Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of June 24, 2013

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The Crucible of Relationship

(Opening Our Heart: Part 3)

An intimate relationship can be the fiery crucible that enables us to love. In the early days of a new relationship, we live that hormonal glow of wonder and magic. As the newness wanes, however, the warts of ego conflicts inevitably surface. We are each unique: differing in our habits, interests, needs, and desires. Presumably we have some compatibility with our new lover, but not 100%. So the friction begins. In successful relationships the friction is outweighed by growing love and care, and by growing compatibility as we begin to share some of our loverís interests.

But for our spiritual inner work, for opening our hearts, the friction in relationships offers a custom-made opportunity for letting go of exactly those things that coat our heart with an inward facing mirror, so that we primarily see and care about our own habits, interests, needs, and desires. This tempts us to make demands on and find fault with the other person, building up the gulf between us. Yet our love and care want to bridge that gulf, to recognize the personhood of the other as equal to our own. And so we are torn between the higher and lower in us, between self-priorities and a larger Self that can include another person within its span.

So as our relationship deepens, we deepen, and the conflict moves from an outer one to an inner one, from arguments with our lover to the visceral questions of what we can let go of, what we are willing to give to make it work. As we side with love, non-love wanes in us, the self-referential mirror dissolves and we can see the other as a person equal in importance to us. We may even begin to see our partner, despite our many surface differences, as a person the same as us. This sometimes hard work of relationship is spiritual work in a very direct way. Love begins at home.

One method is to resolve to treat our partner with respect, always, both inwardly and outwardly. Never to put them down or treat them as less than our self, outwardly or inwardly. For example, never to inwardly complain, not even while putting on a false smile. This requires an enhanced degree of self-awareness to see our thoughts and emotions. And that sets the stage for us to let go of those destructive, self-centered tendencies, again and again. We respect this being that we are with, even and especially when they act in ways we might not deem worthy of respect. This is our inner work of relationship.

Another method is to consider our partnerís interests, needs, and desires by proactively supporting their happiness. The consideration we show to our partner expresses and enhances our love. It can be difficult, though, because so often, to consider them more means to consider ourselves less. We give up something of ourselves in order to act in consideration of them. Of course some people go too far in this direction and wind up neglecting their own interests, needs, and desires to the detriment of the relationship. There is a right balance of considering the other person, even when it is difficult, and considering ourselves when possible and when necessary. Our own love can include both our lover and our self.

There is a quality that we can cultivate, a quality that both expresses our own love and awakens love in others. That quality is harmlessness. Letting go of fault-finding and making demands, acting with respect and consideration, leads naturally to harmlessness. And harmlessness leads to purity of heart. We feel comfortable around a harmless person, confident they will not bite us, verbally, emotionally, or otherwise. We can trust them. We do trust them. We love them.

All of these approaches also apply generally in our interactions with anyone, even with strangers. Frictions with people awaken us to the areas of our own self-centered identification. Consideration and respect become friendliness, generosity, and courtesy. Harmlessness gives way.

The upshot of such inner work is healthy relationships and the purity of heart that enables love. This is where spirituality meets life, in how we treat other people, outwardly and inwardly. For this week, practice consideration, respect, and harmlessness. In so doing, you will cultivate love.


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