“Relationship is the fast track to enlightenment.” -Trumpa Rinpoche

Linda: This spiritual teacher understood that relationships are a great vehicle for spiritual practice because they serve up so much challenge. There are a number of terms that refer to the sacred contract to move toward self-realization: sacred partnership, spiritual partnership, soul partnership, or sacred union. No matter what term is used, the process is the same. We each vow to use the relationship as a vehicle to promote our own and each other’s evolution towards wholeness. We vow to work together to support each other to become more conscious. How we relate to others is engaged spirituality; it is practical spirituality.

This process is not necessarily one of religion, which is characterized by rules outside of ourselves; we need not be loyal to an outer authority. It is a spiritual discipline and is about an inner felt sense; we are loyal to our inner authority. If the sacred contract of the idea of going to God is a turn off, substitute becoming that which is good, or as Abraham Maslow coined the phrase, to self-actualize, to become the best that we can be, to develop our full potential. To use our relationship as a spiritual practice has to do with the intention that we bring. It is the commitment to use our relationships as an arena with which we deepen our spiritual connection.

To create sacred union with our partner is to create a sacred union within us; an unconditional acceptance and honoring of all facets of our being, including those aspects that are so difficult for our hearts to fully embrace. Nowhere can we have such vivid awareness and immediate access to our otherwise well concealed parts as we can in the process of being in a committed relationship. In doing so, we open ourselves up to, in Zorba’s words, the “full catastrophe:” which is a prerequisite for full healing.

The journey is available to anyone who has experienced the perils and the grace inherent in this path. It is a call to awaken to recognize and accept the nature of the challenges and blessings of relationship as spiritual practice. And it a reminder of the power of our desire for whole-hearted connection with our beloved. Intimacy is not the final stage of this process, but rather an experience that allows us to glimpse the possibilities of living with such a relationship with other beings, with life itself even in our moment-to-moment experience.

Most of us start out with a dream of having a partnership that will transform our lives. We long for greater aliveness that will energize us to take effective action. We want greater depth and richness, greater peace, to be free of worry, to experience self acceptance and acceptance of others, more understanding and compassion, all the components that make up soulful living. The sweet, blissful feelings that arise when we merge with another are more intoxicating than the most powerful of mind-altering substances.

Many of us find this state so compelling that we become slaves to the longing for love. This desire is actually a displaced yearning for union with the divine, mistakenly personified in the form of another individual. Since our expectations that this experience will continue are inevitably disappointed, this leads to disillusionment and suffering.

Over the years, through all the many disappointments, many of us give up our dream. Over time, the dream may not be completely dead, but goes dormant. We allow it to go dormant because we can’t stand the pain of the unfilled longing. It takes a lot of courage to accept the truth of our heart’s desires, and to realize that although relationships cannot bring permanent bliss, they can provide us with a means to experience deep and lasting fulfillment.

We are so much more than our limited view of how we have thought ourselves to be. We are often caught in habituated patterns that define ourselves as smaller than we truly are, and as more limited than we truly are. It is in the context of committed partnership that we are challenged to look and to see what is true. Infinitely more is possible than we realize, but it will require some determination and work on our part.

The primary variable that determines whether people can experience the higher ranges of the possibilities of relationship is not who we are or what we have experienced in the past, but our willingness to engage in practices that develop character strengths. Anybody can do it; we are all eligible for an optimal relationship. Ordinary people can have extraordinary experiences by cultivating the warm heart of compassionate understanding and deepening empathy. It is not as important who we are partnered with, as it is that we commit ourselves to developing ourselves and as couple. In our closest relationships we have ample daily opportunities to practice understanding, compassion, patience, forgiveness, and gratitude.

We start where we are. If we have a passionate connection with our partner, we can contact the desire to live more fully and with a keener awareness. We can use the love that we feel as inspiration and motivation to become more conscious so that we don’t cause harm to self or others.

It’s no wonder that we have some confusion about what the process entails. The model of spiritual partnership is relativley new to the human experience. Throughout time, a marriage was for the purpose of helping man and woman survive physically, security, economic reasons, a regular sexual partner and for comfort when ill and aging. The old model was not set up even for intimacy between two equal parties. This old model of marriage is no longer functional in our culture. In the new model, of sacred partnership, the underlying premise is to assist each partner to appreciate the deeper reasons of their being together, the evolution of their souls.

This process is not for the faint-hearted, for we are continually brought face to face with elements in our psyche that resist growth and exposure, as well as the fears and attachments that underlie them. It is the fire of this work that makes it both compelling and challenging.

Ultimately treating this person as a manifestation of the divine, integrating it into our everyday life is one of the hardest things we will ever do. It is often easier to relate to the beings that are not so close to us with an awareness of the sacred that they embody. It may be easier to see the gas station attendant as Buddha than our spouse when they are withholding from us something we want. Until we attain the balance to be able to learn about ourselves, we resist in fear.

The practice is a demanding one, because we have devised defenses designed to protect us from the dangers and threats that wounded us in the past. Until we come to terms with the protective patterns, they run us. Our closest relationships will illuminate the patterns. Until we get to the underlying anxiety, we act out defensive patterns compulsively. We all have fears more or less, of being controlled, being abandoned, being abused, exploited, violated engulfed, and on and on.

If we are not willing to be in a position in which we are vulnerable to abandonment, rejection, judgment, embarrassment, we are not sufficeintly open. When we are not open, we are not available to experience a full exchange of love. For that which we most deeply desire, is that which we most deeply fear.

Our partner holds the key to heaven and hell. Within a sacred partnership, all that emerges is met with curiosity and wonder, investigating what the outer conflict and discord is revealing about our inner disharmony. The difficulty is held as a symptom. Out of that investigation, an inner unity and harmony can emerge, and consequently therefore, a harmony with other. In fact, it is those places where our edges rub most abrasively against each other that provide the greatest amount of growth. No one can tell us that going through the discomfort is worth it; we have to find out for ourselves.

 


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