By Deepak Chopra, MD
After a period of high stress imposed by the pandemic, many people envision a better future than simply returning to the old status quo. This could mean a great deal for your primary relationship.
In our most intimate personal relationships we search for love and acceptance, although many people find that this has been difficult to sustain in recent years. Everyone has an unloving side; everyone has their own stubborn way of doing things. We bring mixed feelings into our interactions with everyone else, and this is simply the reality. Finding love and acceptance can turn into a very difficult challenge.
It would seem, then, that rising a step higher and achieving a spiritual relationship is even more challenging. The things that people look for in a spiritual relationship used to be fulfilled, not by someone else, but by God alone. God grants such blessings as grace, forgiveness, unconditional love, ecstasy, redemption, and salvation. Can we really expect anything like this from the person who sits across from us at breakfast?
Yet today there are millions of people who are on the spiritual path, and it is only natural that they wish to travel it with someone, usually a spouse, partner, or family member. Let me discuss this aspiration and what it involves. Then a realistic judgment can be made about how to relate spiritually to someone who has the same mixture of positive and negative traits that we do.
In everyday life, relationships are based on the individual ego, the "I" with its stream of demands, likes and dislikes, personal memories and conditioning, etc. The ego personality is based upon self-interest. It wants more pleasure and less pain. It wants its own way, not someone else's. It craves satisfaction through appetite, power, status, and achievement. Seeing the "I" and its agenda, we need to face the fact that the ego personality is not the right vehicle for achieving a spiritual relationship. It is a square peg that will never fit into a round hole.
Fortunately, there is another level of relationship that is egoless. We experience it twice in our lives, usually, first when we were very young children and second when we relate to our own young children. In this relationship, we suspend the demands of self-interest. We experience a range of things unknown to the ego, such as innocent delight, selfless love, trust, intimacy, a desire to cherish the other, and pure joy in someone else's existence. Two beings merge in complete acceptance of each other.
Can these qualities emerge in a relationship between two adults? It would involve voluntarily leaving your ego at the door, which is basically impossible. There are moments in a loving relationship where egoless experiences occur, of course. Spiritual qualities like trust, intimacy, and the desire to cherish another person are part of how we relate in private with those we love as opposed to how we relate to the outside, public world. But inevitably the ego enters in. "My way" leads to a clash with "your way," and somebody has to give, which builds up tension, stress, arguments, and resentment over time.
So the real question is how to live without this split between selfish and selfless. Everyday relationships must contain an element of the selfish; spiritual relationships are as selfless as our relationship with a young child—that's the ideal, at least.
The path to a spiritual relationship depends on one thing that may come as a surprise. The other person is irrelevant. Everything depends upon you, because how you relate to yourself determines how spiritual you are towards others. Go back to the pure love and innocent delight we find with children. Nothing is expected of them. It is enough that a child exists; we place no demands on them to give us what we want. Therefore, no ego agenda is involved. Now look at yourself. Do you accept and love yourself simply because you exist?
I am not looking for a yes or no. Everyone experiences moments where being here is enough. We feel inner peace, contentment, and acceptance without even thinking about it. Where does this selfless state arise? Oddly enough, in deep sleep. When the mind's restless activity and the ego's ceaseless agenda are suspended at night, what remains is pure consciousness.
You will likely be skeptical about that assertion, because deep sleep is without personal experience. Yet we wake up refreshed and renewed, and traces of sleep's peace and contentment linger in the morning if we had a good night's sleep. I bring this up to point out that everyone has journeyed to the selfless state of pure consciousness many, many times. The question is how to reach the same state while awake.
This is where meditation comes in, because we don't fall asleep in meditation. Instead, we relate to ourselves without an agenda. We go inside to meet the selfless state, which isn't blank or empty. It is the meeting point where existence is enough and consciousness is enough. In meditation, as the practice matures, the ego's agenda becomes more and more pointless. If I am enough in myself, I don't have to make demands on anyone or anything else.
Once you relate to yourself without ego, it is natural and easy to relate to someone else in the same way. You invite the other person into your own fullness and fulfillment. It's the very opposite of needing another person so that you won't be lonely, isolated, weak, insecure, and so on. "You complete me" is a fantasy of the ego-personality. In truth consciousness completes you, existence completes you.
That's the vision that sustains us on the path, because after decades of conditioning that place "I, me, and mine" front and center, it takes time undo all the training. The middle of the journey is filled with a mixture of selfish and selfless experiences. This keeps the path alive and active instead of static and boring. Eventually, however, you will prefer to relate to yourself in a simple, uncomplicated way that indicates your state of self-acceptance, and this opens the door to a true spiritual relationship, first with yourself, and then with anyone who wishes to share in the state of completeness.
Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. The World Post and The Huffington Post global internet survey ranked Chopra #17 influential thinker in the world and #1 in Medicine. Chopra is the author of more than 80 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His latest books are Super Genes co-authored with Rudolph Tanzi, PhD and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. www.deepakchopra.com