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Relationships Are Not for Freedom
Mary: Dear James, thank you very much for your answer. I calmed down and was thinking about my doubts. Surely I don’t want to go to all these spiritual groups again. I want to go deeper into self-knowledge.
I think actually I want to talk with you via Skype to apply self-knowledge and get more mature and to come out of the confusions which come now back in “daily life” and “my” old environment. Somehow I want to become more clear and established about who am I and also be happy with my life because Mary still exists. But at this point I don’t know what is right. I don’t want to get a polluted mind again after realising the self somehow. That why I contact you. My seeing is kind of non-abiding awakening, as I read in Adyashanti’s book. So it is in process and now I still need to clean up all the conditions and stuff which causes me to identify over and over with Mary, the apparent person. That doesn’t seem so easy… because maya is really a tricky thing. For this I need you as a teacher because I’m sure that I have blind spots. Sometimes I see reality and then it becomes unclear. It goes back and forth.
James: You are right that it is not easy to get your mind clear, Mary. It is hard work. The stuff you have to clean up now is the love business. This is the main desire, apart from self-knowledge, that is causing the confusion.
Mary: I think, for life experiences mostly, I need to stay in the karma yoga attitude, especially in relationships. I’m not sure if it is necessary for self-enquiry to be without relationship one’s whole life?
James: No, it is not necessary. At your age and considering how important the idea of having a relationship is – which is just the desire to love and be loved – it seems that you will get involved in one.
Mary: Do you think so? Isn’t it more like running away from your own inner work and self-enquiry?
James: Yes, it is, Mary. You do not go into a relationship to be free. You go into it for emotional satisfaction, to satisfy your desires. So it is basically against self-inquiry. You have to be very dispassionate emotionally to do self-inquiry and carry on a love relationship. But if you cannot dismiss your desire for a relationship by understanding who you are or you cannot stay away from one because you know it will not ultimately give you freedom, then you should do it with the karma yoga spirit. If you do, then slowly your attachment to the idea that you need someone else to make your life fulfilling will drop away and you can focus on self-inquiry.
Mary: A relationship can be very helpful to see the obstacles which are still there and it makes transformation and growth possible.
James: I understand the argument, but here are some things to think about. You do not need a relationship to find out what obstacles are there, Mary. You have plenty of obstacles when you are alone. All obstacles are the same for someone practicing self-inquiry, the obstacle of being alone and the obstacle of being in a relationship. This statement is just the part of your mind that wants a relationship, trying to convince you that you need one. There is nothing wrong with it, but there is nothing right with it either. You need to be fair to yourself and consider the downside of this desire. If you go into it only focused on the upside, you will not find relationship to be fulfilling. Like everything in maya, it is a zero-sum game. There are benefits and there are miseries.
As far as transformation goes, you are changing and transforming all the time whether you are in a relationship or not. This is not a good argument for having a relationship. It is better to be honest with yourself and say, “I need someone else to make me happy.” Everything one does brings about changes in one’s circumstances, in one’s thinking and feeling. If you gain or lose money it changes you. If you get sick it changes you, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. There is no reason why a relationship should make you grow in a helpful direction. Many people who have been in relationships end up bitter and disappointed.
Even if a relationship does transform you into a more spiritual person, is it the most efficient way to transform yourself? If you practice self-inquiry properly the transformations that take place on the personality level are gradual, inevitable and always positive. But you do not practice self-inquiry to make yourself a better person. If you do, you have not understood the purpose of self-inquiry. The purpose of self-inquiry is to set you free from your desires and fears – which you are only reinforcing if you seek a relationship.
And finally, why do you want to be transformed in the first place? It only means that you are victim of a negative self-judgment; you think there is something wrong with you, that you need to be better. The person who would be transformed will never be transformed into a perfect person. You cannot make what is imperfect by nature perfect. Even if you do improve, you will always feel that you are not good enough as you are. When will you stop trying to be different from what you are? The feeling that you need work is born out a misunderstanding about who you are. It will not go away because your personality changes. You are not the person who you want to be transformed by a relationship. There is only one self and it is perfect as it is. It cannot be transformed.
What you actually want is someone to love you. You feel lonely and you want someone in your life to relate to emotionally, sexually, spiritually, etc. It is fine. But be honest. Know that that is what you really want and don’t pretend that you are doing it for transformation or growth or any other reason. You will grow if you have one. You will grow if you don’t have one. You may grow for the better or you may grow for the worse. You can never know. So if you want do have a relationship, do it as karma yoga, not for transformation.
