He Ain’t Heavy…

A man is a male human.
— Wikipedia

It’s 1975 and I am standing on the playground with my first love, a lithe, long-haired blonde 13- year-old who loves to ride his Sting-Ray bike and can beat most of the men in town in tennis. We look up from our conversation to see a pack of seven eighth-grade boys heading toward us with a look of intent on their faces. It has the distinct feel of a lynch mob. I am stunned, mystified and frozen. What do they want with us? When I glance over to my sweetie, I see that within a matter of seconds of taking in the situation, he has fled. The group marches past me, then breaks into a run, in hot pursuit of my friend.

Later I learned it was his turn for the wedgie ritual that was delivered to every seventh-grade boy. Never having experienced such a threat myself, I realized bodily for the first time as I watched those boys approach that the differences in growing up male versus female were probably more than the games we played and the body parts we had.

Since those early years, I have been on an adventure of deepening my understanding of myself as a human being and a woman, leading me through many twists and turns of how I have regarded and related to the men in my life. Much has changed since I stood on that playground, many things have been learned and unlearned, and new questions arise as I see things anew. And so, I offer a little of my story to you as a way to explore what I ’ve gleaned along the way.

For the most part until high school, the realm of boys was only visible to me now and then, and I didn’t ponder it too deeply, busy in my girl world — the world of boys seemed foreign and more their business than mine. Boys were suddenly interesting around puberty — I sailed through my teens and 20s having various perplexing relationships with young men that provided me little insight into the inner life of male humans. The perplexing parts were how moody some of them got, how unresponsive they could be sometimes verbally or emotionally, and how they didn’t seem to want to talk at length about much except their passionate interests in music, cars, guns and various other conceptual topics. I hooked up and broke up with them usually because of some change in life circumstances like going off to college or because they started to become insecure, jealous and weird with me and I had no skill to offer understanding or to help us move through it.

Perhaps I picked the moody ones, despite the fact that my grandmother once cautioned me, “Don’t marry a moody man.” Apparently my grandfather was quite the grumpy, hard-to-please guy. In fact, the clearest memory I have of him is his gravelly Italian-accented voice yelling her name from the other room: “Marie!” Once, when I lay in bed with her during a visit and asked her in my 13-year-old curiosity and brazenness, “What was the biggest mistake of your life, Grama?” she quickly shut me down with a tight-lipped “Never mind.” I assumed, since she had already advised me about the moody-man thing, that it had been marrying my grandfather. My own father carried on the tradition, often withdrawing to his room with the door shut when he returned from work — certainly having his share of dark moods.

For whatever reason, the men that I chose invariably turned into people with moods about which they either could not or did not want to talk. Again, I had little insight and generally took these moods to be evidence that either they were less than wonderful humans or they thought I was. I felt wounded by their surly voices or shortness with me. I felt unloved, unappreciated and unseen. My basic approach to my guys during this period of time was to try to minimize the surliness by figuring out what they wanted from me and being/doing it, occasionally have a big tearful outburst about it, long to be somewhere else, and eventually act on it.

In the middle of a moody-man relationship, I realized that rather than focus on him or how I needed to change him or myself, I needed to deepen the inner work I was doing. I started focusing on the internalized oppression I carried as a woman. I was part of and eventually led groups of women who were working intensively on reclaiming what it means to be whole: shedding limitations of who I thought I could be, how I could express myself in the world, how I could deepen the intimacy in friendships with women, and dissolve where my well-being felt to be a function of a man ’s moods. While this opened up new horizons, flexibility and expressiveness for me on my own and in relationship, it also seemed that my reaching for and expressing this wholeness through new activities, open conversations or explorations only served to increase the surliness in my relationship. What was a girl to do?

In the midst of this confusion I began to connect with men involved in the men’s movement. This enabled me to start understanding the other side of the story, the side I couldn’t experience and my boyfriend wasn’t talking about. I learned — through reading, talking with and counseling men, and listening in at men’s conferences — about the mistreatment of men. I met and became close to a man who was very active in the men ’s movement and discovered that my “moody men” were simply men who were hurting! What a revelation: to see that the men I had been with weren’t deliberately depriving me of relationship, acting irritated when they could choose to be kind, and that I wasn’t an insufficient woman incapable of reaching them. They simply carried hurts and confusions that expressed themselves in these ways that looked oppressive from within my woman lens.

