Learning to develop harmonious relationships can be one of the most challenging aspects of life. I mean, let’s face it, for most of us even finding harmony within ourself can be a challenge, let alone learning to cultivate stable and harmonious relationships with others
One of the difficulties I find personally, and I guess it’s fairly universal, is an inability to accept the people closest to me as they are. And I don’t mean only superficially, but striving to accept them exactly how they are… realising that they fine as they are and don’t need to change in the least
Can’t they just be a bit different?
Often the closer the relationship we have with someone, the more important it can feel that they act and behave in the ways we want them to. Particularly in romantic relationships this tends to regularly arise, and when we spend a lot of time with someone it can feel very reasonable to want them to be different and act in ways that make us feel more comfortable
It just feels like if they could just be a bit more loving, slightly more appreciative, a tad more aware of how we feel and so forth, that we’d be so much happier…. at least that’s often what I find myself thinking. Why can’t my partner be more aware of my needs and fulfil them in the way that makes me feel good? Why can’t he ‘know’ there are painful feelings in my mind and respond accordingly, it’s like ‘come on people, get it together!’
However because happiness is a feeling and feelings necessarily come from our mind, then it’s nigh on impossible for anyone to essentially ‘get it right.’ In fact no matter what they do, if we’re basing our happiness on the way we perceive someone else is treating us it’s doomed to fail, because whether our mind is peaceful or painful is principally governed by our response, as explained in this article
And yet why do we so often find ourself falling into the same trap…. engaging in repetitive behaviour patterns that give rise to difficulties in our relationships, even though our own experience has shown us they don’t really work? I’ve been contemplating this for myself this week
I mean wouldn’t life be so much easier if we could just accept people and things as they are and be at peace? Of course! And isn’t our happiness dependent on being able to do this? Well, yeah! So what’s getting in the way?
It can almost feel like we’re sabotaging our own happiness. If we had choice however, who would engage in actions that give rise to mental pain? And yet this is the situation we can so often find ourself in, not only in our relationships, but in the many different spheres of our life
So what’s malfunctioning in our mind?
Possibly the biggest part of the problem is having minds pervaded by painful feelings, or at least it can feel like that’s the problem. Even though I like to tell myself my mind is in a fairly good place and I’m doing okay, when I look at my mental environment it often doesn’t reflect such conclusions
Now we don’t want to go and get ourselves discouraged, but at the same time there’s no point pretending our mind is in tip top shape when it’s clear it’s not. Living in societies where appearing happy is of the utmost importance, it’s very easy to feel like everyone else is enjoying harmonious relationships and generally just fine and dandy…. that we’re the only ones struggling. The truth of course, is completely different. Essentially we’re all in the same boat
Going back to the painful feelings….. the problem isn’t so much the fact that our mind is pervaded by them, but rather that we don’t want it to be. Seems reasonable right? I mean who would want that? Only problem is, rejecting what IS happening, stops us getting the space in our mind to see the solution
And often it’s the rejection of what IS, that is much more disturbing and difficult to deal with than the actual pain itself. After all, problems in our relationships… in life, are entirely common-place. It’s very easy to build our issues into something monstrous, and then feel like we’re having some kind of mental breakdown
Truth be told, having a mind pervaded by painful feelings and difficulties in our relationships is completely normal. I know it might not feel like it, and that at times no-one else’s relationships are in as bad a state as our own, but this simply isn’t true. Reflecting on my own experience – although I can and do experience some peace of mind, much of the time my mind is a complete mess….. and unfortunately I do regularly see myself blaming this on my partner
Aaahhhh and it feels so much better just to come out and say it…. to acknowledge it and be more open for a change. And why not… what is there to hide, to lose? Trying to always keep a lid on it and appear to be a normal, well-adjusted human being is half the problem. The other half is wanting things to be different when they simply aren’t
How do we accept difficulties in our relationships & beyond?
