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.
A friend of mine called me to confide in me about how she was struggling in her marriage, and after listening to her story and meeting it with compassion instead of the judgment she feared, I confessed that my marriage wasn't going so well either. I shared with her the struggles Matt and I have been dealing with for several years now, and her response was, “I would never have guessed that in a million years. You two just seem so perfect together.”
A week later, the same friend called to tell me that she had finally opened up to a few other friends about her marital struggles, and lo and behold, every single one of them had confided in her about their own marital struggles. She said, “Lissa, why have I not known I wasn’t alone? Why have I been suffering, thinking I was the only one whose marriage was screwed up, when I’m surrounded by people I love who are going through the same thing?” We pinky promised to talk openly with people about the ways in which the “perfect” image others might have of us is complete BS.
I was talking to another friend who is also going through a rocky patch in her marriage, and she was telling me how much it pains her to drop off her kids at school and see all the happy mothers with perfect families. I told her all she’d have to do is dig one layer deep to find some way in which everyone in the school yard was suffering in at least a small way. The ruse is the lie that leaves us all thinking everyone else has it together- except us.
Show Us Your Imperfections. I Dare You.
Earlier this week, I posted this on Facebook:
I grow tired of people who are so invested in their image that they pretend to live perfect lives, which only leads others to compare themselves and judge themselves as not perfect enough by comparison. Why can't we all just admit that we're perfectly imperfect- and that our imperfections and scars make us beautiful and unique and relatable? Just in case I've pulled the wool over your eyes, I am FAR from perfect. I'm in marriage counseling. I have hairs on my chin and stretch marks on my butt. I battle my own ego. I can be bossy and demanding. I have to tame my ambition to avoid being a workaholic. So please don't put me on a pedestal, and please don't put yourself on one either, since it only distances you from those who would connect more if only they knew that you were as beautifully flawed as they are. Tell us one thing about you that keeps you off the pedestal- one perfectly imperfect way thing that makes you real!
213 of you beautiful people revealed who you really are in response to the invitation. (You can read the awesome responses and add your own here.) Reading everyone’s responses just left me feeling so connected, so understood, so accepted, in spite of my flaws and growth edges. It makes me sad to think about how much of my life I wasted feeling lonely and disconnected because I was too busy trying to project some sick, twisted image of perfection. I was so afraid people would reject me if only they knew who I really was that I presented this sanitized version of myself in order to try to please people. Of course, it backfired. Not until I finally stripped off the masks and revealed who I really am under the false image I was projecting did I actually start to attract the love and acceptance I so desperately desired.
As you walk a spiritual path, do you ever struggle in relationships with those who are not in the same place in their personal/spiritual evolution as you might be? In his online program Integral Enlightenment, spiritual teacher Craig Hamilton breaks relationships into three categories:
1) Those who have no interest in your personal/spiritual evolution or their own
2) Those who are curious and interested in personal/spiritual evolution, but who aren’t as committed as you to the spiritual path
3) Those who are totally committed to doing their own work and growing with you in an active partnership (what he calls “evolutionary relationships")
So what is an “evolutionary relationship?” Craig teaches that an evolutionary relationship need not be about romance or sex at all. In fact, that dimension can often complicate things. He says many of us have sense that there’s a potential for an extraordinary type of human relationship, marked by an unprecedented level of intimacy, vulnerability, authenticity, and transparency, essentially being with each other without any boundaries or barriers, being together truly beyond ego. Many have sensed the potential to be in a relationship that’s always moving, not getting stuck in old patterns, but always vital, dynamic, and thriving, resisting the urge to rest on familiar, known ground.
You may have tasted this kind of dynamic in a relationship, but it’s challenging to stay on this edge, to keep moving forward without sliding into destructive patterns, which might leave you thinking this kind of relationship isn’t possible. Very few relationships will ever evolve to the third level. How will you know the people willing to go there with you? And what would a relationship like this be like?
Craig teaches us how to be proactive about cultivating such relationships. To do this requires essentially establishing a sacred contract, setting up what he calls “an evolutionary partnership", which can be governed by the following radical principles.
Principles of an Evolutionary Partnership
1. The very context and organizing principle of the relationship is conscious evolution beyond ego.
This is the very purpose of why we’re in the relationship. Instead of organizing around comfort, survival, mutual benefit, comfort, and connection, in this kind of relationship, we explicitly commit to coming together for a higher purpose. That’s the “why” of the whole thing. We have a shared agreement for why we’re here. Instead of colluding together to protect and preserve the status quo of the relationship, we’re willing to put the relationship at risk, to constantly challenge the relationship, as a way to evolve spiritually together, as a way to avoid falling into stuck, habitual patterns that lead the relationship to go to sleep.
2. We agree to be mutually accountable to something higher than ourselves.
I’m writing a blog series about M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled (you can read Part 1 here), and as I read the book, I came across a definition of love that is perhaps the best I’ve ever read. Dr. Peck differentiates between “falling in love” and “genuine love.” Falling in love he defines by the psychiatric term “cathexis,” which he defines as “being attracted to, invested in, and committed to an object outside ourselves.” We can “cathect” a beloved, a child, or even a hobby, like writing or painting.
But according to Dr. Peck, the state of cathexis is temporary, both in romance and in friendship, an illusion that in romance often tempts us to consummate our affection sexually and ultimately propagates the species by luring us into marriage vows that we might never agree to were we not cathecting the one we “love.”
While cathexis is necessary- and almost always precedes genuine love- it is short-lived, wearing off not only in romances but in friendships as well. Only when this phase wears off do we have the opportunity to mature into genuine love, which he beautifully defines as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”