I absorbed as much as I could learn about the challenges of men, while simultaneously seeing how what the men were carrying dovetailed with my own internalized oppression as a woman. I realized I was trained to think they were supposed to save me and make my life blissful, or else I should conclude that either I wasn’t enough or they weren’t. I realized I was trained to look to them for security, safety, love and connection. Meanwhile, they were trained to hide any signs of insecurity or fear and somehow produce this security and safety and bliss for me. If they didn’t, they should conclude that either they weren’t enough or I wasn’t. And I was supposed to squeeze enough love, connection and safety from these same guys who had been urged to divorce themselves from their sensitive, feeling natures and were often hurt for showing and acting on love and connection as boys.

I learned that what a man experiences as a struggle — what he carries as a difficulty that is a result of the regular mistreatment boys and men receive, a difficulty that he can ’t talk about — I would often see as simply more evidence of, at best, the incomprehensibility of men and, at worst, the man ’s “badness.” What’s wrong with my guy that he can’t be thoughtful and tender and communicative and fun loving, and make our lives blissful? Formerly I had believed that he could help it if he cared, that he could be nice and kind and warm and emotionally sharing if he cared. I assumed that it was his male privilege that kept him from it: he could, but he won ’t because he doesn’t have to. I didn’t realize just how monumental a step it is for some men to admit they aren’t on top of something, ask for and accept help, or explore feelings long locked away in the context of relationship.

When I started to see boys and men as good people who simply had struggles just like I did, it changed everything. Where once my paradigm was that a boy who hit a girl over the head with a toy was a bad boy who needed discipline, it turned into seeing the child as a good boy who, through some frustration or pain with which he could use help, was harming another. In both cases, the hitting must stop and a boundary set, but within the first paradigm the boy is shamed and left alone with his struggle, and in the other, the boy is given love, listening and a chance to explore and move through what drives his actions.

I also learned that an obstacle to a man sharing intimate details about his struggles in his life, or especially struggles with me, was the tendency that I had as a woman to look to men to be my source of validation and good feeling about myself. In fact, I could be downright voracious in this department. My sensitivity to how I was viewed by men I was close to could and did translate into an inability to hear where they struggled in relation to me — their attempts to point at a struggle just sounded like criticism of me. Having invited a man out to talk about how he felt, I sometimes would get reactive, criticize him for criticizing me, and end up demanding that he pay attention now to how I felt in response to the feeling he was beginning to explore. I learned that to a man, this can feel like anything from annoyance to downright betrayal and attack. And I learned not to ask a man how he was doing or what he felt about something (including how I looked) unless I was ready to really listen and create unreactive space for that.

Eventually a men’s-movement man and I became partners, and we worked and worked and worked together on our internalized mistreatment, listening to each other, healing, moving through all kinds of hurtful experiences. I now saw surliness or shortness as a sign of my friend hurting, and I learned to make space for that hurt to be expressed. He yelled and screamed and cried about painful experiences as a boy and his frustration at being seen as a bad man by women while I listened. I cried and raged at feeling powerless or insufficient as a woman and celebrated my wonderful self while he listened.

The more we made room inside of our reactivity for each other by moving through our pain, the farther the reaches of freedom of expression we would enjoy together. We would give each other “sessions” at the drop of a hat whenever something emotional had grabbed one of us. We talked and talked about how women and men are set up to hurt each other by misunderstanding each other ’s attempts to reach for each other, and about our dovetailed conditioning and how it worked. We presented what we discovered to others through writing, speaking and leading groups. The growth I experienced in this relationship, the shifting of paradigms, the understanding of the male experience and the understanding of my own conditioning were deep, impactful and life changing. Suddenly my relationships with my brothers, my father, my male friends and any man with whom I came in contact transformed. I began to perceive an angry man as a hurting man instead of an asshole to be frightened of or condemning toward. I began to see men as my brothers rather than as adversaries or my oppressors.

After so much good work my friend and I separated, when I wanted a child and he did not. A year later I became involved with another man, who wanted a child and who also had been involved in men ’s work. I had visions of us taking our master’s degrees in counseling and our work concerning gender and conquering the world together. This was the first man who did not have the surly quality of the other men I had been with, and we seemed to be able at first to talk through anything.

