Intimacy in Relationships from a Nondual Vedic Perspective
We humans often feel strangely alone even in intimate relationships, if not all the time, often enough. Who does not? Do you? Can anyone, however wonderful and caring, complete you?
I have contemplated my spiritual knowledge from the nondual wisdom of the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita to question the emotional chasms experienced by humanity in intimate relationships.
Is it real? Is it imagined? Should we accept it and flow along? Can we talk our way (communicate) to new levels of intimacy? Can ‘words’, however beautiful, bridge the holes? Can the gaps in intimacy be completed by our partners (say they learned new skills or found new gifts to surprise us) or are the relationship cavities in our soul metaphorical…ones that can be sealed by none other than our own higher Self?
From a nondual perspective, our partners, betrayers, rejecters, detractors, critics and challengers are also Self, dressed in dark, unrecognizable masks, only to remind us to switch on our own inner light. That is right. There is only one Self, known as Atman in Sanskrit, pure consciousness that wears different clothes. We experience rejection or lack of fulfillment in our relationships. But that is the catch – there is no other. You are not fulfilling you.
A core teaching that changed my perspective was a fundamental nondual vision of the ancient seers- that we share a common Self with all beings. The seers do not ascribe a separate soul to each living unit, but rather describe a shared truth of Consciousness. Just like one electricity lights up myriad bulbs, one consciousness or One Self animates all living bodies. The plurality your mind perceives is only an appearance; it is not real.
In my view, ‘non-duality’ is a term that points to an intimacy, a love beyond words. Oneness is all there is – and you are included.
The wise person who perceives all beings as not distinct from one’s own Self at all, and one’s own Self as the Self of every being, does not, by virtue of that recognition, hate anyone.
-Isha Upanishad, Verse 6
Ego Champions for External Fulfillment
But we forget all that, do we not? We become isolated, egoic islands – each fragmented, unfulfilled and lacking intimacy (with its other part). Then we become obsessed with our needs. We all have something lacking in this state naturally, and only spiritual knowledge can fulfill those gaps.
Several things happen at this point, making us more estranged, not only from our partners and significant others, but alas, also from our own inner spiritual fullness.
First, we experience cosmic greed (Lobha). It is an abnormal desire for things to be ‘perfect’. We refuse to accommodate any ‘holes’ in our relationship, whatsoever.
This greed, which is like a monster with a thousand mouths, then generates lots of grief - we become filled with self-pity (Shoka). We feel like victims in our relationships.
We worry that if things continue like this, our future is doomed! We will be living in unfulfilled relationships forever. Now, excessive and abnormal fear (Bhaya) takes over our already greedy and grieving minds.
Next, pride (Maana) takes over – rising above our irrational greed, grief and fear. We can’t ask for what we need, nor report what is hurting us. We simply get sensitive, offended and easily bruised.
After this, the mind is besieged by all sorts of negativity (dukkha) – jealousy, attachments, hatred and even addictions manifest. We are so disconnected with our inner center, our inner Self, what intimacy can we hope to gain with another?
We have to stop using our partners to define our cosmic holes and then jump into them, with cosmic greed!
Emotional pain arises when we don't get what we expected in relationships. But we can awaken at any time, especially when we view pain as a teacher.
Without painful consequences, it does not even occur to us that we need to reexamine our choices, beliefs, expectations and assumptions in relationships. Pain, alone, arouses us, at last, from our sleepwalking stances, the mindless battles we fight, defending our egoic needs and judgments and the unworthy quests we embark upon. The more pain we have in our life, especially the kind that won’t be resolved or dissipated easily, the greater our need to seek an even deeper reality.
If you look back at your own life, perhaps you can recognize that some of the darkest points in your life were turning points for your soul. The relationship that was maximally teeming with painful sorrow and felt like, ‘wait, the universe got it wrong’ was ‘right’ after all – custom-ordered suffering for you to become who you are today, despite that relationship. Nothing is random. Even the tiniest bit of sorrow is not arbitrary in an intelligent universe.
The Answer to Our Human Dilemma is Acceptance and Letting Go
I am not advocating acceptance of your relationship issues as a flat resignation or fatalism.
It does not mean that you must never take remedial measures, like employing knowledge in the face of difficult relationships, seeking counseling or a spiritual tradition to draw in greater light.
When darkness is the problem, you must bring in light. When ignorance is the problem, you must bring in knowledge. When isolation is the problem, you must make friends. When resistance is the problem, you must deliberately cultivate willingness and acceptance.
TheVedas say we are Self -- we are deeply powerful beings, even if our ego has forgotten it. Deep down, we have the strength to overcome, transform, or peacefully accept any situation.
“If pain has come to you,” my Guru said, “then you have what it takes to face and grow from it.” If you’re in the center of a difficulty, then you’re in the center of the solution also. You alone can find that solution through Self-knowledge.
To my enlightened inner eyes now, partnerships, even intimate ones, are all about remaining inwardly focused even while happily enjoying your partnerships and fulfilling your outer roles. It is about not letting the others person’s fullness or lack of it, distract you from your own soul journey (don’t get caught up in cosmic greed, demanding, lamenting, etc).
The egotistical approach to regaining our (lost or threatened) intimacy in relationships is to go up against the perceived causes (lack of sex, quality time, not enough communication, not enough social circle, infertility, etc.) and somehow prove we still have it. We may make a lot of noise, but often we chase a fool’s paradise, since we are now filling cosmic holes with cosmic greed, grief and fear…and we have little control over another soul’s ‘cosmic greed’, which can often be a slippery slope.
