Romantic feelings, while inspiring, are notoriously fickle. — John Welwood
He’s referring to the romance found in intimate relationships, but it also applies to spirituality, and the notions we have of such relationships.
Never idealize others. They will never live up to your expectations. — Leo F. Buscaglia
It’s very easy to romanticize spirituality. It happens over and over again to many, many people. This is true especially for the novice. Spirituality promises peace, relief, happiness, healing, strength, and it delivers on these and more. What the new (as well as experienced) practitioner often doesn’t realize is that none of the benefits of spirituality are promised as a pouring in from the outside. Similarly no benefits are available without personal responsibility.
Spirituality is an inner orientation and it uncovers the peace, healing and happiness that are already there.
Each of us has these two forces at work inside us: an embryonic wisdom that wants to blossom from the depths of our being, and the imprisoning weight of our karmic patterns. From birth to death, these two forces are always at work, and our lives hang in the balance. Since human nature always contains these two sides, our journey involves working with both.
— John Welwood
There’s bliss in spirituality, but the path isn’t all blissful. It’s not always smooth and harmonious. It’s not made for avoidance. It’s not a shortcut or bypass. There’s traffic and dirty dishes, horrid emotions and physical aches. That’s existence.
Bliss is incredibly seductive. If it’s there as a result of being real with oneself, a fountain found under our debris, bliss is a gift. If it’s there as an attachment or vehicle for avoidance, it’s no different than any other addiction.
This is where spirituality is romanticized. We think just because we have teachings and are dedicated, we get a free pass. Spirituality works wonderfully as long as we realize that it’s a process and not a forgone conclusion.
There’s also quite a bit of misinterpretation of the actual teachings. Spirituality predominantly emphasizes goodness, love, kindness, forgiveness, giving, compassion, and rightly so. Where would the world be without the counterbalance of these?!
However, these are not romantic notions. They are not meant to be practiced to our own detriment. We can be kind to a coworker, but we can also speak up when needed. We can forgive someone who keeps hurting us, but we don’t have to stay with them.
When spiritual teachings are put into practice at our own expense, they lose all power and effectiveness.
Where we really get into hot water is when romanticized spirituality is carried over into any committed relationship.
Relationships are a huge subject. We spend our entire life interacting in familial, intimate, social, and work relationships. This focuses on one major area:
- Having a partner who isn’t actively pursuing their spirituality
A disclaimer: Spirituality can be many things. Here it is the active, conscious, daily, practice-based application of teachings.
If a partner claims their spirituality is ‘something’ else, that may be valid as long as it helps them show up in openness and harmony, from a place of growth and accountability so that the relationship is enriched.
Most often it’s the case that the partner simply doesn’t have a spiritual orientation to life.
This is a hard subject to write about. There’s no hierarchy, no ‘better than.’ Only an accounting of what many are living with and the pitfalls of such situations.
Practice-based teachings have a time factor. It’s not any different than committing to a workout routine, or whatever suits a person. The difference kicks in when the non-practicing partner questions the value of one’s sacred time. Questions begin about its value, contribution to the household, time away from the relationship, and most importantly there’s no understanding as to ‘why.’
This creates a rift. It can’t be spun. It can’t be rationalized. The rift then widens because spirituality taken to heart shifts one’s worldview in radical ways.
The practicing partner is left with a couple of choices:
- Compromise and/or miss practice time, reducing quality of life
- Negotiate practice time, but live with a growing sense of disconnection
Neither is so great.
The practicing partner wants to be loyal to the teachings, wants to behave in the right way, to give their partner love, understanding, support and encouragement. This is part of the practice after all. And s/he has more resources to be giving. But there’s an inherent trap.
Being a couple can’t be one-sided. It’s engineered for equality and sharing.
Two halves do not make a whole when it comes to a healthy relationship: it takes two wholes.
— Patricia Fry
It’s understood that no one is whole in the full sense of the word. We’re all healing many wounds, consciously or not. And there’s the rub. While one person is working on themselves and the relationship, the other is perhaps at a standstill. Unawakened healing and growth can be detrimentally slow, if it activates at all.
Only one partner growing within themselves is a sure recipe for growing apart. The growth container of only one partner cannot forever hold and carry the other partner. It’s bound to self-destruct.
There’s a slow poison that seeps into the relationship. It creates tension, walking on eggshells around each other, and mutual resentment. It saps the peace out of one’s practice, and undercuts the couple’s bond.
True spiritual teachings tend to be aspirational. They are expansive, inclusive and inspire us. Ironically this leads to easy misinterpretation. Teachings aren’t meant to be used to make excuses to ourselves about our partner. They aren’t meant to create more self-deception.
We must learn to love wisely.
I will no longer allow anyone to manipulate my mind and control my life in the name of love.
— Miguel Ruiz
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