“The Job of the Spiritual Friend is to Insult You.”

Via elephant journal
on Feb 1, 2011
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Can difficult relationships be helpful?

Lately, I’ve been contemplating relationship as path and whether or not I should stay in a particularly fiery romantic relationship with a lot of love but just as much difficulty and klesha*.

In searching for the answer, I found this clip of Pema Chodron, in which she addresses the matter:

“In order to become a completely loving person, a flexible person, you have to see where you’re hookable.”

“If you really want liberation, if you really want freedom, you need people around to be provoking you to show you where it is you still have work to do.”

It seems that difficult relationships provide us with the opportunity to grow, and to, as Pema says:

“continually [train] in letting thoughts go and in softening when we are hardening–these are steps on the path of awakening. That’s how kleshas begin to diminish.”

Very interesting.

For now, I’m going to try hard to not get hooked–in fact I’m publicly proclaiming my commitment to do so–to becoming sensitive enough to notice the moment when I have a choice to fight or not to fight.  As Buddhist psychologist Bernie Weitzman says, “When you’re on the battlefield, you’ve already lost.”

Speaking of Bernie, he also has suggested engaging in a Theravadan tradition: When you become angry, bow deeply to the other person and say, “Forgive me; I’m angry with you.”  I love that.

Tough stuff, but I’m not giving up yet.  I have to remember that in every relationship, difficulty is an opportunity to wake up.

* Kleshas are the strong conflicting emotions that spin off and heighten when we get caught by aversion and attraction.


Juliana McCarthy is a former Texan, New Yorker, and Californian who recently moved to Boulder, Colorado, to study psychology and ride horses. She studied Writing and Contemporary Art at Sarah Lawrence College and has traveled the world working in fashion, art, literature, and entertainment. Once a  resident of Karmê Chöling, she remains a devoted student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche with a particular passion for Dharma Art. Follow her on Twitter | StumbleUpon.



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17 Responses to ““The Job of the Spiritual Friend is to Insult You.””

  1. Jon says:

    Hey Juliana,
    Thats the first time I've noticed the word Klesha. Being a word hound I am always facinated with the origins and meanings of words. I would say my klesha's are in full bloom right now, working as and working with a startup. I must say that my experiences to this point have been nothing less than a blast furnace set to max. With such flux in my emotions it is hard to settle down and love the one your with as it were. May we find the inner strength to remain calm and composed while the ever critical public keeps expecting more than they are willing to give.
    Take care,

  2. BenRiggs says:

    Julianna great article… And it is always exciting when we discover a new dimension of the spiritual path. I hope that taking relationships to the path proves to be fulfilling for both you and your partner… And if not I hope you will go deeper! It is cold outside.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Waylon Lewis, BettySue Goeppner. BettySue Goeppner said: RT @elephantjournal: Relationships are hard. That's the point: http://bit.ly/hKQx7S […]

  4. elephantjournal says:

    It's a great point: the question to me is are all of us bringing up klesha and then working with and waking up from it…or is it just pain, insanity, unkindness, in a whirlpool that never goes anywhere (but down). I have friends who fight all the time—an old (young) Italian friend and roommate (and Buddhist as it happens) loved it when me and friends got really into fights—we Americans tend to shy away from such direct confrontation in friendships and love affairs—we think of it as "bad."

    That said, I wonder if there are those who love one another but aren't good for one another, no matter how they try. That said, I wonder if we're just not trying in the right way. Soooo confusing..! ~ Waylon

  5. Juliana says:

    YES!! I totally agree. I was going to add that in my article and probably should have. Accepting mindless abuse again and again is not okay. In my case, we're both on a path, and we're trying to work with our stuff individually and together. I'm still not sure if a line needs to be drawn, or where it needs to be drawn, but I'm not giving up just yet. There's still more potential for learning and growth (and love.)

    Thanks for responding!

  6. yogiclarebear says:

    This MUST be why my husband puts up with me…could I be his klesha practice? For today's egoic comfort…this is what I will tell myself. 😉

    Seriously though Juliana, thanks for sparking the thoughts and discussions (both internal and here via comments.)

