If you remember in the August Lunar Letter, we looked at what it takes to be a soulful seeker. In a word, we saw the need for an “eyes-wide open” faith, which stays alive to our deepest and our sharpest questioning. In response to this Letter, I received several thoughtful messages from you asking me to write/speak on a related topic: what should we do when soulful seeking becomes a divisive wedge in relationships?
This is a question I receive quite often, in many different forms, and all of you who wrote to me are right. This is a problem that needs to be addressed in our sacred arts communities.
One person finds herself trying to explain why she would like to have an area of her home dedicated to candles, prayer and contemplation, or to divination practices, and her spouse looks at her as if she’s sprouted a second head. She can take only so much of this, and begins to wonder if she should divorce him.
Another person tries to tell his secular Jewish parents that he would actually like to attend the neighborhood synagogue regularly, not just during the high holidays, and they roll their eyes at him, and his relationship with them suffers. They always seem to do and say things that undermine him.
Someone else finds herself unable to explain to her Baptist grandmother the finer points of her astrological chart and becomes worried that at any moment said grandmother may begin talking about the Devil’s handy work. She used to spend long afternoons with her grandmother, but it is becoming more and more difficult to do so – and she is even wondering if it wouldn’t be better for everyone if she stops visiting all together.
Yet another person finds herself making excuses and covering up when talking to intellectual friends who are skeptical of spiritual matters. She worries she’ll lose her friends.
Someone else no longer can talk to family, has becomes estranged, because she feels they stand on the other side of a vast unbridgeable canyon.
In order to belong, we can often feel we need to cover over our eccentricities. But if we do that, in some way it feels like we are betraying ourselves. If – on the other hand – we try to proclaim our differences proudly, then we risk destroying our relationships and isolating ourselves in unsupportable ways.
This is a tough one, people! And it is a very, very old conflict. One of the toughest things is that every relationship is different. That means that there’s no silver-bullet, one size fits all, solution. But the good news is that you’re not alone.
So what should we do? To approach this problem, let’s begin by identifying a trend. We see more and more commonly in our sacred arts communities today something like the following solution to the problem:
You come first. Do what is right for you no matter what the consequences. When conflicts arise the choice is clear: keep the spiritual teachings and practices and leave the relationship – even if it is your beloved, your parent, your sibling or child.
Now let’s buck the trend and see what happens. Try this on for size:
Relationship is first. Do what is right for you in the deepest and truest sense. When conflicts arise the choice is clear: if your spiritual teachings destroy your relationships – if they do not teach you how to approach relationships with greater wisdom and understanding – go back to the drawing board, seek wisdom, and ask, what is right relationship here, what does it look and feel like?
Why might this alternative approach interest us as soulful seekers? For one thing because the greatest mystical and sacro-magical teachings the world over emphasize one thing more than almost any other: right relationship.
Right relationship with the mysteries and powers of a magnificent cosmos.
Right relationship with our dear neighbors and loved ones (not to mention with strangers.)
Right relationship with ourselves.
There are times when certain relationships do indeed need to come to an end, or at the very least be re-assessed. And it is true that in some cases weaving spiritual practices into our daily lives can appear to create conflict.
But if certain relationships need to end, could it be because of – and not despite – the real need we all have (all of us, without exception!) for good and genuine relationships in our lives? If conflicts appear to be stirred up by practices, could it be that they were already there in the first place, but that somehow we were not acknowledging them properly?
The single greatest problem with the simplistic “you-centered” remedy is that relationships can never be avoided. Try as we might to make ourselves numero uno, we find ourselves again and again having to live and work with people. Stubborn, intractable people!
Instead of trying to escape from this conflict without success, we might do well to consider the alternative. What if the very people who best push our buttons – the ones we love the most – and the very deepest conflicts in our lives, are our best teachers, the ones who grant us an perfect opportunity to seek greater understanding and wisdom, therefore to do soulful work? Just as we would never wish away our friends and best teachers, so we might do well to cease trying to escape from, or rid ourselves, of these conflicts at the roots of our life as human beings and as soulful seekers.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, one of the most valuable things we can learn from divination practices such as the Tarot as well as so many other sacred arts such as the storytelling tradition of faerie tales is not how to flee from conflicts, not how to put “ourselves first” no matter what, in order to soothe away conflicts temporarily. We learn, rather, how to fight well! We learn how to embrace the unknown and get out of conflicts and difficult times with more grace and wisdom, more wholeness and holiness, than we had before we went in. That is, we learn true sovereignty, and how to enter into a deeper more objective and vital engagement with relationships, facing conflicts with compassion, understanding and greater insight…and, above all else, a “can do” attitude characterized by inspired and wise action.