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Lions Roar : September 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2011 36 can tell you who has been romantically involved with someone for more than, oh, three months, relationships are custom-made for battering illusions. Of course, relationships aren’t easy. Though we may be a genius at solving problems at work or with our friends, when problems arise in love, our elevated view- points evaporate and we resort to fancy, adult hissy fits. No one, it seems, is immune: not therapists, ministers, beauty queens, captains of industry, or our post-therapy selves. Forget about Smith & Wesson—relationships are the great equalizer. That said, we can work with rela- tionships by keeping in mind the “container principle.” The container principle is the idea that the environ- ment you establish or find yourself in can influence or even give rise to an outcome. For example, when you practice meditation in a shrine room, it feels different than when you practice alone at home or outside by the sea or on an airplane. When you eat your dinner standing up over the sink, it may actually taste different than when you are seated at a table with linens and lovely music. If you want to have a difficult conversation with someone, it feels one way to do it in person and another when done via email. These are all examples of containers. When it comes to relationships, something interesting happens when we expand our view of solving problems to include not just your behavior and my behavior and a deep understanding of our family-of-origin issues, but also the environment in which our relation- ship is taking place. I don’t mean our house or bank accounts. Nor do I mean if only you were neater or I listened more carefully, or we lived in a different town or spent more or less time together. I’m talking about the energetic structure we create to house our love. Following this advice is not about reducing our conflicts to whatever faults or actions or moments gave rise to them. It is about expanding beyond our list of complaints, and tak- ing refuge in a far more spacious view. We create the container in which love itself wants to live. There are six elements that go into creating this container. If you practice these steps (called the six paramitas, or transcendent perfections) with devotion, the container arises spontane- ously and, poof, you live in love, which is way better than trying to feel it. This is akin to own- ing the petri dish, not the mold, if you will. GENEROSITY We each have some pretty distinct ideas (whether we know it or not) about what relationships are supposed to look like. When we were growing up we may have imagined what love would feel like or what it would mean to be in love, and by the time we’re thirteen or so, we have a very fancy relationship movie script to go along with our ideas. It’s like we have a lens stuck in the middle of our forehead and everywhere we look, we project our film onto the environment. Whoever walks through our screen is cast in a role. The people I see when I walk to work are extras; my boss is a villain; the new person at work is a pos- sible lover. When we enter an actual relationship, our filmmaking goes into overdrive and at some point we cease to see the actual human we’re in a relationship with and see only how they do or don’t match our ideal. If we break up, we hope that central casting will quickly send a more suit- able person to cast in the role of lover. We all know what it feels like to treat others this way and to be treated like this—as a device rather than a person. It is very painful and, at the same time, very ordinary. You can tell when someone is looking right at you but not seeing you at all. They see their projection and, when you match it, there is harmony. When you diverge, there is discom- fort. We all do this to others, all day long. Boar’s Head