Little else in life brings us as much happiness as our relationships with others. Unfortunately, an unhappy relationship can also cause some of life’s greatest pain. We, however, have a choice in how to react to events, and we alone have the power to make ourselves happy or sad.
Life is a school and we draw to ourselves the events, circumstances, and relationships we need to help us grow. Every problem presents us with two choices — do we expand or contract our consciousness? Do we become defensive, self-protective, and blame others, or do we use obstacles as opportunities to become stronger, to learn, and to expand? If we contract our hearts, we experience pain, not because others have made us unhappy, but because pain is the inevitable result of excessive self-focus. On the other hand, when we expand, we automatically experience happiness and fulfillment.
The promise of deep fulfillment
Meditation is a process of expanding our awareness. Through meditation, we discover deep within ourselves the soul qualities of peace, calmness, and love — and an underlying joy that doesn’t change under any circumstances. In fact, it is really our longing for these expanded states that we hope to fulfill through our relationships.
This expansion of consciousness is the essence of spiritual growth, and our relationships can be an excellent catalyst in that process. When we nurture these expanded states in ourselves and in others, profound changes can happen in our relationships. Instead of demanding, even subconsciously, that others fulfill our “needs,” we can rest in the inner fulfillment and contentment we experience in a meditative state.
Thus cooperation replaces competition, and the joy of mutual giving replaces the tension of reciprocating demands. A great sense of relaxation comes as we realize that relationships are given to us primarily to help us learn and grow, especially in our ability to accept and to love. Relationships lived in this manner hold the promise of deep fulfillment.
Friendship: the purest form of relationship
Friendship is the purest form of relationship. We choose friends for the sheer pleasure of spending time with them. Most other relationships have some sense of compulsion — the sex drive of lovers, or the predetermined roles of a family.
You will strengthen all of your relationships if you make friendship the foundation. We automatically want the best for our friends; we take delight in their strengths, and overlook their weaknesses. We can laugh together with a friend, and, at times, cry together, and we understand that our friendship is more important than getting our own way. In Indian music there is a “king” note to which the musician returns again and again throughout the raga. Make friendship the “king” note for all of your relationships.
Close and enduring relationships like marriage need to be grounded in a strong foundation of friendship. Usually the first sign of the breakdown of a marriage is that the partners are no longer friends. Even with friends, and very important for all long-lasting relationships is an attitude of respect. It doesn’t have to be formal, but there needs to be a sense of honoring the integrity and validity of the other person. Respect and love grow from the same root.
Elements that build strong, healthy relationships:
Communication: Learn to really listen to your partner and friends. The more you listen to the thoughts and feelings behind the words, the more you will begin to commune in your communication. Be attentive not just to the words, but also to the eyes, the expressions, the tone in the voice, and the unspoken thoughts of the other person. For partners, deep communication is strengthened if you can share times of silence together, and even more if you meditate together.
Love and appreciation: It is important to demonstrate your love and affection. Relationships are like plants, which flourish when given enough light and water, and wither when denied these essentials. Love and appreciation are like sunlight and water for a relationship. Men, especially, need to be more aware of verbalizing approval and affection. Connections grow stronger when people feel appreciated.
Try to bring out the best: Unrealistic expectations are poison for relationships. Remember, it is only you, not others, who can make you happy or sad. Problems arise when someone can see no further than their own needs and desires. That’s why meditation, and the expanded understanding it gives us, can be so helpful.
The fewer demands you make, the better. Always respect another person’s right to be himself, and to think and feel a certain way. There is a subtle law of magnetism between people. If you want a person to change, don’t criticize what is wrong. Instead try to create a “magnetic opening” by modeling the right behavior.
In fact, don’t try so much to change another as to bring out the best in him or her. Think first of how you can help strengthen a person and only then, of how you can improve a situation. True intimacy develops only in an atmosphere of trust. It is only when people feel secure that they are able to change.
Share uplifting experiences: Your bonds with others will be greatly strengthened if you share experiences that are uplifting and expansive — things like walking in nature, helping others in need, or attending events where the mind is uplifted. When we are inspired, our auras begin to merge with those of our loved ones.
We shouldn’t avoid dealing with problems in our relationships, but dealing with them only by confrontation will be counterproductive. Here are some important guidelines for approaching issues:
Don’t speak or act from negative emotions: Train yourself to calm down before you discuss a problem. Negative emotions, like some diseases, are contagious and they block communication. If you are emotionally agitated, take a few deep breaths and then consciously relax the area of the heart. This doesn’t mean that you can’t express your feelings, especially where truth is involved. But your communication will be much clearer if you calm yourself first. Clear expression, offered lovingly, can be very healing.
Emphasize points of agreement: Don’t use the words “always” and “never,” as in “You always do that,” or “You never do this.” This is one of the best ways to insure that a person will become defensive. Remember, other people tend to mirror back to you the emotions you project to them. It is best to start off a discussion by emphasizing points of agreement.
Look for true solutions: Don’t try to figure out a solution to a problem on your own and then present it to the other person as a fait accompli. One-sided declarations rarely solve anything. A true solution has to elicit the commitment of everyone. The essence of overcoming problems is very simple: Look for solutions in which each person treats the other as he or she would like to be treated. In the words of Jesus, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
As a first step, always ask yourself, “Why did I draw this problem? What should I learn from it? What do I need to change in myself?” If you’re not clear on these questions, you will keep repeating the same situation until you discover what life is trying to teach you. Once you’re clear about what the real issue is, then resolve to make whatever changes in yourself are needed. When you work on yourself first, you help open the space for others to make their changes.
Karmic patterns: Sometimes we face the same issues over and over again, often with different people. In the language of yoga, these are “karmic patterns.” Be thankful, not resentful, when these recurring patterns surface. Now, at last, you can begin to work on them. Our greatest enemies are those wrong attitudes that stay hidden and unrecognized in the shadows of our mind.
Once you’ve identified what needs changing, don’t dwell on the problem. Put your energy, instead, into working on the solution. Try to find the polar opposite of the problem and work on implementing that. If the problem is laziness, put out constructive energy. If it is selfishness, look for practical ways to give to others. And if it is continual conflict, find ways to create peace and love. Deep-seated karmic patterns are usually slow to change. Be patient with yourself and with others. Prayer is a great aid — ask God to help you.
A bonding practice
Relationships, like life, must have a center to which they return in order to gather strength. One of the most bonding practices for a couple is to meditate together. By returning daily to your own center, you will gather the strength you need to face all of life’s demands.
If you meditate with a partner or loved one, you might try this visualization in order to increase the love and harmony between you. Toward the end of your meditation, visualize a blue light at the point between the eyebrows. When you perceive the light clearly, let it expand, first filling the whole of your brain, and then gradually infusing every cell of your body.
As the light begins to expand beyond your body, see it surrounding and infusing your partner. Hold him or her in this light until it fills every cell, every emotion, and every thought. Let the light join your auras together. If there is any difficulty or tension between you, let the light dissolve it until there are no more shadows. This same technique can be done at a distance connecting you and others with a harmonizing energy.