I have long believed that relationship of any kind is a sacred path, a spiritual practice. In relationships, we see what is truest about ourselves. It’s sometimes really uncomfortable until we begin to recognize that the Ugly is really just the Wounded, and the Wounded needs really only one thing to be healed: Love. Love that contains the limitless energy of compassion, which, when cultivated and practiced, can be one of the most transformative practices we ever take on.
In relationship, as in spiritual practice, we have to lean into the unknown. We move about in our faith, sometimes blindly. We become bewildered, wonder if we’re abandoned, or heard. We feel utterly alone, but return, again and again, on knees in the temple of the Beloved, to seek understanding, and peace. But relationship, like spiritual practice, can also teach us a fundamental truth required for maturity — both spiritually and emotionally: We are not the center of the Universe. We are part of the whole, and collaboration cannot happen until we recognize — and accept — that fact.
Commonly, we take other people personally. Their wounding can rub off on us, because in intimate relationships (friendships, work relationships, and those within a family or between parent and child can also be incredibly intimate), we intersect with another person’s wounding. Our narratives impact other people, and we can forget that these are, in fact, just narratives. Stories. And when we take other people personally — their actions or inactions, their feelings or reactions — we pile their narratives on top of ours, which sometimes (and often) include stories about who we appear to be. Automatically (which actually means “occurring independently of volition”), we easily pit “you” against “me.” The Beloved becomes the Other, and it’s Me versus Him/Her. Therein develops a belief: He/she is hurting me.
And this is absolutely the case. Because the part of us that gets hurt is the part we identify with, the “me.” We believe, “I’m hurt.” But, my dears, your very Center is not “Me”-based at all. It contains no “I.” It’s the shell around you; your story about yourself, what you deserve or don’t deserve, how he or she should serve you or validate you or act in ways that support your story of yourself.
The “Self” we are most often identified with will always, always feel lost when it meets something (or someone) that challenges it. And we hold onto for dear life. It’s incredibly painful to feel our self-identifications slipping away. We become crazed with “self”-preservation; but ironically, “self”-preservation is one of the surest ways to bombard the possibility of true intimacy, because it creates impenetrable barricades. “Self”-preservation was useful for our ancestors, who knew that you had to run from the tiger or be dinner. But today, living consciously as humans infused with the wisdom of Spirit and awareness, “self”-preservation is little more than a toxic blockage to our True Nature, and therefore, the ability to share it with another person, be truly witnessed — and therefore, freer than we ever are when we’re locked in the cage of “Me” and “You.”
I’ve come to recognize that, in relationship, we can afford to lose ourselves. Because what we lose isn’t actually who we are. Who we are cannot be lost. True Center cannot be found or reached or spiritualized; it can only emerge, where it can be witnessed, touched and experienced. The pain of relationship comes from the struggle of unconsciously playing tug-of-war with the people we’re in relationships with. Both are fighting for the survival of “Self,” without realizing that, in Tug-of-War, there is only one winner. The Other — the Beloved — loses. And if we wished to exist as islands, this would be fine. But we are not islands. And the Beloved is not a tiger. What we are really running from is ourselves — projected onto the other person as the attacker.
To this I say: let yourself be demolished. Lean in to the discomfort. Let every terrifying thing you fear be true, and truer still, until it breaks you. Because I promise: it will break you open. With the shell of “self” shattered into unrecognizable pieces, Light emerges. True Center, which never changes, and is unalterable. As this Center emerges, it becomes your guide, and it enables you to relinquish the control you never really had. And the truest, best thing about the breaking open is this: you recognize that what is really, truly You is also them; the Other, the Beloved. And in this, there is only freedom.