Shortly after we were married we went to India and spent our honeymoon in monasteries and ashrams. We also had a private meeting with the Dalai Lama at his residence in McLeod Ganj, in the foothills of the Himalayas. As Ed recalls: After some thirty minutes of talking with him I was feeling so moved by this gentle and loving man that I didn’t want to leave! I was completely in love with this delightful being. He was so ordinary, sitting between us and holding our hands. Finally, I said to him, ‘I don’t want to leave! I just want to stay here with you!’ I knew he would understand my sincerity and would say yes, how wonderful, I can see you are ready for the teachings. But, instead, he just smiled and said, ‘If we were together all the time we would quarrel!’
So relax, if the Dalai Lama can quarrel, so can we! Inevitably there are going to be times when relationship is not easy, when differences collide, when egos clash, when my needs seem more important than yours, or when your needs are not being met. For relationship creates untold problems. Sitting in solitary bliss with our hearts wide open and love pouring out of us towards all beings is relatively easy, but as soon as we come in direct contact with another person everything changes. Our ability to stay open and loving, our selflessness and generosity, all this and more is immediately confronted by someone else’s own wants and needs, by their capacity to accept and love or not.
Relationship is not just an integral part of being alive, it is also the most vital and challenging teacher we can ever have. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, If you can make friends with one person, you can make friends with the world.
Difficulties in relationship show us the many ways our ego-selves try to be right, which can be a cause for either conflict or laughter. Once we were sharing some of our marriage issues with our meditation teacher, and he looked at us quite puzzled. ‘Why not just laugh?’ he suggested. And he was right. Laughter really is the best medicine. When we see the absurdity of two ego’s knocking heads and trying to outwit each other it is very amusing. So often a disagreement is about seeing the same thing in two different ways: one sees a white ceiling, the other sees a flat ceiling, but it’s the same ceiling!
Sometimes, it can be healthy to have a good quarrel, if we can then just let it go and come back to loving. There are bound to be times of flow and times of discord but we don’t need to hold on to either. Difficulties arise because we cling to our own opinion as being the right one and it’s this holding on, with the ensuing shame, blame and hostile silences, that causes so many problems.
In fact, those people we have a difficult time with are really our teachers. For without an adversary—or those who trigger strong reactions such as annoyance and anger—we would not have the stimulus to develop loving kindness and compassion. So we can actually thank our exasperating relationships for the chance to practice patience. What a gift!
We are not alone here, each one of us—both directly and indirectly—affect each other; everyone and everything is dependent on everything else. As Mother Theresa reminds us: If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.