Conscious relationships—what are they?
The expression is on everyone’s lips, and that’s not surprising. In an age where we try to bring consciousness to our eating habits, to our body, to the way we do business, and to pretty much every other important aspect of life, it is only logical that we turn our awareness to intimate relationships. Intimate relationships are one of the areas where we experience the biggest joys and sorrows, so bringing harmony and awareness to them can have wonderful effects on our lives.
But what are conscious relationships really? And how are they different from the other kind of intimate relationships, the “normal” ones, or whatever we want to call them? Here are some of the traits that I find mark the differences between these two different paradigms of living intimacy.
- Active Trust
Trust is one of the bases of any relationship. The difference is that, in conscious relationships, trust becomes a choice. Let me clarify this. There are two ways to approach trust: the passive and the active. Passive trust is waiting for the external world to be “trustworthy.” Example: waiting to meet the “right partner” so that we can trust him or her, and blaming our partner if we can’t trust. Active trust, on the other hand, is a conscious decision: I decide to trust because I believe that, by doing this, my existence will improve.
Active trust doesn’t mean carelessness. It’s always important to be aware of who we are interacting with, especially on an intimate level. But once we choose to trust, we start attracting like-minded, optimistic and trustworthy (as well as trustful) people in our lives.
Active trust is a recognition that our own insecurities and fears prevent us from trusting our partners more than their own shortcomings. Active trust is a bit like a jump in the dark, a leap of faith; it isn’t so much based on calculations or statistical evidence of how good people are, as on an optimistic view of life and relationships.
When we are hurt, often our instinctive, unconscious reaction is to hurt back or withdraw. Both reactions are just variants of the “fight or flight” reflex that is common to all mammals, and that has its primordial biological purpose. Yet, if we keep reacting to emotional situations as if we were reacting to a predator attacking us, we don’t have much chance of evolving our intimacy.
The conscious alternative is a constant, deliberate practice of forgiveness. Forgiving is not always the “natural” thing to do, but it is virtually always the right thing to do. Even if our partners hurt us so much that we need to take a distance from them to safeguard our emotional safety, nevertheless, when the time is ripe, we should be ready to let forgiveness blossom.
Forgiving helps both people involved grow and heal, and it represents the only solid opportunity for positive change. We should all train ourselves in forgiveness, and relationships offer a perfect arena for such training.
Forgiveness is a beautiful practice that creates harmony in the relationship and fosters the possibility of growth and healing for everyone involved.
Intimate relationships are potentially painful, and therefore offer a fertile ground for blame. One of the landmarks of conscious intimate life is relating to each other as autonomous and responsible individuals. This means, among other things, taking responsibility for one’s own happiness and well-being. We relate to our partners in order to enrich each other’s life rather than to find completion. It is an important distinction that allows a powerful shift in one’s perception of love and relationships. Blame gets tossed out of the picture, and is replaced by support and loving care.
Self responsibility goes hand in hand with a solid practice of communication of our emotions, not because we need to blame others, but because we want to communicate those feelings to the people who matter to us.
- Growth rather than comfort
This is one of the most interesting ideas behind conscious relationships: the primary objective of intimacy is growth, not comfort. In other words, intimate relationships aren’t just a commodity or a source of affection and support, but also, and mainly, one of the main tools for personal evolution. After all, it makes sense. In our partners, we find powerful and deep mirrors. But more than that, we can shift our perspective and evaluate a relationship on the basis of whether it is making us evolve or not. In some cases, growing means putting an end to a relationship, moving on and entering the next chapter of our emotional life.
- No Drama
Though there is definitely space for passion in conscious relationships, my understanding is that there isn’t too much space for drama. What is drama then? I’ve written an article specifically on this topic. In short, drama comes from the uncontrolled identification with a certain emotional state. For example, if our lover leaves and we are sad about it, we can identify so much with the sadness that we feel life has become worthless. This is stepping into drama, because of the exaggerated identification with one emotion.
In drama, we forget that, as the wise proverb says, “this too shall pass.” In a certain sense, then, when we practice conscious relationships, we engage in relationships without becoming fully identified with them. We act from our centre, rather than putting our centre in someone else, or in the relationships itself.
This one may sound a bit philosophical, but I truly believe in it: conscious relationships are based on the idea that “We are all one.” Meaning, that we humans are all interconnected. Every practice of conscious relationships ultimately moves toward unity.
This does not necessarily mean that everyone is the same, or that we should indifferently love everyone in exactly the same way. But the realization of unity almost automatically makes our intimate relationships more conscious. How can we not forgive if the one who hurt us is nothing less than a part of ourselves? Compassion becomes almost inevitable when we perceive that the person in front of us is like an image in the mirror. The idea of punishment is based on the delusion of separateness, whereas forgiveness stems from the intuition of unity.
In the same way, the more we realize that we are all one, the easier it is to trust. Being good-hearted and finding good-hearted people along the way end up being one and the same thing. Mistrust is, once again, based on the delusion of separateness, while unconditional trust springs from the intuition of unity.
Obviously, it is not my intention here to give any rules of “how” conscious relationships should be.
This is an open field, in which everyone is more than welcome to contribute his or her own ideas. The traits I mention in this article are based on my own experience, and I would love to hear your commentaries. What really matters, at the end of the day, is that we are waking up to the necessity of rethinking our intimate relationships in a conscious way. Exciting times ahead!
Author: Raffaello Manacorda
Editor: Catherine Monkman