Why This Piece of Zen Wisdom is Critical to Helping Your Relationships Thrive

Why This Piece of Zen Wisdom is Critical to Helping Your Relationships Thrive
If you love a person, you say to that person, "Look, I love you, whatever that may be. I've seen quite a bit of it and I know there's lots that I haven't seen, but still it's you and I want you to be what you want to be. And I won't be happy if I've got you in a cage. You'd be a bird without song."

- Alan Watts

Intentional effort is a funny thing. The more you try to do something, the more it just seems to turn out wrong.

It's only when we've stepped out of our heads and into the moment, or in other words become one with the action itself, that the best comes out from us.

To act naturally means to act without attachment, without clinging to any idea or concept.

We often don't notice it in our everyday lives, but our actions are often layered with various preconceived notions and ideas that alter the very way we behave and act. And acting in such a way results in much of the pain and suffering we experience on a daily basis.

To do something in a way that we pierce through these various ideas we cling to and get straight to the heart of the natural effort is letting go, or non-attachment, in action.

When we attempt to act in a way that's in conflict with our true nature, conflict arises. This is closely linked with spontaneity, which is a way we can experience this natural effort without having yet overcome these various things which we're clinging to. It's for this reason that spontaneity can help us realize the futility in clinging.

To act truly spontaneously is to go straight to the heart of things, to act in a way that we're not weighted down by our attachments (natural effort). This is why being spontaneous can feel so good, especially when most else we do is preplanned.

I recently ran into a great example of this while watching The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I.

(Minor spoiler alert)

Near the beginning of the movie, when the rebellion is attempting to rally the various districts together to spur a revolution, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julliane Moore's characters are attempting to build a set of propaganda videos starring the Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence).

After the first heavily scripted and fabricated attempts at a propaganda video starring Katniss fail, during a meeting reviewing the video Woody Harrelson's character Haymitch stands up and explains how the scripted nature of the video mutes the very fire and spirit which Katniss had become known for and it was only by allowing her to be herself that they would get the rallying propaganda message they were hoping for.

Of course, the likelihood of this just happening on its own was next to impossible. For this to happen they needed to place Katniss in a situation that naturally evoked her spirit. Needless to say, the strategy works like a charm.

(Minor spoiler alert end)

In Zen, a teacher attempts to do a very similar thing with his students. They place you into situations that attempt to evoke this naturalness and spontaneity in an effort to help you realize what's called "satori" in Japanese, or a "sudden awakening".

It's through the effort to essentially be spontaneous "on cue", which to be more specific really means to act naturally and effortlessly without forcing yourself on a situation, that one learns the way to live "successfully" and without conflict.

An extremely difficult task for sure, but one which leads to the greatest of rewards.

Why This Piece of Zen Wisdom is Critical to Helping Your Relationships Thrive

What does this have to do with relationships?

It has to do with everything really, but with regards to relationships specifically this is referring mostly to the way we create images in our minds of how the other person should behave and then attempt to push those images we've created onto the other person.

The result is that reality + imagination then come crashing into one another.

We often create unrealistic images in our minds of what we think our spouses should be and how they should act based on a combination of our life experiences and ideas we've been fed or developed, and when they don't live up to those expectations we clash, leading to repeated fights until the point where the tension can hold no further and things finally break.

Keep in mind that this doesn't necessarily mean that both people aren't "right" for each other, but rather that these images they're projecting off on one another are blocking them from experiencing each other fully as they truly are.

But this doesn't just show up in intimate relationships. This can manifest in parent-child relationships, friendships, and every other type of relationship as well.

Oftentimes we project images off on others based on what we're lacking or what makes us feel comfortable. But when that person doesn't follow through with the image we've projected onto them, a conflict naturally arises.

Examples of specific ideas we tend to keep are:

  1. A husband being chivalrous when he's really a bit rough around the edges.
  2. A wife being a housekeeper when she has no desire to be.
  3. A wife, husband, or friend fitting in with a certain group of people which their spouse or friend wants to be a part of, when they have very little in common, no desire to build a friendship, and sees that their spouse or friend just wants to feel more important by associating with said group.

And this can also go in the reverse. In this case, we're building or holding onto relationships which are damaging to us, attempting to convince ourselves they're not bad for us by projecting a positive image of them in our minds:

  1. A husband or wife holding onto a positive image of their spouse after they've treated them wrongly and will likely continue to do so ("he/she won't do it again").
  2. A boy or girl or man or woman creating a positive image for someone they desire to be friends with because of some quality they admire but who is really a negative influence ("but they're so cool, I want to learn to be as cool as them").

Ultimately, being natural with regards to our relationships means to accept someone fully as they are and not forcing some idea about who they should be onto them.

Conflict always arises when we attempt to live by some idea which is apart from reality.

To accept someone fully just as they are is in line with the natural flow of life. Not pushing or pulling, not trying to make them something they're not, and not projecting your own issues off on them in an attempt to compensate.

Why This Piece of Zen Wisdom is Critical to Helping Your Relationships Thrive

I'll use my relationship with my wife Edith as an example. We have many similarities, but we also have some distinct differences, and we don't always agree with each other when it comes to each other's behavior. For this reason, at times in the past we clashed, most often for this very reason.

But if I was to project onto her some image of what I think she should be, she'd be just as Alan Watts said in the quote above- a bird without song.

This is because it's usually these various things which we try to change in each other or try to project onto each other that have to do with each other's fundamental uniqueness, and so to cut that off would be to cut off the lifeblood that makes the person vibrant and thriving.

To accept her fully, and for her to accept me fully, allows each of us to thrive individually which then results in our relationship together becoming both infinitely stronger and flexible all at the same time.

This is the very essence of a thriving relationship. That is, to accept each other fully without question.

This isn't always easy, and you won't always get it right. But as long as the effort is there, and you live mindfully, you'll be the constant observer of your own behavior and be able to catch when you slip.

As with everything, it's the intention and the effort that counts. Perfection is a non-existent construct of the human mind, an irrational idea which has no weight in reality.

Don't attempt to be perfect, rather seek to express yourself naturally. This can be a life-long endeavor, but it's the very source of everything we've ever wanted, whether we know it or not.

Take a moment today to think about your closest relationships. Are you projecting some idea about how you want someone to be onto that person?

Is someone projecting an image onto you and causing you to feel caged? Is there someone you've been fighting with? That fighting may be coming from these like images we project onto each other.

Take a moment to think about the relationships in your life and how this not only might be affecting them but also how you can use this principle of accepting those in your life fully as they are to improve your relationships and your life as a whole.