Mary: So is it necessary that the person lives alone, even when it’s clear that the partner is not responsible for the happiness?
James: No, but what about the partner? Does he know that you are not responsible for his happiness? The reason people go into relationships is because they think that having another person in their life will make them happy.
Mary: Can there just be a relationship for enjoying?
James: Sure, but only if you are very emotionally mature. I don’t see you as being emotionally mature, Mary, even though you are middle-aged. You have a strong spiritual vasana and have had a powerful awakening in India, but you are still romantic and sensuous. I noticed you checking out the men in the satsang. A couple of the guys you hit on also mentioned it to me. You seem to be quite needy emotionally. When you want something from another person it causes a lot of pressure on them, particularly if you want something all the time, which is how needy people are. If that is your nature, then you need to be in a relationship and go through all the pleasure and pain until you become dispassionate about your needs. If you are with another person who is emotionally needy, you will have a lot of suffering. I am not arguing for or against a relationship for you. You will do what you will do. I am just asking to you think clearly.
If you are with a non-needy person, your needs not only cause you a problem, it causes your partner problems because he will have to spend so much time taking care of your needs that he will not have time to look after his own karma.
The problem with thinking that you can just have a relationship for pleasure is that you get very attached to enjoyment and when you are not enjoying you are suffering. Relationships are not just one long pleasurefest. It is very difficult to keep your mind free when you are operating in an environment of mutual needs and desires.
But the most important issue spiritually is this: Why do you really want a relationship? Do you want a family and children? Are you just lonely? Bored?
Mary: I think about this topic. I need a conversation because I m confused. Could you help me to get it clear and talk to me directly on Skype? This could be helpful.
James: Yes, we can talk on Skype, but not now, because the internet here is very bad. I am out in the Turkish countryside. It is like a dial-up and will not carry a Skype conversation. In the meantime, think about what I have said here and write back to me. I cannot tell you want to do. I do not want the karma from it. You have strong needs, I am an old man and am not up to looking after you properly. I can only help you to think clearly and make suggestions so you can make up your own mind what you need to do.
Mary: When I just meditate and do all this stuff again, I think this is not a solution.
James: That is right, Mary. Good thinking.
Mary: Because as soon as I am in the next situation where my desires or conditionings are operating, I am again confused and need some help to discriminate. So I need to establish the knowledge. And now to come to the point: for that I need a qualified teacher. So would you like to talk to me on Skype when you are free?
James: It is the desires that are causing the confusion. You have conflicting desires. On one hand you want freedom and on the other hand you want love from a person. The problem for you is that you had this awakening in India and some part of you knows that everything is just a movie, that it is not real. But you have not watched the relationship movie enough to see how unreal it is. So you are still fascinated by the idea. You have a strong desire for liberation too, but for liberation you need to be qualified and you are not qualified unless you have realized that the big maya movie is just a movie and that all the little movies in maya are just movies. Relationships deliver pleasure and pain. That is all you can get from them. They are a mixed bag. They can deliver a certain amount of contentment and security, but they cannot deliver real happiness. This is the source of your confusion. If you want to try to have your cake and eat it too, be my guest. I think the self-inquiry vasana will win the war, but I think that the relationship vasana will win this battle. Let me know how it works out.
My advice is to try the relationship movie until you are completely over the romance of it. It may take many years. Your spiritual desire is strong too, however, so you may get over it rather quickly. You do not want to end up like so many men and women on the spiritual path who in their fifties or sixties compromise the amazing freedom and happiness that could be theirs through self-knowledge for the small inconstant pleasures of human contact. You would be surprised how many supposedly mature people are still confused about love. People want love relationships because they do not understand what love is. They seek it because they do not know that it is their nature. Enlightenment is the hard and fast understanding “I am love.” There is no guarantee that you will get this understanding in relationship, although it is possible. Usually one is so focused on satisfying one’s emotional and sexual needs that love becomes lost in the shuffle. When you know you are love, every relationship is a love relationship. You see love everywhere and in everything. Your life is full of loving people. It comes at you from all around. The idea of locking up a person in a relationship and trying to get that person to love you the way you want to be loved is absurd when you know what love is. Love is the most difficult thing to know, it seems. Until you understand that it is your nature, you will keep seeking and suffering its ups and downs.
~ Love, James