Updated: Jan 21
From philosophers to psychologists and spiritual teachers, many thinkers have described relationships as a basic human need and the reality of our existence. More often than not, relationships determine our identity and our place in the world. However, not many are aware that the relationships which we have with our family, friends, loved ones, colleagues, neighbors, and the society at large, provide us with opportunities to reflect regularly upon ourselves, and to practice mindfulness. Relationships reveal our needs, desires, and attachments, but also our strength and capacity to grow. They have the potential to make or break us — to either reveal the best in us, or make us plunge into a dark night of the soul.
Our relationships are but a reflection of our own inner world. Osho said: ‘Relationship is the mirror: see your face there. If your meditation is going deep, your relationship will become different – totally different. Love will be the basic note of your relationship, not violence.’ Another popular spiritual axiom states that, in order to measure our spiritual progress, it is enough to look at the state of our relationships.
The Law of Attraction states that we manifest into our lives that which we are. Like attracts like. Relationships are no exception to this Universal Law. The quality of our relationships — from the type of people who become part of our lives to the horror or harmony of our interactions with others — is a direct consequence of our inner state of being. At the same time, every challenge which we experience in our relationships is a chance to learn, overcome and rise up the ladder of our spiritual evolution.
One of most comprehensive spiritual frameworks for understanding relationships can be found in the teaching of the Seven Essene Mirrors. The Essenes were an ancient esoteric community, commonly known for their link to the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Essenes believed that our manifested reality, especially our relationships with others, is nothing but a mirror of our internal truth and progress on the path of spirituality. Failing to acknowledge the message of a mirror only amplifies a particular experience, until we learn the lesson and are ready to move forward.
Many spiritual masters have emphasized the importance of bringing awareness to one’s relationships with others. Among them is the unorthodox master Gurdjieff, who often instructed his disciples to use their relationships as a tool, a spiritual device, to unite their thoughts and feelings. According to Gurdjieff, this was a prerequisite for the seeker to awaken from the state of a ‘walking sleep’ and turn towards conscious living.
‘Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.’ Thus sang one of the world’s greatest masters, the 13th century poet and saint, Rumi. His words offer a glimpse into one of the most precious truths that every spiritual seeker eventually comes across — conscious relationships, even when difficult, are a crucial part of any spiritual practice.
Don Juan, Castaneda’s shamanic master, stressed the mighty spiritual role played by the most difficult people in our lives. He referred to them as ‘petty tyrants’ (synonym for ‘impossible people’), or tormentors capable of causing great annoyance and distractions to the spiritual seeker. Petty tyrants know how to push our buttons and throw us off balance. At the same time, they are a blessing in disguise, helping us overcome self-importance (egotism) and move towards self-mastery.
Someone once asked Ramana Maharshi, ’How are we supposed to treat others?’ The great Maharshi gave his iconic response: ‘There are no others.’ Along these lines of divine insight, Meher Baba also said that ‘Mundane love is an interplay between two centers of God and the unconscious.’ Relationships allow us to discover cosmic unity behind the illusory appearance of separateness. To achieve this, Paramhansa Yogananda advised: ‘Be a cosmic friend, imbued with kindness and affection for all of God’s creation, scattering love everywhere.’
When Buddha left his Kingdom, abandoning his father, wife and a son, he was a man in pursuit of the truth. He understood that, in his current state of ignorance, all his relationships only had the potential to cause pain and suffering. He knew that the only way to change this was through self-realization. He chose to work on himself, rather than to seek faults in others. As a result, his personal transformation brought wisdom and light to millions.
It is not necessary to leave the world and become an ascetic. Our relationships can change if we are ready to embrace the challenge and learn through all our experiences. We have two mighty aids to help us achieve this — mindfulness and meditation. They improve the quality of our relationship by stirring a change from within. When we meditate, we heal our hearts, still our minds, and create a heart-mind coherence ( an alignment of our thoughts and feelings). By healing ourselves we automatically change the world that we manifest, and we begin to attract into our lives the best of people and circumstances.