However, in the midst of this relationship I went into a dark night of the soul that rendered everything I had been, done and lived for irrelevant. The community within which I had explored, processed and moved through so much had dissolved. Who I was as a helpful person, as a knowing person, as an on-top-of-it person, as a loving woman was eclipsed by something big that was moving in and taking me down into the underworld.

As I struggled to solve the riddle that plagued me every day in the form of a deep sense of meaninglessness and angst, everything else faded into the background as unimportant. Where once I had felt clever and great at exploring and surfing the waves that came my way, I felt completely knocked down and beaten by this one. No matter what I tried or where I turned, I came up with nothing. And while the person I had considered myself to be was being taken apart piece by piece, this man had no problem having feelings in relation to me: he was sad, he was pissed, and he communicated that to me.

In the meantime, I was becoming extremely sensitive to and disinterested in processing emotion. What had been the ground of my relationships suddenly became moot. I didn’t care about anyone else’s story or my own. Raw emotion was fine, but mixing it with conversational analyses felt like poison to my sensitized being.

When I emerged four years later from the ass-kicking for which I had no explanation, the relationship was over and I looked around as a genderless being. My mind could no longer hold any theories of gender conditioning, nor did I care. I saw all people simply as beings, with eyes like mine that looked out from a depth where we were one united being. For a while, I didn’t care if I was ever with another man — there was a joy and sweetness that rose up from the core of my being that met and made moot all of the needs that had heretofore driven my relating with men. Though I was abundantly capable of being present in the moment with an emotion if it arose in me or was presented from the outside, I was no longer interested in its past or cause, or in analyzing it at all. It simply was part of what was present and therefore holy and worthy of attending to.

Then I began to see a man who had had a similar humbling, and we met each other in this fresh beingness. Our bodies as masculine and feminine, though thrilling to have in this context, were subservient to this greater wholeness, presence and love. If I habitually dipped into my theories of gender conditioning, he was largely uninterested and so was I. Nothing theoretical or old lasted in the space of immediacy that was there. And though the learning continues to be useful, it is now integrated into my body and my interactions with men in a way that I no longer think about. Pieces of my conditioning as a woman or his as a man can play out between us, but they are now seen as tight spots in need of tending, without the sense that “this is my conditioning as a woman” or “this is your conditioning as a man.” Gender is an interesting spice that has been added to our relating as beings, but not something that defines who we are.

The process has been incredibly rich, and I am grateful for it. It was valuable to see and understand the differences before I organically moved to “gender doesn’t matter” — it did matter and informed my ability to treat the men I loved with compassion and to understand the places I formerly could not. I can now feel the places where I am free and not being dragged around as I once was; I no longer feel as if I am a function of what a man is like in my presence or how he perceives or acts toward me. Within the paradigm of “one of us is bad here” that often is operating when difficulty arises in relationship, no matter how passionately we reach for each other or try to point to our pain, we alienate and further mistreat each other in our simultaneous attempts to get free of it. However, when we begin to see that all beings are exactly as they should be in any given moment, with an integrity all their own, then any behavior can be understood if one cares to delve into the experience of another with an open mind and a loving heart.

When I see a man with understanding, I no longer can see him as an intentionally mean person who wants to hurt or withhold. When he sees me with understanding, he no longer sees me as a voracious need-monster to whom he can never be enough. When we sweep out the chambers of our hearts by meeting the demons within us, we make room for the pain of others and compassion flows easily. Reactivity lessens, love flows and we see each other as the well-intended, sweet humans that we all are, doing the best we can.


(c) Copyright 2007, Jeannie Zandi, all rights reserved.
Originally published in The Eldorado Sun, June, 2007.

Relationship vs. Relating

Bringing Our Togetherness Back to Life

By showing us who we are and how to live surrendered to what is, nondual wisdom can greatly minimize the suffering that is our common human affliction in a separation-based society.  This awareness as a psychotherapist throws a new light on the issues that a client brings to the session room.  Even the least “spiritual” client, who may not be interested in esoteric talk of one’s true nature as consciousness, is interested in suffering less, especially in the relationships that matter most.  Here, I will explore the difference between the concept of relationship, which is born of conditioning and can only perpetuate the isolation and distress we feel inside of identification with a “me,” and the actual experience of moment-to-moment relating, which is our birthright and an expression of our natural state.

