambitious, a mind that is striving, comparing, imitating; such a mind cannot possibly love.
So can you, living in this world, live completely without ambition, completely without ever comparing yourself with another? Because the moment you compare, then there is conflict, there is envy, there is the desire to achieve, to go beyond the other.
Can a mind and a heart that remembers the hurts, the insults, the things that have made it insensitive and dull – can such a mind and heart know what love is? Is love pleasure? And yet that is what we are pursuing, consciously or unconsciously. Our gods are the result of our pleasure. Our beliefs, our social structure, the morality of society – which is essentially immoral – is the result of our pursuit of pleasure. And when you say: ‘I love somebody’, is it love? That means: no separation, no domination, no self-centered activity. To find out what it is, one must deny all this – deny it in the sense of seeing the falseness of it. When you once see something as false – then you can never go back to it; when you see a dangerous snake, or a dangerous animal, you never play with it, you never come near it. Similarly, when you actually see that love is none of these things, feel it, observe it, chew it, live with it, are totally committed to it, then you will know what love is, what compassion is – which means passion for everyone.”
The answer to all relationships must be self-knowledge and self-awareness on an ongoing basis. If you cannot see and own what it is that you bring to the relationship, how your woundings and issues and expectations affect the Other, then what hope can there be in the long run? The relationship will devolve into blame and recrimination. However this is not to say that all relationships are lifetime relationships either. Some are and some aren’t. The discrimination is knowing the difference, when to stay and when to leave. Knowing when a relationship needs to change its form is also key. Sometimes more space, more air is needed, and sometimes more commitment; sometimes more heat or sometimes less heat. How we allow the fire of relationship to change us, almost in an alchemical way, is at the heart of this potential transformation.
photo: Peter Buchanan
One of my favourite Rumi poems, translated by Coleman Barks, addresses this process. You are the chickpea. The Cook is the great soul intelligence of your life:
Chickpea to Cook *
A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the pot where it’s being boiled.
“Why are you doing this to me?”
The cook knocks him down with the ladle.
“Don’t you try to jump out. You think I’m torturing you. I’m giving you flavor, so you can mix with spices and rice and be the lovely vitality of a human being.
Remember when you drank rain in the garden. That was for this.”
Grace first. Sexual pleasure, then a boiling new life begins, and the Friend has something good to eat.
Eventually the chickpea will say to the cook, ”Boil me some more. Hit me with the skimming spoon. I can’t do this by myself.
I’m like an elephant that dreams of gardens back in Hindustan and doesn’t pay attention to his driver. You’re my cook, my driver, my way into existence. I love your cooking.”
The cook says, ”I was once like you, fresh from the ground. Then I boiled in time, and boiled in the body, two fierce boilings.
My animal soul grew powerful. I controlled it with practices, and boiled some more, and boiled once beyond that, and became your teacher.”