While listening through a back episode of the Satsang With Shambhavi podcast on appropriate relationships, a very important question was raised. To paraphrase, she asked why we love who we love. If the only answer we could come up with was about us and about how we feel, and not about the one we love, then we’re ultimately making that other person into an object that satisfies some need of ours and not actually appreciating them as an individual full of qualities that are loveable regardless of how we feel. (Again, I’m paraphrasing. You may enjoy hearing her explanation for yourself in an episode called Dharmic Relating and Appreciation.)
Although Shambhavi was speaking from within her own tradition and that context certainly needs to be respected, I found some applicable wisdom there that really made me review some things in my own relational dynamics. I know I hang on fiercely to my sacred relationships, and still experience fear and anxiety rising out of unresolved emotional baggage – baggage that the Powers really don’t deserve to have hauled onto Their doorsteps day after day. Even though the only thing I am actually capable of offering is myself, I do have a certain obligation to make sure that this offering is as good as I can make it. I can be humble in acknowledging the need for improvement while also being brave in its pursuit.
Sure, some days all I’m capable of is dropping some incense on the altar, offering respects, and saying, “Maa, this is all I am.” There are days when I’m too tired, too heartsick, too drawn out to even take refuge in the practice. All I can do is present myself as I am. All I can focus on is how I’m feeling, and I trust that even this is accepted.
All the same, I can’t even think of the number of times when I’ve resisted various shifts and moods in my primary spiritual relationship(s) just because I’m scared of how I’m going to feel as a result, or what’s going to happen to me. For all the times that I’ve bravely and happily leaned into change (or not so bravely and not so happily!) there have been at least as many times when I’ve begged the process to stop.
I can readily admit that no small part of this not-so-occasional resistance and reluctance is based in various traumas and abuses, as well as all kinds of psychological pitfalls that have developed over a lifetime of not-so-very-gentle treatment. And yes, I can also admit that one cannot force oneself out of these traumas and abuses and psychological pitfalls just by dint of wanting to, or just because one decides that one’s adopted piety is going to be stronger than deep-seated anxieties. You can’t strongarm yourself into suddenly becoming a whole and healthy human being, but you can certainly bully yourself into repressing your shit for another few years and mistaking that for healing.
Even after having gone through a lot of personal growth and relational improvement with our supportive and beloved Powers, we’re going to find a lot of blind spots. I still find myself focused a lot on how I feel within one relationship in particular instead of focusing on what about Them is so loveable and how I can celebrate that. I still find myself focused on clinging to the facets of the relationship that I feel reasonably secure about getting a positive message from – that message being basically, “you’re loved! you’re safe! you’re accepted!” See, even after all this time, there are Powers in my life that I fear will leave – and once again this has nothing to do with Them and everything to do with ME and about how I feel. Because even though I trust Them, I fundamentally feel that I am unworthy of love. Even though They have never left me behind, I fundamentally believe that I will always be abandoned. And so I keep hauling this baggage into my relational dynamics. I’m scared to move past this stage even as I ask for deepening knowledge and experience.
Of course, none of this is to say that we need to stay in abusive relationships with Powers or people. Recognizing abusive dynamics is extremely important, and people who have experienced abuse all too often explain away their emotional experiences by finding ways to justify the abusive party’s actions. However, it’s important to recognize that the subtle objectification that occurs when we allow ourselves to utilize another person or Power as a way to fulfill an emotional need, we are opening the door for an abusive dynamic to potentially occur. Even if explicit abuse does not occur, a relationship will still certainly fail if the parties in a relationship characterized by this kind of emotional objectification don’t correct the problem. To use a crude metaphor, emotional objectification is a bit like using a masturbatory aid for one’s emotional gratification; the other person is there to help you feel full of gooey, loving emotions – and it’s quite obviously problematic if there isn’t a lot of sharing-alike of those gooey, loving feelings in return.
Also, none of this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t feel good in the relationships and contexts that we are in. It is entirely natural to desire positive emotional feedback from the practice traditions we’ve chosen to adopt and the Powers we are in relationship with. What’s problematic is desiring this positive emotional feedback without examining why we want it, or how we go about getting it, or what we do as a result of not getting it. Examining our thoughts about the relationships we’re in and why we tend to drift away from things when the gooey feelings run out is important. Are we really only in a tradition for the next rush of brain chemicals? Are we really only pursuing a sacred relationship in order to feel that rush of love? Feeling those rushes aren’t intrinsically bad or negative. We have to determine for ourselves how ethical we are being – to ourselves and others! – as we go about pursing those rushes. We have to determine for ourselves if there are simpler, more straightforward, less costly ways of achieving the desired emotional end.
I *don’t* want abusive dynamics in any of my relationships. I *do* want to explicitly recognize and celebrate the features in my relational partners that are so very worthy of appreciation. I *don’t* want to just focus on how I feel in these relationships. I *do* want to think about how I can make my sacred Beloved happy. I *do* want to go beyond the fears and anxieties I’ve drug around with me my whole damn life. It’s hard, though. I suppose it’s absolutely some of the hardest work any of us can ever do.