The problems that surface in relationships stem mostly from our hurts and traumas that we carry over from childhood. These lie dormant until we find a partner whom we love and trust. We then become vulnerable and our partner can either help us to heal or can hurt us.
Sometimes the problems are to do with culture, geography and lifestyle. Either we live in different places, come from different cultures or religions, have different needs or desires in life, or are at different places in our developmental cycles. So, even though love is present, it is often not enough to form an enduring partnership.
Some relationships start with a lot of hopes but often end in a painful way that forces us to confront our fantasies, romantic dreams or illusions. Without realizing it, we were projecting our unmet needs and unrealistic expectations onto the other, not really seeing who the other is and who we are. Confronting our relationship issues often means looking honestly at our projections.
A common problem is the lack of a healthy differentiation, when each individual seems to have two incompatible sets of needs, for instance for love and aloneness – or we can say – for merging and for freedom. But there is also a deeper and more creative perspective from which to examine problems in relationships.
Relationship problems are in fact the creative problems of life; they are part of a natural emotional and spiritual maturation that give us the opportunity to look deeply into ourselves. And this is the gift we have received from Osho: the understanding that we can use our relationships to wake up.
Hurts and traumas
We are born open and trusting. But over time, through the painful and traumatic experiences we are subjected to while growing up, we learn to develop a carefully constructed protective layer in order to survive. Part of this mechanism is to develop defenses to shield us from being hurt again. These defenses are unconscious and cause us to close our hearts, to mistrust intimacy and to attack or withdraw when we feel the slightest threat to our sense of security. While these served to protect us they make relationships difficult. Not only do we have a protective shell, the partner does as well.
These early survival strategies, which worked when we were children, don’t work for adults and the reaction causes huge suffering and endless cycles of conflict. In the end, we feel disappointed, frustrated and usually retreat within the walls of our well-honed protective defenses. Mistrust and distance sets in and our relationships become compromised.
We often don’t have a deep enough access to our inner world in order to identify – or even less contain – our hurts. So, to protect ourselves, we attack, blame, cut off from the other or try to change and control them. As we have only limited skills to relate, when our partners do or don’t do things, unable to contain the hurt that comes up, we react instead. And we usually react with the force of all the repressed emotions that have been long buried behind our defensive shell.
In therapy we call this ‘the return of the repressed’. These emotions, these energies when they come up are extremely intense and primitive. They can be very destructive. A lot of personal work and meditation to sort through these feelings is needed in order to heal them. In these moments when emotions are triggered it is crucial to become present, to create a space to breathe, pause for a moment to feel ourselves, so that we can respond rather than automatically react. This would make of us authentic and mature beings.
Relationships do provoke our wounds. They make us look at what we carry inside of us and ask us to take responsibility. We are responsible for how we bring this out into the world and how we relate to others.
Projection vs reality
How and why we manifest relationships is also important to know. When we are drawn to someone for the obvious reasons – intellectual, sexual or emotional – we don’t always see that there is also an unconscious agenda that is operating. What this means is that we always attract the right person that offers just the amount of intimacy we can tolerate.
Usually we start a relationship with a positive projection onto our partner, i.e. we only see what we want to see. Over time the positive projections break down and we are faced with a real person, who is some of the time ‘good’ and some of the time ‘not good’. In therapy we call these aspects the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ other.
When this moment happens it means we are stepping into reality. We know that we are not perfect and neither is our partner. They cannot be there all the time in the way we want them to be. This confronts our aloneness, the very thing we were probably trying to avoid in the first place. Love becomes real.
Sometimes we have to face that we have brought someone into our lives who is emotionally unavailable. When this is the case we have to understand that they responded to a deeper and more unconscious agenda in us, which is that we too are afraid of being intimate, of revealing ourselves and giving it all.
This understanding can be very empowering. We might see that we have a deep wound of shame or lack of self-esteem. We feel deep down that we don’t deserve a person who loves us totally, or we are afraid of losing our freedom and committing to one person. This can become a pattern which we repeat over and over again.
