I was listening to an interview with Thupten Jinpa, the translator for the Dalai Lama, on the podcast “On Being,” hosted by Krista Tippet (On Being). Thupten Jinpa was a Tibetan monk in the same order as the Dalai Lama, but at some point, he decided to leave the order, get married, and have children. This interview is wonderful and I highly recommend it.
Ms. Tippet asked Mr. Jinpa how he felt about those two lives: monk and householder. He said, “Being in a partnership is much more difficult than being a monk. And being a parent is much more difficult than being a monk.” When she asked him what he brought from his training as a monk that was helpful in his new life, he said, “emotional independence.” You realize after much meditation that your feelings are arbitrary and are created by you. At the same time, you do not take other people’s feelings personally. This is an important understanding: You have to be able to listen and understand without taking it personally and you have to be able to express your own inner experience without blaming the other person for it. In other words, you have to remain connected while being separate.
We find in our relationships we are constantly negotiating our needs for intimacy and our needs for autonomy. We long for close relationships, but we struggle with the complexity of being connected and not losing ourselves. As David Richo says, we need to learn to be adults in relationship. We look for our partner to manage our feelings, or we look to be “taken care of,” or we look for “support” or we look for that person to “meet our needs.” But this perspective means we are using the relationship for our own needs rather than that we are engaging for the benefit of coming to know another person deeply and appreciating them as the work of art that they are. It does not acknowledge the mutual encouragement and support we can provide for each other, as we are, when we are free to be ourselves, not out of obligation.
It is not that we do not care about each other. It is not that we ignore the impact of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It is that we take responsibility for engaging with another person based on our own inner understanding of who we want to be in the world and what we believe is right. And we expect the other person to do the same. That means that the measure of my behavior, and the measure of my friend or partner’s behavior, is not how it impacts me or how it makes me feel, but whether it is aligned with my own or their own inner ideals. Only that person can know that. We trust that they will be responsible for that part of it. And we bring our own best selves, as much as we can, to the connection. When there is static on the wire of our connection, we can trust that something in that person or something in us is interfering with our feeling connected, and we can wait and trust that it will improve. The joy of being with can only arise from a genuine freedom of connection and an appreciation of the work of art that that person is.