What follows is an exposition on the landscape towards genuinely spiritual relationship as well as a critique of conventional coaching strategies and encouragement towards a greater scope and direction. It is a “technical-poetical” piece written with the intention to inform the mind as well as generate the feeling-sense of the gateways towards spiritual relationship.
Boulder Colorado is a post-modern mecca where people come to cultivate their body, mind, and spirit—to heal, be empowered and find happiness. Within this ocean of spirituality, healing, and psychology, there is a diversity of modalities each with its view of what matters most.
“Relationship as path” is a phrase I have heard more than once in the post-modern matrix.
Without a doubt, this is a noble frame through which to view our lives. Given that from one perspective relationship is all there is, we can be confident that “relationship as path” spreads widely enough to stand equal to the notion of “life as path,” or the buddhist injunction to “bring everything to the path.”
However, simply calling something a path, does not necessarily make it one. Tagging the concept of “path” to the ebb and flow of your hopes and fears as they come and go is a misuse of your mind.
Few people succeed in cutting through the psychological net of their culture to discover a Path that is something more than a mental ornament.
Self-proclaimed “relationship experts” in the business of personal coaching often couch their ideology in “relationship as path,” embellishing their branding and marketing with it.
While the surface level of this ideology may help people transition through certain forms of relational difficulty, the depth of reality these terms point to often remains obscured to both coach and client.
Dramatic limitations are discovered by those who take the time to peer a little deeper into the worldview and processes that define this particular culture of mind. Taking the time for this examination can go a long way in extracting the wisdom of this kind of thinking while avoiding its many poisons and traps.
Path and the pristine autonomy
The sense of personal journey that comes through the notion of path gives coaches and clients a deeper meaning around which to centralize their aims. For some people this can be a step in the right direction. It illuminates interiority and claims a broader self-responsibility—a hallmark of self-sensitive consciousness.
When this line of thinking emerges, the world of relationship is imbued with meaning through the lens that “this is my journey,” “relationship is my path along my journey,” and other related thought forms.
The underlying assumption of “path” mentality is transformation into happiness.
Whether it is tethered to ideals of power, prestige, having a stable identity, or a having conflict-free relationship does not matter so much; within these goals lies a core search for happiness.
Conventional relationship counseling holds a particular view on how this is to be accomplished. Happiness is pursued through the sequential uncovering of blind spots and by defusing the momentum of childhood conditioning and relational trauma.
Work between these coaches and their clients focuses on ending co-dependence and disarming attachment-based neuroses. The emphasis is on autonomy, self-sufficiency, and using new forms of language to navigate or minimize conflict. The bias is often towards “connection” at the intersection of personal independence and skillful communication.
The assumption of the average relationship coach or psychotherapist is that relationship is something to be mastered.
Coaches and their clients imagine that by taking responsibility for their own thoughts, feelings, and “triggers,” and by working through our storehouse of conditioning, they can become bigger than relationship.
This mastery is measured by the frequency and depth of connectedness, harmony, and mutual self-fulfillment. If we lose connection with our partner, we gauge success by how quickly we recover it.
Within this culture of mind, miscommunication, disconnection, and looping, unworkable conflict are indicators that we have lost our autonomy and that we must reclaim our throne as soon as possible. Clients are given all kinds of instructions on how to do this—literally: say these exact words when this happens.
At the heart of these approaches is a formulaic drive towards autonomy and distinctness.
Indeed, the cultivation of a stable and distinct self is an essential developmental move. We must enact genuine self-responsibility if we are to enter into the trans-conventional forms of mind needed for the problems we face as a species.
However, when autonomy is the final aim, neither coach nor client can enact the critical reaches of consciousness that transform personal relationships, much less the fabric of our culture. Personal independence is not a source of happiness, nor will it end the inherent confusion and pain of relationship.
Unfortunately, this is where most coaches and other helping professionals are wedged—caught in the false promise of resolution and happiness, regarding autonomy as a holy grail. Not understanding that autonomy-in-relationship is only provisional, only a step and not an end, they do not break the orbit of contracted conventions of life.
Thinking they can “get pro” on relationships, they erect an identity made of lofty thoughts and relational skills.