We often become more disempowered than empowered, emptier than fulfilled in the process of chasing outer intimacy. The spiritual approach to this is to work on our internal conditions and seek to know, appreciate and cheerlead our own Self. Taking up the practice of Self-intimacy is one of the best tools to reconfigure our relationships. The one who does that becomes attractive to another, since everyone wants to be around the one who is inwardly blossomed and divinely full, not psychologically empty and demanding in love.
Remember, it is a divine setup. This personality of yours that seems to be suffering emotionally from sorrow or rejection by other personalities is no more than a ghost, the creation of your own deluded mind. The ghost will disappear when you will ponder it with understanding from the awakening scriptures – the Upanishads. You have the power to fulfill you – only you, alone.
In counseling my hundreds of students, I have found an excessive emotional reliance on their partners or significant others as the main reason for frustrations. It is an illusion, that someone out there will fulfill us exactly like we would want to be fulfilled; giving birth to a host of illegitimate expectations, each when dashed, leading to bitter disappointment, rage and resentment.
While emotional dependency is not wrong, it can become a slippery slope when we are unconscious and enslaved by our expectations. Emotional leaning, versus consciously staying upright, emotionally autonomous or self-sufficient (despite being in a relationship) gives birth to cosmic greed sooner or later (in both partners), leading to yet more clutching, grabbing, controlling and manipulative behavior.
There is even a greater tragedy from a spiritual perspective. When we think someone can meet our inner needs, we stop meeting our own emotional needs. We stop having a relationship with our Inner Being. We could have been our own consoler, our own guide, our own cheerleader, our own parent, our own caretaker, our own celebrator, and ultimately our own Guru…but alas, we outsource our emotional wellbeing to our relationships that are invariably afflicted by transience. Sooner or later, someone will disappoint you.
A question I ask my emotionally suffering students is this: Are you yearning for your partner? Or, are you yearning for your own Self…perhaps a greater, raw, naked and intense intimacy with your own inner being is what you need?
If our human partner is none other than our own true Self, in a different bodysuit, then perhaps he/she need not fulfill you after all, to the extent you demand. Perhaps even as you let go of demanding, controlling and expecting from the other to the point of suffering and rage, you can deepen and cultivate a relationship with a deeper awareness inside you? This is a thought worth exploring.
Difficulties in your intimate relationships may be an opportunity to pause, reflect, turn inwards and first develop a more conscious relationship with yourself. What are your values? What are your life goals? Who are you, ego or Self? Where does your happiness lie, in your relationships or inside you? Perhaps the situation is asking you to live the truest version of who you are.
Let the cost of intimacy never be self-betrayal.
This universe is a divine setup. Separately and collectively, playing different roles, we all act together in the ultimate theater of existence to ultimately awaken ourselves to the truth of our divine Inner Being. Who else is there but you?
A mirage, when closely inspected, disappears. It only possesses a relative reality. Similarly, when the ego’s self-isolating, self-diminishing, self-limiting, sorrow-causing delusions are closely examined with the aid of awakening wisdom, the perceived ‘lack’ vanishes.
Let us see through our own cosmic grief and let go of asking our partners to fill our cosmic holes. No one can save you from your illusion but you, by awakening from it, and seeing what is real what is not.
Recovery Comes From Walking Out of the Virtual Prison of Attachments
Attachments are attachments – they blind sight us and enslave us to our expectations.
We humans often put ourselves in situations that are emotionally, verbally, even physically and sexually dangerous, all for the sake of our relationships – hoping they will fulfill us one last time. Our enslaved mind endorses us leading risky lives of lies and self-deception, simply to meet our desires at any cost, including avoiding being alone.
But because sovereignty is our natural state, not bondage, as per Vedic wisdom, our conscience questions us. We become filled with regret ---oh, how did I land up here!
I teach my students to love themselves unconditionally because our true nature is unconditional love and joy. So, we must stop searching for happiness outside– even if we are in relationships.
Every time you feel anxious or needy, put both hands on your heart, one on top of the other, and repeat with self-acknowledged feelings to yourself, the following words:
“My wholeness lives inside me; My joy is right here in my own heart; My fullness lies right here, I can feel it. My Sovereign Self is unconditional love; Love is flowing through my heart…”
This is my teaching of the Wholeness-Mudra, or the hand-heart gesture of getting in touch with our own indwelling Spirit Divine that is radical space, wholeness, peace, love, freedom and joy unto itself. This gesture with the words and emotion, will instantly reawaken your soul memory. When we make contact gently, the splendid inner Self contacts us back and gives us gifts untold!
Awakening our sovereign memory is important. After all, we become sorrowful because we forget who we are inside intimate relationships.
Instead of enjoying our relationships (with cultivated detachment or objective distance), we lose our identity in them, and toss away our freedom. We forget who we are, not just a man or a woman, but Self, Spirit Divine.
Things begin changing when we remember who we truly are, beyond the roles we play in our relationships. Enjoy your intimate relationships, but don't forget to nurture a relationship with yourself in the process!
Acharya Shunya is a globally-recognized spiritual teacher and Vedic lineage-holder who awakens health and consciousness through the Vedic sciences of Ayurveda, Vedanta and Yoga. She is the driving force behind an online wisdom school and worldwide spiritual community, and the author of best-selling book on the Vedic art of mind + body + soul well-being and health, Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom (Sounds True, 2017) and forthcoming second book with Sounds True to be released in 2020, Sovereign Self. Acharya Shunya is a keynote speaker at national and international conferences, and serves as an advisor to the Indian Government in matters pertaining to global integration and cultivation of Ayurveda and Yoga. Receive her free online teachings and browse her current eCourse offerings here or see more about her on Facebook and follow her on Instagram. Subscribe to her YouTube Channel where she holds live Global Satsangs once per month. Study Ayurveda with Acharya Shunya in her online course, Alchemy through Ayurveda.