There is a saying that goes around some New Age and self-development circles that relationships are ‘Yoga for Westerners’. What I think this means is that, for those of us living in the urbanised, technology and profit-driven ‘Western’ (or ‘Northern’) world, the path to enlightenment, or awakening, or self-realisation, or union with God, or whatever is seen as the “goal” of spiritual practice, is via our connections, our harmony and conflict, with our fellow beings.
The spiritual and the profane – or in the profane?
This insight is deeper than this glib expression might indicate. For millennia, cultures shaped and influenced by religious traditions as diverse as Hellenic paganism, Protestant Christianity and Hinduism have placed the spiritual in opposition to the mundane, set the transcendent at odds with the every day. In European and European-influenced cultures particularly, this spiritual / profane dualism has had a strong hold. The idea that the spiritual can be found through the everyday, mundane reality of relationships, while not new, is often revolutionary in its challenge to a dualistic way of thinking and the behaviour that comes from it.
Relationships have become increasingly important to me over the seven years I’ve lived in Eskdale. Before moving to the country, I had always lived in cities. I always had a feeling of disconnection, living and working in built-up environments.
A different life
My first inkling that things could be different was an extended stay at Glastonbury Festival one year as a volunteer. Being able to connect directly with the shape of the land, the state of the ground, the way earth became trees became sky, without the intrusion of multi-storey concrete and acres of Tarmacadam, gave me my first taste of feeling part of a place, being in relationship to a place rather than being a disconnected dot, scurrying about its surface.
My life now is all about relationships – with aspects of myself, with the land and all its forms of life, with my ancestors, with my Gods, with the people in my life, with the built environment, with ideas. I’m not always very good at them; all relationships require some level of intimacy and all intimacy carries risk – it might reveal something about me that I don’t want others to know, or that I don’t want to know about myself.
Self knowledge and relationships
But I have made a commitment to know myself in all my parts, and that means knowing myself in relationship to others, and others in relationship to me. Harmonious relationships are a beautiful experience, but conflict too has a blessing to offer, if we can be spacious enough to give light and air to all sides, however painful the expansion, the release of defences that such spaciousness requires might be. Conflict is a call to apply the skills honed in daily practice: paying attention, being with feelings and sensations and urges without acting on them, simply being present.
The gift of presence
Being present is, I believe, the greatest gift we can give to ourselves, to our family, friends and neighbours, to the world. And in our being present, we receive a gift, too; we find that, in the words of Mary Oliver, from her poem, Wild Geese:
…the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
Being in relationship, we know that we are not alone, that we have a place, that we are at home, right here, right now.
In that knowledge, may we find peace.