I was in Bali teaching a writing retreat the day of the United States Presidential election in 2016. For the first time in my life, I felt ashamed to be an American. When I first arrived in Bali, the taxi drivers would ask me where I was from and I’d say, “California.” They’d respond with things like, “Oh . . . naked naked sexy Hollywood.” I’d say, “No, not that California.” After the election, they’d ask where I’m from, I’d say “California,” and they’d say, “Ah . . . Donald Trump.”
I’m in love with this Alanis Morrissette song "You Owe Me Nothing in Return." In fact, I have a girl crush on Alanis in general, especially after I heard her speak with one my spiritual influences Adyashanti. For a long time, I used the lyrics to this song about unconditional love as a sort of sacred contract I proposed between friends, family members, and romantic partners. It was my benchmark, the ideal of perfect love that I strove to achieve.
Except for a few short term bursts of relationship, I’ve been mostly single for three years after twelve years of marriage ended in divorce, and jeez, things have changed in my dating process since last time I was single. My old list of “What I Want in a Partner” has mostly dissolved. Gone are the “wears boxers,” “likes green,” “great legs,” “enjoys hiking and skiing,” and “financially secure” items on my wish list. I’ve had to add some terms I hadn’t thought it necessary to add when I was younger, like “Not gay, married, living internationally with no chance of a visa, or expecting me to conceive another child.” Living in Marin County, I’m also realizing that I need to qualify that, while I don’t judge anyone who chooses such a lifestyle and I can certainly see the appeal of it, polyamory isn’t my cup ‘o’ tea. Been there. Tried that. It just doesn’t feel safe or stable to me, and it’s a lot of emotional work. Perhaps I’m just not enlightened enough, but my polyamory experiment left me concluding that my heart is just too tender and needs the gentle nest of what I’ll call “open monogamy” in order to open up all the way to the levels of intimacy I desire and am capable of giving.
Time, marriage, and maturity have definitely shifted my priorities. But the most radically paradigm-shifting change is this big fat realization.
I am only interested in a relationship with someone as committed to the spiritual path as I am.
There. I said it out loud, and you can hold me to it.
As we embark upon the journey of 2015, I am dreaming of a world in which we remember, as the indigenous people do, that our Story of Separation is only an illusion, that we are all connected, not just to other people, but to the plants, the animals, the mountains and rivers and oceans, that we cannot harm one another, we cannot violate nature, without directly harming ourselves. What would a world governed by our certainty of Oneness be like?
I just had the unspeakable privilege of living in such an experiment while spending most of December in Australia, preparing to speak at the Uplift Festival amidst a group of modern day spiritual teachers, indigenous elders, and sacred activists. The experience was so profound, moving, and hopeful that I was launched into a phase of grief after leaving our bubble of Oneness in Byron Bay. Even though I know this shift towards Oneness is already underway, and more and more of us are acting from a space of kindness, generosity, compassion, appreciation, and love, I still found it hard to walk through the airport on the way home and feel the pain of the remains of the separation story among us.
I used to think that friends were the people who unconditionally comforted you when you felt wronged, showed up for you when you felt needy and insecure, joined you in righteous indignation when you felt angry, and validated you when life isn’t going your way. I thought friends would be unconditional cheerleaders, and you would always feel better after being with a friend. But lately, I've realized that my most valuable friends are the ones who stand for my soul, even when that means saying something my ego doesn't want to hear.
When a friend stands for your soul, she holds you accountable to your highest potential and expects you to do the same for her. When a friend stands for your soul, she understands how your ego operates- and loves and accepts you in spite of- even because of- what she knows. But she doesn't sit by complacently when she watches you create your own suffering. She calls you on it lovingly and pushes you in the direction of your highest self.
No “Story Fondling”
When a friend stands for your soul, she holds you and comforts you when you feel wronged, but she doesn't engage in story fondling with you. She knows there’s no need to hash and rehash your sob story, because doing so only keeps you stuck. As soon as you’ve grieved and lashed out and you feel strong enough, a friend who stands for your soul reminds you that it's time to end your pity party and be in the solution. She even helps you find meaning in whatever left you feeling hurt or angry because she knows even tragedies aren't random, that life is purposeful, even when it's hard.
When a friend stands for your soul, he's willing to say what others won't, the things people might be whispering behind your back because they don't love you enough to say it to your face. But he never intends to be critical, and he's never, ever mean. He is wind beneath your wings, helping to lift you higher, and he trusts that you will give him the same gift.