This article is an excerpt from the Introduction to my book,
The Tao of Spiritual Partnership
Spiritual partnership - more exciting than any other kind of relationship you have ever known - is a path, a Tao, offered to us to evolve and grow. It is my deep wish that as you read this and apply its principles to your life, you will find momentum and encouragement to pave your way to a different kind of partnership. In so doing, it is also my deep wish that you will find that connection to yourself that will allow you to live in the greatest inner peace, harmony and well-being you have ever known.
Spiritual partnership is a path offered to us to make this possible. Spiritual partnership acts as background music in your daily life allowing you - should you so choose - to enhance your process of evolution and growth. Loving another individual - a life partner, a parent, a child, a friend - brings this possibility into our lives, initially through pain and frustration because, as you will come to recognize as you read, how we are led to understand love and relationship in our society has little to do with true spiritual partnership where love lies in an entirely different dimension.
What does love offer us? I need to warn you: I am making a great distinction between falling in love and loving. The difference is not generally understood. Often people either believe that they are the same or that the latter – loving – is less exciting than being in love, or else that it is something you feel for your parents or children or good friends or pets.
In the former case you fall in love with that which fills your needs. You love someone because you receive something you need from them. Not necessarily something material, as much as an inner need they are fulfilling for you because you have not yet learned how to fulfill it for yourself. You may not even be aware of the fact that that is something you should be doing. And as long as that is so, you will depend on the other person remaining the way they are just at the moment you fall in love, in order to feel good. Your well-being will depend, to a large degree, on that factor, which means, of course, that you will never be independent.
The topic of dependence and independence particularly in love relationships, but also in others, is hugely important. Think of the fact that due to your need of the other, and hence your desire to continue feeling as good as you feel when you are with that person and he/she behaves with you the way they do that makes you feel so good, you may do some of the following in order to maintain that particular status quo:
You may ultimately lose a portion of yourself by doing some of the above or similar things because in some ways that are not healthy, you will have become fused with the other person, and this lost portion of yourself will only then come back into your consciousness when you either recognize what has happened, or perhaps when the relationship breaks up. Losing this part of yourself to please another or to have a relationship without problems, or because you want to continue feeling the way you did at the beginning, is a very large price to pay.
However, in the other case – the case where your love is independent of need - you love someone but you do not need them because you have taken care of yourself (or begun the process of taking care of yourself) with a healthy dose of self-love. You simply love without expectation. Rather a tall order. Much of beauty has been written about this latter kind of love.
In this case, because you do not need, because you love without expectation, you will never be dependent, and you will always be free. And this doesn't mean, by the way, that you accept anything just because you have no expectations. On the contrary, because you are free of boundary issues, self-esteem issues, and neediness issues, you find it very easy to speak up in healthy ways about anything that you find unacceptable.
So if loving is so good, and the way I am making it sound, falling in love is something of a far inferior quality, then is there a good thing about falling in love? Yes! In fact, there is a very wonderful thing about falling in love.
It's this: it takes you - if you let it - down the road towards the other kind of love. The falling in love kind of love, takes you to a place of learning and growth because of the deep frustration and pain it generally brings along with it - at least after a while.
So falling in love often leads to frustration and pain and that leads you to growth. And growth, in turn, leads you - eventually - not only to inner freedom, but particularly, to the recognition that as long as you need another, as long as you depend on another to fulfill your needs, you will never love in the true sense of the word. You begin to recognize that fulfilling your own needs is part of true adult self-responsibility, self-love and maturity, as is – even more importantly – taking on the responsibility for your own well-being, as opposed to leaving it in the hands of your partner.
Why do we believe we love because we need? Is there anything mature and adult about that kind of sentiment? Where else can it lead us other than to - eventual - frustration and pain? And don’t forget: if the other person is also on the same page and loves you because of how you fill their needs, then they will go through a similar process. And sooner or later you are going to let them down – as they do you – because it is very difficult to be responsible for another’s well-being by fulfilling their needs, the needs that they should be fulfilling themselves.
So to fall in love and go through this process is excellent. Because the place we come out at the other end of the tunnel is indeed worth its weight in gold. To love without needing is the priceless gift we can receive from having fallen in love and having chosen to use the challenges it evokes to further our growth, rather than to take the simple way out and blame the other for now no longer fulfilling our needs, or no longer making us happy. To love without needing is the priceless gift we can receive from having fallen in love.
The great mythologist Joseph Campbell said that people think that relationships are about happiness. But they're not. They're about transformation. “It’s through the relationship that the development of each is taking place.”
Gary Zukav suggests that the new pattern be partnership between equals for the purpose of spiritual growth. What this really means is that you start realizing that what is important to the well-being of your relationship is exactly the same as what is needed for your own spiritual growth. Each partner holds the pieces that the other is missing. If you are angry, suspicious, or jealous, for example, then these feelings bring up something in your partner that needs to be healed, and it is precisely that which is being mirrored in you. So you begin to see the importance of your partner’s interaction with you for your development (and vice versa).
Spiritual means that the common denominator of the relationship becomes the idea that both partners are in the relationship to grow (and love, and trust, and enjoy, etc., but with a continuous eye towards growth).
Eckhart Tolle puts it in slightly different terms. He says that when a relationship is not working, what was not conscious in each of the partners is being brought out into the light. He essentially means that by knowing (being consciously aware of) what is when things are difficult, the relationship becomes your “spiritual” practice, and through your knowing, you begin to react differently (i.e., consciously), and therein lies growth.
Can you do this in one day? Of course not. First you have to be willing to even look at a relationship as something more than to be happy. Then you would need to have a conversation with your partner to see what they feel about some of the ideas expressed herein. Then you can get to work. You might start by reading some books, attending workshops, seeing a therapist, learning how to become aware, and learning that you always have choices. Being in a relationship is the second quickest way to grow. Being in a committed relationship is the quickest way.
If you are in a marriage that is floundering, you might want to consider the ideas pointed out here. Don’t forget that your inner life is continually in flux, including the way you think about relationships. People don’t mature once, and then remain that way the rest of their lives. Likewise, they do not get married or get into a committed relationship and then maintain it exactly the way it was the day of the wedding or the commitment. Therefore, there is no reason why you can’t evolve your ideas of partnership and look in new directions within the parameters of your current relationship along with your partner.
Imagine getting a new set of stronger contact lenses or glasses. Imagine how they help you see the world more sharply, more clearly. So too, can you get another perspective on the real purpose of your marriage by considering this information. The deep intrinsic satisfaction and happiness that come from psychological, emotional, and spiritual growth have few parallels.
Having a spiritual partnership, being equipped to have a spiritual partnership, implies being healthy on all those levels that go far beyond the merely physical and practical. And normally in our dysfunctional world of socialization that leads us down stray paths, in order to be healthy so that we are able to have a spiritual partnership, we must first understand how to walk that road to health. Without such a framework we find ourselves like those who go to a gym for the first time, in a maze of gleaming machines, that we don't know how to use, and that we often wind up using incorrectly, and hence do not give our bodies the full benefit of their intended purpose.
The intended purpose of the self is not to suffer, but to grow and to experience joy, and it is most particularly through our human relationships, and especially through our love relationships that we are able to evolve.
But - just as in the analogy about the machines at the gym - if we don't know how to go about our relationships, if our framework is erected on erroneous concepts or beliefs and particularly on lack of awareness, then not only will we not grow in the way I've indicated, but we will have little chance at ever experiencing the magnificence of true spiritual partnership.