  7. TamingAuthor says:

    Love this quote from Pema:

    “In order to become a completely loving person, a flexible person, you have to see where you’re hookable.”

    “If you really want liberation, if you really want freedom, you need people around to be provoking you to show you where it is you still have work to do.”

    So true. Where can we be hooked?

    Given the high value of one who provides this service, I was wondering if I should be charging Elephant for the work I do with resident liberals? (Any suggestions on a fee structure, Waylon?)

  8. TamingAuthor says:

    You tapped into it, Waylon when you wrote, "…just not trying in the right way."

    Often on this site I often get into debates about there being a correct path of Buddhism and, in contrast, so many paths that are not Buddhism but which masquerade as such. The predominant situation is a continual stirring of the karmic pot. Around and around and around. Wheel of birth and death. Price of ride admission? Ignorance.

    In my humble opinion, the swirl of klesha does not end until we begin, as a foundation, to recognize our nature and the nature of the other. Without a diligent and often painful shedding of wrong views and attachments, we interact on the basis of false fabricated selves we put forth to one another and the world. We commission a false self to go into battle with the other person's false self. We hide out of sight and let our proxy identities engage in war.

    In Taming the Wolf I dig into this situation within the frame of the Christian (specifically Franciscan) tradition. If we are unable to see the essence, the divine nature, of the other, we will dance the dance of conflict, we will wrestle interminably. We need to seek the I-Thou relationship. It is actually a triune relationship, you and the other and the Divine. (Same concept works across all spiritual paths.)

    My prediction is that we are headed for a time when we take seriously the conflicts in our lives and we start addressing them within a divine context. We will enter into meditation or contemplative prayer, then we will go to meet the other, holding that divine (enlightened) view as we meet together with Presence.

    At this time we are still too invested in our false selves and the need to "keep moving." As world events unfold, we may recognize a new paradigm is needed and that paradigm must be grounded in the individual not in some uber-nanny State.

  9. TamingAuthor says:

    Juliana, as usual I greatly admire and appreciate your articles. Keep issues. My only complaint (here is the hookable) is the use of the oxymoron Buddhist psychologist. As you will discover at the appropriate time, there is no such thing as the two disciplines rest on contradictory premises. One can playfully imagine an exception (for example, the flying elephant Dumbo combines two incompatible properties) but they do not exist.

    A Buddhist understands the mind. There is no need for any johnny-come-lately misconceptions from the world of materialist western psychology. That elephant will not fly! : >)

  10. Ginny says:

    It was this kind of logic that kept me in an abusive relationship for 20 years. There are red flags all over this! Be wary, be careful, trust your gut!

  11. Juliana says:

    Agreed. See response above ^

  12. beenaroundtheblock says:

    It's so easy to use spiritual notions (like the "spiritual friend") to rationalize staying in an abusive relationship, excusing teacherly transgressions, etc, because they "insult" us, push our buttons, let us know where we're triggered, etc…

  13. beenaroundtheblock says:

    Psychological and spiritual work work best when they work together. In a word, psychospiritual.

  14. TamingAuthor says:

    Western psychology, however, denies the existence of the spiritual. Thus, they do not work together.

    Because of this alteration of the term (circa 1880) it might be better to refer to the mental and the spiritual, to the mind and spirit. Psychospiritual in the context of western psychology is an oxymoron.

    Over dinner at a conference on psyche and soul — at a table filled with psychologists — the idea that they were spiritual kept coming up. Finally, I had enough and said, "You cannot be spiritual. So better to not use that term." They looked stunned and said, "We're spiritual but not religious." My response, "If you do not believe in the existence of spirit you cannot, by definition, be spiritual." Jaw drops but then slowly head nods. They got it.

    There has been such looseness in the language that we combine things that cannot fit together. We have become sloppy in our understanding. If you believe (or know) that spirit exists, then spiritual works. If you deny the existence of spirit, then you hold an opposing view. No spiritual for you. (Except perhaps in your choice of beverages.) The two do not mix, except perhaps in the case of the schizophrenic.

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  17. […] another person’s point of view that made us angry to begin with, accepting it or, if need be, confronting it. We may realize, if, say, someone is sick, that we have to act with loving kindness so as to not […]