Mindful Relationships

“As an ancient said, if people today were as eager for enlightenment as they are to embrace their lovers, then no matter how busy their professional lives might be and no matter how luxurious their dwellings may be, they would not fail to attain continuous concentration leading to appearance of the Great Wonder.”
—Man-an

Spiritual texts often emphasis the importance of solitude. To be properly alone is to cultivate a meaningful relationship with yourself. Unlike relationships with others, the relationship with the self requires honesty if you want it to progress at all. People can often get by without making meaningful connections to others. Many social adult relationships are just about sharing resources, networking, or feeling less alone. When it comes to the self, though, all meaningful relationships ‘out there’ depend on your own strength and ability to be calmly alone. The meditative mind recognizes when it is clinging to others or using them to feel less alone. It works to detach from these unrealistic expectations of others and to develop peace from within.

The best relationships with other people are by nature unnecessary. That is, they don’t come from a place of falseness or neediness; they just naturally emerge. True friends don’t require anything of one other; each party can enjoy the company of the other without needing anything, wanting anything, or having to force any sort of interaction. All that is forced is dishonest to some degree. Trying too hard represents a lack of self-satisfaction. It emanates from people and makes them less appealing to others. Having expectations of others is like demanding interest on a loan no one ever asked for.

Expecting too much from others stems from an unexamined relationship with the self. The narcissistic impulse to seek constant positive affirmation from people represents a lack of affirmation from the self to the self. If you truly love yourself with peaceful strength, you will require less of others, and your relationships will thus improve. How many potentially great relationships have been squandered by needy people who thirst for sex, money, attention or affirmation?

I love the prior quote from Man-an because it elucidates how people look outside of themselves for their satisfaction. Those who look within and cultivate a spiritual life through meditation practice are different. They build the strength and courage to face the world alone. In developing this skill, they become better ‘people people’ than those who rely on others for affirmation or fulfillment.

Humans are spiritually self-sufficient creatures if they choose to be. We require nothing in the external world to cultivate the life of the spirit. In fact, the more distractions and diversions ‘out there’, the more difficult people find it to look within. That makes meditation all the more special a practice today, an era rife with distractions and sensory stimulations.

The key is to shift our priorities a bit. Meditation helps with this. Think of how many movies you’ve watched in which people exhibit co-dependence and how many song lyrics you’ve subconsciously memorized in which people “can’t live without” each other or “will die without” each other. The same way people think they need money or need fame, they think they need one another. Relationships with others can be a wonderfully rewarding and beautiful facet of life, but they should not be its focus. The focus should be your relationship with yourself. Once that’s healthy and your ego is manageable, you can bring your best self to interpersonal relationships.

Similarly, if you try to focus your priorities on meditation practice and mindfulness, you will probably find your relationships improve more than if you were to focus on improving them directly. Whatever we try to do directly often fails because it’s like chopping at the branches of a massive tree. Meditation is an invaluable practice because it hacks away at the roots of our unnecessary attachments and neuroses. The solution to many problems is the simple cultivation of mindfulness and the detachment from expectations.

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