Question: How can we maintain our own integrity or identity in a relationship, especially a close one, without compromising the integrity of others?
Ram Dass: Which you do you want to preserve? Let me play with it a little bit. When I look at relationships, my own and others, I see a wide range of reasons for people to be together and ways in which they are together. I see ways in which relationship – which means something that exists between two or more people – for the most part, reinforces people’s separateness, as individual entities. And it doesn’t just honor it; it treats it as the reality of it.
The image I always have when I am performing a wedding is the image of a triangle in which there are two partners and then there is this third force, this third being that emerges out of the interaction of these two. The third one is the one that is the shared awareness that lies behind the two of them. And the two people in the yoga of relationship come together in order to find that shared awareness that exists behind them in order to then dance as two. So that the twoness brings them into one and the oneness dances as two, and that’s a kind of a vibrating relationship between the one and the two. So that people are both separate, and yet they are not separate. And they are experiencing that the relationship is feeding both their uniqueness as individuals and their unit of consciousness.
Now, that is extremely delicate because it is so easy to get entrenched in your own “I need this,” “I want this,” “you are not fulfilling this for me” and seeing the other as object. But the delight, which all of you have experienced, is of being with somebody where you are sharing an awareness of the predicament you are both in. And you are sharing an awareness of the predicament even when you are having an argument with each other – there is an awareness that you are both almost delighting in the horrible beauty of it. We’re hating it and enjoying it both – because there are these levels we are playing at all the time. We come into relationship often very much identified with our needs. I need this, I need security, I need refuge, I need friendship, I need this. And all of relationships are symbiotic in that sense. We come together because we fulfill each others’ needs at some level or other.
The problem is that when you identify with those needs, you always stay at the level where the other person is she or he – it is satisfying that need. And it really only gets extraordinarily beautiful when it becomes us, and then when it goes behind us and becomes I. And so when I ask you which person are you saving or protecting or whose integrity you are protecting, I understand that to enter into the yoga of relationship is an extremely difficult thing to do. It’s the hardest yoga that I know of actually. Because your ego is so vulnerable when you start to open up to another human being. You feel so tender and so vulnerable. And before that one place gets going strong enough, you get frightened and you pull back and you get entrenched and that happens all the time in relationships. People that come together with the greatest meaning of feeling love and then they get caught in their needs and their frustrations and they separate.
One of the problems is that we tend to place relationships a little bit on the back burner in life. We get a relationship and then we go out to a job and we go out to other things. Now that we have that together, we go do life. And for a relationship to be a yoga of relationship, is like a full time operation for years. For me, one of my examples is Stephen and Ondrea Levine. Stephen and Ondrea used to be really nice, friendly, sociable people – before they met. And then they met – I used to like Stephen – and then they met and they really started to be together and the amount of energy that had to go into staying clear with each other was profound. Because what happens is so much goes down so fast in relationships, it’s really hard to process it fast enough to keep clear. So you keep getting this kind of residual of old stuff that isn’t quite digested enough and you end up separate from the person because you didn’t have time to stop and kind of work it through, clear it, and so on. So what they did was they moved on to land with no telephone. Put up a big sign “No Trespassing”. And they just started to work with one another. And after some years, during which you really felt like you were cut off as a friend, and it was hard for me, because I counted on Stephen a lot for sharing consciousness. And then after a while, they began to open up to me and allow me in and then I began to see the effect of that. I began to see what happens when people learn how to really open, trust, meditate together, keep emptying, keep clearing, and work until they are a shared awareness. And if you watch them when they are teaching together, when they are on the platform, or when they are together, they have done some really extraordinary work. They still have a lot of work to do. I mean they aren’t cooked by any means. But they have done some really good stuff together. And that’s hard and it’s rare.
I, on the other hand, have gone into relationships and realized that I can’t hear my own truth in the relationship and I’ve had to stop it. Because I wasn’t willing to surrender the life games that I was in for that relationship. It just wasn’t worth the effort. I treasured what I was doing in my life too much to invest in that relationship that deeply. So I’ve heard it both ways. You hear that? It’s not fair to say that any relationship that isn’t involved in the yoga of relationship is not useful and fulfilling to people. A lot of people come together because it is just really comfortable living with another person and there is a wonderful kind of sweet intimacy. And it’s fun to cook with each other and to sleep together and it’s fun to just live life together without trying to get too deep in as a spiritual practice. And many of those people have other spiritual practices. They go off and meditate and one does something else – Tai Chi or something else. And that seems fine to me. I don’t think you should make believe that a relationship is really yoga unless you are willing to really put the effort into making it such. And if you are, it really fills all the space for a long time.
When I am in a relationship with somebody else, and what they do upsets me; because I understand that my life experiences are the gift of my Guru in order to bring me to God, if somebody upsets me, that’s my problem. This is a hard one. Because we don’t usually think these ways in this culture. What I see other people as, I see them as trees in the forest. You go to the woods and you see gnarled trees and live oaks and pines and hemlocks and elms and things like that. And you are not inclined to say, “I don’t like you because you are a pine and not an elm.” You appreciate trees the way they are. But the minute you get near humans, you notice how quick it changes. It’s a way in which you don’t allow humans to just manifest the way they are. You take it personally. You keep taking other people personally. All they are are mechanical run-offs of old Karma. Really, it’s what they are. I mean they look real and they think they are real, but really what they are is mechanical run-off. So they say, Grrrh! And you karmically go Grrrh! And then one of you says, “We’ve got to work this out.” And the other says, “Yes, we must.” And then you start to work it out. It’s all mechanical. It’s all condition stuff.
So somebody comes along and gets to me. They get me angry or uptight or they awaken some desire in me, wow am I delighted. They got me. And that’s my work on myself. If I am angry with you because your behavior doesn’t fill my model of how you should be, that’s my problem for having models. No expectations, no upset. If you are a liar and a cheat, that’s your Karma. If I’m cheated, that’s my work on myself.
My attempting to change you, that’s a whole other ballgame. What I am saying is if I will only be happy if you are different than you are, you are asking for it. You are really asking for it. Think of how many relationships you say, “I really don’t like that person’s this or that. If they would only be this. If I could manipulate them to be this, I can be happy.” Isn’t that weird? Why can’t I be happy with them the way they are? You are a liar, a cheat and a scoundrel and I love you. I won’t play any games with you, but I love you. It’s interesting to move to the level where you can appreciate, love, and allow in the same way you would in the woods. Instead of constantly bringing in that judging component which is really rooted out of your own feelings of lack of power. Judging comes out of your own fear. Now I fall trap to it all the time. But every time I do, I catch myself.