As long as we are shrouded in the illusion of separation, relationships can be a source of pain and conflict. Therefore they also constitute a path that can return us to our wholeness and perfection.
For all of us there are just two entities: I and the Other. This inconvenient Other is the source of all our pain, anger, misery, jealousy, revenge and yes, fleeting moments of joy and ecstacy. It appears that the shadow of the Other, looming large over us, obscures our access to peace, happiness, success, love, self-esteem, self-actualisation and so on.
What do we do with the Other? Is it possible to live in a state of zero conflict with them? Is it possible to be free and yet available to them? Can we fully be there for the Other without impoverishing ourselves? At the same time, how do we come out of their hold and stand firm and strong in our own ground? This is the cipher of human existence. The reason why we take birth again and again. To learn the supreme lesson of what to do with the Other. It is not for nothing that Jean Paul Sartre, the well-known French philosopher succinctly said, “Hell is other people.”
Instead veiled in the illusion of separation we have worn for lifetimes after lifetimes, we love, we hate, we laugh, we cry, we attach, detach, fight, and make up, we kill, give birth, we nurture, we destroy, we give, we take, we teach, we learn, we part, we come together.
There is great beauty in this dance of duality, but let’s face it, it is essentially unsatisfactory. We are pulled between I and the Other, sometimes pandering to their ego, getting pulled into their magnetic force, often forsaking our own needs, dignity or self-respect. Or else, we pander to our ego by pulling the Other into our magnetic sphere, forcing them to do what we want them to do, and rendering them into abject slaves. All relationships have power struggles that are often fought silently but to the death. The slippery art of balancing this pull between I and the Other is one of the key lessons that relationships teach us.
The relationship school begins at birth when we are born into a family. The family is the crucible of socialisation, and depending on the kind of family we are born into and the kind of nurturing we receive, we develop our patterns of relating to others. If we have been lucky enough to have been invested with good self-esteem, our relationships with others are more likely to be harmonious and less needy. However, no matter how ideal a family we may belong to, or how much self-esteem we have, as long as we labour under the illusion of duality, relationships will still be a source of pain and conflict. Yes, they are also a source of happiness, joy, security and love. But if we want to get to a state of absolute happiness, then we must cross the hurdle of the Other.
It is in man-woman relationships that the conflicts inherent in duality become most pronounced. The couple duels between physical, emotional and psychological needs for the other, the need to control the other and at the same time, forge a life together. It is the field of the most intense drama, the greatest of suffering and the most ecstatic moments of oneness. When couples get it right, they almost if not quite, tear the veil apart, or at any rate, rent it in places. When they do not, and mostly today they do not, the conflict can be savage.
Perhaps the relationship between mother and child is the one that comes closest to oneness, especially in the initial years when the child knows no separation and the mother willingly focuses on the welfare of her young. Even in later years, parents are usually willing to put the interest of their children ahead of theirs, but unfortunately often stoop to controlling and manipulating them too.
Whether at work, at home, in public or in private, we remain all too often at odds with other people.
So where does it all stop? The sages quite rightly say that because the Other is ultimately an illusion, the only way to come out of it is to go within; into our own inner world of thoughts, feelings, reactions, fantasies, traumas and so on. It is here that the journey of dissolution begins.
As we go deep within, we become better acquainted with ourselves. We discover the defenses behind which we hide our sense of inadequacy. We discover the many masks we don when in company with others and perhaps even with our own. We also see our tender emotions, often hid for fear of being hurt – the part of us that longs to connect, the part that is hungry for love.
For all of us there are just two entities: I and the Other. This inconvenient Other is the source of all our pain, anger, misery, jealousy, revenge and yes, fl eeting moments of joy and ecstacy.
We discover the shadow side we often do not own – our need to control and manipulate, or the parts that are greedy or lazy or covetous. On and on goes the discovery. This is perhaps the hardest part of the spiritual enterprise – to see ourselves fully and objectively. But if we do our spiritual practice faithfully, and that should definitely involve some aspect of loving and accepting ourselves, we will find an increasing capacity to accept all that we see.
The more we can accept, the more space we have for ourselves and that is when we make the astonishing discovery. The Other never really affected us. It was our reactions, feelings and thoughts that they brought up in us that we could not accept. If I can accept the anger the Other brings up in me, do I have a problem with the Other? If I can accept the lust the Other arouses in me, will I want to possess the Other? If I can accept the resistance I feel when the Other wants to manipulate me, will I allow myself to be manipulated? If I accept the loneliness I feel, will I long for the Other? If I accept my inadequacies, will I want to prop up my ego by putting down the Other?
The more we learn to love and accept ourselves, the more the dents and scratches, the scabs and wounds, the hurts and traumas of separation begin to heal. We take back the power that we had falsely invested in the Other. Compassionately, we refuse to support them in their need for control, manipulation, possession or otherwise, for they too are inherently whole. Our emotional, psychological and physical needs fall away. Strength, power, and self-reliance rise. We feel protean, capable of coping with any challenge that life throws at us. We stand before life, whole and perfect, open to all that comes our way.
However, those who are ready to discover their own selves will take their cues from us. They will seek out our company and when we give ourselves permission to be who we are, we give them the permission too.
Free of needs, we freely give and freely take. Relationships become full and joyous, vibrant with love and care. As we become more essential we focus more and more on the welfare of the other and through it discover an endless source of happiness. Conflict drops because what the Other wants we want also.
And so we learn to live in total freedom and yet in total engagement with the Other.