“Imagine a multidimensional spider’s web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And, in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum. That is the Buddhist conception of the universe in an image.” –Alan Watts
It takes exactly one person to have a great relationship. While this article is going to generally focus on the romantic relationship, the same general rules will apply to all types. After all, in the final analysis, there’s only one thing going on here, and you happen to be that one thing. This very arising—this one—is how you are expressing yourself, to yourself at this so-called moment. You are the whole thing, the everything—including the no-thing from which all of this magically springs forth. There’s no such thing as oneness plus, or oneness minus.
Nothing you can see, hear, feel, taste, touch, or think is other than you. The sum total of manifestation does not equal you, but it is not other than you. In this so-called moment I, as a writer, am currently penning an article to myself as a reader, with myself as a computer, while sitting within myself as an apartment, and on and on, ad infinitum. When we say that there is no separation, this refers not merely to the unity of space, but to the unity of time as well, so “my” writing and “your” reading, despite appearances, are taking place simultaneously.
There is only Here and Now and even those words are only indicating different expressions of the one thing going on. It is more accurate to say there is only Here/Now, this single, undulating world consisting of an endless chain of multiple appearances.
The natural response of Awakeness, upon realization of its living wholeness, is love, acceptance, and generosity. Any other movement is likely to be egoic. The authentic response is to give, not to take. What can Conscious Awakeness possibly need, given that it already has everything?
When we expect others to take care of our needs, we’re already in separation. Granted, we are talking about oneness, not sameness, so at one level or another there is the feel of “I” and “other.” Yet even if we have not had a radical awakening, if we are willing to hold the truth of unity in our hearts and heads, and act on it within the world, a whole other level of relationship becomes available.
In fact, a whole new world will become available. It’s already here. Absolute peace and absolute harmony are always available. They are what’s underlying the ever-changing appearances of chaos. We will experience whichever one we put our attention on, immediately upon putting our focus on it.
Whatever we put our attention upon expands within our experience. Whatever we withdraw our attention from will contract within our experience. Everyone reading this article is awakening. When we begin to act upon whatever level of clarity we currently have, that is actually clarity in action in Here/Now.
We get what we need when we need it, but not before. When we utilize what we’ve already been granted, that’s emptying the proverbial teacup and opening up room for more. That process is known as flow. All too often we act like the Dead Sea, which has no outlet and will support no life.
Giving is the key. Allowing is the key. Loving first is the key.
There is nothing but relationship. Nothing stands alone. Everything supports everything else. As individuals we are neither negligible nor special. We are, in an individual sense, part of. We are, in a universal sense, all of.
If we want a great relationship—whether it’s with our romantic partner, our parents, children, PTA, or anyone else—what is required is that we act from the ground of unity and remain completely open about when, how, and if others do what we see as their part. Their requirement is to be themselves. After all, that’s who we love, is it not?
If we find that we are in love with a dream-to-be, if we are betting-on-the-come, we are going to be miserable. Always. Our family, friends, and community are who they are. They are not who we want them to be unless we want them as they are. Any stipulation we put forward is the first act of incompatibility.
If we find that we are in a relationship that for some reason is no longer working for us–whether it’s a partner or a business, we owe it to ourselves and to everyone else to do one of three things: fix it, surrender to it, or get out of it. Allowing things to run on unchanged with everyone suffering when all we’re doing about it is complaining, is neither helpful nor skillful. Sometimes love means saying you’re sorry, and sometimes love means saying goodbye. Do what feels true and don’t look back. And this, too, can be a great relationship.
Generally speaking we have to choose between our love for our partners and our love of our expectations. If the former wins out, then it means the dropping of the second. All conditions are out.
Let me share a bit about the relationship I have with my wife, Betsy. I’m not setting this up to be some arbitrary standard, I’m simply sharing my personal experience. I think it’s important to share what’s available for those of us on this path.
Betsy and I met thirteen years ago via Twelve Step recovery. After a bit of initial adjustment, it was clear that “we were a deal.” I remember quite vividly a weekend we spent together in the mountains a couple of months after we got together. In my egoic idiocy, I had always been a guy who tried to change my wives and girlfriends to suit my taste.
On this mountain trip, Betsy, who at that that time was far saner than I was, told me, “Let’s work to help each other get well.” We hugged and when we did, a voice spoke up in my head as clearly as if from someone in the room with us.
That voice gave me what may be the greatest advice I ever took. It said simply, “Don’t try to change this one. She’s perfect the way she is.” Crazy as I still was at 18 months sober, that voice nonetheless made a huge impression on me. And to this day, I have tried to live up to that standard and have done pretty well. She does the same with me. Being allowed to be who you are anyway is a great relief, and takes a lot of pressure off of both partners.
I don’t think Betsy heard a voice on that trip, because she didn’t need to. She already knew. In her mind she already had a perfect diamond—it was simply still in the rough! She did not set about trying to change me into the man of her dreams, she set about trying to help me grow into someone it was worth her dreaming about. I can’t tell begin to tell you how much foresight that took!
Initially I was drawn to Betsy because she had a sense of presence I had never felt before.
Then she spoke in a meeting one day about spending a Saturday afternoon with her dogs, cat, a bagel, a book, and a nap. I was toast. There was an almost mystical aura around that scene that played over and over in my head. It was what I wanted to appear in my life, and I resolved to go after it.
I had to be a bit patient at first, which I have never been any good at. But I was only a few months sober, and like Groucho Marx not wanting to belong to any club that would have him, I felt the same way about Betsy. I wanted to get healthier before I approached her beyond being cordial at meeting time.
