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Lions Roar : September 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2011 37 and work with your own mind. You could say that all relationship difficulties begin with the unwill- ingness to face our own emotions. It is painful to me when I feel inadequate, unappreciated, invis- ible—and this pain is real. However, it is a mistake (i.e. not helpful) to assign responsibility for my feelings to my husband, no matter how much of a jerk I may perceive him to be in any given moment. Patience has more to do with becoming solely and always responsible for my emotional reactions. The sitting practice of meditation is the most direct method I know for adapting such a relation- ship to your own inner life. I’m pretty sure that without it I wouldn’t have been able to make space for the extraordinary holograms of emotion that come and go during even a single day as partners. EXERTION When I was getting married, I read a lot of books and articles about how to have a successful rela- tionship. I mean, look around. Not many people get it right. I got so into the topic I even wrote one such book myself, The Hard Questions: 100 Essen- tial Questions to Ask Before You Say “I Do.” (I like to prepare.) Almost all of the advice I got from books, friends, and family boiled down to a single dictum: Relationships take work. I have to say, this did not make me happy. Not that I have anything against work, but when I looked at my sweet boyfriend and imagined that all the effortless love, passion, and delight we took in each other was somehow, through marriage, going to become a kind of drudgery, I thought WTF? How does that happen? And how can I avoid it at all costs? The Buddhist view of exertion provides a few clues. Rather than implying drudgery, exertion is synonymous with joy. It’s not about working hard to make problems go away or trying your very best One definition of generosity in relationships is this: turn the projector off. Continuously set the intention and make the effort to separate the per- son you love from your projections about who they are and who you think they ought to be. Instead of holding them to your ideals, let down your guard. Open to them as they are. Release your agenda over and over. This is an incredibly generous thing to do. DISCIPLINE When many people hear the term discipline in the context of a relationship, they think that what is meant is a strict adherence to a system of thought that, if observed diligently, will resolve emotional conflicts. Some systems contain wonderful counsel, such as advocating that couples always seek to compro- mise, or make sure to spend enough time together (or apart), or that they observe the same rituals or religion. But while these suggestions can be useful, they don’t seem to have anything to do with love. When done with an agenda, even the agenda to create a better relationship, actions fail to connect with love’s transcendent properties. I propose an alternative view of discipline. Disci- pline in a relationship is to work with each individual situation that arises with integrity and openness, and also to take the largest view possible of the relation- ship itself, over and over. This view is rooted in trust in each other’s basic sanity, that over and above our inadequacies, we each possess a kind of brilliance. When you and your beloved trust in each oth- er’s goodness and basic sanity first and the truth of your flaws second, there is the possibility that the difficulties you experience will self-liberate. So when you find yourself becoming mired in a theory about why a difficulty has arisen, try this. Don’t abandon the theory. Look at it. Examine your views. Take them seriously. Then let them go. The discipline here is to come back to your beloved with open eyes and to see them as they are right now, without having an agenda to change them. PATIENCE Patience doesn’t just mean tolerance for your beloved’s frailties, nor does it mean maintaining hope in the face of repeating arguments over the exact same issues. It has more to do with tolerance for your own frailties first, a willingness to take on PHOTOBYMICHAELPIAZZA SUSAN PIVER’s books include the bestseller The Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Say “I Do” and The Wisdom of a Broken Heart: How to Turn the Pain of a Breakup Into Healing, Insight, and New Love. Piver is regularly featured in the media, including appearances on CNN, “Oprah,” and the “Today Show.” She is a meditation instructor in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage.