The path of personal growth can be painful at times. The ancient Greek dramatist, Aeschylus, describes it as “wisdom through the awful grace of God.” I would modify this quote slightly for my own purposes to say “wisdom hard won through the awful grace of committed personal growth.”
Commitment to one’s personal growth can be so daunting that even spiritual teachers will caution against it! The Buddhist meditation master, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of Shambhala, once said:
“My advice to you is not to undertake the spiritual path. It is too difficult, too long and is too demanding. I suggest you ask for your money back, and go home. This is not a picnic. It is really going to ask everything of you. So, it is best not to begin. However, if you do begin, it is best to finish.”
Along this same vein, spiritual teacher and writer, Adyashanti, has this to say:
“Make no mistake about it – enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing through the façade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true.”
In short, committed personal growth is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of courage and commitment and compassion (for self and others) to look within, and often it can be uncomfortable. The discomfort can rest in coming to know our greatness (especially if we were raised with a lot of unworthiness from our families, the church, etc.), or learning the ways in which we fall short of our greatness, and in changing our perspectives and our behavior.
The process of personal growth isn’t easy, but it is worth every moment.
I found a fantastic vehicle that is well-suited to personal growth and spiritual enlightenment: conscience intimate relationship. Consider this:
Through learning to love one another, warts and all, we come to love ourselves, warts and all.
Stay with me as we unpack the idea of conscious intimate relationship more.
We don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t see our blind spots. Instead, we project and transfer them onto other people.
What is projection and transference? Projection occurs when we think someone else is feeling or behaving in a particular way (“geez, Joe is so mad!”), when actually these are our feelings or behaviors (i.e., I’m mad) that we’re either not aware of or not acknowledging. Transference amounts to having feelings that seem to be about one person (say you feel your spouse said something demeaning to you), when in actuality, the feelings are about someone else (your mother demeaned you growing up). In other words, projection is placing your emotions upon others and transference is placing your feelings towards a person onto a different relationship/person.
Awareness of self initially comes through awareness of another. For example, if someone’s behavior pisses us off, this is a great learning opportunity for us! Why? Because we initially can’t see this irritating behavior in ourselves. The old adage, “if you spot it, you got it,” is so true. Our greatness and our foibles are modeled and mirrored for us through our relationships with others, and especially in our most intimate relationships, like marriage or a committed partnership.
What I love about my partner is also resident in me. What I dislike about my partner, I fail to see in myself. When I judge my spouse, I also judge myself, though unconsciously, because I cannot see the same issues myself (without purposeful effort).
What I see in someone else is also part of who I am. Once we begin to awaken to this concept, there is no turning back. With our eyes open to this new concept, we can no longer see situations, relationships, or really anything in the same old way. The trail behind us has been blown over, and is no longer perceptible. The old path is obscured. When we look back at past events they appear differently. Our perception has changed. We can try to run away from our awakening, cover it up, or drown it with the help of an addiction or other self-limiting tool, but this won’t obfuscate our evolution forever! The pain of refusing the call will eventually wrangle a capitulation from us, whether we like it or not. We will leave the old, and embrace the new.
The new is scary because it requires us to be a beginner and operate out of a fledgling elevated consciousness. It’s like anything you’ve tried for the first time: uncomfortable and a little awkward. I’ve had many of these experiences, even as an adult. I remember how uneasy I felt the first time I ever held a baby (that neck!), and how gawky I was at age thirty-eight getting back on a horse after a twenty-year hiatus.
Once we become more aware, our excuses have been removed and we can no longer try to pin the issue on someone else. Blame, personal irresponsibility, projection, and transference, go out the window as we begin to apply these concepts in our own lives. No one is responsible for our experience of this journey except us. And the real journey, as it turns out, is inward. It is to “know thyself.”
No longer can we avoid embracing all of who we are. Our greatness is standing squarely in front of us, demanding recognition. What we see and cherish in others, we must learn to appreciate in ourselves. What we hate, reject, dislike or despise in others, we must come to learn to accept and love (and perhaps consciously change) in ourselves.
For example, let’s say that we feel our spouse compares and criticizes us. In addition to honestly sharing our feelings from our perspective with our spouse, I suggest we take a look at where we may be comparing and criticizing others in our own lives. Do you do this with your children? Your co-workers? Your spouse? In my experience, the surest way to make your spouse stop comparing and criticizing you is to stop comparing and criticizing others. Don’t believe me? Try it! When you stop doing it, you’ll stop seeing it.
