What comes to mind when you think of other people? Rivals? Friends? Mentors? Strangers? Separate entities? Maybe you have noticed that people have described you as all these things. Since we’ve been opening up our descriptions of the mind and the human experience, let’s tackle some of our preconceptions about relationships next.
What separates us?
We are naturally inclined to notice differences – color, culture, customs, and language. We are preprogrammed to acknowledge what makes us unique and what sets us apart from others. However, there is a difference between a healthy appreciation for difference and an unhealthy fear of it.
Philosopher and educator, Heesoon Bai, describes the need for intersubjectivity within a society, where we neither deny difference, nor focus on it. We allow ourselves and others to exist as we are. This is the ideal, but we cannot expect other people to change when we do. All that is required is an openness to “other”.
We are only separated by space, but in a sense, space is also what connects us. Clear, open space, geographically, technologically, culturally, spiritually. It’s all vast, infinite space. When we open up to other people’s ways of being in that space, then we start to notice the fundamental sameness that we all share.
What connects us?
Genealogists, archeologists and psychologists are uncovering the traits we share as a human family. It’s no surprise that as we become globally connected through the internet, travel, commerce, and treaties, we are also asked to accept other people for who they are regardless of how different they seem.
We can take this down to a more individual level though. Think about the people in your life. What happens when you allow them to be exactly as they are, instead of trying to fix all their problems or meld them into your comfort zone?
Well, there is a great unleashing of energy isn’t there? All kinds of descriptions come up, all kinds of thoughts, emotions, sensations and memories. Everything comes up. Instead of feeling like we need to deep dive into people’s descriptions, we learn to loosen up. We learn to let people be.
Let it be. Such a simple, yet profound lesson in life, because we realize that we are connected to each other with all of our descriptions attached. Nothing about us needs to change, and nothing about other people needs to change.
The Hard Truth
How many times have you tried to change someone? How many times have you succeeded? It can be so frustrating, or even frightening to engage with a person on the polar opposite of our political, or religious spectrum. We may think that we have to avoid that person completely, or we need to pick away at them until they see things from our perspective. We may even try to change ourselves so that we can “fit-in” with their crowd.
All of these coping mechanisms lead to afflictive states because they aren’t based on that fundamental human connection. Instead, they are based on the belief that with enough effort we can make someone like us, or we can make ourselves like them.
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes, “Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them.”
When we stop seeing love as something we can get more of, or we can lack, then we start to notice that love is the fundamental energy of the universe. It doesn’t go anywhere. It can’t be lost or created. It is our basic nature.
The Simple Change
The way we engage with other people is all that we can control. We choose how to speak and how to act in every precious moment. Alan Watts once magnificently said, “You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were 5 minutes ago”. This frees us up to respond through wisdom rather than emotion, love rather than fear, solution-orientation rather than problem-orientation.
Even when you encounter someone you have a history of enmity towards, you are free from your patterns of behavior. You choose how to respond to them. This can feel like a lot of pressure, because we might want to be the “bigger person”, but actually it’s for your own peace of mind.
We commit our actions and our speech to the benefit of all because we know that this includes ourselves. We stop relating to people as if they were outside of ourselves and we start treating them like intelligent, autonomous entities within the great expanse we share.
We don’t have to yell and scream, or cry with despair. These things might happen, but we are learning to be responsible for our responses. We don’t have to scream, but we can still be wrathful when we need to be. We don’t have to be timid or afraid, but we can be peaceful when it’s called for.
We are totally free in each moment to relate to people from a foundation of pure, open intelligence. That means we don’t need the other person to change their behavior and we don’t need to overthink our own. We relate to one another with the knowledge that we are all in this together.
The Spiritual Practice of Relating
Reverend Raymont Anderson of the Greater Baltimore Centre for Spiritual Living, notes in a prayer that “Political institutions the world over have recognized the corrosive nature of separation and warmongering and have yielded to the divine impetus of love, togetherness, cooperation, collaboration, and communication.”
It is true, we cannot lie to ourselves and say that things are getting worse in the world. People all over the planet are breaking through old ways of relating. And it happens in the magic of everyday life.
No epiphany is required for any relationship to naturally harmonize. In fact, it’s better to gradually learn to let your emotions, thoughts, sensations, and memories flow on by, without projecting them onto others, and without reacting to the data of other people.
Remember that in your daily experience, that is where your power lies. You can pray for strength at any moment. You can meditate on love at any time. Even in the heat of an argument, you can step back and ask yourself, how can I bring benefit to this situation? Maybe the answer is lowering your voice, maybe it’s compromise, maybe it’s time to step away and reconvene once your heart rate is down.
Whatever you do, you do it from the clarity that is available to you always. You remind yourself of your great power and ability to conduct yourself with wisdom and love. Blame, shame, judgment, it all fades to grey. Commit yourself to opening up and seeing people, not as you want them to be, or as you think they are capable of being, but exactly as they are, pure, beneficial, spiritual beings.
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Bai, Heesoon. “Cultivating democratic citizenship: Towards intersubjectivity.” (2001).
Brown, Brene. “The gifts of imperfection: Letting go of who we think we should be and
embracing who we are.” Hazelden, Center City (2010).