Thinking some more about this idea that the only thing we know for certain is what we’re experiencing in this moment, I think about what it means, then, to know another person.
There are people in my life I’ve known for a very long time, people who have characteristics that are consistent and that I’ve come to depend on. I know, for example, that the people in my household will most likely respond to me in a certain way when I walk through the door at the end of the day. This thought gives me great comfort and happiness, and I look forward to this homecoming ritual.
But if I cling too tightly to this ritual, it leaves little room for my loved ones to have a bad day or be somehow unavailable to me when I walk through the door. If they change the ritual, it can feel personal, as if they’re doing it to me.
Our fear of the people in our lives changing can lead us to stifle and suffocate them. We can get caught up in thoughts such as “If he goes back to school and broadens his horizons, will he still find me interesting?” or “If she goes into therapy, will she leave me to go find herself and hook up with somebody who’s more spiritual?”, or “I need you to laugh at my jokes so I can feel okay about myself”.
Therapist and author John Welwood (www.johnwelwood.com) writes eloquently about the paradox between meeting our own needs and being open to change in ourselves and in the other:
The Buddha likened meditative awareness to tuning a musical instrument—the strings must be neither too tight nor too loose. If we hold on too tight or let go too much, we lose our balance. This kind of balancing act is crucial in relationships. While it is important to respect our own needs (the earth principle), we must also be able to let go of being too identified with them (the heaven principle). While we must be able to meet another with engagement and commitment (form), we must also be able to let go of the relationship, drop all our agendas and ideas about it, and give the connection room to ebb and flow as it may (emptiness). And though we must loosen our boundaries to unite with another person, if we simply merge with the other, we may lose ourselves in the relationship—which usually spells disaster. Relationship is full of these contradictions.
—Toward a Psychology of Awakening, pp. 242-243
When we meditate, we work on the relationship we have with ourselves and with our true nature. We cultivate the ability to stay present with whatever presents itself to us, no matter how upsetting or disturbing it may be. Meditation gives us a way to welcome these aspects of ourselves with compassion and wisdom and acceptance. We learn to hold both sides of the relationship paradox within ourselves – our need to feel we know ourselves and can count on our sense of who we are to nagivate in this world as well as our need to be open to discovering the unknown within ourselves, to seeing and experiencing what our heart is calling us to do. It’s a difficult dance, one we spend the remainder of our lives learning.
And as we learn this dance, it affects our relationships with the people in our lives. We can enjoy and appreciate all they have to offer us, and even come to depend on them in various ways. But we can learn to release the vice-grip we have on our sense of who they are, and instead hold it lightly, which opens us to fresher, newer ways of seeing and knowing them.