Well, therapist and author, Shelly Bullard (shellybullard.com), believes that it is a romantic relationship in which both partners feel committed to a sense of purpose, with the purpose being growth. Individual growth. Collective growth as a couple. A journey of evolution in which both partners consciously grow, and in doing so, help make the world a better place. Ms. Bullard believes that in choosing this, the couple has the opportunity to expand more than each partner could separately, with the prospects of deep satisfaction and long-term fulfillment.
Ms. Bullard has also identified four qualities that she believes are the hallmark of a conscious relationship. These include:
1. The couple is not attached to the outcome of the relationship; growth comes first.
This may sound like a lack of commitment, but it’s really just the opposite. Both parties care what happens in the relationship and may have fantasies about where it will go. That said, each is more committed to the experience of growth than they are at making the relationship work at all costs. Ms. Bullard believes we are all here to grow (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually), but that many relationships today stifle that growth instead of enhance it. This occurs when we want our partners to act a certain way, and we repress ourselves to please others. Soon, both spouses are feeling small, oppressed and puzzled as to who they’ve become. The conscious couple, valuing growth more than anything else in the relationship, is willing to strive toward expansion, even at the risk of outgrowing the relationship. Ms. Bullard contends that this dynamic helps the relationship maintain its aliveness and love between the couple.
2. Each person in the relationship is committed to owning their “stuff.”
We all have wounds from the past. These wounds will be triggered, especially in an intimate relationship. Conscious couples know this and expect it to happen from time to time, and understand that they will occasionally feel abandoned, trapped, rejected, overlooked, and any other uncomfortable feeling that can bubble up in relationship. They have moved beyond the myth that relationships should only feel good, and that when “bad” feelings arise, something has gone terribly wrong. Instead, each partner sees and acknowledges that these “bad” feelings arise from our own self-limiting beliefs and patterns. And each partner is willing to take responsibility for his/her beliefs and patterns, in an effort to dissolve them and evolve the relationship.
3. All feelings are welcome and no internal process is condemned.
In a conscious relationship, there’s room for each partner to feel and express anything that may come up (“radical honesty”). This goes against the molding and changing most of us do to please the people we love in an effort to keep them loving us.
Ms. Bullard believes radical honesty is one of the most healing experiences that can occur in any relationship. Why? Because when we’re completely honest about who we are, and allow our partner to be the same, we’re taking off our masks and being authentic. This leads to feeling known, seen and truly understood, which deepens the love between two people.
Is this edgy? You bet. (How many of us feel a knot in our stomachs when our partners say “we need to talk?”) Will being authentic (or having our partner do so) trigger us? Yes, likely so. Yet, both partners are willing to be triggered so that the other partner can be honest and authentic.
4. The relationship is a place to practice love.
Love, Ms. Bullard suggests, is a practice. A practice of being present, acceptance, forgiveness and stretching our tender hearts into vulnerable territories. She writes “[s]ometimes we treat love like it’s a destination. We want that peak feeling all the time, and when it’s not there, we’re not satisfied with what the relationship has become. In my mind, this is missing the whole point of love.”
A conscious couple is deeply committed to love as a journey and an exploration. The couple brings love to every aspect of the relationship, asking “what would love do here?” And the answer will be unique for each issue, helping each partner to grow in new and different ways, and reaching places in and through the relationship that neither partner could have imagined or attained separately.
Suzanne E. Grandchamp
UNTANGLE, UNPACK, & LIVE WISELY:
Think back to this morning, to yesterday, or last week.
- Identify one conflict, difficult situation, or hurt feeling you had with another person (perhaps a significant other, child, co-worker, etc.).
- What was the issue? Reflect on your emotions and explanations. Then reflect on the other person’s emotions and explanations of the situation. What was the true issue – the underlying issue? Was there transferring or projecting of emotions during this situation? What new thing(s) have you learned?
- Imagine what a supportive, safe, non-judgmental conversation with this person about your fresh outlook on the situation might look like. Acknowledging that you have no control over the other person’s reaction to such a conversation in real life, what would be the best way for you to enter into an honest conversation about this situation? Consider how to remain open and honest throughout this conversation.
- A week or so later, reflect back to see if any changes were made after your personal observations or your conversation. What changed? Did you see a change right away? Over time? After several conversations?
How is your relationship and the “conscious relationship” as described by Ms. Bullard similar? How are they different? How would you define an ideal, healthy, relationship?