There are things in our lives that we can easily lose track of, but they are never outside our reach. One of them is that we have the choice to be in a relationship and, more importantly, is that we bring our awareness into that relationship. This is not a one-time choice, it is what we have to choose over and over again.
As human beings we are surrounded by hundreds of possible relationships every day; this is really not an option. But how much attention do we bring to those possibilities? I am sure almost everyone has observed two people sitting a table, eating a meal, but one or both of them are glued to their cell phone. They choose to be in that relationship, but there is very little presence in it.
It takes time, effort and energy to be in good relationship. We can become tired, distracted or overwhelmed to the point that our commitment to the relationship can lessen, where are just going through the motions.
I have come to an understanding that there are five categories of relationships. They are: 1) the big questions or “mystery”; 2) nature and the cosmos; 3) other people; 4) to ourselves; and 5) creativity. I feel every person needs to be in mindful, heartfelt relationship in all five areas.
There are many big questions that every person should ask themselves: what purpose does my life ask of me? what gifts do I need to bring to the world? to whom do I belong and who belongs to me? what do I need to surrender in order to move forward? These are not questions that we can answer once and be done with them. There may be some similarities between our answers, but every set of answers is unique to each individual. But what is marvelous is that this exploration can be shared.
Nature and the cosmos have been essential to me for as long as I can remember. It was my study of cosmology as a boy that awakened my spiritual nature though its gifts of wonder and astonishment. I love connecting to nature, whether it is petting my cats or simply looking out the windows of my home at the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I have sympathy for people who live in an environment where the wildlife consists of an occasional tree surrounded by blocks of cement and pigeons. People rush from the air conditioning of their home to the controlled environment of their cars, without pausing to feel the warmth of the sun or a light breeze upon their face. How often do people stop and marvel at their own bodies? Nature is not just out there, but we carry it around everywhere we go.
Of course, people are part of nature and the cosmos, but because of the possible richness and depth of these relationships, I put other people in a separate category. I love being in dialogue on topics that truly matter. The best dialogues I have are at Circles of Trust. It is a place where I know other people and myself will make the concerted effort to be present, to see each other without judgment or fixing.
The human psyche is very complex. Each person plays a wide variety of roles in their daily life. Spouse, parent, child, co-worker, consumer, friend and voter are among dozens of possibilities. One of the other divisions that has become of great importance to me is what I label the Separate Self and the Connected Self. The Separate Self goes by such other names as the ego, the false self, the lower self; while the Connected Self is called the true self, the higher self, the soul. Many spiritual traditions say that the Separate Self is an illusion that who we truly are is the Connected Self. To be honest, I am unsure that the Connected Self is not just another construct created in the human mind. But one thing I do know for sure is that the world works better when I am able to act from my Connected Self. It takes a lot of work and time to bring all the various aspects of my inner nature into alignment. I do not expect complete agreement between them. What I strive for is that each offer their true voice, but together there is enough harmony that they form a chorus.
Creativity is the last category I added to my list. I taught a course a few years ago that was about models of spiritual development. I asked my students to describe experiences where they felt most spiritual. Many of their examples were about connecting with God, with the outdoors, with their spouses and children or when they had a new insight into their own humanity. But what I did not see at first were the stories of soulfulness through art, poetry and music, whether they were the creators or simply the people appreciating the creativity of someone else. As we discussed this area, I realized that the creativity could be about such mundane tasks as putting a business plan together or keeping a well-organized filing system. Given the problems we are facing in the twenty first century, we will be needing all the creativity we can offer.