Further, not understanding that the mentation of “path” is also only a step, well-meaning professionals fall into its deluded misuse and influence their community to do the same.
The result is as limited as the view and the same suffering simply takes on a new, slightly more sophisticated form.
The narcotic of “path”
To understand the limitations of autonomy, we must see what it is made of. The aim to be independent and distinct and separate is the development out of the body and into the mind. This is the natural growth of a human being—to mentally differentiate itself from its environment.
Over time, identity is established in the mind as me. This me is mediated by symbols which represent the self and its preferences (I am myself as defined by nameable features).
What this self misses completely is that it itself is a symbol—a mental self. Embedded within symbolic mind, it regards the body as my body. It sees nature as being out there. Missing its own identity as a symbol it does not see that all of these things are symbols too. This is autonomy—I am distinct from my body, nature, other people and all things.
Personal distinctness and independence can only be maintained by ignoring huge amounts of truth, or data.
Everything that does not cohere identity into a reliable, concrete self, is kept out of the self-narrative, while experience that aligns with the self-image is affirmed and pronounced. This mixture of allowance and repression gives the self a manageable, distinct shape—ME!
Relationship counseling aimed at autonomy strengthens this mental process to make the self and its preferences ever more distinct. It is from here this form of mind hopes to master relationship.
In the hands of autonomy—the identity of a symbolic, persistent, mental self—the idea of path is just another symbol which serves as a kind of glue to cohere the self.
While the “skills of distinctness” that move people out of co-dependence and into self-responsibility are relatively useful, they do not begin to approach the happiness they promise.
When the autonomy fails to deliver on its promise of freedom, ambitious people employ the energy of hope (I just need to work on myself more), and place happiness within reach by means of “path.”
Identity must be maintained at all cost. The dissonance, confusion, and back-to-square-one failures in autonomy’s attempt to master relationship demand meaning. We want to know that we are somebody and that we have a purpose. Concretized ideals of “path” are woven through dark holes of experience and self.
In this way, path is used as a psychological narcotic—it is a mental balm that gives meaning to pain and confusion. This is my PATH, is a marker of meaning—a place to stand—when things get difficult.
Most relationship coaches unknowingly encourage us to romance our suffering and confusion in this way. Clients are given alluring bits of personal-power tethered to big visions of radical change.
Unfortunately, these strategies are themselves products of the confusion and misunderstanding inherent in the half-blind truth of the autonomous stance. These mental formulas are little more than what David Loy elegantly calls “thought props.”
In truth, the mind that narrates individual meaning is caught in a hallucination of its own making. It does not see that it tags “mastery” to moments of clarity, skill, and connection, and “path” to moments of disconnection and failure.
If you find yourself ever having the thought my relationship is my path, or my life is a path, during a difficult situation, you are likely using the concept to avoid the immensity of your anxiety and confusion.
Coaching that is blind to this cannot encourage growth for people that are ripe to burst into the next stage. Using autonomy as a one-size-fits-all approach leaves many not getting the kind of support they really need and often ends up over-polishing the contours of the separate self.
While you might muscle your way into temporarily calmer waters with these forceful psychological methods, you will never touch the core seed of chaos that always makes its way into your life to dissolve you from the inside out.
If you fall prey to the lie of self-mastery and formulaic strategy as a means to happiness, you are bound to fail and further pollute the mental culture that so desperately needs to bear witness to real human courage.
Thinking we can master relationships is a vicious delusion that makes us weak in our center and senseless in the face of the truth that owns us. The living path stands outside of this kind of mentation.
True path is a hard sell
The real path is that which led you into your sense of autonomy. And that which is leading you out. As such, path cannot be understood by your thinking process or that within you which works tirelessly to keep you undamaged and unthreatened.
Path is beyond the individual psychology. Path is governed by ecstasy. I mean this in its original sense from the greek ecstasies —’standing outside oneself’. This is not the conventional view of euphoric bliss or trancelike mysticism, it is the development of you beyond yourself.
A transformative perspective on path involves less of your personal ideas and narrative about your path, not more. Path is bigger than you and your knowing.
Autonomy is a provisional appearance in the developing stream of consciousness. Appearance cannot be a master of anything. Relationship cannot be mastered by one individual or the other because, in truth neither exist as such. Those that remain unconvinced need only continue to try. For those reaching the glory of relational hopelessness, a new reality awaits.