Typically when we speak of relationship in our culture, we are referring to the concept of relationship, to an object.  We say “I have a relationship,” or “I’m in a relationship,” “I want a relationship,” or “My relationship sucks.”  And we grow up with the promise that if we find the right person and do the right things, that relationship will bring us happiness, joy, fulfillment, belonging and the end of loneliness.  We even bring this conditioning into our spiritual mythology as a belief that “manifesting our soul mate” will cause Nirvana to descend upon us.

The only thing that can deliver what we are seeking through relationship is contact with, and an ever-deepening living from, the Real.*  Thus relationship, as an object to pursue, acquire, get right and keep, becomes a false god, heaped with the hopes and dreams of our lost connection to our deepest Self. To the extent that the relating between any two people is pressured to deliver on the societal promise, we turn something that is natural and easeful (learning about and enjoying each other, negotiating and appreciating differences) into a stressful attempt to force the actual relating to adhere to an inner ideal so that we are not left feeling the things from which the relationship is supposed to save us.  A conditioned relationship gone bad simply becomes a competition to squeeze our sense of our own goodness out of the “other” by getting them to behave in the ways we need them to in order to feel good.

The concept of relationship isn’t simple, like the concept of a ball – something round that we can throw, kick or hit in a game.  It is a highly complex set of assumptions, expectations, beliefs, rules, and conditions that are widely shared in our culture, though some variation exists between groups, families and individuals.  In addition to the underlying assumptions, which are relatively static, there are dynamic learned strategies we use to attempt to evaluate, correct, solidify and nail down something that is meant to be beyond measurement, alive, changing and unpredictable – everything from pleasing to pouting to spying to working on our “stuff” to be good enough.

This complex conceptual system is largely held unconsciously – we don’t even know that this mutually bought-into system does not reflect reality.  In fact, we don’t even realize it’s a conceptual system.  And sometimes, neither does the therapist.  So the first step a therapist needs to take before offering couples therapy is to examine the conditioned assumptions, expectations, beliefs, rules and conditions, and the accompanying strategies that make up her own complex conceptual box called “relationship.”  This is no small feat.  The more open, clear and self-knowledgeable the therapist is about these, the freer the space she can offer to clients.  (A “couple” is another complex conceptual system, as is a “human being.”  Discovering the reality and actuality of what any of these words points to is a fascinating excavation of our true nature.)

In nondual circles we talk a lot about our “conditioning,” but what is it? In psychology, it is “a process of changing behavior by rewarding or punishing a subject each time an act is performed until the subject associates the action with pleasure or distress.”  (dictionary.reference.com)  What we are left with after the completion of our extensive social conditioning process are large areas where we are unconsciously seeking pleasure or avoiding distress instead of expressing the truth of our being.  And despite its occasional and generally short-term benefits (getting pats or avoiding whacks), it turns out the result of this behavior is suffering, as we get further and further away from leading simple, present-centered, truth-filled lives from our natural state, and become more and more unconsciously invested in our pleasure-seeking/distress-avoiding strategies.

We don’t suffer because of our relationships – we suffer because of our disconnection from the Real.  And there is nothing better to distract us from the search for the Real than the promise that some object out there is finally going to make us happy.  As long as we are living predominantly through unconscious concepts and seeking fulfillment through the acquisition of objects, we are putting our attention on conditioned pseudo-reality versus actual reality, and perpetuating our suffering.  Attempting to relate to another human being through one’s relationship concept is a dead-end street in terms of joy, fulfillment and intimacy.

Relationship built on conditioning is not sustainable, transformative, growthful or, in the long run, fun or good for anyone.  As we increasingly seek to solidify the other in order to feel good about ourselves, and find ourselves being solidified in order to evoke positivity from our partner, the life goes out of our togetherness.  And how could it not?  Instead of tending to alive relating, we are seeking to change living, breathing, dynamic expressions of God, and the mysterious space in which we meet, into solid, predictable objects.  It can be a relief for couples who come to therapy to realize that they are not failures at applying a wonderful system that works for everyone else, but rather are sane wonderful people who unknowingly have proven through their experience the obsolescence of our conditioned model.  They are actually healthy for the fact that they cannot make an insane strategy work on each other, and their seeking for help is more a sign of success than failure.

