Looking Into the Mirror of Relationship (Like Life at the Monastery, Only Way More Fun)

Relationship as Spiritual Practice

Happy day to you, friends!

The most obvious thing about my monastic training back in the day was the 360° mirror it provided. No matter where I looked, all those years, my process was reflected back to me. The monastery provided a container in which to observe and question my internal dialogue and the beliefs that it created and maintained. Because there was so little going on outwardly, and because my fellow monks and I did not speak with one another, it was relatively easy to see what conditioned mind imported into my experience that was fictional and assumed. Not so easy to let it go, of course, but at least I could see it, at least some of the time, and that was immensely helpful.

The mirror remained after I left the monastery, of course, because all of life is a mirror. Some of the intensity was lost, however. The biggest change was that there was no longer a teacher observing my behavior and “pointing out obvious unpleasantness”, as she liked to call it. The Roshi was and is perhaps the world’s best at noticing unpleasantness (in other words, being aware of it when somebody was acting out of their conditioning), and expert at making that plain to people in a way they could not ignore. Without a teacher, one has to take full responsibility for noticing one’s own unpleasantness, and that’s really difficult to do. It is an aspect of practice in the world, however, to develop the willingness to be one’s own teacher, we might say, and the courage to cop to the unpleasantness one sees.

I find myself these days unexpectedly in a new context that provides a mirror for me, much like the mirror I looked into at the monastery. The context is the relationship with my sweetheart, Kathleen. The relationship has become (along with everything else in my life) my teacher. Of course, outwardly little in this new context resembles my life at the monastery. In interesting ways, however this current context operates much like the monastic one did, in that it requires me to look to my inward processes in ways that I would likely avoid otherwise, and it requires me to see and own the unpleasantness that’s there. And the mirror has shown me that unpleasantness is indeed there.

Conditioned mind fights to undermine the relationship with Kathleen, both inwardly and outwardly, and quite vigorously. This is because I love Kathleen, and the love pulls me into connection not just with her, but with all of Life, in a way my survival system has never allowed. The system needs autonomy and isolation in order to survive, and it works hard to get me to believe that isolation and autonomy is what I want for myself. It isn’t, however. That’s just what the system wants. What I want in my heart is the love, the connection, and the possibility of transcending my habit of autonomy in this life. That would be a beautiful, deeply fulfilling thing if it’s possible for me, and I know it is, as I have experienced that a great deal already. The relationship asks me to take that work deeper than I have before, and I’m glad for it (at least whenever I’m in my right mind).

And so I’m looking into the mirror, much as I did during all those years of silence (though it must be said that this context is way more fun!). I feel grateful for it, despite the resistance that sometimes arises, as I did then. I sometimes fail to act according to the highest awareness I have, also as I did then, but I’m doing my best, and my best is and was just fine. So long as we don’t give up, so long as we follow the path or our transformation, whatever that looks like for each of us, then all is well, and each day we take another step towards freedom and peace. Our work in this life, my friends, is to clean up our karma as best we can, to whatever extent we’re willing for that. I’m willing, and I hope you are, too.

Be well, take good care of yourselves, have a deep practice day, and be well!

In peace,