We need to unravel ourselves to the very root of our assumptions if we want to discover a true path, and not once, but repeatedly.
If you have worked hard to become psychologically independent and autonomous, I congratulate you. This is an essential move that many people have not made. However, from the perspective of real path and genuine relationship, you have only fulfilled the pre-requisites. Your initiation into the Living Force of relationship begins with your unraveling.
Until you discover the living current of constant change within your self-driven relationship strategies, you will only experience lonely shadows of reality and your partner.
Something more true than your personal narrative presses on you from all sides.
It hides within every thought you have and every story you construct about yourself and your relationships. This living current cannot be accessed from your surface. To wake up this human electricity you will need to begin to puncture and dive past your certainties, past your thought props.
Five tenets that liberate path and relationship into the fire of reality
1. Relationship produces you.
This is the first pivotal point you will want to let into your heart. Your autonomy and distinctness are only appearances—perceptual illusions born from developmentally determined unconscious assumptions.
When you penetrate a moment of relationship and enter into its inner constructions you may discover there is no self that exists prior to any given moment. Relationship produces you in this moment. Then it dissolves you only to construct yet another you in the next moment.
Those untrained and unaware of the momentary construction and destruction of the self cannot access this perception and will be confused by this tenet.
Training involves sharpening attention and investigating the anatomy of experience closely. This training goes beyond the symbolically mediated “noticing” produced in the thinking mind.
For now, you can infuse your practice with the novel assumption that you are born in every moment and that nothing carries over. Suzuki Roshi calls this “burning clean.”
2. Relationship is an irreversible and unresolvable flow.
As long as you are in relationship, unresolvable conflict weaves the deep fabric of experience. Even moments of joy and connection have in them the seeds of chaos.
Seek training that re-maps your nervous system to welcome dissonance, aloneness, and the impossibility of resolution. These are the currency of relationship.
3. Your suffering is self-existing.
The pain of your relationships undercuts any thinking or practice you can possess. If you are bound to romantic conceptions of “my path,” you are indulging in mental fantasy, not relationship. If you are applying strategies to a relationship you experience as being “out there” you are alone.
Move beyond using “my life is my path” as a way to make sense of painful, dissonant, and confusing experience. Your thoughts and feelings matter less than you may think.
True path is vital and ecstatic and does not require a narrative of affirmation.
Instead of struggling to maintain yourself into the next moment, let yourself unravel. Be kind to your confusion and inadequacy by not smearing your mind all over them.
4. If path is genuine, it should regularly undermine your ideas about path itself.
You should frequently find yourself confused and despairing. If you find yourself clinging to experience and meaning rather than letting them leave you, you are setting yourself up for a dramatic fall.
Remember that the path in “relationship as path” means ecstasy—standing outside of yourself. True path is the progressive revelation of what is already the case—namely that there is no real ground for you to stand on.
Ecstatic liberation occurs when you cease resisting and repressing this truth through mental fantasy.
True path folds your mind in on itself by undermining the validity of its contents and in the process revealing its deep structure. The surface contents of your mind are produced by its shape and structure. This shape and structure gives birth to the self. The self’s “story” is born from rivers of energy that precede its meaning. Find competent instruction in mind-training to get into these rivers and liberate the senses into clear-seeing.
5. Happiness is an inside job.
True path steers you right into the heart of this truth, driving you beyond yourself, systematically reducing you until you surrender your strategies. Only then are you initiated into True Love and the only relationship there is.
These pointers will go a long way to unravel the mistaken constructions around relationship, if you let them. The absence of autonomy and the illusion of self-maintenence does tend to make this a problem. However, reading through these with some degree of self-existing curiosity, interest and desire, should begin to unravel you a bit in a current of discomfort. This is good—you are beginning to perturb the surface.
To take yourself further you will need to stay with these pointers, circulating them through your life while engaging in transformative mind-training. Only this way will you be able to penetrate these truths and liberate the more outdated and immature conceptions of yourself and relationships.
Ecstatic relationship and true path is pressing into you from all sides. Train your mind and unravel your assumptions. Life begins with the end of you.
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