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Relationships as Spiritual Practice

Updated on October 28, 2012

“…Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.” –Jedi Master Yoda

'"Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you." >> Yoda speaking to Anakin at the Jedi Council'


In Negative Emotions as Lightsabers: The Power of Feeling Good Now, Part II , we mentioned that we can make use of our negative emotions to develop the habit of being present to the here and now, by using them as a reminder to come back to the present and accept the moment.

Likewise, we can use relationships, as a spiritual practice. Most significant experiences would come from our closest relationships, for example, parents, husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, best friend, and so on. It is mostly in closely-knit relationships that we have higher expectations of each other and thus have the higher likelihood for disappointment.

Our Emotions as Signal to Coming Back to Presence

In his bestseller books, Eckhart Tolle, mentioned the importance of being fully present or noticing the emotion as it arises, so as to prevent it from adding negative energy to the pain body. I think this has to do with preventing a buildup of negativity in one’s psyche, in other words.

An example would be being in the presence of your loved one in the middle of his or her throwing a tantrum, for no reason at all, when there is no one else around but you.

It is a very difficult experience to stay with the feeling, without resorting to action of some sort or making judgments. Taking the event as a spiritual practice, one can use 4Rs to process one’s feelings: recognize the feeling, refrain from judging the feeling, relax into it and resolve to do it again.

In my most recent experience with the practice of 4Rs, these are my observations:

· Recognize, it has already become quite automatic for me to perceive the feeling as it arises

· Refrain, contrary to refraining from judgment, I still have a tendency to reject negative feelings

· Relax, it is easier to relax into the feeling if one befriends the feeling without demanding for an explanation or rationalization of the event

· Resolve to do 4Rs again.

Even if we’re still only at the level of being able to practice at least the first step, Recognize, we need to understand that we have been privileged with a more developed awareness. Not everyone is capable of noticing their feelings. Being able to notice our feelings as they arise is a gift of awareness from God.

The Freedom of Not-Knowing

There is so much that logical thinking cannot grasp. We seek to control by grasping the cause and effect of an event as it happens. This is contrary to the practice of 4Rs, which seem to require our unconditional acceptance of the moment, in refraining from demanding to understand the whole picture.

Although the practice of 4Rs is a purely internal event, its power to provide insights when needed is a reality. It just needs surrender and patience from our part not to demand an immediate grasp of the situation. Let the revelation arrive at its own time. “When the sage bends to everything, everything bends to the sage.”

Fear as Part of “Loving” Relationships

Using the word “love” in the usual way that people refer to it, relating to each other through a predominantly ego-based interaction, fear is a constant.

It is common for us to fear that our loved one may leave us behind if we say or do something that they don’t like.

In retrospect over my loved one’s tantrum, I had been totally in the dark as to what was going on. It was only after a few days when the insights came:

The shenpa came from a feeling of fear. The fear came from the loved one’s predisposition of threatening to leave when upset. The fear had later on turned to anger. The anger, being towards a loved one, was about to turn to guilt.

'"Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you." >> Yoda speaking to Anakin at the Jedi Council'


If I had not paid attention to the inner progression, there is a possibility for the feeling to turn to guilt and guilt to turn to resentment or hatred and add fuel to the pain body.

We need to be present to our feeling, as the watcher or observer, to prevent the negative energy to unconsciously seep into our system. If we are attentive to our feeling or emotion or the moment as it arises, Being at some point reveals the wisdom behind the situation. (From here, we can move on to the necessary, insightful action.)

That is our part of the equation.

It Takes Two to Tango

After we have owned up our responsibility, e.g., our feelings and behavior towards the interaction, our loved one also has their share of the equation. Ideally, we are unconditionally loving and forgiving beings. But through our lifetime of experiences, we acquire human conditioning; we become limited and most likely ruled by our ego-based self. We hope that our loved one is able to rise above ego to reciprocate lovingly.

But not everybody is blessed with such a relationship.

A basic guide would be the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the courage to change what I can, to accept what I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Some of us have the option to leave a relationship, especially when it has become abusive. Some of us may not.

For those who do not have the option, we can take courage in taking the perspective that indeed a relationship is an opportunity to strengthen our spiritual muscles or to practice sadhana.


Personal Bill of Rights, by Anonymous

  1. I have numerous choices in my life beyond survival.
  2. I have a right to discover and know my Child Within.
  3. I have a right to grieve over what I didn’t get that I needed or what I got that I didn’t need or want.
  4. I have a right to follow my own values and standards.
  5. I have a right to recognize and accept my own value system as appropriate.
  6. I have a right to say no to anything when I feel I am not ready, it is unsafe or violates my values.
  7. I have a right to dignity and respect.
  8. I have a right to make decisions.
  9. I have a right to determine and honor my own priorities.
  10. I have the right to have my needs and wants respected by others.
  11. I have the right to terminate conversations with people who make me feel put down and humiliated.
  12. I have the right not to be responsible for other’s behavior, actions, feelings or problems.
  13. I have a right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect.
  14. I have a right to expect honesty from others.
  15. I have a right to all of my feelings.
  16. I have a right to be angry at someone I love.
  17. I have a right to be uniquely me, without feeling I’m not good enough.
  18. I have a right to feel scared and to say “I’m afraid.”
  19. I have the right to experience and then let go of fear, guilt and shame.
  20. I have a right to make decisions based on my feelings, my judgment or any reason I choose.
  21. I have a right to change my mind at any time.
  22. I have the right to be happy.
  23. I have a right to stability---i.e., “roots” and stable healthy relationships of my choice.
  24. I have the right to my own personal space and time needs.
  25. There is no need to smile when I cry.
  26. It is OK to be relaxed, playful and frivolous.
  27. I have the right to be flexible and comfortable around people.
  28. I have the right to change and grow.
  29. I have the right to be open to improve communication skills so that I may be understood.
  30. I have a right to make friends and be comfortable around people.
  31. I have a right to be in a non-abusive environment.
  32. I can be healthier than those around me.
  33. I can take care of myself, no matter what.
  34. I have the right to grieve over actual or threatened losses.
  35. I have the right to trust others who earn my trust.
  36. I have the right to forgive others and to forgive myself.
  37. I have the right to give and to receive unconditional love.


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