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, and
- 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