The complete and utter failure of the conditioned relationship model produces the humility that is a prerequisite to relating from aliveness, just as the utter failure of the “me” model is a prerequisite to relating as a human being from our natural state.  So let’s raise a glass to the entry point to true living – total and unmitigated failure!  If love is involved, if the two people have discovered something real about their togetherness and kept in touch with it despite their difficulties, that channel for love can be the beckoning glint that leads them further into the cauldron of their own undoing.  So you now can see my bias as a spiritual teacher sitting with any two people on these issues – whosoever loves and enters into sustained relating opens the possibility of the death of “me.”

At some point an ethical consideration presents itself – is it fair to foist one’s penchant for dying to God upon one’s clients, when they are simply coming in to save their relationship?  I tell people who I sit with that my emphasis is on the truth and alive relating, not on any particular structure of relationship, as the rigidified concept of their “relationship” might actually be what is getting in the way of satisfying relating!  If they run screaming from the room, I know they are someone else’s clients.  I think each true servant of humanity benefits from discovering and understanding her own approach and the perspective behind it.  Ideally this becomes explicit in the counseling room at some point as well.  The good news is that the benefit of nondual wisdom is not all about death and dismemberment – to relate simply from the present actually does serve our happiness, it’s just a deeper form than the pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding happiness on which we were betting the farm.

What does relating look like outside of the concept of relationship?  If we allow our beloved dreams to collapse, along with all of our scheming and strategizing to obtain them, and rest here in the moment as clueless not-knowing, what happens to our relationships?  What are they?  If we check in with every breath to see if what we are saying and doing is in alignment with our highest and deepest truth, what aspects of what we call our relationships will survive and what aspects will need an overhaul?  What aspects of what we consider “me” will survive and how much will need to be discarded?

What is it like to function inside a relationship that is an object and what is it like to relate from aliveness and actuality without that concept?  What are the rules, the feel, and the quality of each?  If you saw a couple of humans relating from the first or the second, what would each look like?  We can use the two descriptions not only to understand what I’m trying to convey, but also to see ourselves reflected in these descriptions during a particularly free or a particularly challenged relational moment, and learn something about the place from which we are relating.

The concept of relationship is a noun, an “it.”  It’s something to get, to have, to keep, to protect, to tell people about: “I have one.”  We are either “in” or “out;” it is either “on” or “off.”  This sort of relationship bolsters and supports the “me.”  In fact, a “me” is a prerequisite to living inside this sort of relationship, and the relationship can become an ornament on our “me” tree, another trinket that we use to prove that we are somebody.  Somebody good!  Each aspect of a highly conditioned and complex concept such as relationship has a good side and a bad side, depending on whether we have been conditioned to glean pleasure or distress from it. (In other words, neither “side” actually produces pleasure or distress – it is our conditioning that does so.) So within the conceptual system of relationship, generally if I have one, I’m good.  If I don’t have one, I’m bad.  If I have a bad one, I’m bad (or my partner is).  If I have a good one, I’m good (I’ll take the credit here).  It’s going well today, I’m good.  It’s not going well today, I’m bad (or my partner is).   The reality is our sense of well-being and connection to the Real is not actually predicated upon certain relational configurations, but it seems so within conditioning.

The 360-degree sphere of actual experience (what’s it actually like in this moment for everyone, below thought?) is shrunken down to a finite set of possibilities: good and bad.  We are nowhere near the actual experience of the moment – we are too busy evaluating it and scheming about how to get good and safe in the next moment.  With each aspect of the relationship concept, there’s a way to be good and a way to be bad, and unconsciously we’re working overtime to be good, which actually obscures our connection to our inherent goodness as being.  Once we discover our true being, the whole system of identification that keeps us enslaved to proving our goodness and minimizing our badness, is seen as a ridiculous waste of time.  (A short anecdote here – when my daughter was 7, she came home from school and asked, “Mama, what does ‘being fake’ mean?”  To which I replied, “That’s when you pretend you are different than you are, or you feel differently than you do, so that people will like you.”  She exclaimed with horror, “Why would anyone want to do that!?”)

Alive relating, on the other hand, is a verb, and it requires no maintenance or evaluation.  There is nothing to be “in” or “out” of – it just IS and it is like this right now.  The quality of the relating in the moment is met, without distancing from it to evaluate it, manipulate it or manage it.  The emphasis is not so much on what it means, but on noticing that it is, and deeply receiving/feeling how it is, whatever the flavor.  Relating is happening all the time, for your enjoyment or excruciation, courtesy of the Beloved.  Within conditioning, we skip over the actual experience of relating in pursuit of the “it” of relationship (getting a good one, making sure it’s going well) because we think that achieving the “it” will get us somewhere good.  But any of us who have some years under our belts know that this approach to living doesn’t result in anything but suffering.  There’s something wrong with the program, not with you.

