Perhaps another aspect of relationship that bears considering is its direction. That is, one way to be in relationship with another is to look at them – I am here looking at you over there. But another way is to look together is to face the same direction together, where that direction is love.
Often, when we see the other, we like or don’t like what we see. This way of seeing has to do with appetite, with what we want and how our wants converge with what we need. We see the other and perceive a way that they can satisfy us. And that becomes the ground of the relationship.
To put it that way is crass and so it disappoints those of us who are spiritually evolved or psychologically mature or whatever. But it doesn’t have to be. Our structure means that we will have needs – for food, for water, for shelter, for intimacy. And those needs tend to express as wants – for this kind of food, this kind of shelter, this kind of partner. It’s natural.
The problem isn’t that we are humans with needs that manifest as wants. That’s just a fact of our structure; it’s no more problematic than a blueberry bush bearing blueberries or a sunflower turning its crown towards the sun.
The problem is that we see the other only in light of those needs and wants, as if their sole reason for existence is to satisfy us, as if their only function were to serve us, as if we were royalty and they our obedient subjects.
This is a form of lovelessness because it reduces the other to a satellite. The other is no longer our equal, our collaborator, our co-creator. The being of the other is no longer equivalent to our own being but is ancillary to it, subject to it. It is a form of violence to insist on seeing the other this way.
We can heal this, or at least begin healing it, simply by trying to be aware of the other’s function. A sunflower does not exist so that I can perceive beauty and be spiritually lifted, even though that is a nice thing. A pig does not exist so that I can have bacon, even though that is a nice thing. Men and women don’t exist so that we can experience splendid orgasms with them, even though that, too, is a nice thing.
Who or what is the other when I no longer see them in terms of my own appetites? What is their function? What is their purpose?
Of course, answering this question also answers – or moves in the direction of answering – the question of who or what am I?
The equivalence in those questions – the way “who is the other” merges with “who am I” – hints at the other ground of relationship, the alternative to looking at the other in terms of securing personal satisfaction. That alternative ground is when we look together in the same direction, which I am going to suggest is a form of love. That, too, relates us, and in a way that is more deeply and naturally satisfying than attending to our physical appetites.
It is also part of our structure that we long for transcendent experiences. We feel separated and want to be united or made whole. We become religious and go to psychotherapists and watch Oprah because of these feelings. These longings – for wholeness, for union, for oneness – can be satisfied but not by co-opting or controlling the other.
Instead, they are satisfied by cooperating and collaborating with the other, which is another way of saying: looking together in the same direction. If our shared goal is love, and we understand our function to be buttressing one another in the bringing forth of love, then our relationship is no longer exploitative or selfish. It is creative; it serves the collective, the all-of-us-altogether.
A relationship like that is of holy sustenance. Its peacefulness and gentleness radiate without concern for time or space. It is no longer bound by the body. Its expression is free and open.
Of course we are still going to eat and drink and make love. But those experiences are subsumed in the holiness of holding hands and sharing the trail that leads to God. Our shared function becomes our relationship, and that relationship transcends our personal interests and identities. It literally becomes a new way of being-in-love.
First we understand this intellectually and then we do the work of bringing it into application. It is a learning process that unfolds in time, and we experience it as “our” process. Thus, it has the nature of a transition, as if we are leaving the old for the new. It has the feeling of a journey, with a beginning and an end. Often, there is a specific other around whom this transition/journey focuses.
Rather than resist the appearance of self-improvement projects, spiritual journeys and significant others, make responsible use of them. They are actually functional analogs; their “truth” or “reality” as such is not the point. Their helpfulness very much is. We learn together what love is, and our learning is slow and sometimes torturous. We journey together and our journey takes longer than we expected. It’s okay. It’s more than okay. I am here, writing for you, and every day my hands empty a little more that I might take your own more surely, for both our benefit.
Really, what else can we do, given these lives in this world? The journey always dissolves in the single step before us. The one who walks beside us is our own self, remembering the unity that by definition precedes any experience of separation or fracture. Let us look not at one another nor past one another but rather stand together and together gaze at the dim light beckoning, the one that got us started on this project at the outset. The light is love and in our shared gaze it brightens. In our shared gaze, distance is undone and we arrive together at the home we never left.