Who among us doesn’t have a habitual version of the way we see ourselves? In an uncertain world it offers us some predictable safety. But there is a language we use to orient ourselves in almost all situations. It can be the language of making things problems or the language around making everything a competition.
One that comes up a lot for those interested in self-development work is the default language around spiritualizing everything. It makes us seem terribly good and wise and keeps pain at a distance because pain can mentally be shifted into symbols and away from doing any real harm…but this habit can keep us crystallized where we are.
P came to me with that clear eyed earnestness of yoga practitioner who was working hard to take her yoga off the mat and into her life.
She described to me how she “always dates spiritual teacher types” and all that goes along with that. She knew it was a pattern but mostly she felt like it was a good thing because she was always learning and was generally treated well by her various partners. But her current boyfriend who she “has good patterns with” is “definitely not a spiriritual teacher. He is just a guy.”
Should I stay with my current boyfriend?
I listened to P and felt like she had exposed the heart of the matter very quickly. I felt like I could start the conversation with a big question that ran counter to her assumptions presented thus far.
Why do you think that being low status in a relationship is the measure of it being successful? Or worth staying in? In other words, it seems like you only feel happy or comfortable if you are somehow being taught.
Her sunny disposition wilted under the heat of the question. It wasn’t an easy queston to answer.
She half started a response and then sort of stopped it. I saw that she was falling into the same pattern with me as she did with her “good” boyfriends – allowing me to ask deep and penetrating spiritual questions that bend her head and she was the low status supplicant who drank it in.
Lets not replicate that pattern.
So I jumped to bring her into this conversation on equal ground while still respecting the roles we were each playing – me the creative approacher and her the questioner.
I asked her why there could be no flow of the positions? Why fix her in the position of learner and the boyfriend as teacher?
When does she teach?
What does she teach?
When does he receive and learn and bow his head to her?
P picked up her head as we talked about the flow of the sign of infinity and the connection it had to the famed Yin/Yang symbol. These icons of universal forces that embrace change while still representing something even larger started to show P that she simply had a deeply habitual approach to her relationships – low status, eager learner.
But as she was opening she drew back for a moment into the doubt about her current situation. I offered:
The divine isn’t limited in how it will manifest so why are you limiting it? What if he is a teacher but you won’t let him show it? Because you think you are more spiritual than he is?
I told P a story of a dying monastary only four monks left – the abbot and three others. They all were old men who for years had shuffled around doing their chores, saying vespers, eating, praying and the like. The abbot was friends with a Rabbi in the town and was talking about how the monastary was likely in its last five or ten years of existence.
The Rabbi shrugged and told the abbot about a dream that he had. The dream was that one of the four monks was The Messiah. The abbot was incredulous but he liked and trusted his friend the Rabbi and went back and told the other three. They all laughed and in their private moments they thought about all the old ideas they had about each other that would discount each and any of them from being The Messiah – but on the other hand they looked again and wondered if those good qualities actually qualified their compatriots for Messiah-hood.
Each of them started treating their fellows differently – as if any of them might be The Messiah. And quickly the mood of the place changed and was more dynamic and brilliant and somehow more novitiates seemed to stumble in and stay to this newly joyful place.
So what if P treated her boyfriend like he was a spiritual teacher AND also fearlessly spoke of what she knew and understood? I offered P a counter-mantra to the one she sounded that kept her in her low status mental space. Though she was warming to the new possibility that came with equality.
I told her to regularly say to herself
Who I am is pure, perfect and complete
And then see what happens.
She paid me with a bow. And I bowed back.
The hidden mantras we usually have for ourselves so deeply define our relationship with the world. We wonder why things seem to always be the same for us – it is because we have a deeply resonating sound in us that guides us into familiar grooves.
Saying that you are pure, perfect and complete won’t magically shift things for you – but it is an important counter-sound to the one that we usually listen to. Changing our status from high to low or from low to high or from high or low to equal is just as powerfully disruptive and just as valuable as recognizing your inherent purity, perfection and completeness.
I would just add that your filth is part of your purity, your flaws are critical to your perfection and your missing parts are instrumental to your completeness.
How is that for changing your status? What is your secret mantra? What might you shift it to?