The art of living teaches us that, if we improve our relationship
with our neighbor, it is not to gain something but to
be able to help more. If we improve our relationship with
the earth, it is not to exploit it even more but to cooperate
with it. If we look for a better relationship with the
Divine, it is not to make sure we will go to heaven but
to transcend the notion of being a separate and opposite
entity; it is to become aware that we exist in participation
and union with God.
From a spiritual point of view, relationship is a means
and not an end. As can happen with any means, if our intention
is not clear, we can lose sight of our real goal.
The end that we pursue in working on our relationships
determines what we get: whether we try to use everything
around us to our advantage, everything that we define
as "not myself," or whether we work to attain
the highest degree of love. For our work on improving
our relationships to have a transcendent meaning, our
intention, our aim, has to be union. For this reason,
our work on relationships has to be understood as a means
and respond clearly to two fundamental questions: Why
do we work to harmonize relationships? And to what end
do we work?
Why work to harmonize relationships? Because this work
gives us the means to overcome separativity.
To what end do we work? We work to expand our consciousness
through an increasingly more profound love; in other words,
to attain union with God.
In the process of harmonizing our relationships, we advance
through different degrees of participation marked by two
stages of relationship with others and with God:
- Relationship directed toward survival and conquest,
- Relationship oriented toward participation.
When we talk about the first stage, we can look at it in
terms of periods: competition, tolerance, and solidarity.
The long stage of the struggle for survival and the desire
for conquest is based on the division we make between what
we believe we are and what we think everything else is-other
human beings, nature, the universe, God.
The need for survival leads us to compete at any cost, without
considering the consequences, and makes of our relationship
with God one in which we strive to assure that we will win
existence as a separate entity in this world and in the
next. God is supposed to protect us in this world from natural
catastrophes, illnesses, and enemies; we expect Him to protect
us after death in the other world as well. Since, at this
stage of our relationship, we fear God's anger and punishment,
we make offerings to God in exchange for His favors; we
make a pact with God so that He will support us in our competition
with our adversaries.
Even though today we as human beings have developed enough
to be able to protect ourselves and to obtain what we need
to survive, we might still maintain this competitive attitude.
Thinking of oneself as something separate from the whole
tends to lead one to try to manipulate everything and to
destroy whatever interferes with what one desires. One might
even compete unconsciously with the God one worships. But,
in this stage of development, not knowing who we are or
why we are alive, we humble ourselves and prostrate ourselves
before God, asking for help and mercy. Our relationship
with God is one of hope, on the one hand, and of resignation,
on the other.
The suffering caused by this isolation eventually teaches
us to measure the cost of competition and to value tolerance
of others and acceptance of the will of God.
Tolerance leads gradually to solidarity, the most beautiful
period of the first stage. Although division between ourselves
and others still exists, compassion raises the level of
the relationship. We not only tolerate others, we even collaborate
with them, assist them in their needs and share what we
have with them.
Solidarity is also shown in respect for the earth and its
resources, concern for their use, and in the effort to repair
the harm already done to the planet.
Solidarity opens the doors to participation with all souls
and with God.
At the stage of participation, we know we are part of a
whole and we feel it. We express this spontaneously through
our relationships. Our response to the need for unfolding
is at the same time a response to what is needed for the
advancement of all of humankind. Our personal good and the
good of humankind become one.
Even though we perceive only certain aspects of the system
of relationships to which we belong, the fact that we participate
in it implies that we have the possibility of being conscious
of the whole system. Working on relationships makes this
potential a reality and gradually unfolds our consciousness
as we move toward a state of union with God.
Awareness that we are participating in the totality of life
is a state we arrive at gradually through a long process
which does not seem to have an end.
We establish relationships in our effort to connect with
all aspects of life, but as our circle expands, the lines
of relationship begin to fuse together. A moment comes when
relationship is not "with" someone or "with"
God, but everything acquires reality within us.
Union with God cannot be explained; it is a mystery that
takes place in the innermost part of the soul. What we can
observe is the gradual simplification of our relationships
until they become integrated into a single relationship.
We see that improving relationships does not mean more complexity
and sophistication but is just the reverse: it leads to
simplicity and transparency.
To deepen our relationship with God, we need the daring
to renounce supports, the courage to leave the refuge of
our preestablished ideas, and the determination to channel
our efforts in a viable method that leads to our unfolding.
Working on our system of relationships is a basic part of
this method. It is a work that can be done by all human
beings, since relationships form the very fabric of life.
To learn to relate is the same as to learn the art of living:
when we harmonize and expand our system of relationships,
we embrace the vastness of the universe. Our love covers
everyone and everything. Our consciousness prepares itself
to unveil the mystery of the Divine.
Reprinted from The
Art of Living in Relationship