The Coincidence of Vulnerability

Oh relationships. The benefits they add to our lives—in companionship, support, community—teeter-totter so enthusiastically with the challenges they pose to our peace of mind. Among clients (and in my own unremarkable life) I’ve been watching those sublime trials that intimacy initiates in otherwise steady lives. I’ve even considered, as a preventive measure, whether solitude might be the simple solution to maintaining calm.

This idea, I confess, isn’t my own. It’s ancient. We see ascetics and monks and nuns and the occasional good friend opting out. They say no to the deep, personal, mundane connections with family in favor of that profound connection with their own spirit and community. In talking with a respected mentor about this same subject, he acknowledged that he keeps his distance in friendships and love because of the distractions they provoke. In his mind, they’re obstacles on his path.

Honestly? I’m not comfortable with that. Seeing our fellow travelers as barriers to the self-understanding inspired by a yoga practice is a bit like looking at a door and believing it a wall. While I agree that most of us share a funny habit of letting the lights in our lives dim our own, that doesn’t mean the habit is intractable.

The key, I think, is to remember (again and again and again) that the only person in this world subject to your control is you. Which means that the behavior of your companion isn’t for you to manage. Or change. Or manipulate. It’s their behavior. And your reaction to it is up to you.

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali provides a helpful reminder on making this possible. (Though, truth be told, Patanjali makes it pretty clear that certain relationships, like, you know, with that funk-you-up flavor, are just not gonna jive with your practice. But if I know you, you’re probably feeling the left-hand path a little more on this one. Am I right? Anyway.)

First, remember that the main obstacle to our greater peace is our own ignorance. Ignorance underlies all the other afflictions—like ego, attachment, aversion and fear— that keep us from realizing the potential of our consciousness. That ignorance in you is what prevents you from seeing how so much of what you do could be done better.

Once you understand that you can open your eyes a little wider, you’ll start taking in a little more light, and seeing things for what they are. Your partner is someone who will never be under your control. It’s a silly (ignorant) thing to believe otherwise. Which means it’s up to you. You get to control you. And as you do, here’s a lovely little helper: this moment.

When you find yourself struggling to keep your cool in the heat of a situation with someone, pause and come home to the present. I think of it as home base. It works just the same. You tag home and you’re safe. No one can make you ‘IT’. You get to catch your breath, feel your place in the universe, notice the way you’re feeling. You even have time to deliberate over your best response.

And here’s a lovely fact about hanging out in the moment. In the sanctuary of home base, you’re perfectly situated to intentionally look for the vulnerability in the person before you. And to remember that you, too, have been vulnerable. You can look and see that your friend is uncertain, or afraid, or insecure. Just like you’ve been. Because we all pray for safety. Because we’re all people with just a bit of flesh protecting everything inside.

Having used the moment to exercise this bit of compassionate seeing, you’re now free to invite your companion to join you at home base. He or she may not want to come along. And that’s fine. But an invitation to share a moment of safety with someone will bring you together. And a reaction against someone’s fear or hurt or uncertainty won’t. It’s always your choice.

Which doesn’t mean it’s easy.

But it is a choice. And it’s a choice that can become better used with practice. Again and again. Practice. So don’t be afraid to love. But always remember: the present moment is your sanctuary. From home base, you can learn to respond instead of react. You can learn to see that the union between you and your loved one isn’t just about the beauty of togetherness, but the sublime coincidence of vulnerability.

From that place, you can learn to care even more deeply.

Let me know if this helps.

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