The Elephant In The Spiritual Room

Via on Aug 14, 2011

(part 1 of 3 posts).

I’m a relationship coach and counselor and in the last few years I’ve started to notice a recurring pattern in my clients, the majority of whom would call themselves spiritual practitioners.

As a spiritual practitioner myself, I understand how we are hungry to grow and wake up, to do our part in creating a more conscious world. We practice for hours upon hours. We genuinely want to love bigger, to embrace more.

And…

We have done much of our personal work in vacuums, removed from the everyday world. Whether it’s meditating for years, dancing all night, chanting for days, sipping plant medicine, fasting for weeks, finishing our Ngondro, or finally doing the Ashtanga primary series, we tend to do our spiritual work in isolation or secluded locations.

photo by Michael Vladeck
photo by Michael Vladeck

First, I want to say, “Well done! Deep bow to all of you.” All this work is beyond helpful, and please keep doing it!

But something remains unaddressed.

No matter how much my clients “practice” their practices, they still show up with the same valid challenges.

We are just like every other person on the planet–we struggle to work through everyday relationship challenges.

Gay, straight, black, white, rich, poor, spiritually aware or completely asleep, we all have relationship issues.

As Trungpa Rinpoche said, “No one is above the human condition.”

Think about it. Here we are with years of various practices under our belt. We’ve had the privilege of studying with amazing teachers in amazing locations. Never before have we had such easy access to such profound teachings. We’ve gone uber-deep, but….

We have left one practice out—Relationship. Dealing with other people right here, right now in real time.

Yup.

For some reason our practices, as sincere and deep as they are, have not been able to adequately address our relationship life. Our sanghas, despite our best efforts, are still dysfunctional, judgmental, fragmented, and disconnected.

It’s not like we have to be “issue-free” in relationship. Nor do I believe there’s a magical community free of relationship challenges. I certainly don’t have the fantasy anymore that my relationship issues will magically fade away.

If fact, I’m way more okay to have the relationship challenges I have, even after years of spiritual practice. I’m realizing it’s simply part of the human journey.

So, why does relationship remain so under-addressed in spiritual practice?

Here are several possibilities:

  1. High-level spiritual teachings tend to facilitate moving beyond the personal realm. (example? folks can achieve non-dual awareness and still be incompetent relationally).
  2. Teachers of the same high-level teachings have not walked their talk. They talk a big game but don’t walk it in relationship. (future blog on this incongruence coming soon…)
  3. Spiritual bypassing–We use spiritual teachings to bypass our real-time challenges at home, in line at Whole Foods, and at the office. We use “compassion” to bypass our judgments.
  4. Cultural conditioning. We are trained and conditioned to be defended in relationship and our culture supports this disconnection.
  5. Most of us are conflict avoiders, no matter how much we meditate on it.
  6. No one is giving us current, realistic practices to address our relationship life.

The next question is “how” do we address our issues in community with one another?

Some of you might be thinking, “Yeah, but I supplement my spiritual practice with psychotherapy.” Yes, psychotherapy can be an awesome complement to our spiritual practice and often addresses what the yoga mat or cushion can’t.

But you can’t guarantee everyone in your sangha is also in therapy, let alone good therapy.

Teachers like John Welwood, Joseph Goldstein, and Robert Masters address the relationship predicament as “spiritual bypassing” and offer good psychotherapy as the main alternative. I’m a yes to that.

And, what I’m suggesting here is that we make relationship a central part of the spiritual dance. That we engage in relationship practices during our retreats AND our lives, all day everyday.

Photo by Joshua Levin
Photo by Joshua Levin

For example, what if instead of having a “children’s program” where childcare providers are watching my kids while I sit on the cushion for 9 hours, I watch my mind and open my heart WHILE I parent my kids for 9 hours with other practitioners?

In other words, what if we incorporated relationship as part of our daily spiritual practice, as a spiritual path in itself?

Here’s the follow up post “Are Teachers Walking Their Talk? Nope“.  In the meantime, let’s hear your thoughts…

About Jayson Gaddis

Jayson Gaddis, is a relationship specialist using the vehicle of his marriage and kids to wake up and live an empowered life. He’s on the planet to help people learn and master intimacy and relationship. He’s a husband and part-time stay-at-home Dad getting schooled by his two cosmic kids. Jayson is the host of Empowering Relationships TV and writes his own highly personal blog, and has also written for Integral Life, The Jungle of Life, Primer Magazine, Recovering Yogi, The Good Men Project. You can find him here: Jayson Gaddis or Fulfilling Marriage.

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12 Responses to “The Elephant In The Spiritual Room”

  1. Alexis says:

    Yes, yes, yes! This is exactly why I moved to the farm. I cannot practice relationship in isolation, even if I am part of a couple. I have to live in community to do it and I can tell you that it's kicking the shit out of me.

  2. Jade Doherty says:

    Grr, people! I'm all Enlightened and haps with myself. And then I have to talk someone and the illusion comes crashing down. Relationships sure are good at mirroring your shit back at you!

    Interesting what you said about relationships not being addressed in the Spiritual Community. A lot of teachers/gurus/teachings kinda imply that you should avoid people, the whole celibate bramachi (sp?) thing.

    Maybe the teachings are written for Ashram/cave/Monastery life, where you don't expect or particularly want to have a relationship with anyone. And not so much for the life of Householder, where relationships are part and parcel of daily life.

    • jaysongaddis says:

      Hi Jade, yes relationships are the mirror for sure. avoiding folks in a cave is fine for some folk, but not for me or my family. Householder, as you say, is where relationship work is really required. we need skills and tools. :)

  3. Rhonda says:

    Looking forward to the future post of this subject!

  4. Keith says:

    "Our sanghas, despite our best efforts, are still dysfunctional, judgmental, fragmented, and disconnected." I dunno, Jayson. I can think of a lot of organizations, including my own (Mondo Zen with Jun Po Roshi), that have put a tremendous amount of effort and awareness onto shadow and relationship work (but without getting lost in never-ending ego self-referencing tools and processing). There are at least a dozen, if not more more, spiritual groups of many different backgrounds that are doing the hard work of exposing shadow while also cultivating insight, social and environmental responsibility, and healthy relationship (to self and other). As Ken Wilber says, it's no longer enough to Wake Up. We have to Grow Up, too.

    I'm in agreement with you, of course,, but do think that there is growing awareness of this

  5. Dara says:

    Nice Jason. You are dead on.

  6. "For example, what if instead of having a “children’s program” where childcare providers are watching my kids while I sit on the cushion for 9 hours, I watch my mind and open my heart WHILE I parent my kids for 9 hours with other practitioners?" My favorite part and highly relevant after day 5 of being housebound while Cece has a decent fever and ear infection. Talk about staying with discomfort, confronting differentiation, and finding center. (all while sleep deprived) All great practice. I do think the earlier "practice" helped me.

  7. [...] look to our church or religion to offer an explanation or justification for our intimacy trials (and either get nothing or get really outdated advice/guidance), rather than simply learning how to do [...]

  8. [...] look to our church or religion to offer an explanation or justification for our intimacy trials (and either get nothing or get really outdated advice/guidance), rather than simply learning how to do [...]

  9. [...] look to our church or religion to offer an explanation or justification for our intimacy trials (and either get nothing or get really outdated advice/guidance), rather than simply learning how to do [...]

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