I wasn’t the only one who could feel it—virtually everyone in our recovery community could. Everybody loved her. She could read the steps or promises out loud and every person in the room could feel their hearts shift. There was something about her.
I now know that what I was feeling was latent Awakeness. Betsy was on the cusp of awakening for years, long before her drinking, and then again in early recovery. (I would flower later, and with that flowering came the words that actualized Betsy’s latency into Conscious Awakeness.)
Betsy had no overt spiritual pull and certainly no spiritual language. Her path was that of beauty. As she made her way through life, the physical environment in her wake sprang into breathtaking loveliness, as if she were some combination of an interior decorator and Johnny Appleseed. We need people like that, and more than you might think.
The other notable thing about Betsy is that she was (and is) incredibly grateful and innately generous. And she was a master at handling a rough cob like me. Not manipulating—handling.
I was a chain smoker and Betsy was a non-smoker. That’s trouble, it just is. Betsy never once asked me to quit or even suggested it. She would look at me with bright eyes and a smile and say, “You don’t look like a smoker to me. You won’t smoke forever, I’m sure of it.”
No nagging, no pressure, just loving encouragement. Had she handled it any other way, my ego would have felt forced to resist her, just to prove its independence. As it was, I was keen to cooperate. And eventually I did cooperate. Two and half years after we started dating I quit smoking, an act so radical that it shocked my friends. They could believe I quit drinking, but no one could believe I actually quit smoking. After all, I had been a very serious smoker. Only half in jest I would say, “You know, this damn breathing is interfering with my smoking!”
Giving up cigarettes was an extremely difficult thing for me to do. I can remember sitting in a pizza joint with Betsy holding my hand as tears streamed down my cheeks, because I wanted to smoke so badly. I quit for love. I wanted to give Betsy a smoke-free boyfriend more than I wanted to take another drag on a cigarette. She got her gift, and I got rid of what I saw as a threat to our future together.
We are like the two hands of a clock, always pulling together, always moving in the same direction, always with a common goal—happiness, safety, and security for our little multiple-species family. If ever wife and husband were yin and yang, we are.
We eat out several times a week, but when we eat at home, here is how meal time works for us. Unless I am in session or otherwise indisposed, I set the table. Betsy cooks. Every dinner is a music-and-candles event. Then I wash the dishes. The next morning Betsy puts the dry dishes away. We have never once had a discussion about any of this. It has simply unfolded this way.
Betsy pays dog bills, and I pay cat bills. If some vet bill or other surprise bill is particularly onerous, the other will reach across the table and help out. There is no you, no me, only us. All of this happens naturally as we each strive to move in a way that best accommodates and fulfills the other. It’s not a strategy, it’s simply a way of life. In the last thirteen years we have become almost literally a singular, seamless whole.
Sex is a big deal in romantic relationships, and happily we have been sexually compatible since the beginning. Having both been practicing alcoholics for decades, our partnership inherited some strange history, and sexual baggage was part of that. We were always candid about our pasts, and none of it has ever been a problem for either of us. That was then, and this is now, and now is all that counts, because now is all that is.
As a loving couple we’ve certainly talked about our sex lives any number of times over the years, always in a bid to keep communication in that area frank and strong. Almost since the beginning our own desires have been entirely secondary to what the other one wants or needs. It’s amazing how generous that attitude can make your partner feel. It’s not a strategy, but it’s worth noticing.
In fact, it’s fair to say that we talk about everything. Nothing is off the table, and we talk in some depth, at least briefly, every day. Betsy is my third wife, and all three wives have been card-carrying geniuses. Even as a young man I could see that I could talk a whole lot longer than I could make love, and I wanted to make sure I was in interesting company.
Initially there was that wonderful sense of compelling urgency. For a lot of years we had a regular Wednesday night “appointment,” followed by Date Night. Wednesday nights are still Date Nights at our house—we still dress up a bit and eat out together, but these days we may or may not have started the evening upstairs. It’s all good either way.
Another hot button in relationships, of course, is money. When Betsy met me I was as poor as a rat. Her parents had kept a false bottom in place for her, so while she didn’t have a lot, she had a hell of a lot more than I did. And she had an endless attic. Almost every time she came to see me she brought me some household item until I had a lovely little apartment even though most of the time I didn’t have two dimes to rub together.
For the first 10 years of our relationship, Betsy earned significantly more than I did. She never cared about that, and if she didn’t, I didn’t . My ego was perfectly willing to accept a bit of bruising if it meant that due to her largesse we could eat pizza in a restaurant on a Saturday night.
Interestingly enough, some time ago that trend reversed itself, and suddenly I became the foremost breadwinner. Nothing changed; we never skipped a beat. There was no change of pecking order; we never had to work anything out. For years what was hers had been mine, and now, what was mine was automatically hers. I was delighted beyond measure to be able, at long last, to make a real contribution toward our wellbeing.
In thirteen years, the number of serious arguments we have had could be counted on one hand, and every single one of those was prior to our stabilizing in Awakeness. We do not argue. We do not fuss. I don’t know that I have ever raised my voice at her; I cannot recall her doing so to me. Maybe it has happened somewhere along the way, but if so it was a long time ago, I’m sure of that much.
I’m reporting this simply because I want to make it known that this kind of relationship is available. We both know it’s reasonably rare, and we both know it doesn’t have to be. When Betsy and I went to get our marriage license, the clerk of court asked, “So have either one of you been married before?”
Betsy and I shot each other a grin and then I said, “Let me put it this way. I’m her first husband, and she’s my last wife.” And so it is.
October 5, 2014