What do I do with my expectations of Jesse, of relationship? Can I just let go of them, because they set me up for suffering? I used to think I should, but now I think it’s more complicated. In fact, it’s a paradox….
Everyone has the responsibility to treat others with compassion, kindness and encouragement. If we don’t, we hurt ourselves as well as those we mistreat. (Many people don’t understand this.)
We all need to be treated this way. Without it, it’s very difficult to gain and maintain the healthy self-respect and self-confidence we all need to cope with the world. It’s a basic human need, coming from the nature of ordinary reality.
All beings deserve to be treated this way. And I think we have the right to ask for it. But here’s the paradox: I don’t think we have the right to tell others they should treat us this way, to tell them they’re wrong when they don’t. We only have the right to hold ourselves to account.
It’s a pretty fine line, between asking for what we need, because we have the right to — and telling someone they should give it. Usually the issue comes up when we feel they have failed to, when we feel treated unfairly, and hurt. Our minds’ first thought, and the words out of our mouths most easily, are about what the other person did or didn’t do.
Mindfulness can make a big difference here. What am I experiencing, right this moment? I feel hurt, I feel defensive, I feel angry. I feel he’s a shit, an abusive, cruel child….
But in fact he’s just a flawed human being, conditioned the same as I am into certain patterns he replays in a knee-jerk fashion, and especially when he feels defensive!
The trick is to establish communication between the wise souls who are bound up inside these destructive, defensive patterns. And much as I may rebel at the idea, if I’m at the point of understanding this, I have the responsibility to initiate.
So there I am, owning my feelings, being mindful that it’s me, yes, not him, who is responsible for the hurt, the misery, the grief, the desire to blame him, to lash out, to make him sorry; the exhaustion with all this struggle, the desire to run, to just walk out; the disinclination to be brave and do the right thing *again*, why do I always have to be the sane one…. It’s my mind, doing my feelings. I could respond to what he did in any one of a million ways. The way my mind chooses to react is my responsibility. I hate it. I absolutely hate it. I watch the hate. I just stay with all that yuck, for as long as it takes.
And sometimes I win clear of it, enough to remember we are allies underneath (we are all allies underneath!) and speak with kindness, compassion and encouragement to my ally as I ask for what I need.
If he doesn’t get it, or doesn’t give it…. I took care of my responsibility. I stood up for myself, I treated him fairly. I am freer than I was before the struggle, more in touch with my essential being. It’s hard, not getting treated right — it can be downright shitty, as well as dangerous — but it is possible to use the experience as a spiritual practice. So that we gain a strength beyond the self-confidence that comes from being treated right.
Or we can walk away. But I don’t think we are setting ourselves up for suffering either way. We are already set up for suffering, by being human. The point is what we do with it / about it.
My understanding of a committed relationship is one where both partners understand the relationship as a spiritual discipline. Not where we intend to fill each other’s needs, but where we intend to be mindful about how we treat each other — which includes, most importantly!, how we react to each other.
I won’t say Jesse and I have that yet, but…
(You know what a juggler says when she’s trying to learn to add one more ball to those she can keep in the air? She doesn’t say “I can’t do five balls”; she says “I’m working on five balls.”)
…we’re working on it.