One tool I’ve found very helpful when my mind isn’t in a good place, and in particular when there’s a difficulty with another person, is to consider what I can accept about it…. rather than focusing all my attention on what I don’t like about it and wanting them to be different
When we’ve been continually focusing on any problem, whether related to our relationships or otherwise, it can be very difficult to get space in our mind… maybe we even know it’s all coming from our mind, and remembering this can sometimes make us angrier – ‘oh it’s all in my mind but I still feel like a total wreck….. aaaaaargh!!
Despite the fact it can feel like acceptance is a very long way away, in truth it isn’t. Even if we can’t accept whatever particular problem it is we’re facing in our relationships…..the deep pain in our mind. Even if we can’t accept what that person said or did to us, even if we can’t tolerate their behaviour… can we not just accept our inability to accept?
‘What?’ you say. ‘What are you talking about? The very fact that I’m unhappy about what it is I’m unhappy about means I can’t accept.’ But of course you can, you just have to be comfortable with the fact that you’re struggling to accept the challenges you’re facing in your relationships, and recognise that’s okay…. it’s normal
As Geshe Kelsang says in How To Solve Our Human Problems – there’s space in our mind for a few painful feelings
And then it dawns on us…. ‘oh yeah, there is space isn’t there.’ Of course if we’ve been telling ourself how bad a particular relationship is for a long time, the remedy might appear to be harder to apply simply because we’ve been training our mind to develop negativity, but in reality it’s not that difficult…
It’s not that difficult because we’re not being asked to accept the challenging relationship or the difficult person themselves, but rather accept that we can’t accept. If we can do this we’ll find some space in our mind… some peace
When it is a difficulty in a relationship we’re facing, and particularly when we’re forced to spend a lot of time around that person, then it’s important to be able to find a way to deal with any mental tension that may be arising. Otherwise we can simply find ourself in a position of repressing painful feelings and getting more negative and frustrated than ever
Using tools like this to keep a more peaceful and calm mind around other people, particularly those we can find challenging, is of great benefit not only to ourself and the other person involved, but to everyone we interact with in our life
Finding harmony in our relationships
Although painful feelings can and will often enter our mind and begin to overwhelm us, we simply need to remind ourself that this is normal and it’s nothing to freak out about. After a while we start to gain some awareness that we don’t even need other people to provoke us in order to feel bad, but if we’re honest, that painful feelings are there almost all the time
Even just writing this post has been a good reminder for me. In recent weeks I’ve been spending more time than ever with my partner, as we travel the world staying with friends and in Airbnb’s. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great thing to be doing and presents a lot of cool opportunities, but I do find myself feeling frustrated at times and just wanting him to be different
But we all know that this doesn’t really work, either because we’ve had this attitude towards others or they’ve had it towards us. At the end of the day all we can do is our best, and it’s okay… in fact totally normal to get frustrated with other people. The last thing we want to be doing is bottling it up!
But at the same time we also want to be moving towards a solution. We just need to stop, take a deep breath, remind ourself that essentially there’s nothing wrong, and then with this space in our mind it will be easier to find a remedy (for me its usually to try and not be so uptight… to relax)
Once we’ve done all this and found some acceptance, then we just try our best to turn our mind to others, possibly to this other person, in a constructive and positive way… and this feels good
We try to remember that there are always other people struggling out there with their own relationships and more. This has been a good reminder for me to try and be more appreciative of the people in my life, particularly my partner, rather than finding fault
A big part of all this is trying not to take everything so seriously…. thinking we need to have perfect relationships, or in lieu of that, that we somehow need to respond perfectly all the time is unrealistic. In reality, all we can really do is just try our best, and the people in our life will appreciate that. Like all of our spiritual practices, to improve it takes time, patience and effort
By doing our best to keep a positive attitude and applying some of these simple tools, we’ll find ourself experiencing much more harmonious relationships and a deeper ability to positively effect and influence those close to us. How wonderful!