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  • D.J. McKay

Relationship and Taking Responsibility

Other than the general ability to disidentify (see the previous blog), I would say that the primary prerequisite for conscious communication is the willingness on the part of everyone involved to take responsibility for their own experience. As long as we believe that our experience is caused by outside events or the state of our fortunes, and specifically by the words or deeds of those we are in relationship with, we will remain unable to connect authentically with others, to fully resolve disputes or conflicts, to fully love in a human way, or to learn as we might from our circumstances. This is a sweeping statement, I know, but if you will bear with me I think that I can back it up.

It’s a fascinating thing to study humanity through the lens of monastic training eighteen-years thick, which included an absence of personal relationships and a commitment to celibacy. It’s necessary to be outside of something in order to see it, you know, and I feel that my time apart from society has given me an unusually clear perspective on the ways human relate to one another, among other things. The aspect of human custom and behavior that intrigues me most, at least currently, is intimate relationship/partnership. Observing as a monk, the way people traditionally have gone about “relationship” is endearing to the point of being quaint, and is full of flaws. The largest flaw that I can see is the provision within the standard sexual/romantic contract (and there always is a contract, even if it is not stated) which implies that the people involved have gotten together in order to meet each other’s needs. From the point of view of my training, this is perfectly impossible.

Now, if by “need” you mean such things as physical company, someone to share resources with and cooperate with, someone to talk to, and someone to have sex with, then I’ll withdraw that statement. These are not “needs”, however, in my book. Unfortunately, many people are attracted to relationship as a way to avoid relating to themselves, and I don’t consider that to be a need either. When it comes to our fundamental and essential needs, such as the need for unconditional love, for acceptance, for understanding, and for connection with something larger than the individual ego, we are alone, in my experience—or, more exactly, we are alone in our relationship to Life, which has the ability to meet those needs in abundance. It is not my experience that another person has the power to give me those things.

The need for companionship is an interesting one. This would appear to land somewhere in the middle, but even here I would say that this need is met through a relationship with authenticity/Life. That sure is how it went for me, at any rate, through eighteen years of communal solitude. In the silence my own companionship was all I had, and I found, with a bit of practice, that I could be everything for myself that I might wish another to be for me—and more, because the relationship with my own self that I enjoyed was deep and true in a way that is just cannot be with another person, no matter how much love is there. We may project Life onto another person and so imagine that they are meeting the need for companionship (or any of the other needs listed above), but the fact remains that there is no real “other”, at least in terms of human experience. All we experience is ourselves, as well as the Life that animates all that we are and all that we perceive—and these two things, our authentic nature and the Life that animates, are the same.

If it is true that “there is no self and other” (this is a line from the ritual of the monastery where I trained), then where does that leave us in terms of relationship? Are we relating at all? Not really, and yet it appears as if we are, and on the level of the material world we must act as if we are, as if you and I are two different things, and so it is good to have some idea about how to relate to each other skillfully. Given what I said above, that we provide everything we need through our relationship with Self/Life, it makes sense that our first effort must be to remember to take full responsibility for everything we experience. We are in fact responsible—nothing we experience is truly caused from the “outside”--and so we might as well admit it to ourselves. The implications are significant. For example, if you cannot cause me to feel the way I feel (remember, there is no real “you” or real “me”), then it would be highly unjust to blame you for it or to give you credit for it, don’t you think? And what a gift it would be if I abstained from requiring you to meet my needs, especially when that is not possible! Consider the power that goes with this point of view! If my experience were truly caused by the outside then I would be essentially helpless, but considering the fact that there is no “outside”, that all I experience is myself/Life, suddenly I become (potentially, with a ton of practice) the master of my world. I can have whatever experience I choose.

There is a great and wonderful irony here, that once we take full responsibility for our experience, and as a part of this to provide for ourselves the love, acceptance, and so on that we need; once we cease to hold other people and the world at large responsible for the state of our heart and mind, then it appears as if everything around us constantly conspires to give us what we are looking for. We are always projecting, after all. If, in a state of desperation from having lost touch with authenticity, and with my needs unmet, I look to the world, I will see a hostile place that cares nothing about me. On the other hand, if I am connected with Life then my needs are met and it will seem as if all the world loves me. Isn’t that nifty? The other day I was talking to a young man about all this and he said, “If all we experience is ourselves, what’s the point of relationship?” This, to me, this the point, that if we are able to truly love and accept ourselves—a tremendous challenge and the work of a lifetime for most people—then we may experience that love if we wish through other people, and have that love deepened by relating to it in that form.

There are enormous practical benefits to the practice of taking responsibility as well, which I hope to explain now that I have done (I hope) being philosophical. More soon.