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Lions Roar : September 2017
Although modern relationships are particularly challeng- ing, their very difficulty presents a special arena for personal and spiritual growth. To develop more conscious relationships requires becoming conversant with how three different dimen- sions of human existence play out within them: ego, person, and being. Every close relationship involves these three levels of inter- action that two partners cycle through—ego to ego, person to person, and being to being. While one moment two people may be connecting being-to-being in pure openness, the next moment their two egos may fall into deadly combat. When our partners treat us nicely, we open up—“Ah, you’re so great.” But when they say or do something threatening, it’s “How did I wind up with you?” Since it can be terribly confusing or devas- tating when the love of our life suddenly turns into our deadli- est enemy, it’s important to hold a larger vision that allows us to understand what is happening here. Refining Our Gold: Relationship as Alchemy When we fall in love, this usually ushers in a special period, one with its own distinctive glow and magic. Glimpsing another person’s beauty and feeling, our heart opening in response provides a taste of absolute love, a pure blend of openness and warmth. This being-to-being connection reveals the pure gold at the heart of our nature—qualities like beauty, delight, awe, deep passion, generosity, tenderness, and joy. Yet opening to another person also brings to the surface all kinds of conditioned patterns and obstacles that tend to shut this connection down: our deepest wounds, our grasping and desperation, our worst fears, our mistrust, and our rawest emotional trigger points. As a relationship develops, we often find that we don’t have full access to the gold of our nature, for it remains embedded in the ore of these conditioned patterns. And so we continually fall from grace. It’s important to recognize that all the emotional and psycho- logical wounds we carry with us from the past are relational in nature: they have to do with not feeling fully loved. This happened in our earliest relationships—with our caretakers—when our brain and body were totally soft and impressionable. As a result, the ego’s relational patterns largely developed as protection schemes to insu- late us from the vulnerable openness that love entails. In relationship the ego acts as a survival mechanism for getting needs met, while fending off the threat of being hurt, manipulated, controlled, rejected, or abandoned in the ways we were as a child. This is normal and totally understandable. Yet if this is the main tenor of a relationship, it keeps us locked in complex strategies of defensiveness and control that undermine the possibility of deeper connection. To gain greater access to the gold of our nature in relation- ship, a certain alchemy is required: the refining of our condi- tioned defensive patterns. The good news is that the alchemy generated between two people also furthers a larger alchemy within each of them. The opportunity here is to join and integrate the twin poles of human existence: the vast space of perfect, unconditional openness and our imperfect, limited human form, shaped by worldly causes and conditions. As the defensive/controlling ego cooks and melts down in the heat of love’s influence, a beau- tiful evolutionary development starts to emerge—the genuine person, who embodies open-hearted being right in the midst of the dense confines of worldly conditioning. The Birthplace of Awakening: Relationship as Charnel Ground To clarify the workings of this alchemy, a grittier metaphor is useful, one that comes from the tantric traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism: relationship as charnel ground. In some traditional Asian societies, the charnel ground was where people would bring dead bodies to be eaten by vul- tures and jackals. From the tantric yogi’s perspective, this is an ideal place to practice, because it is right at the crossroads of life. It is where birth and death, fear and fearlessness, and impermanence and awakening unfold right next to each other. Some things are dying and decaying, others are feeding and being fed, while still others are being born out of the decay. In the charnel ground, one cannot help but feel the rawness of human existence. The late Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche described the charnel ground as “that great graveyard, in which the complexities of samsara and nirvana lie buried.” Samsara is the conditioned mind that clouds our true nature, while nirvana is the direct seeing of this nature. As Trungpa Rinpoche describes this daunting crossroads in one of his early seminars: It’s a place to die and be born, equally, at the same time. It’s simply our raw and rugged nature, the ground where we constantly puke and fall down, constantly make a mess. We are constantly dying, we are constantly giving birth. We are eating in the charnel ground, sitting in it, sleeping on it, having nightmares on it... Yet it does not try to hide its truth about reality. There are corpses lying all over the place, loose arms, loose hands, loose internal organs, and flowing hairs all over the place, jackals and vultures are roaming about, each one devising its own scheme for getting the best piece of flesh. Many of us have a cartoon-like notion of relational bliss. We feel it should provide a steady state of security or solace that will save us from having to face the gritty, painful, difficult areas of life. We imagine that finding or marrying the right person RUBINMUSEUMOFARTF1997.40.9(HAR590) LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2017 62