Ed comes from the Bronx and is the son of a postal worker; Deb comes from the English countryside and is of distant royal descent. As they say in England, we go together like chalk and cheese, meaning we couldn’t be more different if we tried! Yet we have spent just about 24/7 together for the past 24 years. This often amazes us, and there is no doubt that our mutual commitment to meditation and the spiritual path has held us together; when times were tough, meditation has been our greatest ally. In fact, without it, by now we would probably be on opposite sides of the planet!
If at all possible, we meditate together every day so that any difficulties simply dissolve into the shared stillness. Our ability to stay loving combined with our own our needs is however, invariably confronted by someone else’s, often conflicting, needs. Relationship may be an integral part of being alive, but it is also the most vital and challenging teacher we could ever have!
Shortly after we were married, we went to India for our honeymoon, where we had a private meeting with the Dalai Lama at his residence in the foothills of the Himalayas. As Ed recalls: "After about half an hour talking, I was feeling so moved by this kind, simple, and loving man that I just wanted to stay there and learn from him. Finally I said, ‘I don’t want to leave! I just want to stay here with you!’ I thought he would understand and say how wonderful, I recognize your sincerity, but instead he just smiled and replied, ‘If we were together all the time, we would quarrel!’"
If the Dalai Lama, someone who meditates for many hours every day, can quarrel, then so can we. Without doubt there are going to be times when differences collide and egos clash or needs are not met; there will inevitably be times of discord. We get upset because we want the other person to be different to how he or she is. Perhaps one of the hardest things to accept in a relationship is that we cannot change our partner into the person we want them to be, the only thing we can change is our attitude toward them.
When we can step back from the heat of conflict and explore why someone makes us react a certain way, it quickly becomes obvious that it has very little to do with the other person and much more to do with a place inside ourselves. Self-reflective practices, such as meditation, enable us to see not only how we are responsible for our own feelings, but also how whatever we may be experiencing is a choice we are making in that moment. It is not because of what someone else might be saying or doing.
Difficulties in relationship can show us the many ways our ego-selves try to be right and how self-centeredness takes over. In the early days of our relationship we were sharing some of our marriage issues with our meditation teacher. He looked at us quite puzzled. "Why not just laugh?" he asked. And he was right. When we can see the absurdity of two egos knocking heads and trying to outwit each other, it is very amusing. So often a disagreement is simply about seeing the same thing in two different ways: One sees a white ceiling, the other sees a flat ceiling, but it is the same ceiling.
Too often we cling to difficulties and make them greater than they are; we replay the irritation in our minds until we become even more upset. The ego does not want to let go! Yet what a relief when it does and we can return to a place of balance. In this way, meditation is an essential ingredient in a shared journey, not just because it allows us to be on the same wavelength, but also because it gives us the spaciousness to accept and love our differences and to see the other just as they are, without any illusions. In that shared silence, the "me versus you", the power struggles and one-upmanship dissolve. What counts in making a lasting relationship is not how compatible we are with our partner, but how well we deal with any incompatibilities by accepting each other’s neurosis!
The ideal plan is to meditate together each day, so that any disagreements are seen, acknowledged and resolved before they escalate into something more damaging. The second best plan is to recognize that differences have arisen, and then to take time apart to contemplate what has happened. We learned this in our early days from the Tibetan teacher Akong Rinpoche.
Akong suggested that if we disagree or argue, then rather than blaming and pointing fingers, complaining about what the other person is doing to us and that is why I feel so bad, or that they just don’t get it and they probably never will, or that they have no right to treat me like this, instead we should look at ourselves. We should both take time out by ourselves to meditate and reflect on what we were doing that might be adding to the situation.
We look at what we did or said that may have been misunderstood, how we may have added to the situation, how what we said may have triggered the anger, or how our behavior, attitudes, and hidden agendas might be affecting our partner. What am I doing to that person to make them act like this? How can I treat them more kindly? When we are done, we can come back together and put into practice what we have learned.
How do you deal with difficulties in your relationship? Do comment below.
You can learn more in our latest award-winning book: BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, or from our three meditation CD’s.
We will be teaching at IONS, the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California, June 18-20, with special guest speakers Dan Millman and astronaut Edgar Mitchell
Enjoy our Friday weekly blogs on www.Oprah.com/spirit
Our latest book won the 2010 Nautilus Gold Book Award: BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You And The World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors Marianne Williamson, astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Jane Fonda, and others.
Our 3 meditation CD’s: Metta—Loving kindness and Forgiveness; Samadhi–Breath Awareness and Insight; and Yoga Nidra–Inner Conscious Relaxation, are available at:www.EdandDebShapiro.com