In addition to this goodness/badness game of conditioned relationship, there are also tracking systems – it’s important to keep track of who’s good, how good we are, how good we are in relation to this one, how good we are in relation to that one, and who owes whom.  We move toward the ones who make us feel good and away from the ones who make us feel bad.  Again, our relating in this case is steered by the unconscious habit to seek pleasure and avoid distress, not by the truth.  When we are conscious of this dynamic, we can willingly move toward pain and move through it, so as to start to develop a wider view of the possibilities in any moment.  When our vision has shrunk to see only good and bad, only short-term pleasure and pain, unconsciously we will move toward trying to get good every time, ignoring reality and possibility, like rats in a maze.

Relating through a concept has fear as its motivational energy, whereas relating from actuality is based on love.  Where conditioning lives, unconscious fear lives too.  In the absence of conditioning, love and freedom reign.  In fear-based me-centric relationship, our questions are, “How does this serve me?” and “What’s safe?”  In alive relating, our questions are, “How does this serve God?” and “What’s true?”

Within the paradigm of relationship as concept or as an ”it,” I need one to give me love and connection.  If I have one, I’ll have love.  If I behave properly inside of one, I’ll have love.  If you behave properly inside of it, I’ll have love.  So I need it and I need to control it, so that I have the good stuff.  When we are in this sort of acquire-and-protect mode it has the feel of going and getting something, of working to get it, to secure it, to nail it down.  This sort of togetherness is based on an underlying sense of lack and the need for control in order to guarantee love’s supply.  It requires at least one project manager, as we try to control things so our comfort is maximized, shutting down pieces of ourselves as necessary.  The project needs to be managed closely because if we did not stay on top of it, where would we be?

In alive relating, I am love, I am connectedness itself, and the fact of love’s abundance is clear from the bubbling fountain of my being.  From alive relating and resting in the Real, it’s completely ludicrous to think that love comes from the outside.  Pats and kind words are nice, but our bread and butter come from within.  In alive relating, the sense is, the Holy has it handled.  So there is a giving over of anticipation, management, and figuring it out, for this right here.  Maybe it will end, maybe it won’t end, maybe you’ll like me today, and maybe you won’t – no management, just a meeting of what is. Alive relating invites a settling into the now, a settling into what we are, whatever the feel of it is in this moment.

In the concept of relationship, separation reigns and objects seem very solid.  So there’s “me” and there’s “you” and there’s “the relationship.”  There are other discrete objects too, those who might threaten it, those who might take us away from it.  In alive relating, objects disappear as the background becomes the foreground.  Mistrust is met as it rises and dissolves as we rest as vibrating Being.  Objects become almost transparent, like waves.  There’s a sense of a you and a me, but what’s really primary is this vibrating field, this alive moment, to which everyone belongs.

Inside the relationship concept, you are a solid, predictable object, or at least you should be. Don’t surprise me, because a “me” doesn’t like to feel out of control, and I’ll blame those feelings on you for misbehaving.  When I come home, be home.  When I say “I love you,” say “I love you” back.  Don’t leave me out here in the sea without a paddle. You are my reassurance object, my reference point for my safety and you owe it to me to be that, according to the rules of the relationship concept.   The primary relating here is between conceptual images, and the alive flow of life is mistrusted and seen as a potential threat to the relationship.  The unknown is seen as dangerous and thus filled in with identification, definition and meaning.  Authentic impulses are seen as suspicious, potentially leading to the dissolution of the status quo, and therefore are ignored or downright discouraged, as we take solace in our predictable, defined togetherness.  Our focus is on how we need to be for the other to feel good and loved, or how we need our partner to be so we feel that way.

Within alive relating, you are an ever-changing miracle, and so am I.  You are a wonder!  An unpredictable, wild force of nature, and I love you to be that, because I love actuality.  I am not demanding anything of you because I see you as a gift to cherish and enjoy, a free being whose truth and path are not mine with which to meddle.  The primary relationship (if we can even call it that, as the sense of “two” dissolves) is between emptiness and the flow of experience.  There is a trust and love of the flow, and a sense that the unknown is enlivening.  Emphasis goes to what is happening now, whether it brings pleasure or causes distress, because we’re here for it, we love the truth, the actual flowing moment!  We are both expressions of this flow.  When we are dropped in and dissolved in this, the feeling is that everything is alive and new, nothing is ever the same.  Authentic impulses are celebrated, made room for, as possibilities for each of us and our togetherness expand.  This sort of relating can dismantle what’s left of the clinging “me.”  Our focus is on blessing and freeing the other to be the unique, organic, authentic expression that they are, leaving identification behind.