Perhaps when we look deeper we can see that we are repeating a painful, yet compulsive relationship we had with a parent. We repeat things because the unconscious is trying to heal a wound that we could not heal in our family. As children we simply did not have the resources or the awareness.
These insights are what help us change. Seeing the pattern, finding out its origin, learning to be aware when the pattern reasserts itself and then finding ways to choose differently. This is what I feel Osho was helping us with – in such a loving way.
Relationships: a way to grow
In one of the Tantra discourses on Tilopa, Osho talks about how we have to make mistakes in order to grow, how we actually need to go astray, and that relationships are the perfect vehicle. Who of us hasn’t made mistakes in relationships? I know I have, and more than once. We can learn so much about ourselves from our connections with others, especially our intimate connections and through this we grow and transform.
You will never know yourself without knowing the other. Love is very fundamental for self-knowledge too. The person who has not known the other in deep love, in intense passion, in utter ecstasy, will not be able to know who he is, because he will not have the mirror to see his own reflection. Relationship is a mirror, and the purer the love is, the higher the love is, the better the mirror, the cleaner the mirror.
Osho, The Secret, Ch 2, Q 1
When you understand that relationship is sadhana or spiritual practice, then it becomes a powerful way for growing into the fullness of being human, for opening our hearts to deeper love, compassion and understanding. Part of this is developing a healthy capacity to love and to be loved. This also requires a commitment to a meditative and self-aware lifestyle, an ongoing inquiry into one’s experience and reality, and a space of transparency with oneself… so that ultimately we can live with personal integrity and accountability.
Relationships are a process and with each one we learn something new. Every relationship builds on the learning and the mistakes of the ones before. Even though there might be some repetition, there is usually also growth. We are taking things to a higher and more responsible level. But if we are unaware of who we attract and are attracted to, why we attract them and what to do when we are together, we simply behave in an unconscious and sabotaging way.
Conscious and unconscious relationships
In an unconscious relationship we blame the other for causing the wounds, whereas in a conscious relationship we see that the other merely triggers what is already invisibly present. This is where intimacy can be an enormous opportunity for healing and transformation. But for this meditation is needed.
Without meditation it is difficult to own our stuff, be accountable for all that we carry from the past and all that we manifest in life and love. With meditation we see that it is not the relationship that is misery, but that it is unconsciousness that causes the pain.
A relationship is misery when we have no access to our inner going-ons, when we have no self-understanding of what motivates us and what makes up our personality. When we don’t intimately know what our history is, what our wounds, what our needs and expectations are. When we bring all this unworked, combustible material to a relationship, then it is misery.
As we mature and have our hearts broken a few times then we can start to see our relationships as a profound way to grow, heal and awaken to something closer to our true nature. This kind of relationship thrives in honesty and truthfulness. We are fully prepared to show ourselves exactly as we are, transparent and not trying to preserve some self-image. This presence and openness is very healing and is what enables real contact, a healthy sexuality, and intimacy with self and others.
Being alone in togetherness
For a relationship to work, each party needs to be able to be happy alone without obsessively needing and depending on the other. I used to think that we mostly wanted to be with someone because we could not tolerate being alone and that this was an avoidance of facing the ultimate spiritual truth, i.e. that we are born alone and die alone.
After many years of being with Osho – sometimes being alone and sometime being with a partner – I came to see that my spiritual search does not depend on being alone or with someone. It depends on how I live my life, what matters to me, what my priorities are. This is something that each one of us has to define for themselves.
Love and meditation can grow hand in hand. Even if we have tendencies towards merging and getting lost in the other or tendencies to wall off and isolate ourselves, we can work with these. For me, I find a richness in being together and being alone in that togetherness. It is a beautiful path to work out this koan of togetherness and aloneness. I find growing in love together with someone and deepening my meditation and aloneness a powerful journey.
I think that as humans we are intimate creatures. We seek out others, as lovers and friends, and need closeness and bonding. Of course, we also need space and aloneness. But I now feel that it ok to have needs, that it is ok to be dependent, as long as it is within limits. It is a matter of personal preference. Some people like to walk the path together and some alone. I know that for me it works better when I am with someone, and yet I know, if my relationship ended I could be alone and my life would be fulfilled.