In the concept of relationship, time is important.  Our relationship has a past and a future.  Our past becomes very important either as a wellspring of inspiration (“Remember how in love we were?”), material for identification (“We’ve been married 56 years, longer than anyone we know!”), or as a database to draw upon when cross-blaming (“Well, why should you be mad at me for being attracted to him, you were attracted to her!”).  Our future as well becomes very important – we need constant reassurance that we have one together, to plug up our great fear of the unknown and unpredictable nature of being alive, and to cheer us up with promises of trips and goals that distract us from our current suffering.

In relating, past and future fade and there is only the timeless immediacy of now.  There’s just this.  Right here.  All our eggs are in the basket of the present, not in saving anything for later but in fully experiencing this.  Memories from the past, whether pleasant or unpleasant, are met as they arise, when they arise, without fishing for them or using them to bolster good-me-ness.  Thoughts of the future are traded in for a complete immersion in the trust of the flow, no matter where it leads or how it feels.

Within the relationship concept, the structure and agreements of our partnership come from socially conditioned and unconsciously held rules and agreements, and these are seen as a standard that “everyone knows.”  These rigid rules and agreements are imposed like a template upon actuality rather than rising from it, and deviating from them (or wanting to) is seen as not loving the other or somehow betraying the relationship.

The creative structure that arises through alive relating is birthed out of what’s alive and organically enduring for these two unique beings.  Contrary to belief, there is structure in God’s country – the Holy builds mountains that last eons and cells that are perfect for their function.  The structure here rises out of what is, rather than being imposed on it.  It is mutual, conscious, unique and revisable.  When the structure of relating is built from moment-to-moment abidance in the truth, it is a gift, but a gift that must be subject to new bulletins from the Holy in each moment.  Conscious agreements are forged as long as they are alive, mutual, and born of these unique beings at this time (rather than from rigid definitions of “should”), and they form what we are together.  Rather than relying on rigid rules to make sure things go well, we trust in our mutual integrity and respect, and our ability to stay in touch with each other in an ongoing way.  Sadly, most of our relational structures are built from unconscious encrusted ideas that we are trying to cram living, breathing beings into, rather than from Divine Will – and so turn out to be deadening prison cells.

Inside the concept of relationship, our idea of commitment is to a person and to an unconscious and rigidified form of relationship with that person.  We make efforts to preserve the structure and adhere to it, and follow its rules, as proof of our love.  The commitment from within alive relating is to the authentic expression of our highest and most tender Self, and regard for all beings is included in that – a strict adherence to what is true for us is combined with a constant awareness of the sensitive heart of the other.

One caveat – the concepts that rise out of talk of nonduality and freedom can be used to justify all kinds of shoddy behavior in relationship.  In the name of “no structure” we can be running a pattern of fear of intimacy.  In the name of our “freedom,” we can demand our narcissistic right to do whatever we want regardless of the effect on another.  It is important that we explore the bounds and possibilities of relating with people who share our own depth of integrity, self-responsibility and purity of intention.

To journey from living within conditioning to living free is to land here, now, dropping everything and noticing what is.  It is the willingness to look, see and become aware of how conditioned complexes operate within our energetic systems, to take responsibility for them, and to find the infinite possibilities that lie outside their walls of right and wrong, good and bad.  It is to have passion for self-knowledge, a thirst for drinking the pure, clean water of our own authentic expression.  It is to find support for the things we have to face as we drop our conditioned patterns (they were born of pain and it’s pain we’ll get to feel as we stop using them to cope) and open to a radical vulnerability in the moment.  It is to free every human being we come in contact with to be who they are and to feel whatever in us has difficulty with that.  When things get confusing, it is to find sources of clarity in those who have carved out areas of sanity in themselves.  And by being a pioneer in her own discovery of Self-in-relating, the nondual therapist can become such a source of clarity, and a torchbearer for others.


(published in the Undivided Journal, November 2012)